The Jury as Direct Democracy


The Jury System

The jury has long been a central part of justice systems across the world, with a history long and colourful. In ancient Greece, jurors wrongly condemned Socrates to death by hemlock for crimes against the state, while in England jurors went to prison themselves rather than convict the Quaker William Penn for preaching the word of God in the street. From ’12 Angry Men’ to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the jury has fascinated writers and public alike for generations. The enduring appeal of the citizen jury points to the central role it plays in the justice system for everyday people. It remains, outside of the referendum, one of the few direct democratic structures left in many of today’s western democracies countries.

It has come a long way over the years. The days of the all-white male land-owning jury has slowly made way for the ethnically diverse, gender balanced, class-neutral institution that we see today. This battle for equality has been a long fight, raging over the centuries – it wasn’t until 1860 the first African-American served on a jury, and US federal juries were restricted to ‘elite’ individuals until 1968, keeping the common man from participating. In England, the property qualification for jury membership was only abolished as recently as 1972.

Local Justice

The jury originally evolved as an instrument of  local justice, composed of members of the community, many of which would have personal knowledge of the crime and the defendant. It was thought the sum of their experiences of the defendant could only help reach a more just verdict. This idea of justice has been left at the wayside. In the US, the most notable blow to this ideal was dealt in 1807 when former vice president Aaron Burr was arrested on suspicion of the treason. He had allegedly arranged for a group of thirty armed men to sail down the Mississippi to seize the city of New Orleans. Prior to his arrest, Republican papers were loaded with details of Burrs grand plans to invade Mexico, secede the south-western states from the US, and form an empire stretching from Mississippi to Mexico City.

The federal jury was set for Richmond, a heavily Republican area, where Thomas Jefferson, his political nemesis, tried to stuff the federal  jury with his own supporters. Burr argued that he would find it difficult to achieve a fair trial due to the publicity of the trial, and that he should have the right to challenge the individual jurors to see if they were biased against him. His argument was successful and has led to the current situation, where knowledge of a case is seen as a disqualification for jury participation. Mark Twain, the acclaimed American author, activist, and humorist, best summed up the result of this controversial ruling:

A minister, intelligent, esteemed, and greatly respected; a merchant of high character and known probity; a mining superintendent of intelligence and unblemished reputation; a quartz-mill owner of excellent standing, were all questioned in the same way, and all set aside. Each said the public talk and the newspaper reports had not so biased his mind but that sworn testimony would… enable him to render a verdict without prejudice and in accordance with the facts. But of course such men could not be trusted with the case. Ignoramuses alone could mete out unsullied justice.

Defence Against the State

In colonial America, the jury was often used by the people to defy British rule. In one particularly famous case, customs officials seized a ship of the Boston merchant John Hancock, who was suspected of smuggling. The jury-less admiralty court decreed the seizure lawful and ordered the vessel and its cargo to be turned over to the customs officials. Hancock went on the attack, and counter-sued the customs officials for trespass, which guaranteed him a jury trial. At the trail, the jury was instructed by the judge that the admiralty judgement could not be challenged in this way. The jury, however, ignored the judges advice and found in Hancock’s favour, ordering the customs agents to personally bear the costs of repaying Hancock for the value of his ship and cargo. The custom officials appealed this ruling all the way to the British King, whereupon Hancock dropped the case. But his political point had been made, and British custom officials would now think twice about seizing another American ship for fear of a long and costly legal battle.

The Hancock case makes clear a key difference between juries of the past and present. Today, the jury is purely a fact finding body. There is a strict separation of powers between the judge and the jury. The judge decides on the points of law, and the jury decides on the guilt or innocence of the defendant based on the facts of the case. It was not always this way. Nineteenth century American criminal and civil juries were actually instructed that the judges advice on the nature of the law was not binding. If the jury did not think the law was fair and just, they could disregard the law and decide the fate of the defendant on their terms.

