A super-jury of guardians for future generations?

Rupert Read puts forward a radical proposal to end our culture of short-termism, and to expand our concept of democracy.....
We are all equally qualified to connect with what people of the future need

Ecologist readers will hardly be surprised by the thought that, together, we simply have to find some way of addressing the chronic short-termism of our political culture and of our economics. The electoral cycle, let alone the news cycle, the economic cycle, quarterly reports: these are all things that incline people to incredibly short time horizons. The idea I am offering here is designed to radically shift that culture of short-termism.

But there's another basis on which one can think about the basis for my idea that's equally important: and that's in the concept of democracy. I want to get people to reflect on what we mean by democracy. What is 'democracy'? And for me the place to start with that question is etymology. ‘Democracy' means, or was supposed to mean: 'The people govern'.

So: the question we ought to ask ourselves is, "Do the people govern in Britain today?" And to ask that question, I think, is pretty quickly to answer it- of course they (we) don't. And that immediately suggests a whole raft of changes that probably many of us are already signed up to, that are necessary.

For example, a reformed electoral system, a thoroughly reformed Upper House; slightly more radically: economic democracy, localisation, participatory democracy; these are all the kind of changes that would be needed to really make a country like Britain worthy of the name 'democratic'.

But there's a problem that remains, even after all of those reforms have perhaps been made. And that would be that there would be some very substantial constituencies left out of it: because, I want to say, we ought to think about what it means to have a people governing. In other words, who are the people who govern? Now if ‘the people' are only those alive today, then I think we're - again -- thinking in chronically short-termist ways.

We actually ought to think of 'the people' as something which is stretched over a huge, long temporal period, beginning in the past and going on indefinitely into the future. And it's future people that matter the most because, of course, there isn't a lot that we can do to harm people from the past. They've had their time and, while we should respect their memory, we can't make their lives terrible or kill them before they're born or anything like that. But we can do those things to future people and the terrible truth is that we are already doing those things to some future people right now. So I want to suggest that we ought to find some way of including future people in our democratic system. And that's the basis of this very radical proposal that I'm making.

How would we do that? You've got to think about how you would have some kind of proxy equivalent of allowing future people to be able to vote. And note: as long as we don't do completely the wrong thing by future people and prevent them from existing at all, there will over time be a very great many more of them than there are of us. In other words, they would out-vote us every time, if they could. So this equivalent of a proxy vote, I suggest, ought to be put in the form of a proxy veto. If they (future people) got together they would be able to out-vote us every time. So: a proxy veto to ensure the basic needs of future people.

How are you going to instantiate that? Well, you need to have some group of people, which are able to represent the needs of future people and exercise that proxy veto. How are you going to select those people? My suggestion is that the only sane way to pick those people, rather than by election (because it should be the future people themselves who would do any actual electing), is by random selection - by the same principle that animates the jury system. That is, of course, an intimate part of our democracy as we have it at the present time (in so far as we do have it), and has been since about the time of Magna Carta.

So, that's the proposal: a super jury to reflect the basic needs and interests of future people; to be able to exercise a proxy veto on their behalf over legislation; to provide a test to ensure that whatever we do is future-proofed. And these people should be selected, as I say, like a jury, by random ‘sortition', which by the way, of course, was a key mechanism for democracy to work in Athens, which is well-known as the 'birthplace of democracy'. There's no particular reason why democracy has to mean election; democracy can mean random selection, sortition. It did in Athens, it could do again here and now, and it still animates our system through the jury system.

A super-jury to represent the fundamental needs of future people, selected at random from any of us, so that nobody can say, "oh, it's just those posh people" or "it's just those people who are rich or well-connected enough to be elected" or "it's just those pesky g/Greens". All of us, any of us: whether we're young, whether we're old, whether we're educated, whether we're not, are equally qualified to be in this position of having to try to connect with what future people really need and start to put it in to action. These people, 'the super-jurors' would have a period of training, they would have access to the very best of expertise to support them-everybody: scientists, philosophers, activists, etc., would want to try to advise and assist this super jury consisting of the 'guardians' of future generations.

We are all equally qualified to connect with what people of the future need

And if we carried out this radical reform then perhaps, just perhaps, we would at last be doing something that could be enough to save the future, and ensure that future people have a future to one day vote in, themselves...

To read Rupert's proposal in full, go to;



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