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Organizing an event with a limited number of seats

Posted by Romain on

I talked about the France Insoumise convention in a previous post. They randomly selected the participants from a list of volunteers. They used a script available on github. Yet most of the questions I asked to the developer stayed unanswered. Also they did not advertise this event. Were they wary of stacking? Anyway they manage to put in place a first test for the use of sortition to organise a meeting. A malicious agent could have rigged the experiment by drawing with different seeds until they obtained the desired result.

Computers are fully deterministic and use pseudo-random numbers. To generate « random » numbers one uses sequences from which it is difficult to predict the next outcome knowing the previous. These sequences, however, are entirely deterministic as the next element is computed from the previous in a predictable manner. For a given seed  -initial condition- all computers can reproduce the entire sequence. The computer’s determinism constitutes both a weakness and also a strength.


Two lines, nobody like queueing except maybe for the monks. Romain Cazé CC-BY

A way to avoid possible tampering consists in randomly drawing a seed. For instance, we can do it by taking the arrival times of different witnesses and hashing these numbers. We can also use an entirely analogical device to draw a seed controlled by an usher. Any computer could then deterministically reproduce the outcome. Two advantages here: (1) it saves a lot of time, especially if we need to pick within a long list of people (2) everybody can reproduce the draw using a personal computer.

The aforementioned method would give a strong legitimacy to the draw. And rigging the draw would become virtually impossible.

Thank you for reading! If you have ideas on how to use this method please comment in the section below.

P.S: Thank you Ambre for the proof read.


Justice and luck

Posted by Ambre Marini Audouard on

The current global polarisation and extreme political climate (see: Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, Nicholas Maduro, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Rodrigo Duterte….) stem from people feeling miss-represented by their political officials.
The people who get to represent us, while having worked very hard to get where they are, also often benefit from a lot of luck, family support.

In a just world, everyone gets what they deserve, the wise lead, the braves protect the meek and happiness is aplenty. In a just world, no child ever goes to school hungry, eagerly hoping for the respite of the blessed lunch hour, no parent or elder child ever takes a mind-numbing job they hate just to sustain a family they love, no-one loses out on something because someone cut ahead of them in line and were too polite to protest.


Two weights used in justice. Image credit Romain Cazé CC-BY

Those are little injustices that happen all the time.

We need to recognise the impossibility and incoherence of a just world to realise that, maybe the prison inmate arrived there due to complex political-economic factors, as opposed to a deserving action, maybe the homeless drunk you see every day is not there because he gambled his money away but because a debilitating illness caused his firing and his only way of escape and release sloshes at the bottom of a bottle.

But I digress, accepting the impossibility of a just world and using a randomised system, while difficult to comprehend or philosophically accept because our understandable love of meritocracy (impossible in the face of an unjust world), might be the necessary change, not only to get a range of opinions into the political conversation (opinions, rarely represented) but might also help with the general feeling of dissatisfaction with the political system and as a result stop the mad race to extremes.

Thank you for reading,


Feeling sorry for yourself

Posted by Romain on

I often feel insufficient, not strong enough for the task ahead, and this makes me feel sorry for myself, that I have been beaten up too many times, and that I will loose the next battle. This helplessness limits what I want to do and makes me sad. I spend time dreaming about things I could have done better, I think of sad yesterdays rather than thinking of today and tomorrows.

I want to fight this, not only because it brings me down to feel that way. Each time I managed to escape from myself, to really listen to what another person has to say. Loneliness goes away, and I feel belonging to humankind. There is this proverb I love and that expresses this idea: « How you keep a water drop from drying? You put it into the ocean ». To feel sorry for yourself you need to withdraw from the world. When you stop looking at your navel you discover that being part of humankind can be super-resting and fulfilling. How can we keep this link alive?

Two ways of spending time looking at. Image credit CC-BY Romain Cazé

What link random selection and this (selfish) impression? Random selection, like a sharp knife, can crack open our inner shells. As a moderator you are forced to pay attention to what other people are saying. I repeat here my love of inclusive lists. If you ask for volunteers you ask for people already open to others. Sortition can allow to select the shy person at the back of the room, and they may be the solution to unsolvable problems.

