Will Egypt Revolutionize Democracy Itself? By Tom Atlee

Posted: February 20, 2011 in News and Views

Tom-Atlee

Thomas Friedman suggests that the special strength of Egypt’s youth-led revolutionary movement has been “the fact that it represented every political strain, every segment and class in Egyptian society.” But then he turns around and says that diversity “is also its weakness. It still has no accepted political platform or leadership.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/opinion/13friedman.html

Of course, from a majoritarian electoral perspective, he’s right. But that perspective may not provide the most potent and useful democratic approaches for Egypt’s future — or ours.

If Egypt’s 21st century revolutionaries want their revolution to turn the world, they will make this supposed weakness — their inclusive diversity — into the greatest strength of their emergent democracy. They will cherish, develop and institutionalize their cross-section diversity AS a political platform AND AS the principle underlying their new forms of democratic leadership.

My advice: Make random selection as fundamental to Egyptian democracy as majority vote will be. Properly institutionalized, random selection is harder to manipulate and co-opt than elections. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition

* Unbeknownst to most citizens in modern democracies, ancient Athens’ democracy functioned largely through random selection. Athenians even picked their public officials by lot in a process known as “sortition”. Aristotle reported that “it is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected is oligarchic” ! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition

* While we certainly don’t need to choose our public officials by lot, perhaps it might be good to balance them out with a fourth branch of government made up of randomly selected citizens, as proposed by the Yale School of Democratic Reform (downloadable from http://services.bepress.com/jpd/vol3/iss1/art9/ ).  In any case, we can use random selection to oversee the activities of politicians, to generate public wisdom, and to work through major public issues. http://co-intelligence.org/CDCUsesAndPotency.html

* Random selection of citizens produces a microcosm of the community through which we can discover an overview of public opinion (through polling) or develop informed public judgment (through deliberation). http://co-intelligence.org/CIPol_publicjudgment.html

* Ad hoc, randomly selected citizen deliberative councils like Citizens Juries have proven at least as perceptive in policy creation, policy review, and watchdogging democracy as traditional juries have in determining the guilt of accused criminals. http://co-intelligence.org/CDCUsesAndPotency.html

* Annual, randomly selected citizen “Wisdom Councils” can awaken the citizenry to its “We the People” power and provide grassroots inspiration, guidance and oversight for the functioning of their community or country. http://tobe.net/DF/DF/DF/wisdom-council.html

* People scientifically selected for their conflicting interests, beliefs, or demographics from a randomly selected survey pool can work through major social tensions in well-publicized, high quality conversations, with a powerful effect on their fellow citizens. http://co-intelligence.org/S-Canadaadvrsariesdream.html

In the long-term, a revolutionary challenge for Egypt and all the rest of us who love democracy is to create cultures that understand and honor randomly selected forums, that do them well, and that institutionalize and empower them in all parts of our public, private and social sectors.

Even now, high-visibilty forums of randomly selected Egyptians, run independently in parallel, could be competing to generate brilliant ideas for the structure of their new democracy. Then elections and widespread conversations — online and off — could decide on the best of the best.

It is time for new and old democracies alike to start tapping the collective intelligence, collective creativity, and collective wisdom of their WHOLE society. Well designed randomly selected citizen forums may be the best and most secure way to do that in the intensely competitive environment of modern politics.

PS: THERE ARE MORE DEMOCRATIC INNOVATIONS…

Random selection may be my favorite angle on revolutionizing democracy, but hundreds of other democratic innovations are being thought up and tested around the world. Some, like organizing with social networks, are evolving right under our noses in Egypt and elsewhere.

Many such ideas and methods are listed on the Innovations in Democracy Project website http://democracyinnovations.org, which is currently being updated, expanded and transformed into a wiki.

In the meantime, some great sources for democratic innovations to inform grassroots revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere include

What new versions of these and other democratic breakthroughs will we see from social innovators — especially tech-savvy, street-savvy youth — in the months and years to come? Many, I hope.

Together they could evolve into ever more wise and powerful forms of democracy that enable global civilization to finally ripen into a collectively intelligent, sustainable, and mature form of joyful aliveness for all of us on this “little blue dot” of a planet spinning around our average star-sun in its unimaginably vast spiral galaxy sailing through an unbelievably creative universe whose innovative spirit is operating even now within, among, and through the tiny humans alive in your home, at my desk, and in Cairo’s Tahrir Square…

Tom Atlee is a writer and activist can be reached at cii@igc.org

 

 

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