Subud Vision - Feedback

Maya Korzybska - What We Do and How We Do It!

The true face of Subud consensus. From Sahlan Diver, January 15, 2011. Time 22:57


In my previous feedback post on your Subud Vision article, I was complaining about the way Subud has spent so much time and energy over the years pushing ideas of itself as having something special to offer the world, over and above the latihan, As three examples, I referred to enterprises, SICA, and Hadrian Michell’s claim that Subud was about to demonstrate to the whole world a new wonderful form of social democracy. My argument may have seemed irrelevant to your article but it was not, because your own writing promotes another of Subud’s “superior contributions to humanity”, namely “governance by consensus”.

To quote you:

“consensus (100% acceptance) as opposed to the simple 51% majority vote that might happen in other set-ups.”
“so when I say ultimate democracy, it is my way of differentiating us from this normal format“

I detect an element of implied superiority in your use of the phrases
“the simple 51% majority vote that might happen in other set-ups”
“ultimate democracy.”

So let’s examine whether “consensus” is such a cut and dried, superior system as you appear to imagine it to be.

First of there is the matter of peer pressure and persuasion. If after a sufficient amount of debate there is a clear majority for a course of action, what is the point of spending further time and energy on persuasion, just for the sake of pushing the vote up? -- you already have a majority. The danger is that people are being forced to vote a certain way, not because they believe in something, but merely to give the impression of unanimity.

I find bizarre your description of “I have often heard [delegates] defend members positions that they personally have not necessarily agreed with..”. You seem to think this is something praiseworthy. I would say an outsider might find it justifiably worrying, like a cult where members are required to think with the rest and are not really free to think for themselves.

You seem to have only a vague idea of the percentage required for consensus. At one point you say 100%. At another point you say 90%. Most worryingly of all, for someone in your position of responsibility, you say “I am not sure what we have had to put on our bylaws as we are required by law to actually put a figure”. That sounds like you are saying that it is OK for Subud to say one thing to the law, but in reality go for any old figure, as it need not care very much for the law.

Regarding 100% consensus - this seems a ridiculous requirement. Where in the world does one find 100% majorities in voting, apart from dictatorships and totalitarian regimes where people vote at the point of a gun, and even there the results are often known to be rigged as 100%.

Michael Irwin is more precise about this: “So bylaw 3.19 was added to allow for four years to pass for the national organizations to discuss the issues involved and come back with clear instructions and a less demanding method of approval, a two-thirds majority (66%), so that while it was a majority vote, that original question, without alteration, could be passed without discomfort.”

Let’s use Michael’s figures to reveal another flaw in Subud’s wonderful consensus system. Let’s say I want to campaign for the applicant period to be considerably reduced and I know that there are many groups in my country who would do this if they were allowed to. Let’s say also that 60% of members in my country oppose my idea.
I could propose the motion
“Groups should be allowed to set their own length for the applicant period”.
But it would only get 40% of the vote, so obviously under the consensus system my motion has no chance of achieving the required 66%.

But suppose instead I changed the wording of the motion to
“Groups should NOT be allowed to set their own length for the applicant period”
This time I’d expect to get the converse, a 60% vote not wanting to change the system, but, guess what, this vote does not reach the required 66%, so groups WILL henceforth be allowed to independently set their applicant period.

I know this is only an example but it does show that with the same voters voting the same way, just by changing the question we can manipulate the result whichever way we want it to be. Astonishing! Try this example with the “simple” 50% plus majority system and you’ll see that it is impossible for the majority to lose the vote on something they want.

Now you might say my example is invalid, because you would always phrase the question so that people had to vote FOR a change, rather than AGAINST it. If so, that points to yet another weakness of the consensus system, that it is biased against change. That’s OK if an organisation happens not to need change, but what if it does need to change? Change is blocked not by the will of the people but by an artificially imposed technicality. Michael Irwin quoted from Wikipedia just this point against the consensus system.

You say “[The requirement for consensus], of course, makes the process very time consuming; but it is both necessary and hard work, and it is the way Bapak wanted the organization to function”

There are many questions I think WSA as the instigators of this system need to answer.
a)what are the direct quotes from Bapak that they can supply to justify our use of a consensus system?
b)when it is said “Bapak wanted”, where is the evidence that Bapak wanted Subud to be like that for ever and ever? Is it possible he was making a suggestion rather than a demand, and that maybe his suggestion was intended to be a helpful hint rather than binding?
c)Given the limitations to the consensus system as enumerated above, should we not revaluate, regardless of what we think or like to think that Bapak said?
d)Why should we do what Bapak wanted? When people join Subud they are told that they are not required to believe anything and that Subud is evidence-based. If WSA want to justify their operating procedures by saying they are rigidly based on what is believed to be the infallible wisdom of a spiritual guide then Subud should state this on its web sites and in its explanations to applicants, otherwise it is not being honest in saying there are no binding belief requirements for membership.

