Representation to a Council

                                                   Segmented Globe

                                                   Segmented Globe

The composition of Councils is usually by representation. Most modern councils have no Assembly. They thus rule without legitimacy and are always open to challenge. Such denuded councils see representation as choosing – by simplistic vote – a person to make decisions for you. Such representatives do not carry the citizenry’s direct instructions, but are expected to use their own judgment, moral character and technocratic expertise to promote the common interest. What in fact occurs is that they lose any understanding of those they represent. They become separate from them, coming at last to inhabit different worlds. Representation is a division of political labour into leader and follower.

The primary (information processing) purpose of representation is one of simplification, here in order to make executive decisions. To achieve this, representation harvests individual citizen preferences and aggregates them into a ‘social choice’ – through political parties, policy bundles and (inescapably value-laden) electoral systems. The information that arrives in the Council of decision-makers is thus a simplification of the collective will, shorn of its complex synergies and starved of the deliberative exploration, aggregation and alignment offered by a more genuinely democratic council. Representation is a filter, one that sacrifices the quality of public decision-making so as to enable an elite few to make decisions.

Representation also serves to gather and centralise the technical expertise required for coherent policymaking. When over-simplification and a complete division of political labour are combined – as they are in our stunted liberal democracy – they empower an elite group is corrupted by power to serve its own ends. Citizens are then manipulated in elections, ignored between elections and denied the educative effects of deliberation. Now they find themselves facing an isolated and entrenched political elite, one that devalues citizen capacities and withholds technical expertise.

In this way, representation acts powerfully against democracy. It leaks legitimacy, makes bad (unresponsive) policies and refuses public accountability. Representation is thus a treatment for information overload that degenerates into information paucity.

Politics is not a science. Political knowledge is not out there as an object of expertise. Communities must talk possibilities into existence. Leadership is not by privilege and technical expertise is always available from specialists. Just as an expert witness assists the jury in a court, so can they assist ordinary citizens in their exercise of political will. Representation should, therefore, only ever be a minor technique for insuring that certain otherwise-invisible voices are heard by the Council.

Rule by isolated representatives constrained by law is better than tyranny. But it remains a simplification too far. Choosing a representative cedes control of one’s life to another. In our current representative system, the processes by which individual preferences are filtered, shorn and mangled into a social choice entail a massive loss of knowledge. Councils without Assemblies composed of elected representatives thus evince a strong tendency towards separation, dehumanisation, corruption and a blind orientation to their own interests.

Yet if not the elected, who is on the Council?

Device Designed to Wait - an inter-word

The young Namibian girl could find no way to raise the money to hire a doctor for her ailing father and so had been weeping when she saw the Democracy Device protruding from the sand. The dull metal caught her eye and she brushed it off and thought quickly, her heart racing. She tried to sell it to a soldier, but he merely delayed her, laughing, so that by the time she returned home, her father was dead. She stared down at his body and then at the Device in her hand, resolving never, ever, to meet such an end herself. No one should suffer for want of simple medical assistance. And so she scraped an education and left for the city as soon as she could. The city was frightening and overwhelming and then sometimes strangely quiet. She rented a small cheap room, putting the Device in the back of a sticky cedar drawer, perhaps to be taken out at some bittersweet time when remembering, with slow tears before the fire, the warmth of her father.

The Device was designed to wait.

To SEGMENT4: Talking and Deciding