5.c.10 – How small a group should be?

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August 1, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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How small a group should be?

In each group people talk, propose ideas, ask for advice, so autonomously the will of the people starts to form, a fundamental prerequisite of authentic democracy. This activity is conducted in the most natural way in two or three, maximum four people; with a higher number a real assembly will start to form, which requires a minimum of discipline, of organization and commitment, to allow all participants to express their opinion without hindering each other. Similar meetings did not have problems in the working groups that we met in the modern village, but these groups were formed by persons particularly interested in a particular subject or a certain activity and then gathered spontaneously. The groups we are now talking about should be fit for the entire population, even the most disinterested, then challenging meetings should be avoided and the social channels that already exist should be maximized. It is then easy to deal with a subject in two or three people during routine visits or, without moving from home and with more time to reflect, address it in an organized group on the Internet, which is simple and functional with a dozen people. Finally, nothing prevents to combine the two systems on a website showing virtual ideas emerged in a dialogue at the bar during a break from working: in this way an even greater number of people might participate in a discussion.
We have, however, to recall that these groups are not reserved only to those who are motivated by special interests, they also must protect the common interest and within them everyone has the opportunity to be appointed as representative of all others, so it’s good that the participants are related by friendship and esteem and that confidence reigns in the group. But how many people we know so well that we can choose as our representatives, or be chosen by them as such? Again we would find ourselves in front of numbers like four, five, maximum seven or eight. It is natural that we can receive full trust from a very limited number of acquaintances and this should be seen as an advantage, since this way is easy to be close to our representative to support or control him as required.
If we first decide that the right number of people to form these groups is five, we can easily imagine to divide the first ring in parts of five people, but this would be very difficult and impractical to implement in reality for several reasons:
– the choice of the group to which belonging must be free, but a fixed number would mean having to be satisfied with the remaining vacant posts
– the number of citizens is constantly changing: every day several people come of age and every minute many people die
– the bonds of friendship often link groups of higher number that they rightly would not divide
– not all are interested or feel prepared on the same subjects so we need to provide that not always all participate in the discussions; to ensure a minimum of involvement in some cases, it would be more appropriate to have a number higher than five, though not higher enough that a meeting in which everyone wanted to participate becomes chaotic.
Therefore, it is physiologically necessary some flexibility and it seems to be appropriate a number variable between five and nine because it is clear that a group of ten can be easily divided into two groups of five. This is an agreement to balance the different needs, we may also make the number fluctuate between six and twelve, the important thing is not to reach numbers too large and that there is little numerical difference between the various groups so that the various representatives have roughly the same dignity in the second ring.
In this way it is possible that members enter or leave the group without compromising the entire system and only in special cases divisions or merging will be needed.

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