2015/03/24

Darwinian government

A better way to govern ourselves than simple elections might be called a “Darwinian” (or "Darwinoid") process, similar to what is done using genetic (or evolutionary) algorithms. Perhaps the best historical example of that was the Venetian system. It could be implemented in many ways. Consider one design:

1. At the precinct level (using the U.S.model of equipopulous precincts) two equal sized panels are selected by lot, or sortition. Then they select a pool of candidates to the next level (ward) by each panel voting for the best ten percent of the members of the other panel, and together for an equal number of individuals from outside either panel.

2. Candidates from the precinct pool are drawn at random to form two equal sized ward panels. The process is repeated to select two equal sized district panels.

3. The process is repeated to form two equal sized state panels (unless there are political subdivisions in between), and again to form two equal sized national panels.

4. The process is repeated to select a small number, say nine, candidates for the one national pool, from which a single official is selected at random.

A similar multi-step process would be used to select legislators, judges, administrators, etc.

In the judicial track, pairs of grand juries would select members of the next grand or any trial juries, and pose the questions they are to decide, after consulting with witnesses.

So random selection alternates with fitness election in a way that should enable the best and brightest (who don’t necessarily want the job) to bubble up to the top. Each participant in the process has an incentive to vote for the best rather than just a fellow partisan, because an obvious partisan would be less likely to survive to reach a higher level.

Voting rules within panels would use super majority votes, approval voting, or some other alternative to first-past-the-post.



A well-designed constitution should be able to combine many processes with many advantages, including both impartiality and prevention of the domination of the political process by factions, and also a statistically-representative microcosm of the entire citizen body, in order to discover what everyone would think under good conditions. There is no fundamental reason why those elected under some “principle of distinction” must be or become unrepresentative, if it is done in the right way. Having two legislative houses, one selected by sortition and the other by election, might be one way to do that, but we also need processes for executive and judicial questions. I have proposed such solutions at http://www.constitution.org/reform/us/con_amend.htm .

Concerning the Republic of Venice see
http://www.rangevoting.org/VenHist.html
http://www.uni-mannheim.de/mateo/camenaref/cmh/cmh108.html#275

This is not arguing there is a uniquely “best” choice, but there are certainly some that are better than others. The most important decisions that a polity must make are not just matters of taste or fair distribution, but of survival, that is , fitness. There can be more than one way to survive, perhaps giving rise to a fork in evolution, into two or more different lines, but most of the possible decisions lead to extinction. To build on the Platonic analogy, a captain may take his ship safely to any of several favorable ports, if more than one exists, but only one may be within range, and unless he is not very, very good at sailing, he may also take it to the bottom of the sea. Navigation is more a matter of skill, not of luck, taste, or fairness.

A reference can be made to the utilitarian rule of “the greatest good for the greatest number”, but that is too simple. It is the greatest good for the greatest number that is not too inequitable and that does not risk survival. (There is always some risk with any choice, but an optimal strategy improves the odds.)

Representivity is a value, for decisions about taste or distribution (justice), but not the uniquely highest values, which are honor, liberty, and aggregate prosperity, which are always at risk, even if it seems only taste or distribution are at stake.


The Universe is not organized for our comfort or convenience. It allows us to survive, sometimes, for a while, but survival is always nmarginal, and most decisions are a course along the edge of survival, trying to hang on as long as we can. We live in a unique period of easy prosperity when it seems good times will go on forever, however foolish our decisions might be. But that time is not forever, and we can easily bring it to an end sooner than necessary.

Most proposals for some kind of diarchy between advocates and judges neglect to consider that if elites control who may advocate what and how, who may judge, and how the deliberations may be structured or conducted, and what procedures are to be used, then those elites may still steer the “judges” to get any outcome they want.

This proposal does not conflate the functions, but divides them into balanced bodies, and allows darwinian-selected bodies to decide not only judgments but also the questions, structure, and procedures, for themselves and other bodies. There is no one single decisionmaking body, but a complex system of bodies that check and balance one another, while moving decisions to a final stage and to implementation.

So, for example, grand juries can supervise the selection of trial juries and successor grand juries, rather than leaving that to professionals like judges or prosecutors. Grand juries would not just decide whether to indict, but appoint the prosecutor (who could be a private citizen). Jurors would hear all the arguments made to the judge in a trial or hearing, so that they could condition their verdict on what they observed.


Several terms might be used for a system that alternates between random selection and merit screening:

  1. darwinition
  2. eduction
  3. winnowing
  4. winition
  5. fetura — Latin for breeding

How it might be realized

Nothing is going to happen unless or until we have a lot of successful exercises of it at the local and private levels. The Morena party in Mexico provides an example of that for nominating candidates. Election itself was not adopted until it had been successfully tried in many exercises over decades or centuries.

A good place to start would be in public and private schools. That is where most of us first learned at least a simplified version of Robert’s Rules of Order, but that started with the election of class officers, so the indoctrination began early. I can imagine that using a kind of Venetian system might be popular among students.


So it might take a generation or two, and we may not have that long, but we do what we can.

There are several ways sortition could be done in the U.S. without amending the Constitution, although after it was working for a while we might want to amend the Constitution to entrench it:

(1) Selecting the electors of the Electoral College. The method we use now is prescribed by statue in every state. No reason those have to be selected by a popular vote for slates of electors, but might need to begin by changing the law to require electors be elected individually and separately rather than by slate. That might prepare the public for a better way.

(2) Selecting the nominees for U.S. Senate. The 17th amendment now requires a popular election, but says nothing about nomination. Sortition (or more precisely, fetura/eduction/winition — a Venetian-like method) could be used to narrow the alternatives to two, although write-ins would have to be allowed.

(3) Selecting the members, or at least the nominees, for U.S. House of representatives. Even if the statute requiring single-member districts were not repealed, this could be done in each district. Perhaps just for nomination, with election for the last two.

(4) Appointing federal judges not to a particular court, but to a general pool from which they would be randomly assigned to courts for one term, and to cases until the case is decided, including the Supreme Court.

(5) Use eduction for appointing and assigning civil servants, leaving them in one assignment long enough to learn their jobs, but not long enough to “build an empire” there. (This is now done for military personnel.)

(6) Use fetura to appoint and assign most congressional staffers to members, to avoid having them becoming the real power in each house.

(7) Use winition to appoint members of all kinds of boards and commissions.

(8) Require all states to use sortition to select members of grand juries.

(9) Use sortition to select a successor to the president and vice-president in case they both leave office prematurely.


Every one of these appointments is now done according to statute and could be done differently without constitutional amendment.

Adoption of any such reform may be unlikely unless or until we undergo a traumatic event that is blamed on the electoral process. (Although one might think we are already in the midst of such.)


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