Well how was the General Election for you? It's certainly been dramatic so far. The votes have been cast. The people have spoken and the hard work of government forming is almost under way. Don't worry, I'm not here to peddle any cliches (well maybe one or two) or party political messages. Nor am I even going to comment on the events of the weekend. And I certainly don't mean to disrespect any of the candidates or parties, who have all worked exceptionally hard in this campaign and will no doubt continue to do so into the future. So, if I'm not here to praise or criticise, what am I here for I hear you ask? Well "I'm glad you asked me that question".... (sorry couldn't resist that one).
Seriously a few people asked me lately if or how Restorative Practices viewed the world of politics, and all the associated controversies and conflicts that invariably ensue from time or time. What would happen if politics got an injection of RP? Could we have circle time and a talking piece in Leinster House and everyone get to speak one voice at a time? (No, I couldn't see that happening either). So does RP actually have anything to say about politics? Well, as it turns out, yes it does. I came across this novel idea last year and it certainly got me thinking. And I thought this a good week to use the blog to let the readers out there hear about it and judge for themselves. Again, no need to worry about this happening anytime soon but who knows into the future? Allow me thus to summarise the work of Ted Wachtel (former head of the International Institute of Restorative Practices), who is making it his life's mission to promote the following idea.
In a nutshell his vision is for the introduction (or reintroduction to be more precise) of the ancient practice of sortition to replace the current system of elections. In old Athens, the cradle of democracy, it turns out only 10% of candidates were selected by voting and elections. The other 90% were chosen on a random basis to serve as politicians, jurors and administrators. I know what you're thinking already. This is crazy and it'll never take off. How could you trust ordinary people instead of career politicians to run the country like that? (Although when you put it like that....) I actually thought it madness at first too. (Isn't it amazing by the way how we rush to form opinions on new suggestions with only the barest of information available). Just keep an open mind for the next two minutes. As I say, it's not like this is happening any time soon anyway.
Wachtel asks us to look at the issues we already have with the current system - short term policies and thinking, millions (billions) spent (wasted) on elections which could be used elsewhere, election of the most popular, the richest and the "special elites", negative campaigning, lack of trust with politicians, jobs for the boys (or girls), declining rates of engagement and the acknowledged corruption of power (it been shown to change your brain chemistry). That's just a sample to the problems that are currently mentioned. He argues that sortition, and the accompanying use of citizens' assemblies, could eliminate much or all of this.
Still sounds crazy? Now consider this. We already do this for our jury selection and we don't bat an eyelid. We don't leave the important decisions of people's freedom or otherwise to judges. That's interesting when you think about it. Now, the next one could be especially difficult for a country where we like to think there is so much wrong, and where other countries are always considered as doing things better. Between 2016 and 2018 we performed an internationally recognised democratic masterpiece known as the citizens' assembly on abortion. In just 18 months a group of randomly chosen people did what no government in the previous four decades could do and sorted the abortion issue once and for all. Instead of hurling insults back and forth as we had been used to, those people met over five full weekends, listened to all the facts and, from this position of knowledge made their recommendations. And what happened? The politicians and general public subsequently followed their lead and rubber-stamped them. This, as I say, was lauded worldwide (a pat on the back for us I say). One wonders could this process be repeated to look at issues such as health care, housing or even climate change? Now there's an idea.
Wachtel doesn't see this happening as some sort of revolution by the way, more like gentle evolution. He advocates democracy moving in a step by step fashion towards this type of system. After all no one is just going to change from something that has been in existence for centuries to something essentially untried. As an initial step he argues that further single issue citizens' assemblies be convened (he sees gun control in America an an ideal test case). Assuming success here, the ideas could be moved on to bigger arenas such as second chambers in countries (for Ireland think our Seanad). This would be an ideal experiment as you would have a direct contrast with the existing system and, over time, a comparison should yield a clear and obvious answer as to which is more efficient and productive.
Still not convinced? Don't worry. Neither am I. As I said I'm not hear to peddle any agenda. I just wanted to make you aware of what alternatives are out there and give you something to ponder over your 11 o'clock break. In the meantime let's enjoy our current exercise in democracy and wish the best of luck to the current candidates.
p.s. if you do wish to read the full proposal click here
That's Restorative Practices
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for others to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.