Thank you for reading! If you feel sorry (or not) for my post shout out in the comment section below.



Posted by Romain on

« To revolt is to run to one’s downfall, because revolt, if it takes place in a group, immediately regains a hierarchical scale of submission within the group, and revolt, alone, quickly leads to the submission of the rebel… All that’s left is to escape. » Henri Laborit -Eloge de la fuite- 1985. I was born in 1985. I had thought that for a long time. The solution for him is to escape. To go within yourself in a dreamy place outside from the world.

I choose to stay. I don’t want to convince anybody, I simply want to stand my ground. I want to defend this dream place of mine where things become possible, to defend it against politicians of all sorts. People often tell me: « but what if the person disagrees with you opinion », but this is exactly the test I am looking for: that a person can peacefully disagree with me. No need to escape when everybody agree, you build a comfortable bunker inhabited by a happy few. I’d like to build an open-ended road where contradictory ideas can flow without limit.


Two roads offering different possibilities. Image credit Romain Cazé CC-BY

Randomness looks like a key ingredient to this recipe. It turns a contest of ideas into an exam. There is not best or worst ideas in a system ruled by randomness. Nothing is close ended and permanent in a system ruled by randomness. Revolt becomes permanent when a dice put in place new rulers seamlessly. I dream maybe too strongly but I have faith in such a system provided some guard rails.

What if someone or a group of people wants to take over and dictate their laws? Rotation prevents such thing from happening because a minority can overthrow rulers. The intrinsic instability of the system guarantees its perpetuation.

Thank you for reading! If you have another escape route please tell me in the comment section below.



Posted by Romain on

I advise you to watch this video in English – especially lesson three – before reading this post or listening to this song in French while reading this post. Meritocracy presupposes that people get what they have worked for. Every day, people drown, kill or are killed, grow up in places dangerously close to hell or strangely close to paradise. Do they deserve it? My nanny died while holding my hand on the way home from school; I am surrounded by a large family that I love; I lost my father at the age of six; I grew up in a rich France; I got my PhD with the jury’s congratulations; I have multiple sclerosis. Do I deserve it? The answer to these two questions seems obvious to me. No. Yet meritocratic ideas infest our societies. Maybe that’s because a yes would make it so much easier. Indeed, it is comforting to find a purpose for all this or a great goal that explains the sacrifices.

In my short life, I have learned to respect not goals but means. I focus on things I like to do and share my easy or difficult moments with others. I try to be benevolent with myself and with others and to enjoy my incredible opportunities. I am also learning to better perceive events. Things, good or bad, happen to us – no control over them – but the way we perceive things can be controlled. Blaming myself or blaming others for their mistakes wastes time and energy, and both are necessary to seize opportunities and enjoy good times.


Two medals, left the Legion of Merit, right a more modest medal. Image Credit Romain Cazé CC-BY

What’s the connection to sortition? There is no choice when meritocracy overwhelms our judgment. Decisions are then influenced by our innumerable unconscious biases, we then share things and power according to our mood. But the choice of flipping a coin is a conscious act. It is a much fairer way of sharing than meritocracy. No one deserves more than others to own things or make decisions. Sortition serves a means and not a goal, it allows us to share and lead with much more impartiality. Because it becomes consciously impossible to think that people deserve their share or what happen to them when randomness is in charge.

Thank you for your reading! Your comments and feedback are welcome, so feel free to leave a comment in the section below.




Posted by Romain on

A multitude of « mouvements citoyen » emerged recently in France. Most of them share a common feature, they want to be horizontal. They want an organization without leaders or emblematic figures. They consciously reject this idea of a person having more responsibility than another. This ideal, however, confronts to a harsh reality, and in practise senior members have more power than new members.

