Author Topic: democracy in ancient athens  (Read 2985 times)

Triple Zero

  • DO NOT ABUSE EXCEPT FOR URGENT FURNITURE MOVING EMERGENCIES
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 25360
  • Horrible and Sexy Queen of Cheese
    • View Profile
    • Random BIP
democracy in ancient athens
« on: May 14, 2006, 03:30:36 pm »
something i wanted to post for a long time on this board, as you probably know i'm not very good with history/politics, but this i learned from a friend of mine (who studies history)

i think it's rather interesting, it seems we have gotten "democracy" quite wrong over the ages?

in ancient athens, democracy worked as follows. every year 500 people were randomly selected to go into the senate (this was called "the lot", think of the word "lottery", also meaning "fate"). it was these 500 people that got to vote, majority-rule style.
this senate-job was a prestigious position and (i think) also fully paid for a year. but there was no way to control who would be "elected by the lot". (women and foreigners were excluded from the lottery btw).

i think this randomness is the most important part of why the ancient athens system worked soo well, and not the majority-vote part. i think that when "they" chose athens as a model for politics, they misunderstood that and instead took the majority-vote bit as the most important part.

this random lottery prevents in a number of ways, the difficulties and dirty tricks that are played with current day democracy. if only a random selection of the population actually gets to vote and decide, there is a lot less possibility for populism and lobbying.

as we know, complex systems tend to "evolve" or "transform" to increasingly high er levels of organisation. it is exactly this tendency of complex systems (which is almost a law of reality) that is causing the problems with democracy. there are other structures (corporations, political lobbies, etc) that are (by their very nature) trying to "outgame" the system. this lifts the focus (or level of organisation) from "the people" to these higher-level structures.

by adding a certain amount of "noise" or randomness to the system, one prevents the system from evolving to a higher level of organisation. this is because every such higher level will be brittle and based on outgaming (in a certain way) the rules of the system, and is therefore easily smashed by the noise before it can fully grow to a stable organisational layer and ensure its continued existance in the complex system.

three more remarks:

- there was another element of "forced disorder" in the ancient athens democratic system: the city-state of Athens was divided in three parts: land (farms etc), sea (harbour/fishing etc) and the city. these three parts were again subdivided into 10 smaller neighbourhoods, for a total of 30. every year (i think), all the neighbourhoods were joined together in groups of three (one land, one city and one sea), functioning as some kind of representative mini province kind of thing (they probably had a word for it in Athens, but i don't know it). the disorderly factor in this scheme is that these "provinces" where chosen (or randomly selected, i dont know) in such a way that the three parts it consisted of did not share a common border. thereby making it harder to form cartels, political pressure-groups or other higher-level structures.

- discussing this with some other guy, he already mentioned that if some kind of political organisation forms outside this democratic system and attains a reasonable amount of popularity among the people, chances are good that multiple members of this political party will be lotted among the 500. this will again result in "outgaming the system", and the political party would be able to excert more political pressure or power than the pure "one man one vote" strategy that was originally intended. in other words, the system is not perfect, but i think it does quite well anyhow.

- according to what my friend told me, Socrates did not like this system, arguing that the "lot" (randomness) is not intelligent and therefore inferior to make these decisions (a lame argument imo, but how was Socrates supposed to know, without Computer Science, that randomness is in fact more intelligent than one may presuppose, given that it's applied in large numbers .. heh Monte Carlo wasn't even built by then ;) ). on the other hand, Aristotle argued in favour of this system, for kind of the same reasons as i list above (mostly that the "lot" prevents outgaming).

knowing this only from hearsay i probably made some mistakes or wrong assumptions, so i present you these wikipedia links [which i haven't read yet, but will scan through in a moment]:

how the athenian democracy works according to wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy
Sortition is an article about the random selection representative whatnot:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition
(the sortition article is very interesting IMO, but perhaps that's just the contrast with the rather boring history story that "Athenian Democracy" is on wikipedia)

i suppose Cain has one thing or other to correct about this text, him being the politics junky immersed in greek history ;-)
Ex-Soviet Bloc Sexual Attack Swede of Tomorrow™
e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.

