When knowledge fails belief: referendums.

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The Frankenstein monster

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Referendums may not sanction censorship.

Rudyard Kipling wrote an enthusiastic story about The village that voted that the world is flat. Both a fact and a value are here established: that this parish is parochial and has a right to be. We could only take exception to this result if the village were to give the lie to itself by becoming imperial and trying to impose its mind-set the world round.

James Michener was voted a national treasure by Americans. Tho, he said The World Is My Home, as his one-man library of bumper novels shows. A minor theme of Space is the growing success of Bible fundamentalists in banishing Darwin's theory of natural selection from schools. Referendums may help to accomplish this.

Darwin loved the accounts, in Genesis and Milton's Paradise Lost, of the creation of separate species. It was a torment to him to break away to the conception of evolution. And evolution itself is an old idea. It was his theory of natural selection that gave it at least the makings of a plausible way of happening, so one could no longer doubt that life did evolve.

Evolution is one of the great working principles of scientific research. Nothing may be absolutely certain but to try to suppress this line of thought is to seek refuge in ignorance.
Some scientists, whose work is confined to natural phenomena, cannot resist passing off materialist dogmas on the public as 'science' - as if that meant their naive assumptions about life, death and everything were to be believed without question.

Naturally, the religious are sore at this scorched-earth invasion of their spiritual territory but the answer is not censorship of Darwinism or 'science'. Milton's Areopagitica showed long ago that a free press can be 'heretical' by picking and choosing the best from all sides of an argument. Wilful ignorance depends on tyrannical suppression with its uninformed stupidities and ruinous follies.

Nor will it do to say that referendums are a legitimate democratic means by which parents can select what they wish taught their children. This argument confuses democracy with what Mill called maiorocracy, the tyranny of the majority. Any majority is usually only a local majority, anyway. So, upholding the rights of minorities is more or less upholding the rights of us all, in different circumstances.
Therefore, democracy cannot be used as an argument for censorship. A referendum to stop teaching Darwin's theory, or anything else for that matter, in schools does not have democratic legitimacy.

By the way, censorship is an unlawful concept, if it means stopping people say what other people think might be harmful, in some ( vague ) way. Censorship is like putting everyone in handcuffs for crimes we might commit.
But that doesnt mean one can say anything, without regard to the consequences. One may be prosecuted for inciting to crime, as with hate propaganda.

What gets on a school curriculum, or to what extent there should be set subjects, is another question. Sure, you can have a vote on it, but the preferences or ranked choices of subjects ( you dont want only one or two ) should be proportionally represented. That way minority interests get their fair share, and no more, of resources.
That is a way for achieving consent in the community. Even if that is a good method, it does not pretend to be perfect. It can not excuse ruling out any child's educational needs, say, with regard to unique talents or handicaps.
The prophets might tell patriarchal gatherings that their wives, children and dependants existed for God's purpose and not their own.

The problem of voting method applies to referendums, too.

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The kind of referendums, just talked about, are known as Initiatives. These are referendums in which members of the public ( not members of a legislature ) take the initiative in proposing a law. A large number of nominations are usually required, before the campaign can become official. To become law, the Initiative in question will need a majority of a quorum, which is a turnout of enough of the electors, to uphold the result.

Initiatives are perhaps the nation state's closest approximation to the Ancient Greek city states' direct democracy. In the classical architecture of Washington's government buildings, the very stones speak of this legacy. How is one to argue there is no place for general participation of large populations in legislation? Such an argument says nothing against initiatives in local government, nor at what scale they are supposed to be of no use - some size comfortably above the Swiss federation, evidently.

The question is urgent, because direct democracy now has the practical form of electronic democracy. And it is no longer possible for detractors to shrug that only representative democracy is feasible with large populations.
Indeed, there are some who say that representative democracy has so poorly served peoples wishes, that we should use new electronic mass forums to by-pass self-serving legislatures.

In this scenario, interactive mass media are the peoples debating chamber and voting lobby. As never before, popular consent could be secured on each and every issue. We would be, in Arthur C Clarke's words, in a world without politicians. Except, this is no longer science fiction.

However, certain questions remain. A referendum ( or an Initiative ) is subject, as representation is, to the problem of electoral method. Replacing representations with referenda would do nothing to solve that problem of how individual votes add up to the wishes of a community.