Two churches an old and a new one. Image credit Romain Cazé CC-BY

This declination of the « first come, first served » idea invades these organization. Many reasons justify this empowerment of seniority. Seniors know better how the organization work, they know better the different members. This, however, unconsciously close the door for new members. The most senior member « deserve » to rule because they were here before.

I experienced this prevalence of seniority at many occasions. When one presents an idea that can displease many, then seniority an argument often used against it. This unconscious (or conscious) opposition stems from the idea that only certain people are fit to rule. Why pick randomly when you have people that were there weeks before. I say weeks not months nor years because weeks suffice to assert the legitimacy of a ruler. Even in groups that want to profoundly change the system can be conservative.

Thank you for reading! If you have any experience facing a senior please share in the section below.


Volunteer (or not)

Posted by Romain on

Yesterday’s post discussed about inclusion and exclusion, but people may be not willing to cooperate. How can you make someone participate in politics? Politicians do a good a job in pretending that they want it. In fact they actively exploit our inside mule. They employ the idea behind this idiom: « You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink ». They use our natural laziness and (the illusion of) openness is insufficient. Women and poor people are welcomed in French politics, no law forbids it. Yet they are too few of them. The lack of willingness is an easy excuse. Maybe it is time to ask nicely and convincingly.

Two animals with different degrees of stubbornness. Photos credit Romain Cazé CC-BY.

Election inherently needs volunteers. People outside the group of candidates cannot be elected. Party also pre-select the candidates. This exclude most of the people from politics. They allow everyone to participate but ask no one.

#MAVOIX wanted to make their candidates more representative and de-personify politics using sortition. A good attempt and noble motive, sadly they picked from a list of volunteers. I think that it introduces a dangerous bias. Sortition guarantees to represent the population you pick from. In this case, you select from a population of people that consciously or not want power. As Alain wrote these people are the worst type of leaders. They pick candidates from this population -I think- to ensure a certain momentum that was a good idea but against their first principles.

« Les ateliers constituant » uses a sociocratie protocol to designate a moderator, from a list of volunteers… I went to one of their meeting and I had a hard time trying to change their mind (and I didn’t succeed). People argued that non-volunteers are not going to be motivated enough that they do not even want to be the moderator -funnily it was the volunteers who made this point. This is why I proposed to allow moderators to resign when they want (but 99% of the time they need to BE resigned by the group (power corrupts even a little one)). In conclusion, I think that to allow is not enough, one needs to ask.

Thank you for reading! Will you volunteer to write a comment?


Des maîtres enchaînés

Posted by Romain on

La plupart du temps, les gens entrent en politique pour défendre les pauvres, les démunis ou les opprimés, mais la sortition peut aussi aider l’autre bout du spectre du pouvoir.

Décider, c’est pénible. Un dirigeant ne peut pas mépriser tout le monde et une décision donnée sera toujours défavorable pour certaines personnes. Cette partie de la population peut varier qualitativement et quantitativement d’une décision à l’autre. Un dirigeant élu tente de plaire à la majorité, mais parfois les  » meilleures  » décisions sont impopulaires. Une mesure pourrait plaire à A et déplaire à B, et la suivante pourrait faire exactement le contraire. Les dirigeants doivent donc justifier leur choix.

Décider c’est aussi fatigant. Et pas seulement à cause du stress du au mécontentement. Un leader doit être disponible 24h/24 et 7j/7 pour résoudre les problèmes qui surviennent de manière aléatoire. Les dirigeants charismatiques se vantent souvent de leur manque de sommeil. Mais le manque de sommeil entraîne de graves problèmes de santé. On dit que certains leaders dorment six heures ou moins par nuit, un autre type d’animal dort aussi la même quantité de temps: les chèvres.

Deux animaux qui dorment six heures par nuit (désolé c’était trop tentant)
Photos de wikimedia et creative commons licence CC-BY.