INFORMATION SO POWERFUL, YOU ACTUALLY NEED LESS.

Cain

  • Alea iacta est
  • Chekha
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 62535
    • View Profile
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2006, 07:28:16 am »
Your description is accuate, but Athenian 'democracy' is a fucking awful idea.  Beyond how the government was structured, there was nothing to the Constitution.  It was mob rule and little more.  You could be ostracised (exiled) or put to death on a spurious charge on the basis of a majority vote.  There was no division of power and a high turnover of elected officials, meaning concerted policy on how government should be run and foreign relations was impossible.  There were no rights and no division of power, everything rested with the legislature, who were based on popular sentiment.  If America was like that now, for example, it would be a Christian totalitarian theocracy, equivalent to Iran after the 1979 revolution.  Atheists, pagans and gays would executed in the streets and Biblical law would be enforced.

It also lead directly to the Athenian Empire, as Machiavelli pointed out in his excellent analysis of republics in the Discourses.  The economic structure demands an expansionist foreign policy and when you throw populist nationalistic sentiment into the mix...well, thats how atrocities like the Athenian massacare at Melos happen.

Its all good and well so long as you have a strong individual like Pericles at the helm, but if there isn't one...

Triple Zero

  • DO NOT ABUSE EXCEPT FOR URGENT FURNITURE MOVING EMERGENCIES
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 25360
  • Horrible and Sexy Queen of Cheese
    • View Profile
    • Random BIP
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2006, 03:26:57 pm »
thanks for your insights. i just copy/pasted this piece and adapted it a bit from a text i've written before .. but i was rather drunk when i did the copy/pasting/adapting, so i might not have made the point exactly where i wanted to make it.

the main point of it, why i posted it here, was how it opened my eyes to how a random process can be used in order to break up the evolving of higher orders/levels of organisation/order.

you see, all (?) complex systems tend to evolve to increasingly higher levels of organisation. you can see this in lots of different examples, from biological evolution to the structuring of corporations into larger conglomerations etc.
this is not always a good thing. up to a certain level, things tend to get more "efficient" for the individual human being making part of these organisations, but after a certain treshold has been reached, the individual drops out of view and the "efficiency" is being optimized instead for medium levels of organisation (think corporations), this can even go further in the example of multinationals outcompeting small to medium-sized businesses.

now if random processes (disorder, discord, eristic forces etc) are incorporated at a reasonably low level of organisation (the level where things are "efficient" for the individual human being, but not loses the individual out of sight) it will be impossible (or rather hard) for higher-level organisations to form (which would otherwise happen almost automatically).

an (rather contrived) example. let's assume the individual cell is the desired level of organisation, and any organisational structure leading up to multicellular organisms/specification of cell-functions is undesired blabla.
think of a amorphous cancer-like mass of cells. they grow and bubble and slime and ooze. and if you leave them for a few million years they'll evolve into something more structured.
on the other hand, if this ooze is constantly bombarded with radioactivity ( = randomness/mutation), there will be so much mutation, there is no possibility of higher structure evolving. (and too much radiation will of course kill the entire ooze, but that's besides the point).
ok don't take this example too literally, it was just an illustration. i dont want to argue about the biology of things or if such a growth could self-sustain etc etc, it's besides the point. in much the same way as i didn't want to say that the athenian democracy is the right way to go, but just a rather nice (and real) example of random processes preventing higher levels of organisation to "happen".
Ex-Soviet Bloc Sexual Attack Swede of Tomorrow™
e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.

INFORMATION SO POWERFUL, YOU ACTUALLY NEED LESS.

