“Sociocracy” or “Consent vs. consensus”

Though it can be argued. there was a real sense of justice in some areas of the ancient world. It can also be argued that there was never a sense of justice since one guy could wield a bigger stick than his neighbor, but one can’t spend any real time in the purer study of classics without noticing that the old fellers really had some keen ideas. Many of those ideas worked great, in theory, but like any system the waste and efficiency dwindled with size. A family-unit can run pretty efficiently, as the image of the 1950’s household can represent. It may not have always been a happy time for all participants, but there were rigidly followed rules, roles and responsibilities, and jurisdictions were clear. What can we learn from these examples of systems that worked, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, when we design our own little micro-government for businesses and small communities like the intentional community like my Tir Tairngire Ecovillage? I present you, “Sociocracy”.There is an absolutely stunning Wikipedia article on the subject, which I will deliberately take snippits from in summary. but please read that (rather dry, in places, but no less informative!) article for a more complete picture, and study the referenced works if you are REALLY intrigued. In summary, it’s where ALL members are consulted and meetings are held with the objective of UNANIMOUS decision-making. No discussion group is larger than 40 people, and these groups are hierarchical with sub-councils designed for detailed discussions. Allow me to provide you with an example that I came up for my ecovillage to give a community-based concept, and another for a large business to provide a corporate model.

In a community like the ecovillage, and we’re talkin’ less than 200 people, all the information could be discriminated at one time in a sort of town meeting. “Here are the facts of the decision-to-be-made:” and the whole would be broken down into groups. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that it was a change of policy regarding rights to seniority and bonus statistics in the stabilizing and growing community. Each distinct community group will meet throughout the coming week, each industry, for example, would meet up. All the mothers, all the fathers. all the new families, all the children, all the most senior families, etc. They will all determine how this new decision effects them individually and within the confines of their group, and the discussions will continue until each group finds unanimous consensus, no matter how complicated. Once an agreement/accord is made among the group, and a draft of their reflections is presented, they can pare it down to make it as comprehensive and simple as possible. It’s always easier to edit an inked page than a blank slate. Two or three people from each group are nominated to share that report to the next level, the next-senior group. This next level-two group could reflect ALL trades, for example, another could represent ALL parents, and so on. These groups can condense the reports from the first level groups into another, that all elected officials (each meeting has a new election for the next round of meetings) can agree on. They can summarize their ideas, re-assess and pare down into something relatively cohesive. This continues until every group has had it’s say (it can take a long, long time) and then the highest-level council can take each report and make a unanimous decision. The responsibility of EVERY member of the community is to abide the decision, since they had an ACTIVE hand in it’s undertaking. When the final council makes a decision, a report is drafted up and the verdict is presented to the whole organization (township in this case) gets to listen, contemplate, and come to terms with the decision that was, in it’s own way, unanimous. I suppose another vote could be taken on the solution, but the effort invested in redoing the ENTIRE process for people who are displeased would be ridiculous. Furthermore, it would be relatively reasonable for each person to be able to read each report and understand how the process changes, but that’s a situational choice.

YES this process can take time, YES the democratic process is fraught with challenges, but in this way a small group can chew through the process relatively quickly and everyone can be satisfied. If people think they were cheated, then they obviously were not active enough in the process, because first a unanimous decision must be made in their group, and second they elected the handful of people to take the report to the next level who would BEST reflect their values, and by rights this vote could also be unanimous. It’s more fair. but it also eliminates the personal flaws inherent in favoritism, personal bias and interpersonal vendetta. Shame. The Quakers, in their own way, handle disputes in this way, with Community-based decision making. The horror!

The exact same process can exist in a small to medium-sized company. A decision comes to be made, like a change in policy regarding pay raises or workers rights. Every person in that company gets a say, and perhaps on multiple levels, based on their seniority, their role in the company, their previous experience in such affairs, etc. Many businesses already function on this level, and several of those work very successfully. Job satisfaction increases, turnover decreases, and while the process takes additional time (maybe require participation in the process occur AFTER business hours? If workers want to be part of the process, let THEM invest the energy?).

Call me an idealist, but I love this system.

Call me an idealist, but don’t think me an idiot. Canada is 2nd largest in the world by landmass (9,984,670 km2, 3,854,085 mi2), 37th in the world by population as of 2014 (35,427,524) and 228th by way of density (3.41/km2, 8.3/sq mi). I know that this system, in groups no larger than 40 and electing two at a time to the “next level up”. At that rate, there would be 5 entire tiers of groups. From approximately 40 million people in 1 million groups, then 25,000 groups of fourty, then 625 groups of 40, then 15 groups. It’s ludicrous to suggest a sociocratic system in ANY large system, like that of a nation of 35 million people.

10372597_663832033696243_5166188849779330486_nThe system, however, works very, very well in small groups. Villages, families, small businesses. It takes more time than anyone is willing to spend on any given decision, but all members are almost universally happy when they have a direct say in a decision, even if they don’t agree with the outcome. All the better if they were able to reason (were all people CAPABLE of reason, for more on that see my previous rant/article) out why their needs are not those of universal needs. If everyone has the innate right to be heard and a distinct constitution can be voted upon by ALL members and allowed to evolve with the society it represents (through meetings and sociocratic discussions), like my vision of my ecovillage, then the world would be a much, much better place. It’s a shame that those who wield the most power (per capita) to effect this change have no interest in instituting that change. We, however, HAVE power of our own.

We are the 99%, and no nation run by slaves (of any colour, socioeconomic status or ethnicity) can survive a revolt of it’s working class. I am not a supporter of open revolt, at any rate, but revolution is coming to the First World, and people who believe in rights, like I do, might have our day in the sun, after all.


4 thoughts on ““Sociocracy” or “Consent vs. consensus”

  1. I deeply repect your concern on this matter. More local-based decision making would be ideal. Such would be a socialist development if it left unhindered. The sad reality is that in a revolution, there is still a realistic necessity for a repressive state to defend revolutionary gains from the overthrown elites. This puts revolutionists in a place they would rather not have to be, but have little choice if they want to survive.


    • I agree. Which is where you and I once agreed again… building a fabric of society from the ground up as a settlement state solves many of those problems, which is where my ecovillage community works well. You don’t HAVE to revolt, simple abstinence from “the system” in virtually every way, can sometimes be protest enough.


      • Abstain all you want. The larger system is all around you and will take action if it ever saw you as a threat. I do appreciate your efforts otherwise.


      • Once more, I completely agree with you. Which is why I see me only having a 35 acre site as a mixed blessing. 70 households who only want to be kept to themselves, doing nothing illegal and actually causing some rural economy stimulous… probably not a threat to Harper-tine.


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