Les mécanismes visant à exclure un dirigeant d’un système électoral sont brutaux. La destitution ne survient que dans des circonstances exceptionnelles et traumatisantes. Je pense qu’il est essentiel de réfléchir à la façon dont un leader partira paisiblement dès son arrivée. La rotation dans un système électif n’est guère considérée comme un processus « naturel » et sans heurts. C’est comme si ce mode le choix garantit de choisir la meilleure personne. La destitution est dans ce cas un échec illogique profond.

Quand on utilise la sortition la rotation du pouvoir semble logique. Cette rotation signifie que la personne choisie peut et doit avoir un mandat court facilement défait. La logique sous-jacente est que le hasard peut désigner une personne inapte à exercer ses fonctions. La rotation diminue la pression sur le leader désigné. Le pouvoir DOIT tourner dans un système utilisant la sortition. La contradiction devient possible sans turbulences trop importantes. Cela permet une révolution permanente et non-violente. En un mot, la sortition protège les leaders d’eux-mêmes.

Merci. Si vous avez (ou autre) une expérience traumatisante à partager, la section commentaire est ci-dessous.




Posted by Romain on

People often ask: « how can we be sure that a person is sufficiently qualify for their job? ». This question of skill is a major interrogation when you use sortition. I usually first answer that moderating does not require any special skills. A moderator control the length of an intervention and distribute speech equally. Still being a good moderator could be problematic.  It requires to know when someone speaks too much or not enough. Once, someone told me that everyone should be a moderator at least one time. I fully agree with this statement and moderating is a thing you learn by practice. We looked here at the simple case of moderation but what happens if we sort for a more complex kind of job. Two options seem evident.

Books, an old-fashion way to learn. Image credit CC-BY from google images.

(1) Either we select randomly someone and if they accept the task then we train them or (2) we select from a group of people having the set of skills we want. I already spoke about this later solution in my post about exams and competition. We could design an exam such that only the qualified people for the precise task could pass the exam. This works when we can exactly define what is a good skill for the job. This keep some of the elitism typical from the French education sysLtem.

Training, in option (1), could be more problematic to put in place. Nothing guarantees that the selected person will follow the trainingI One solution is to validate the training with an exam at the end of the training. This solution enables more flexibility in the delimitation of the necessary skills and is less elitist.

In both cases learning is important and this point should be thoroughly address in a system using sortition. Surprisingly, this idea is almost absent from election as if this mode of selection would provoke the « best » selection.

Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment, what is your favorite option and why? Do you have idea for a third option?


Enslaved rulers

Posted by Romain on

Most of the times people start their political career to defend the poor, the defenceless or the oppressed, but sortition might also help the other side of the power spectrum.

Deciding takes its toll. A ruler cannot contempts everybody and a given decision will always be unfavorable for some people. This portion of the population can vary both qualitatively and quantitatively from decision to decision. An elected ruler tries to please the majority, but sometimes the « best » decisions are the unpopular ones. One measure could please A and displease B, and the next one could do the exact opposite. Leaders need therefore to justify their choice.

Ruling is also tiring. And not only from the stress to displease. A leader needs to be 24/7 available in order to solve issues occurring randomly. Charismatic rulers often brag about how little they sleep. But the lack of sleep leads to serious health problems. It is said that some leaders sleep six hours or less per night, another kind of animal also sleeps the same amount of time: goats.

Two animals sleeping six hours per night
Photos from wikimedia and creative commons licence CC-BY.

Mechanisms to rule out a leader in a system using election are brutal. Destitution only occurs in exceptional and traumatic circumstances. I see it as essential to think about how a leader will leave peacefully when they arrive. The rotation using election is hardly thought as a « natural » and smooth process. It is as if this mode of selection inherently pick the best that is a immutable characteristic. Destitution would be in this case a profound failure.

Rotation seems logical and smooth in a system using sortition. Even if rotation intuitively seems a good idea to get rid of selected people unfit for office it can also diminish the pressure on the designated leader. The power MUST rotate in a system using sortition. Stern contradiction becomes possible without too important turbulences. This enables non-violent revolution.  In a nutshell, sortiton protects leader from themselves and from the strain coming from power.