I have other points in your article to take you up on in some future posts, but in conclusion I just want to make two further points.

Firstly, you complain about the “Anglo-Saxon” point of view. You have used this defence before. I think you use it whenever the argument is getting too hot to handle. I find it doubly patronising. It is patronising of non Anglo Saxon countries because they have just as much right to precision and correctness in the conduct of Subud's affairs as any other country. And it is patronising of the Anglo-Saxons because you make it sound as if they are wilfully pushing a separate agenda with no regard or thought for anyone else.

Secondly I am not at all convinced that you are as keen on consensus as you imply. Yes, in the limited context of a meeting, where it is a useful device through spiritual peer pressure to influence the outcome of the vote. But in the wider world, I think not. Here are two quotes from your writing and feedback which show what you really think of Subud member's ability to reach consensus:

“...not every individual's potential understanding and interpretation which is as large and diverse as the number of members we have.”

“Regarding intangible things, it would probably create division rather than harmony as already there can be many interpretations of 'growth', quantity versus quality for example, so the discussion would go on.”

Incidentally who decides to what extent an issue is "intangible" or not? Isn't this just another convenient get-out clause that can be used in almost any Subud issue -- "Oh, this has a spiritual dimension therefore it is out of bounds to normal discussion and understanding"

From sjahari, January 16, 2011. Time 18:29

I agree entirely with the position you put forward about Subud trying to make itself special in some way. Of course this is done for a reason - to try and beef up our feelings about ourselves. If we were a community of a million members you probably would see more of a modulation in this because we wouldnt have to pull ourselves up so much. The trouble is of course that by trying to bolster our own image in this way, we simply turn off more people. It is an ineffective strategy.

The other thing we dont tend to do is to learn from other organizations who have travelled the same path as us. (the reason we dont do this generally is that there is a belief that the others are coming "from the mind." Unlike us. I have heard people say this)

In this regard and with respect to the idea of CONSENSUS. My understanding is that true consensus is not 51% or 66% or even 90% agreement. Consensus is 100% agreement.

The only organization I know of who use consensus in decision making is the Quakers. I once lived in a Quaker community in the interior of British Columbia. I remember times when they would meet in their hall for 2 or 3 days without a break in order to obtain consensus.

If we really want to use consensus in Subud then maybe we should research the Quaker experience and results they achieved. I think they liked it, but it takes a huge commitment. You cant give up until its finished. 66% isnt good enough. Even 99% isnt.

From Sahlan Diver, January 16, 2011. Time 18:53


When the Quakers used consensus, was this just for matters affecting their local church/group? What happened when there was an issue affecting Quakers in general, not just one local community? And were the decisions reached by consensus mainly of a mundane, organisational kind, or were there ever fundamental spiritual matters agreed on in this way?


From Michael Irwin, January 17, 2011. Time 0:23

Hi Sjahari,

Wikipedia:"Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that not only seeks the agreement of most participants, but also the resolution or mitigation of minority objections."

There are many definitions for consensus.

The definition depends upon the method used.The definition you have put forward is that consensus equals unanimity. Unanimity looks for 'everyone-says-yes' in the voters. The method used by Varindra, on which the WSA bylaw was based, is 'nobody-says-no'. The only question the chair would ask would be 'Any objections?'. The resulting consensus agreement would include not only those who were enthusiastic about 'yes' but also those who 'don't mind and so don't object'. It is the lack of objection that makes the consensus not the spurious notion that everyone is on the same page. Improperly done, there is no question that voters can be bullied by this method. It is also true that voters are expected to have the courage of their convictions and if they don't like a given resolution they can stop it by voting against it.

About the Quakers. I knew a committed Quaker who admitted that sometimes people would be worn down (bullied) by the sheer time taken if nothing else. But they required unanimity which 'nobody-says-no' does not.

The only place in the WSA bylaws when consensus is required is at Congress. The bylaws are flawed in not pointing out that matters of procedure and matters that don't meet the test of 'being about principle' should only require a majority. Even determining whether a resolution is about principle or not should be decided by a simple majority. Unfortunately this flaw was the result of the drafters (mea culpa)seeing Congress through the lens of only dealing with matters of principle, which in a world of a million Subud members would generally be the case. This omission should be corrected.