Upstream Prone Palisade

  • sea monstropode
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 9185
    • View Profile
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2006, 10:04:13 pm »
Quote from: triple zero
you see, all (?) complex systems tend to evolve to increasingly higher levels of organisation. you can see this in lots of different examples, from biological evolution to the structuring of corporations into larger conglomerations etc.


This seems like a common misconception of evolution.

Evolution isn't progressing toward more and more complexity, or "higher levels of organisation."  

It's quite simply a matter of thriving in environments.  In fact, the life that seems to have existed the longest on this planet, are quite simple things.

And they probably will continue to thrive after we go extinct.


Also, I thought it was pretty clear that random mutations was what evolution depended upon before sex.  Which kind of goes against what you seem to be suggesting.
P E R   A S P E R A   A D   A S T R A

Cain

  • Alea iacta est
  • Chekha
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 62535
    • View Profile
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2006, 10:40:23 pm »
Efficiency always involves more than a measure of instability.  On that basis, Athens, Rome and the Weimar Republic were efficient as hell.  And they were, for a while.  But eventually their efficient drive led to the rise of populist dictators and pretenders, Caesars and so on.  Modern democracies sacrafice this efficiency for stable systems, to a degree.

Triple Zero

  • DO NOT ABUSE EXCEPT FOR URGENT FURNITURE MOVING EMERGENCIES
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 25360
  • Horrible and Sexy Queen of Cheese
    • View Profile
    • Random BIP
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2006, 03:08:02 pm »
ok i feel i still haven't made myself clear enough .. it seems you want to make two points.

Quote from: Netaungrot
Quote from: triple zero
you see, all (?) complex systems tend to evolve to increasingly higher levels of organisation. you can see this in lots of different examples, from biological evolution to the structuring of corporations into larger conglomerations etc.


This seems like a common misconception of evolution.

Evolution isn't progressing toward more and more complexity, or "higher levels of organisation."  

It's quite simply a matter of thriving in environments.  In fact, the life that seems to have existed the longest on this planet, are quite simple things.

And they probably will continue to thrive after we go extinct.

if i may rephrase, first point is that you say that complex adaptive dynamic systems do NOT tend to evolve (as in, the verb) to increasingly higher levels of organisation?

i'm not trying to say evolution has a "goal" or anything, in fact, forget the whole biological evolution bit, because biological evolution is just a part of it - and it has all these preconceived notions about it that don't really help in getting my point across.

it's the tendency that low-level (small, simple, basic, older or whatever) complex dynamic systems get integrated with eachother into higher-level systems.
think for example of mitochondria which were single-cellular organisms before they got absorbed by current-day cells as the "power-plant" organells in them.
also think of single-cellular organisms, specificating their functions and cooperating to become multi-cellular organisms.
then think of individual organisms working together in clumps/packs/crowds/forests/whatnot.
then think of humans, forming tribes, nations and corporations.
think of small-time businesses forming conglomerations in order to outcompete eachother.
think of the trend of globalisation in general.

Quote
Also, I thought it was pretty clear that random mutations was what evolution depended upon before sex.  Which kind of goes against what you seem to be suggesting.

this appears to be your second point.

you're right that evolution depended (and still partly depends on, imo) random mutations to attain what is sometimes called "novelty".
a small amount of noise in a system keeps it on its toes, it keeps it creative, flexible and robust. that is what random mutations do for the complex system that is often called biological evolution.

but, if you add more noise, you will destroy the system, because it cannot cope anymore, it cannot self-correct the mutations anymore. this means the system will cease to function as a whole and fall apart into its separate parts.
another example, the myth of the tower of babylon. first, all the people spoke the same language and they worked together, they formed a system of higher complexity than the individual man making it up.
noise gets introduced into the system, in the form of suddenly confusing all their minds and making them speak a different language.
this is too much noise for the system to handle, and it falls apart. the individual people are "freed" of the system and all go their own way. [whether the confusing of languages in babylon was in fact a good thing or a bad thing rather depends on the version of the myth you read, and is really not much of an issue for this example]

i hope i'm making myself a bit more clear now

PS not much of a rant is it, if i keep on having to explain myself .. :-/ i should probably practice a bit in writing argumentative texts
Ex-Soviet Bloc Sexual Attack Swede of Tomorrow™
e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.

