Friday, January 05, 2007

Vote now to evict ...

Ostracism was practised in the the ancient Greek Athenian democracy. The idea is fairly simple, the public can choose if it wishes to expel an individual from its society for a period of ten years.

Once a year, the public would decide if it wished to hold an ostracism. If the public decided it did, then after a period of time the vote would occur.

Members of the public would put forward a name for ostracism. If the most voted for name exceeded a set number of votes (i.e a significant percentage of the actual population) then that person would be commanded to leave the city for 10 years (exile).

There would be no loss of property, no loss of title or status.

There was no defense against this.

Was it used? Occasionally

Why was it used? Mainly to remove confrontations, removing an individual seen to be a threat such as a potential tyrant etc.

It's a check and balance measure.

Obviously in its literal form it would be useless in a modern society e.g. voting on bits of pot, use of a roped arena, majority of 6,000, use of the death penalty, relevant only to a city etc.

This would all need to be upgraded to a more modern and liberal version. However such a version of this may have some merit.

When I first raised this idea, the first comments were that we would have a reality TV style voting frenzy and let's get rid of Paul Daniels (a TV celebrity in the UK).

However, that shows a remarkable lack of faith in the electorate to take such issues seriously. I don't subscribe to that point of view.

We live in a society which seems to quite easily remove our civil liberties. It's worth reading Henry Porter in the Guardian, which I've summarised below. I recommend you read his articles though.

  • The right to be tried by a jury:Abolished in cases of serious and complex fraud in 2003.
  • The right to protest:Since 2005, demonstrations outside the House of Commons must be pre-notified to, and approved by, police.
  • The right not to be convicted on hearsay evidence:Hearsay evidence can be submitted to get an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo).
  • The right to trial:Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 the Home Secretary can undertake control orders restricting the liberty of individuals suspected of terrorist involvement - without trial.
  • The right to privacy:DNA samples taken from anyone arrested but acquitted or not prosecuted are now retained on a national database.

and on, and on and on.

It has got to the extent that friends of mine now leave this country to find home elsewhere because of such concerns.

You also have to ask yourself the question :-

"if parliament is there to prevent tyranny - what happens when parliament are the tyrants?"

With the current government desire to increase controls on the population (ID cards, NIR database) and the removal of liberties, we should start to ask ourselves what checks are in place? What happens if someone gets carried away with it all?

Could Ostracism be a useful mechanism?

There is much talk today of a culture of fear and the reasons for the changes to our liberty, well I'm reminded of the Thomas Jefferson quote

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

Maybe we should have a chat with our political servants about this and possibly update our version of democracy with a few extra tools, so we all know where we stand on this matter. Maybe not.

You decide.


Unknown said...

I'm not entirely sure how this would work whilst being compatible with modern politics. Aren't there enough ardent supporters for the "blue" party that would vote out the leader of the "red" party, and vice versa?

swardley said...

Currently only a minority of the population vote and a smaller minority can be considered politically active.

Ostracism should require nomination by a majority of the population.

Could it be used for political purposes - yes, but that assumes that you can hoodwink the electorate into this - I have a much greater faith in the electorate than this.

So could the "red" party campaign for the nomination of the leader of the "blue" party - of course.

However, I would suggest this could quickly become counterproductive as the electorate would see through this for what it is.

Of course you might disagree, and believe that the electorate are easily swayed on such a matter.

The other argument to be given is that such an ostracism is against an individuals rights. Well, that is true but then those rights are temporary and could be removed by future governments, as per the other rights which have been eroded.

The point of raising such a subject is that in an environment where our rights can be diluted on the grounds of convenience, what protection exists?

Ostracism may not be a suitable tool, maybe the current processes are enough. However we should be asking ourselves these questions.

swardley said...

Just as an aside, the original form had exile from the city.

An equivalent modern form could have "exiled" from holding public office or some other such structure (public company etc).

It still means the "red" and "blues" can campaign against each other - nothing solves that problem but the electorate.

zby said...

Ostracism was a form of scapegoating - the purpose was not so much doing justice as getting rid of angry feelings in the population.

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