Juries Deciding the Law

By the end of the 19th century, the law finding powers of English and American juries were effectively curtailed. In 1893 two american sailors, Sparf and Hansen, were accused of murdering a fellow shipmate while working aboard the American ship Hesper in the Pacific, one thousand miles from Tahiti. At their first trial, the jury were reluctant to give a guilty verdict for the crime, which would mean the death penalty for the two men. Seeking clarity, the jury asked the judge if they could find him guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter. The judge replied:

as one of the tribunals of the country, a jury is expected to be governed by law, and the law it should receive from the court‘.

Sparf and Hansen appealed this interpretation of the law all the way to the Supreme court, Their appeal was denied, effectively ending the right of the jury to decide law. To this day, only the constitutions of Maryland and Indiana retain the rights of juries to decide matters of law in criminal trials. This strict division of labour between the judge and the jury has led to a vast reduction in the powers of the jury, and a centralisation of power in the hands of the judiciary. Juries had lost their power to reject the validity of laws decided by the political institutions of the state.

The Representative Ideal

The ideal of the representative jury, a trial by a cross-section of your peers, has had a quite chequered history. The English Crown protected their Jewish moneylenders by requiring the jury of cases brought by a Christian against a Jew contained equal numbers of  Jews and Gentiles. To encourage international trade they also guaranteed any foreign merchants accused of a crime a jury of six foreigners and six Englishmen. All female ‘Jury of Matrons’ were common whenever it was necessary to certify if a female defendant was feigning pregnancy to prevent execution or in the case of an inheritance dispute.

These stipulations, so designed to protect defendants against any prejudices or systemic biases, were exceptions to rule. Women were excluded from juries due to what was thought of as their inherent defect – ‘proper defectum sexus’. The property qualification for jury membership was also used as a tool of class warfare, disenfranchising the poor and landless. African-americans were systematically excluded from jury duty, helping to prolong the racial discrimination of the slave trade. One county in Kentucky had not a single black juror between 1906 and 1938, even though 8,000 of the 48,000 population were black.

Balancing Biases Vs Group Experiences

The 1975 US Supreme Court ruling which forced all state courts to select from cross-sectional jury lists, finally brought the jury into its modern form. The kangaroo courts of the southern states, were a thing of the past for African-americans. The legacy of the rigged jury has led some to think of the jury as a way of balancing competing group interests and biases. Despite the long history of legal abuse by non-representative juries, juries should not be seen just a battle between cliques of citizens. They also operate as a judicial form which is heavily dependent on the different life experiences of the jury members.

Aristotle thought that democracy’s greatest virtue was the way it allowed people of all types to come together to create a collective wisdom that none could achieve on their own. From a computational point of view, one can imagine democracy working as a large network of computers nodes all chomping their way through a limited amount of data generated by their own life experiences. Each node comes up with it’s own ‘world model’ and makes decisions and interprets evidence based on this model. Two people, with radically different life experiences, could have very different opinions, with no inherent malicious intent.

The Deliberative Jury and the Unanimous Verdict

The origins of the unanimous verdict were probably closely linked to the medieval Church, who placed a premium on unanimity as ‘the infallible sign of God’s voice.’ Unanimity forces jury members to deliberate, justify their opinions, and ensure a consensus outcome. In a ironic twist of fate, the US Supreme Court authorized states to abandon the unanimous verdict in 1972. The removal of unanimous verdicts threatens the mere tokenism of minority jury representation if majorities can simply vote en bloc. The political theorist and 7th US Vice-President, John Calhoun, put it most eloquently:

‘If the necessary of unanimity were dispensed with and the finding of a jury made to depend on a bare majority, jury trial, instead of being one of the greatest improvements in the judicial department of government, would be one of the greatest evils…. It would be, in such case, the conduit through which all the factious feelings of the day would enter and contaminate justice at its source.’

The empirical evidence shows that juries do tend to quit deliberating once they reach the required number of jurors for the majority decision. Indeed, only 1 in 20 juries fail to reach a unanimous verdict, with the evidence showing jurors are not so wedded to narrow group loyalties and that jurors of different ethnic groups are able to overcome their biases through deliberation. The removal of unanimity has little supporting evidence, and it can be easily viewed through the prism of power relations and control.