If electronic democrats fail to realise this problem, they repeat the mistakes in voting method that are still made over representative democracy. The very concept of 'representative democracy' has been losing ground, because the parties favor voting methods that reduce voters to party supporters, rather than people, who might aspire to having wishes of their own to be represented.
Politics has become largely irrelevant and politicians despised and despising.

Giving everyone a legislative vote on each and every issue, by computer, does not make that vote any more effective for electing issues than it was for electing representatives. An x-vote for one of two choices is still the most limited kind of choice, whether it is a choice between one of two candidates or a choice between one of two options.

The two options may be no more agreeable than the two candidates. This most limited of voting systems will split the vote between a range of issues on offer as surely as it splits the vote between more than two candidates.
In short, illogical voting method will frustrate most peoples wishes, quite as much thru referendums, as thru representations.

Formal and informal role of STV in effecting referendums.

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On web pages, such as 'Scientific method of elections', Ive shown the voting method that applies to elections in general ( the characteristic of a scientific theory ). There is no reason to suppose the single transferable vote isnt equally applicable to referendums, as to representations.

In fact, it was shown how the prefering of individual candidates on individual issues allows voters to initiate spontaneous and effective referendums. STV gives ordinary voters the power of the Initiative simply by entering a polling booth, without all the extra constitutional machinery and collective action required for formal Initiatives.

Transferable voting also makes informal referendums possible, that is to say informal Initiatives from the top. Certain politicians may agree with their party on some issues but disagree on another issue too important to be ignored.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Conservative, Lord Hugh Cecil found his party captured by Joseph Chamberlain for tariff reform. But he couldnt go over to the Liberals, who still supported free trade, because he opposed their home rule policy.
Cecil favored the single transferable vote, so that unionist free traders, like himself, could urge people to first prefer Tory unionist free traders and then prefer Liberal or other unionist free traders. In turn, his Liberal counterparts could have urged their supporters to extend their preferences to Tories of Lord Hugh's persuasion.

Of course, the people could have done the opposite and prefered tariff reform home rulers. That's democracy. But they couldnt do either, with a non-transferable vote, which effects a partisan censorship on half the four permutations of choice. Any policy package not made up by the parties is heresy to their oligarchies.

Democracy needs both the informal Initiatives or referendums offered by transferable voting and Initiatives or referendums, in the usual sense of an organised popular campaign for a single-issue's election into law.
Transferable voting is necessary because people should have effective choice on issues without having to be perpetual activists. STV quietly effects the voters' own personal referendums on decisions of national destiny, without having to become nationalists - and indeed effects primaries, without voters having to become partisans.

But sometimes, one may feel one has to join a party or a national campaign. The referendum's single-issue election is to the latter what general elections are to the former. As Dicey said, the referendum puts the nation above party. It has its place in a democracy.

Referendums and representations complement each other.

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Note that a referendum or Initiative still has to have its initiators or leaders or it would never happen, much less address the public. These heads must be popularly elected as most representative of the cause.

Conversely, representatives may themselves become issues, as to their standing on issues, or whether their characters make them suitable leaders. Leadership is itself an issue, even if it goes by the name of chairman or spokesperson in supposedly advanced parties.

Internet utopians, who believe electronic democracy would be better replacing representative democracy, are sadly mistaken. The distinction between direct democracy ( electronically making referenda results the norm of democratic decision-taking ) and representative democracy is not the difference between a democracy and a republic.
Referendums and representations are both democratic when they use the democratic method of elections. What is needed in politics and economics is not to take away that power of representation, which would only reinforce corporate power, but to give voters effective, indeed scientific, method of election.

One has to emphasise that direct democracy, which is certain to revive with electronic communications, complements representative democracy, and is in no way inferior to it.

The same is true of political and economic democracy. One thinks of the preceding century or more with its war of half-truths between individualism and communism or laisser- faire liberalism and state socialism, resulting in a sort of anarchic corporatism, greedily destroying the earth's ecology.

The film critic Barry Norman chirpily called Independence Day 'the most successful B-movie ever made'. But the moral of that SF story's planet plunderers is that they are a projection of our worst selves.
The author of Permaculture, Bill Mollison says the two world wars have been followed by a third world war on nature.
So, it is to be hoped that democrats, political and economic, representative and referential, will work together, as well as with environmentalists, and all concerned folk.

