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"

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