Lessons For Direct Democracy

Proposals for direct democratic institutions based on Sortition, the random sampling of citizens to decide issues of policy and legislation, have lots to learn from the jury. It shines forth as a beacon for effective decentralised, locally controlled institutions. However, deciding matters of law and justice in the courtroom differ greatly from the realm of legislation and policy. The simple binary ‘guilty/innocent’ choice of modern of juries on individual cases, are radically different from the broad systemic nature of decisions on legislation or policy. Policy and legislation has the power to effect the lives of the whole society, not just the defendant(s) in question. The small sample size of a dozen or so jurors is unlikely to represent the broad spectrum of opinion about issues of societal importance. The size of a legislative ‘jury’ needs to be large enough to be able to reflect this holistic view of society.

Direct democracy can also learn much from the jury’s use of unanimous verdicts and consensus driven, deliberative decision making. These approaches are likely to fail when confronted with controversial or contentious legislation and policy options, leading either to what Alexis de Tocqueville called the ‘tyranny of the majority’, or compromise solutions that fall far from their original intended design. Any worthwhile democratic system requires the systemic safety valves which promote both the consensus nature of society, and also create structures and mechanisms which allow for the ongoing radical restructuring of society. I hope to put forward proposals in the near future incorporating these structures.

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The Emergent Representative State and Our Current Democracy


The Emergence of Centralised Power and the State

The evolution of complex societies has two major schools of thought: the Marxists and the Integrationists/Functionalists. The Marxist view runs something like this: as agricultural communities became the norm and population density started to rise, we saw the emergence of private property and a surplus. This surplus allowed people to hire other people to work for them, creating the seeds of the class system. Over time this developed into the state, which gave structure to the system and enabled the dominant classes to exploit the lower classes. The Integrationists and Functionalists, on the other hand, think that complexity, stratification, and the state grew not out of the motivation of individuals and classes, but out of a need to solve crucial problems that arise in more densely populated societies.

It is impossible to know the true causal development of the state. Either could be correct, and quite likely it may have developed through a combination of the two. However, I think it is safe to say that the State did develop into an institution that managed society in an extremely centralised, undemocratic, and brutal way. The functioning of the state was heavily criticised as acting against the interest of its citizens by enlightenment thinkers like Adam Smith and Von Humboldt, and later by socialist and anarchist thinkers such as Marx and Proudhun.

Research by american anthropologist Robert Carneiro estimates that for 99.8% of human history the common political unit were small, autonomous, and self-sufficient communities. Today these societies can been observed in some remaining basic tribal societies. The decision making is very horizontal, and communities leaders play a largely cultural or ceremonial role. Any leader who trys to throw his weight around to much is easily ignored, deposed, or even killed. In the modern state, however, unethical or tyrannical leaders have the state apparatus of the police, army, and judicial system to protect them.

Leaders, Centralised Decision Making, and Hierarchical Structure

The modern state has a largely hierarchical form, where decisions are made at the top in a command and control fashion. This centralises decision making and power in a society. Centralised and hierarchical forms have many pros and cons. For a small group of people with similar experiences and information, it can be efficient for the group to choose a leader to make the decisions. If the group chooses a leader with the best ethics and decision making abilities it can be an excellent way to organise. However, when you scale up this type of command structure into the hundreds of thousands and millions, you run into a plethora of difficulties.

First of all, the leader will not have access to all the information that the group will have. Imagine what perspective a leader would have if they were a member of an disadvantaged ethnic minority living in a ghetto, or if their children were off fighting a war in a foreign country. In a large hierarchical structure much of the information which has to pass through many levels of bureaucracy can also get lost or be withheld. The leader can be corrupted and knowingly act against the interest of the community at large, or they can simply be not up to the task. Power also has the tendency to attract people who want power for powers sake. These people are often prepared to do many unethical things to get their hands on the levers. And for those few ethical people who get to the top, power has the tendency to corrupt them.