Rigid divisions between right and left seem animated by tribal loyalism rather than a desire to seek broader views. It is reasonable to suppose that direct democracy, via the internet, might transmit existing values, rather than reconcile them.
Why should people go out of their way to dispense with prejudices, merely because they are expressed thru a new medium, however revolutionary? In fact, a complaint is that old hatreds are given new life on the internet.

The point of parliament is that political values have to face each other and be argued till they make sense to others. It is true that parties in power usually try to subvert parliament's function by pushing thru their positions or prejudices as manifesto commitments. Rather than compromise with their critics, governments seem to take their lost votes as personal defeats.

This tacit doctrine of government infallibility discredits parliaments, full of servile partisans, and needs to be powerfully combated by the only electoral system that allows the people to transcend rigid party divisions, namely transferable voting. STV makes freedom from the party line possible for the represented, and therefore their representatives, to debate freely and fearlessly, of vested interests, to uncover the true problems and solutions for our well-being.

Using STV for referendums might also be expected to open voters' eyes to the fact that there are not only black and white, either-or answers to problems, like: should Britain stay in the Common Market cum European Union or leave it? A range of options should be possible.

( Procedural note: STV can determine each option's portion of support, and further ensure the options are narrowed down, by lifting the proportion of votes required, in successive primaries that elect fewer and fewer options. Surplus votes from options, passing the quota of support, are transfered to next prefered options, till the number of options, allowed at that stage, is reached. )

But settling on a representative range of options, to begin with, implies the need for a debate beforehand by a range of representatives.

The partisans, who want parliament to be a rubber stamp to party activists' policies have something in common with such direct democrats, as dont believe the election of representatives is real democracy. Such people may believe they are the progressive democrats. Actually, the partisans, who want delegates rather than representatives, and any triumphalist direct democrats are the conservative democrats, not 'the radicals'.
They want to prosecute existing opinions, whereas the genuine representative democrat wants to create a broader vision out of the clash of points of view, considered representatively.

That is not to say that all direct democrats are conservative. That would be a perverse conclusion about their much valued technical innovations and aspirations. But the conservative-progressive dialog is perhaps not as straight-forward as those, who take sides, believe.

Boris Karloff in the mirror.

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This confusion about the role of democracy reminds me of a Boris Karloff film where our hero, on waking, catches sight of himself in the mirror. The direct democrat sees his partisan image reflected and recoils in horror. The answer is not to smash the mirror of representation but to tolerate seeing ourselves as others see us, in parliamentary debate.

If this were not absurd enough, partisan Europe makes the converse mistake. It thinks its elections are representative, when they are mainly referential. Even when party lists are 'open', the individual representation, they are supposed to offer, is ineffective. The voters are left with a corporate vote for a party that is really only a manifesto referendum vote.
Voting for a 'party' is to approve its package of policies. If you could prefer a party's candidates, you could pick those whose policy positions in the party were closest to your own.

Europe has more in common, than it would like to admit, with its pre-war dictators, who used plebiscites, making popular appeals without risking any challenge to their position.
So, it would be fair to say that Europe is substantially a party list oligarchy with manifesto referenda masquerading as representative democracy.
The democratic exceptions have been Ireland and Malta, where the transferable vote is both representative of individual candidates and referential thru prefering candidates on cross-party or national issues.

Returning to Boris Karloff in the mirror, the list partisan thinks he is the mirror image representing the people's wishes. But he has actually done what the purely direct democrat wishes to do. He has smashed the mirror of representation. His own reality is too dominant for him to suffer being an image of the people. So, the reality of the people's wishes, he is supposed to represent, is lost.

Paradox of electing an election: a referendum on PR.

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On the web page Foul!.., I concluded an elected vocational second chamber would have the best authority to referee electoral system abuse. Likewise it could rule on whether proposed referenda were constitutional or just whether they made sense.
The issues promoted for referendums are controversial. That is to be expected. But it is surprising how dubious their propositions tend to be. For instance, the death penalty, giving the state a license to kill, is hardly the stuff of a Bill of Rights.

The call for unilateral disarmament compromised the prime function of the state to defend the nation. Altho a referendum is a request for popular consent, one-sided disarmament was a sort of passive authoritarianism, determined regardless of our Warsaw Pact rivals.
Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader saw the light, when Michael Gorbachev instead wanted mutual disarmament by negotiation.

