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Climate ChangeClimate, covid and consensus

Climate, covid and consensus

Climate breakdown and Covid are telling us we must live and work together. Accordingly, the UN Conference of the Parties climate gatherings, for instance, reject majority voting and aim for unanimity.

But that provides every nation the ‘right’ of veto: China and India in Cop26, the DRC in Cop15.  Not yet have they worked out, how best to get consensus.

Within the old days different peoples tried to discover their common ground: within the pow-wows of the Indians, the barazas and gacacas [1] of Africa, the 圆坐yuán zuò, 圆议yuán yì [2] of China, and the medieval tings of the Norwegians [3].  It often took quite an extended time…


So, some 2,500 years ago, the Greeks and later, quite individually, the Chinese invented binary voting. History relates that in each settings of relatively wealthy men – residents within the forums of Greece and ministers in China’s Imperial Court of the Former Hán Dynasty – it worked quite well: either “Option X, yes-or-no?” or a pairing, “option X or option Y?”  If the issue was binary, it worked.

In a murder trial in Rome within the yr 105, nevertheless, the jury had three options – A acquittal, B banishment, C corporal punishment – and Pliny the Younger realised, when there’s no majority in favour of anyone option, then obviously, there’s a majority against every option. “Innocent, yes-or-no?” – B and C gang up against A.  “Execute, yes-or-no?” – and B oppose C.  And so forth.

So the Greeks invented a procedure based on binary voting: first, select the most well-liked amendment; next, reject or accept this amendment to get the substantive; and at last, resolve, this substantive or the established order ante.

Imagine nine people wondering, is the forum to satisfy on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?  If 4 people want M, three prefer and two go for W, then there are majorities of 5, six and 7 against M, T and W, and of nine against nothing, option N.  If the preferences of those nine individuals are as shown..


…and if the motion is “Let’s meet on Monday,” with amendments for either T or W, 7 prefer T; next, T versus the motion M, and M beats T by 6:3; finally, this substantive, M, versus N, which N wins 5:4.  Three binary votes, and the reply is N.


To summarise: they agreed, verbally, no person wants nothing; after which they agreed, democratically, all of them want nothing! Moreover, if the motion were for T while M and W were the 2 amendments, the end result could be T

The conclusion is stark: in lots of multi-option debates, binary voting doesn’t and can’t discover “the need of the people” or of parliament.

As in Brexit. It was a multi-option debate: the UK within the EU, EEA, Customs Union or WTO. David Cameron held just one vote on just one option, and a small majority said ‘no’.  But perhaps even greater majorities opposed the opposite options.

Theresa May had 4 options – her ‘indicative votes’ – and there was indeed a majority against every part.

With Boris Johnson, a “‘his deal’, yes-or-no?” ballot would probably have lost. So he used a pairing, which something at all times wins: in effect he asked: “‘his deal’ or ‘no deal’?” He won. But ‘any deal’ versus essentially the most unpopular ‘no deal’ would have won.

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When children select the vegetable for lunch – swedes, turnips, broccoli… – there’s often a majority against every part; after which the pudding – chocolate cake, ice-cream, blancmange… – majorities in favour.  In multi-option debates, binary voting is typically almost meaningless.

Little wonder then that many scholars have considered multi-option voting. Plurality voting was first utilized by the Chinese in 1197, through the Jurchen Jīn Dynasty.

Next, (no connection), in 1299, Ramón Llull suggested preferential voting; Nicholas of Cusa proposed a points system in 1433; and in 1770, Jean-Charles de Borda did the maths.

Adopted in France, in l’Académie des Sciences, this preferential points system worked quite well.  But, these were turbulent times, and a recent guy didn’t like this ‘consensus nonsense’, so back to majority voting.  He selected the query; the people voted yes-or-no… and in 1803, he thus became emperor – Napoléon.

Politicians like majority voting, because then they’re on top of things.  Vladimir Putin asks: “Luhansk: independence, yes-or-no?”


That was in 2014, which also saw Scotland’s referendum in fact, and the word Scotland, Шотландия, ‘Shotlandiya’, was utilized by Russian separatists in Luhansk… to ‘justify’ the unjustifiable. 

“Every thing is connected,” to cite the Ukrainian philosopher, Vladimir Varnadsky – Ukraine, Scotland, Ireland, Catalonia, Republika Srpska… 

In 2022, Putin modified his mind: “Luhansk: incorporate into Russia, yes-or-no?”  Whereupon the people, apparently, modified their minds too.  In a nutshell, majority voting is commonly a way by which the powerful manipulate those with less. 

In politics (and business), nevertheless, most debates are, or needs to be, multi-optional; accordingly, the corresponding ballots must also be multi-optional.


Subsequently, as within the Jurchen assemblies of yore, democratic decision-making should allow anyone to make a suggestion; every choice to be on the table (and, today, the pc screen); and, à la Latest Zealand’s 1992 five-option electoral system referendum, the ultimate choice of (ideally, 4 – 6) options to be done independently.

That is vital! The separation of powers should mean the number and variety of options have to be resolved independently of the manager; the people in a referendum or the MPs in parliament then forged their preferences; at best, the end result is the choice with the very best average preference; and a mean, in fact, involves every (voting) member of parliament/society. 


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