Representative Democracy & How It Is Supposed To Work:

Modern representative democracy is typically a hybrid mix of hierarchical and decentralised components. Once every few years there is an election where people choose the local representatives from a bunch of people who put their names forward. Typically the representatives are members of political parties who run on the basis of their policy manifestos. This is the decentralised and horizontal component, where everybody has a say. If the politicians get elected and their party wins enough seats they get to go into government and enact their policies.  If people don’t like what they have done while in power they can kick them out of power at the next election. Below is a simplified model of how it should work.

Political Actors            Structure                Voter Signal

qqqqLeaderqqqqqqqqqqqqqq|qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq

qqqMinistersqqqqqqqqqqqq/   \qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq|

qqqqqMPsqqqqqqqqqqqq/\      /\qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq|

qqqqVotersqqqqqqqqq/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\qqqqqqqqqqqqqq|

qqqCitizensqqqqqq/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\qqqqqqqqqqqq

The joy of this system is that it leaves governing to an able few, chosen by the public for their ability to act in their interest. The politicians in this model vie for the ears of the voters and those that enact good policy get rewarded with being voted back. Those who mess up get kicked out. Each voter is equal, the poor man having the same rights as the rich man. The voters are sovereign, and it is they who decide who rules. In this society, the citizenry make informed decisions about which parties best represent their interests. If you imagine each voters brain as a computational unit, society can be imagined as a big networked computer that is chomping through all the info and coming up with a decision on who should be the next government. And the more brains the better. If the system is working correctly, the ‘voter signal’ will accurately reflect the best outcomes for the voting public. This is a powerful practical reason why democracy should perform better than a more dictatorial system. Unfortunately what we teach our children in school and what we get drummed into our skulls come election-time is nowhere near how the political system really functions.

A More Realistic Model of How Representative Democracy Actually Works:

In reality there are many important influences on society which play subtle and strong roles in choosing who gets elected and what policy gets made. Below is a basic model of how democracy functions in the real world. The two new additions are the informational systems and the power institutions. Here we will see how these act to disrupt the normal voter signal from its proper function.

Info. Systems       Political Actors     Structure     Power Institutions   Voter Signal

a  TV/Radio       <<       Leader                   |     ←—      Corporations                 ↑

a   Internet        <<     Ministers                /   \     ←—    Army/Police                 ?

Think Tanks     <<        MPs                 /\     /\      ←—     Banks                       ?

PR/Advertising  <<      Voters            /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\   ←—   Capital                      ?

aUniversities     <<      Citizens      /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ ←— Unions                      ↓

Party Funding, Corporations, and The Rich

Party fundraising plays an important function in the way political parties get elected and form policy. In the US, this is particularly important, as presidential elections cost each candidate over $1bn. The recent Citizens United ruling making unlimited corporate political donations legal is only going to make things much worse. Professor Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Politics gives a detailed explanation of how this works. In essence, if political donations from the corporations and the wealthy are required to run for high office, only pro-business politicians end up getting elected. The election campaign becomes a way political parties auction themselves to the highest bidders, a way to sell themselves to different classes of investor. The latest research from the US shows that whoever raises the most cash, wins the election a stunning 93% of the time! Cash is king. In the past unions used to play an important role in funding parties, such as the British Labour Party. Since the coordinated attack on unions beginning in the 70′s, however, their influence has waned considerably.

Advertising and Media Ownership

Informed voting choices by citizens are critically dependant on good quality information and journalism. In countries where corporate and private donations are restricted, capital can still work its political magic. This is mainly done through the control and ownership of media, which is largely controlled by powerful businessmen, corporations, and the government. When you own a newspaper title, you can choose the editorial line, hire the columnists you like, and fire those you don’t. Wealthy media-moguls are unlikely to back radical policies to redistribute wealth or change the political system counter to their interests. Their ownership acts as a constricting force on the type of analysis and information that gets to the public, narrowing the debate and ensuring a generally pro-business editorial line. Politicians who go against the interests of the media owners will experience considerable flak, and rarely be politically electable to any high office. Observe the treatment of Ron Paul & Dennis Kucinich, both committed, intelligent and principled US politicians of different stripes who struggle to gain any positive media attention.

