Monday, July 23, 2007

Deliberative Democracy

I'd love to simply write my thoughts on "deliberative democracy," but several others have written better explanations of it than I could hope to write, so it's best to lead you to them first. Blogonomicon, The Foundation for Economic Education, and The Liberty Sphere all have some good reading on the subject.

I'll still give you my thoughts on the subject, of course.

This is the ultimate expression of collectivism ruled by an elitist group. After all, the thought is that all people contribute to the debate, not the decision. Even if the people make the decision, we face tyranny by majority, but the fact that there's no vote-counting allows the ruling elite a lot of power. After all, if you've had the chance to speak, you feel you've been listened to. If the outcome doesn't match your choice, you probably guess that others made stronger points. In reality, of course, the lawmakers decided what they'd do long before anyone said a word.

A lot of psychologists simply listen to people spew their thoughts and opinions, which is really all the person wanted. Deliberative democracy hinges on a similar principle. Once you've given your opinion, as long as you feel you've had your time, you feel better about the outcome, even if it's completely opposite what you wanted. You contributed, or at least think you did, and that counts for something, at least psychologically.

The biggest inherent danger, of course, is the "hive mind." Once everyone has contributed, the outcome must be the best choice, right? So you start to see it as such. Pretty soon, everyone is certain that government choices are always best. This leads to a lack of intellectual debate, as well as an inherent trust in an inherently untrustworthy group of people.

Of course, to the Left, the idea of such collectivism looks great. They believe it will placate the public, which is their goal. If they can keep us placated, they can control us. If they can control us, they think it'll improve us. It's not an improvement, even if it does work. And it doesn't. There'll always be wolves to prey on the sheep you've made comfortable. And there'll always be a few independent thinkers the government will have to "quiet."

I'll stick with a constitutional republic. It's a lot better for those of us who may not want to assimilate ourselves into the hive mind.

8 comments:

rlubensky said...

You have a choice. You can be informed by people who actually want to understand deliberative democracy and participatory methods. Or you can be informed, if that is the correct word, by people who are very misinformed about how it is supposed to work. It would appear that you have chosen the latter path.

I could write a tome, but I'll just give you one example. A deliberative format like a Citizens Jury (small format) or Citizens Assembly (large format) selects people randomly from the population, as a statistical sample. Good formats, like a World Cafe (scalable) use facilitated dialogue to encourage constructive exploration and inclusion, rather than group-think. Each of these formats has its advantages and disadvantages, but they are designed so that a group of people can represent and consider the broad and minority positions in the population from which they are drawn. The value of deliberation is in the facilitated dialogue which assists them in acknowledging all positions and finding common ground.

Now don't just believe me. I am one voice who happens to support DD. Suspend your judgement until you have visited the various sites that explain the various formats (there are many). Then attend a gathering. Look, some are far from perfect. But they each have aspects that promote civic engagement and understanding. We can use more of that than the kind of cynical ranting we see too much of.

Drew said...

You cite the promotion of civic engagement as one of the benefits of these systems, which is exactly the sort of response one can expect from it. People who are talking feel they are engaged.
In your own post, you speak of how everyone seemed to reach a consensus in your "World Cafe," happily accepting the end result. This is exactly the sort of problem I have with it. If you've made everyone happy, you have merely placated them.
You also seem to think that people didn't go quite far enough in their ambitions, which leads me to believe that you think they'll all agree with you, if only given enough time and meetings. You imply that this is forward progress, and they will move forward with you.
I don't want to live in a system in which I'm certain that people all share my goals. Different people have different goals, and there isn't much room for that in DD.
I've seen these systems at work in university settings, and they aren't fantastic.
By your own admission, you dislike adversarial debate. The world is full of conflicting ideas. Without honest discussion of the merits and flaws of these ideas, we lose them. Debate must be competitive. Not all ideas SHOULD survive.
You, like so many others, like to think that you'll "enlighten" the world by claiming that we'll all like your way if we try it. We won't.
I like a system that allows individuals freedom. A system that pretty much leaves me alone is best. This is not, nor will it ever be, the aim of your DD. As with any system that tries to combine the ideas of everyone (or a sampling thereof), your system provides little room for those who mostly just want to be left alone.

rlubensky said...