INFORMATION SO POWERFUL, YOU ACTUALLY NEED LESS.

Triple Zero

  • DO NOT ABUSE EXCEPT FOR URGENT FURNITURE MOVING EMERGENCIES
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 25360
  • Horrible and Sexy Queen of Cheese
    • View Profile
    • Random BIP
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2006, 03:09:16 pm »
Quote from: Cain
Efficiency always involves more than a measure of instability.  On that basis (...)

i don't understand what you are trying to say here?
Ex-Soviet Bloc Sexual Attack Swede of Tomorrow™
e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.

INFORMATION SO POWERFUL, YOU ACTUALLY NEED LESS.

Cain

  • Alea iacta est
  • Chekha
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 62535
    • View Profile
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2006, 03:18:10 pm »
Efficiency in democracy is measured in participation, as it is based on the ideas that the people rule.  Stability decreases this particpation but keeps down populist leaders who may destroy democracy entirely.  Athens and Weimar worked too well.  When the system started to come under pressure because of external factors, populists/strongmen types could wipe away the democracy entirely.

Shibboleet The Annihilator

  • The
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 21781
    • View Profile
    • .
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2006, 08:32:10 pm »
This thread +1 woot

Triple Zero

  • DO NOT ABUSE EXCEPT FOR URGENT FURNITURE MOVING EMERGENCIES
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 25360
  • Horrible and Sexy Queen of Cheese
    • View Profile
    • Random BIP
democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2006, 10:53:32 am »
Quote from: Cain
Efficiency in democracy is measured in participation, as it is based on the ideas that the people rule.  Stability decreases this particpation but keeps down populist leaders who may destroy democracy entirely.  Athens and Weimar worked too well.  When the system started to come under pressure because of external factors, populists/strongmen types could wipe away the democracy entirely.

ok i think i see where you're getting at. i had to look up weimar on wikipedia btw (yes i'm ignorant like that, and really especially hated the ww2 history lessons, because of depressingness .. in hindsight i may have paid better attention)

apparently this thread should have been titled "noise in a complex system", since that's basically the bit i know about and can talk about :) it seems there's different levels of noise to be distinguished:

- no noise (or very little). the system can attain high efficiency like the weimar example. because of the rigid rule structure that can arise in a noise-free/low-noise environment, it is very vulnerable to external forces.
computer programs are also a nice example of such systems. very high efficiency, but flip one bit and it crashes down.
- medium noise. this creates a rather stable system. like current-day democracies. there's noise, there's randomness, there's rigid rules and there's nothing anyone can do about it because they're all stupid idiots, the majority rules (who are stupid) and they still think they're free. medium noise for president!
complicated structure can arise, but because of the noise that is always present, this structure must be robust and stable. so external forces have less impact on the system.
except for a possible view of society, most biological organisms also fall under this category of noise-robustness.
- high noise. i took ancient athens as an example for this, but perhaps that was a wrong example. at high levels of noise, only simple, local and decentralized rules can arise. any higher levels of structure are too fragile to withstand the turbulent environment and will break down before they can have any succesfull effect (which might have prolongued their lifespan).
external forces have a double-sided effect on these systems. on the one hand they have a lot of trouble changing the rulesets (for ex, populism will be hard) because the local rules are in place because they *work*, and not because they're "better" than anything in particular. on the other hand, an external (mediumnoise?) force could probably defeat and submit this system because it works more efficient than the random one. probably.
- tons of noise/whitenoise/radio static/etc. no rules can exist because they are broken down by the noise immediately. no rule can be sustained because it will be contradicted before it has success. in a society this probably amounts to the "natural law/natural society" that Hobbes spoke about (dunno what term he used in the english version, but that one about where there's no state and everybody bashes everyone's head in. i may not pay attention to history, but i *do* enjoy my philosophy classes ;-) )
in an organism this probably amounts to head-explosions, cancer or suddenly all the cells in your body to revert back the precambrian times. not very desirable for the organism, but at least your cells are free, right? ;-) free radicals!