In their 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman proposed the Propaganda Model which details precisely these functions of the media. It was not always this way. In the past labour organisations had their own newspapers reaching large sections of the public, and before that radical leaflets and pamphlets were a common and powerful political influence. However, advertising changed all this. Businesses prefer to give their advertising money to publications with a pro-business slant. This meant pro-business papers were able to sell their newspapers cheaper and gain market share at the expense of the pro-labour/radical newspapers. This eventually put them out of business, or if not, was sufficient to change their editorial line. For decades now the media systems have been firmly in pro-business control. The rise of the internet with its lively indy media and blogosphere scene, is changing this iron grip, and starting to have a real, tangible political effect.

Banking Power and Economic Thought

Banking has always played a critical infrastructural role in the Capitalist economy. This power from two of bankings major functions – the control of the money supply (keeping the ATM’s running) and the control of money creation through the fractional reserve system. This system allows banks to create money out of thin air, every time they give somebody a loan. They then have the temerity to demand interest on this money. As Abraham Lincoln put it: ‘If the American people knew tonight, exactly how the monetary and banking system worked, there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning’. This ability to decide what newly created money is spent on is possibly the single most important economic power in the capitalist economy. If we look at the last 40 years banks have been busy lending people money to invest in asset speculation. As people take out more and more debt, the banks earn more and more interest and use this money to further finance the political control by funding politicians who act in their interest.

The banks have also helped the neo-classical school of economics to inhabit a position of complete academic dominance in universities across the world. Colleges are stocked with neo-classical professors whose theories, coincidentally, ignore the role of debt and credit creation in the economy. Unsurprisingly, none of these professors foresaw the greatest financial crash since the great depression. The history of economic thought is rarely taught these days, and students learn little or nothing of the Marxian, Post-Keynesian, Austrian, of Evolutionary schools of thought. Economics used to be called political economy, when it was obvious the role that politics played in economies. Nowadays economics is thought as if it is politically agnostic, a sterile scientific study. Nothing could be further from the truth, as empirical study after empirical study have disproved many of the neo-classical schools most cherished beliefs.

Conclusions

So, today our democratic institutions face enormous problems. We have media which work to narrow the political and economic debate and misinform the citizens. (Fox News viewers have been shown to know less about the world, than those who don’t watch any news at all!)  We have an idealogical economics discipline which hides how the economy really works. We have representative politicians who don’t represent people, but powerful capital interests. We have a system that works to convince people to vote for policies that are against their interests. And when people finally think they have elected a president who will fight the system, they soon realise it was just a con. A cynical marketing ploy.

Samplocracy

There is little hope of a true voting signal working consistently in this system. Representative democracy is deeply flawed, is easily gamed by the powerful, and the people are starting to wake up. We need a new direct form of government, that is scalable, efficient, and responsive to wishes of the people. Samplocracy is the working title of a system based on sortition, where random samples of citizens will be chosen to make informed decisions on how our lives should be run. I hope to detail in further posts the workings of this system. OCCUPY THE WORLD!

Financial Capital Bears Its Teeth


“Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away – they are privileges”  - George Carlin.

Two weeks ago, the Greek prime-minister George Papandreou took the political establishment and financial markets by surprise, by doing something entirely unconscionable in a modern European democracy – he called a referendum. The austerity measures being demanded of Greece are terrifically unpopular with the citizens. Riots and strikes are breaking out across the country on a daily basis. The Greeks are well aware who is actually getting bailed out, and it’s not them. Only 19% of the bailout is going to the Greek people, with 81% going to financial institutions. Papandreou’s motives for the referendum may be forever unknown – a lust for a democratic mandate, brinkmanship, internal politicking, or pure skulduggery. Regardless, we now know what happens when the leader of a sovereign state goes up against the financial powers. As Silvio just found out.