Another proposed British referendum was to keep the pound. How is foreign or British business to be prevented from following the current of currency dealings? So much for throwing the British people a shadow of sovereignty to cling to.

At the time of writing, a British referendum on proportional representation ( sort of ) is also in the offing. What we are talking about is actually electing an election. How do we know the right electoral method to use in a referendum to elect the right electoral method? Different methods are liable to give different results to referenda, as well as to representations. That is what started the whole fuss, in the first place.

How then are we to justify a sudden indifference to method for the referendum, that we could not for representations?
Moreover, the voting method that truly represents the voters' choice of voting method may not be one and the same. If the voters realised that, they might want to change their mind to the democratic voting method.

It is logically possible that a people might choose a less than democratic voting method, even tho the referendum uses the democratic voting method that faithfully reflects their wishes. What then? Could the result be upheld, from a constitutional point of view?
Solon was asked whether he had given the Athenians the best system of laws. He replied, No, only the best they were capable of receiving.

On other web pages, I deal with the insistence, by the Plant and Jenkins reports and others, that there is no one 'right' method of election. They give up the scientific endeavor of general electoral method. So, it is hard to see why their conclusions should carry any more weight than the next person's, much less decide the terms of a national referendum between voting systems.

If different electoral methods are suited for different institutions, how are we to know which method to use for the circumstance of a referendum? Shouldnt different nations also have 'indigenous' referential elections? If not, why not? After all, representatives stand for issues that may be refered to the public. If a simple either-or choice is not good enough for representations, it is not good enough for referendums.

A straight choice between first past the post and an additional member system, such as the Jenkins report's, affirms a new version of the two party system, that was supposed to be such an 'unfair' duopoly. For, it asks the voters to choose between two systems, either biased towards the one-party right or a combined two-party centre-left.
A first past the post referendum is hardly a credible way to defeat first past the post. But Britain is being asked to walk with a right limp, instead of a left. Democracy has nothing to do with it.

Referendums in relation to a Bill of Rights.

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Suppose, then, the people choose a majoritarian voting system. If a Bill of Rights protects substantial minorities, then a majoritarian choice of system could be over-ruled. More likely, minority leaders would have applied to the constitutional court to get the terms of the referendum disqualified, in the first place.

Suppose, tho, that the people choose a voting system of proportional partisanship. Those same minority leaders know they will be elected under a party list system or party list system, combined with the single seat majorities system. They have no complaints.

Then it all depends whether critics saw to it that the writers of the Constitution had the presence of mind to state the obvious, that the public interest of the nation should prevail against sectional interests, that individuals should not be at the mercy of. This might be taken as the definition of a true community, for which a Bill of Rights is a social contract.

Then again, a voting system of proportional partisanship could be challenged constitutionally. A voting system, based on party divisions, denies the individual freedom of choice to transcend divisions and assert the kind of community desired by the people, rather than the parties wheeling and dealing.

Such constitutional challenges could be appealed against. But the general public, who cannot be generally informed on every issue, are given more chance not to be imposed upon by specious referendums. This meets the main objection of those who believe in parliamentary, but not referential, democracy.

Also, the objection can be met, that a constitutional court, ruling on a bill of rights, does not have the democratic authority, as either representations or referendums do.
As previously suggested, the constitutional court could come from an elected second chamber of government, on a vocational franchise of the special knowledge of every occupation.
For, what we are talking about here is the limits that knowledge places on referendums as a means of democratic action. Whatever the people might want to do, there are logical and realistic limits to what can be done.

'Scientific' standards should be observed. In Britain, twice the money was spent by the pro-Common Market campaigners. Money talked twice as loud for one side. This was said not to matter. Then why not limit spending so each side has equal opportunity to air its views? This would give the result extra legitimacy, against the excuse that excess advertising swung the popular verdict.
Those, for campaign spending without limit, dont appear to believe their own argument and are open to the charge of hypocrisy.

However, referendums are appropriate to the questions, that seek consent for a chosen destiny, when knowledge fails belief. The European nations' Common Market referendums were a good example.

This discussion began by ruling out referendums as an instrument of censorship. Milton pleaded for the preserving of books, as 'the precious life-blood of a master spirit'. So, should referendums be suffered to decide literally life or death?

Richard Lung

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A death penalty referendum in the context of social violence.

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