imo, the high-noise society is the one that discordianism appears (to me) is aiming for. (perhaps there are some hardcore ppl that appeal to the whitenoise variant, but i don't like bashing people's heads in, besides chaos=disorder+order).
reading (a few months ago) for the first time this story about the athenian democracy and starting to think about the role of noise (disorder) in a system, it suddenly occurred to me as a kind of justification for the throwing around of chaos and disorder in discordianism. [i dunno perhaps it even caused me to look for this board .. i forgot]

there. still a bunch of unstructured sentences in broken and bent english, sorry about that, but i try.

one more disclaimer (i should have added before): of course you all realise that this is just one of many ways of looking at reality and that they're all equally valid right? kthxbye.
Ex-Soviet Bloc Sexual Attack Swede of Tomorrow™
e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.

INFORMATION SO POWERFUL, YOU ACTUALLY NEED LESS.

The Wizard Joseph

  • Not a Real Discordian
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 3644
  • Product of Wisconsin
    • View Profile
Re: democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2015, 08:35:43 pm »
So I happened to BUMP into this from reading the "What is the Machine?" Thread. Think I got it. The whole morality and rigor of Athens went down the shitter fast after the plague took Pericles and a huge chunk of the population. I think he knew he was the pin holding the state and society together too. He tried everything, even magic charms, to cure himself according to my recently started study. THAT'S desperation for a man of reason.

Seems like the whole Athenian state depended upon his judgment and popular image before the masses. It was  Intellectual Autocracy perhaps hoping to "fake it till you make it" and one day have a true and functional ideal come to life. Then it all vanished with sudden death for Paracles and, not long after, almost all competent military commanders were ordered executed by the whipped up mob for a perceived military failure. Also eventually Socrates got a taste too. And all this happened during the opening of a war Paracles had sought in order to empower Athens over the whole Mediterranean trade empire.

What little I've read so far of the fall of Athens during the plague is pretty grim. It will make for good story setting, but the events of history are tragic in the extreme. If only more people read history and voted as dutiful and well informed citizens we might be in a better condition than they when our own tragedies inevitably strike.
Sadly I think we live in an almost satirical exaggeration of the worst follies in history. There's a lot of good in play though that the ancients just didn't have access to back then, and so I'm very very hopeful we will adapt and rise beyond the pattern. But not counting on it.
You can't get out backward.  You have to go forward to go back.. better press on! - Willie Wonka, PBUH

Life can be seen as a game with no reset button, no extra lives, and if the power goes out there is no restarting.  If that's all you see life as you are not long for this world, and never will get it.

"Ayn Rand never swung a hammer in her life and had serious dominance issues" - The Fountainhead

"World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation."
 - Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality :lulz:

axod

  • Don Well-Buttern' Cracker Crasher, Infernal Affairs
  • Outlandish
  • ***
  • Posts: 469
    • View Profile
Re: democracy in ancient athens
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2015, 09:13:38 am »
Oh, hi, yea, bump.  Two things I wanted to think about, so maybe sharing "inside" thoughts [AIA]...
 
 *BAC ~>.08%*

Some far-east nations once had an interesting notion of "representational" democracy, similar to anxient Athens.  Elected by lottery or whatever, it was ideally considered a privilege to be selected for service.  Limits on curruption/power were set by the unequivocal termination of political service after one term...  Idduno, maybe adapting to that pace would freshen things up.  On the other hand, I can't seem to find my copy of Leviathan.
just this