It really goes against the grain for me to lament the political passing of Silvio Berlusconi. It’s not so much the fact that he has been given the old heave-ho, but who was doing the pushing. Berlusconi has long been the face of the worst aspects of Europe, and indeed Capitalism. He is a politician who represents the basest form of politics, what Slavoj Žižek’s calls “post-democratic” populism. A man who has made Italy “a kind of experimental laboratory of our future”. A country where strippers are appointed as the Minister For Equality. A country where politicians own football teams to gain support. A country where media empires are mere tools used by moguls to get their hands on the levers of power.

Yet however corrupted the Italian democratic system may be, at least it had basic democratic forms. At least the Italian people used to chose their leader. Well, it is now becoming perfectly plain who really is in charge – the banksters.  Berlusconi was many things, but he wasn’t fooled by what the spectre of austerity would do to his country. “We can’t have politicians acting in the interests of their electorate” the banksters said. “HE MUST GO!” they roared. And off scuttled Silvio quietly into the political sunset.

The lunacy of creating a currency zone which is designed to restrict governments from running a deficit to stimulating their economies during a downturn has nothing to do with this crisis. The lunacy of attempting to create a currency zone with no mechanism for dealing with trade imbalances has nothing to do with this crisis. The lunacy of creating an economic system built on continuous exponential growth has nothing to do with this crisis. The likely peaking of oil production, and thus economic growth has nothing to do with this crisis.

It’s all the fault of lazy Greeks and crooked Italians, a corrupt bunch of lazy mediterraneans the lot of them. The fact that Greeks work longer hours than the Germans is irrelevant. That Italy has much lower total debt than Japan, UK, France, Spain, or South Korea cannot be mentioned in polite circles.

For anybody out there who still thinks that we live in functioning democracies, that the countries we inhabit are free and sovereign states, witht the capacity to decide policy based on the interests and wishes of their citizens, think again. Italy is a major world power. It is the 8th biggest economy in the world. It had an Empire. It has a rich history and culture. And even in Italy, the banksters call the shots.

It is now in hands of a technocrat, a technocrat who was magically appointed Senator for Life a couple of weeks ago. Let me just repeat that – an unelected senator is now the leader of the 8th largest economy in the world. This technocrat is a former adviser to Goldman Sachs, chairman of the European Trilateral Commision, and a leading member of the Bilderberg group. This plot reads like a script from a conspiracy theorists dream.

With the seeming collapse of the current economic model, are we witnessing the beginning of the formal end of Democracy, state by state? It is now time to fight back against the giant squid of financial capital. Get out on the streets. Occupy. Before it is too late. Fight for your rights.

Or, should I say, privileges.

The Occupy Movement and Rise of Direct Democracy


After winning the Argentine general election in 1989 for the Peronists, President Carlos Menem reversed his election platform and embarked on an unprecedented spree of privatisations. When asked years later about his volte-face, he quipped that he would never have been elected if he told the voting public what he was going to do. This famous example displays a crucial inherent flaw in representative democracy – politicians say one thing to get elected and then doing the opposite when in power. Barack Obama promised ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ and delivered neither. He is blind to the rampant corruption of Wall Street, and continues the imperial US foreign policy. But the people are waking up.  And they have decided to take to the streets to make their own change.

In the modern form of representative democracy, we have seen the emergence of the Third Way. As the radio, print, and TV media became more and more consolidated into the hands of mega-corporations, they became more and more hostile to progressive values. The left/socialist parties of Europe and the US came to the realisation that this concentration of media power was starting to block their route to power. The only way for these parties to get their hands on the levers of power again, was to change ideology. So they ditched many of their core political beliefs, and betrayed their base. This betrayal led the parties of the left into the warm embrace of the financiers, who were traditionally associated with the right. Progressive labour friendly economic policies were abandoned.