From Maya, January 17, 2011. Time 2:12

Dear All,

Happy New Year,
I was having a family road trip in Scandinavia and only just really got back into my e-mails....I will read all the details of these exchanges and come back....

As far as denoting an implied superiority in my questions concerning 'democracy'....that is your perception...and certainly not my intention, it is simply my way of trying to explain what I was meaning....Michael had a lot of questions about my meanings of a number of phrases, words, whereas every democracy ( as far as countries are concerned) in the world accepts a 51 versus 49% as a majority with no discussion, I was trying to give a sense of the fact that that is not what happens within the Subud a say your saying I am implying a sense of superiority is exclusive your choice of way of reading it.

All the best Maya

From sjahari, January 17, 2011. Time 2:24

Hi Michael
I am sure you are right on this.

I dont actually know what the topic is here and what argument is being proposed. I just wanted to throw in the bit about the Quakers and consensus. I dont even know if they still use it. I am sure you are right about people being worn down.

The wording that seems to be used now in the Congresses is something to the effect of "Are the dissidents willing to concede to the majority opinion on this matter so that we can go ahead with our business of the Congress?" In the sessions I attended at New Zealand this was said several times. Those in opposition generally said they were willing to go along with the majority view.

I suppose this is another definition of consensus - the kind that we are using now.


From Sahlan Diver, January 17, 2011. Time 10:3


I'll wait for any more detailed reply you care to give, but if there is no sense of the Subud way being better than the 51% majority way then your choice of the adjective "ultimate" in your phrase "the ultimate democratic organization" is a very unfortunate accident, the word "ultimate" implying, as it does, nothing higher or better.

I know you might say English is not the language you are most used to, but I don't see anything wrong with your English - the editors didn't have to adjust any phrases for correctness in your article, the way we sometimes have to do with our non native English speaking authors. So I don't accept your accusation that I am perceiving attitudes that aren't there.

From Michael Irwin, January 17, 2011. Time 19:30

Sjahari wrote: "The wording that seems to be used now in the Congresses is something to the effect of "Are the dissidents willing to concede to the majority opinion on this matter so that we can go ahead with our business of the Congress?" In the sessions I attended at New Zealand this was said several times. Those in opposition generally said they were willing to go along with the majority view.

I suppose this is another definition of consensus - the kind that we are using now."

"Are the dissidents willing to concede to the majority opinion on this matter so that we can go ahead with our business of the Congress?" is, procedurally, nothing more than "Does anyone object?" but it is more pompous as happens when people don't understand what they are doing or want to hide something. In addition it adds a note of pressure as in 'we would all like to get on with the next thing and it would be a good thing if you would comply. You don't want to hold things up, do you?'

From rocohanah, January 18, 2011. Time 17:58

I agree with Michael on the last sentence, except that I would say in SUBUD (In my experience) there is the sub-message: "You are wrong, we receive better than you, etc.)

From Sahlan Diver, January 18, 2011. Time 18:39

Except that of course they are not supposed to be receiving for themselves but trying to represent their members' viewpoint and prior vote as best they can (assuming that their members were given a chance to fully discuss the issue and vote on it, which is not always the case). So receiving should be irelevant.

If the discussion moves to a point on which the delegate has not been briefed then the ideal delegate will try to represent how they think their members would want them to vote.

Unfortunately with the conceit of the average member's confidence in their own receiving they may try to receive how to vote. A perfect example of how inadequate that method is occurred about 10 years ago, when concern was arising about the use of the Internet in Subud. Some delegates met and tested about it. The reported results were farcical - it was obvious to any expert on the subject that their "receivings" were exactly the same prejudices born of fear and ignorance that you would expect of any uninformed person taken off the street and asked for an ad-hoc opinion. If these Subud people truly were able to receive one would have expected a high degree of insight - there was none.

From Michael Irwin, January 18, 2011. Time 19:50

I think it is important to mention that the Constitution does mention 'guidance' when making decisions. This guidance can be interpreted in several ways. By default and in lock-step with other developments in Subud the interpretation that 'the helpers should test and so provide guidance' has taken over.However, that is a choice and no matter how unconsciously it has been adopted it is without consideration of other interpretations. I know of no recorded discussions or decisions about it.

I always assumed that 'guidance in decision making' was a reference to individual rather than communal guidance. In that case the helpers might be involved if the individual wished help in coming to a decision. If you believe as I do that the helpers should never make a decision for either an individual or a collective, then the helper (or any other compatible latihan practitioner) would be acting as a personal source of assistance to the individual voter in coming to a decision. How that voter chose to refer to his or her own guidance would be a personal matter. If testing was decided upon between the two as a means of exploring the problem in any dimension, then that would be private decision of the pair.

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