The voters now had a choice between two parties, both of which were in the hands of the corporations and wealthy financiers. As the esteemed economist Dr. Michael Hudson points out, this has led to a most perverse and dangerous dynamic. The parties of the left, who got elected on a progressive vote, began to enact anti-labour, pro-capital policies that no right-wing party could get away with. This secured for them the corporate funding they needed to help them to stay in power. The great irony is that the former socialist and progressive parties in effect moved to right of the right-wing parties. This has left progressive voters with nowhere to go. And a political system that is designed such that the people have no way to address their grievances leaves only one option – revolt.

And the revolt has begun.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is what we have been waiting years for. Heavily inspired by the Egyptian Revolution and the Spanish Indignados, the movement has been characterised by both strategic brilliance and astonishing organic growth. OWS understood explicitly that their target was Wall Street, the epicentre of the financial and corporate world. They aimed a dagger right at the heart of the system that has run the world economy onto the rocks.

The Egyptian Revolution demonstrated how the radical act of occupying and defending a physical location can create it’s own alternative power structure. In Zucotti Park they have created their own ‘mini-society’, independent of the existing system. They have their own library to educate themselves, their own kitchen to feed themselves, their own democratic institutions to govern themselves. Everybody at the General Assembly is involved in the decision making of the occupation. This leaderless form of governance, puts power directly in the hands of the people and decision making is largely consensus driven.

The General Assembly gives ordinary people a hands on experience of how a more equitable form of government could work, one close to the social libertarian and anarchist traditions. It brilliantly dispels the idea that we need leaders or elites to make decisions for us. It completely decentralises power. This non-violent movement has no talismanic figurehead like the political movements of the past, no single leader to attack or co-opt, no single head to decapitate. With occupations sprouting up all over the place, I believe we are seeing the beginnings of a seismic political shift.

The creation of such power structures operating independently of the existing institutions is inherently revolutionary in nature. The elites have floundered in response, as we can see from the escalating brutality of police tactics:

mace -> batons -> mopeds -> horses -> tear gas -> rubber bullets

This sequence does not portend well. Lets hope we do not see a repeat of the awful scenes from the 1970 Kent State Massacre, where the Ohio National Guard entered the Kent State University and shot dead 4 unarmed student anti-war protesters.

The authorities currently seem to be in the end-stages of a losing chess game. Each YouTube video of peaceful protesters being beaten by police that goes viral, causes the movement to swell. Each accommodating action by the authorities has the very same effect. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The movement has its own internal dynamic, beyond the control of the powers that be. And nobody knows where it will all lead.

The common mainstream media refrain of ‘What are your demands?’ displays a critical misunderstanding of the movement. This embryonic movement does not see itself as a movement which seeks to effect change through the existing political system. I think it is much more radical than that. After experiencing the liberating freedom of a General Assembly, people are being inspired to imagine and dream of what might be. The occupations are using this time to contemplate and design the alternative society we seek.

They do not want to fall into the same demands focused trap as the Egyptian revolution – once Mubarrak fell, momentum was lost. A premature list of demands could be the death-knell of the movement. The occupation movement may yet be crushed or simply dissipate on its own. It is guaranteed, though, to have a lasting effect on the body politic. It is common for revolutions to fail, only for it all to kick off again years later. Everybody knows about the 1917 Russian Revolution, but few can recall the Russian Revolution of 1905.

I believe the existing democratic structures of the Occupy movement, such as the General Assembly, need radical reform if they are to be scaled them up to a ‘state’ level. It is crucial at this point for us to work on ideas for scalable democratic structures which live and breathe the consensus driven, decentralised, and horizontal aspects of the movement. This blog has been created to put forward a theoretical solution for a new radically direct democratic political system.

The system I shall propose has the working title of Samplocracy. It is based upon the simple idea of using random samples of citizens to make decisions for the community. For centuries, juries across the world have worked on this basis and are a long established popular democratic form of justice. I hope to release and discuss the formulation of this solution in detail over the coming months, along with my general thoughts on the social, political, economic quandaries of the day.

Much like how the invention of the printing press changed the world, a new enlightenment powered by the internet is upon us. How ironic if 20 years after the fall of the USSR, that the US may be the site of the first successful truly democratic decentralised revolution.

Let the work begin!

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