So this is where we are. You want the freedom to be an independent agent. I value community. You feel that dialogue reduces your power--that's the language of victimisation. I see dialogue as an opportunity that does not necessitate sacrifice or compromise. Fine, be a free agent. But don't get on your high horse and tell others like me who want to get along that we are wrong. I'm not wrong, I prefer a different existence than you do. And don't invent stories about how DD forces people to think in any certain way, or that its outcome is just pacified cooperation. I have no intention of living in that world either. Most deliberative processes I have been involved with had citizens innovate and design solutions together. Sometimes the objective was to produce many options rather than decide on just one. A better outcome was obtained (ie. one that more people agreed with in the community) due to the collaboration of a representative sample of people. Also, any good DD exercise has to shift decision making power and control away from executive hegemony, and I would think that you above all would benefit from that.

Drew said...

You value forced community. You value artificial community. If you "facilitate" discussions, you still have a group in charge. And that group will always have an agenda.
And I have no doubt that people "innovated" and solved problems "together." It's exactly that sort of thing that stifles the competition of conflicting ideas.
"Synergy" is the buzz word that I keep expecting from you here. Of course, I think that came from the more competitive corporate world, but it's the same idea. If we all cooperate, it'll work even better than one idea or a compromise. It's a dangerous thing to pretend that consensus produces better ideas. Competition has, throughout history, produced most of the best ideas. When people get together and try to reach consensus, some will always find that the best parts of their ideas aren't implemented. In many cases, the best parts of most ideas aren't used, and the product is inferior.
Harmony makes people feel warm and fuzzy. Competition drives them to test and thoroughly develop their ideas.
We gunners know what happens when people try to reach a consensus. Some who claim to be speaking for us will make it sound like taking the shaft is really a sensible way for everyone to get what they want.
You can't (and shouldn't) please everyone. Hell, in many cases, pleasing the majority is an unethical act.
As I have heard it said: When everyone agrees with you, you're probably wrong.
You also say that I shouldn't say that it's wrong for you to try to force this on me. You say you prefer a different existence. The problem is that your perfect world idea involves forcing your existence onto mine. If the consensus is that we should all disarm, you won't tell me that I'm okay because I never agreed to live in your world. On the flip side, if you and a group of friends form some sort of commune and don't interfere with my life, I'm not going to stop you. You see the problem here. Our ideas can't cooperatively coexist if you want this to work at a governmental level. Mine will not demand you change, but yours very well could demand I do so. This is why I must defend my side.

rlubensky said...

Now I'm going to pick your story apart. Piece by piece.

"You value forced community."
If you want to be a free agent, fine. But somebody has to make decisions about which roads to pave, how much taxes to charge so you have a police force and how the limited water supply in your catchment gets allocated. Either you can let your government or its executive mandate it (and that's fine if you think they do it equitably), you can have a plebiscite where special interest groups misinform the public and screw the results. Or you can convene a deliberative event that brings in a sample of willing and broad-minded folk who reflect on community values (including yours) to make recommendations. Nobody is forced to be on that panel, and whether you consider yourself a freedom fighter or a groupie, the outcome has to affect you if you want police, roads and water. If not you better move to a cave in Montana.

"You value artificial community." This presumes that the people need to like each other and be happy together, and need to recognise each other in the street. No, a community can simply be a set of people who have something in common, like where they live, where they work, what they study, etc. There is nothing artificial about that.

"If you "facilitate" discussions, you still have a group in charge."
Geez, take off your army boots. When you walk down the street with your friends, is anybody in charge? No, what you do just happens without authority. One of you will say, "how about a beer?", and he would be facilitating a decision-making event. It's nothing more than that.

"And that group will always have an agenda." That is just plain paranoia--are you sure you didn't mean to write vendetta? Next time you and three friends meet at the bar, I'm calling the cops. You lot are gonna cause trouble, fer sure--you must have an agenda. No, deliberative groups are gathered for a reason, and that is to solve a problem posed by a government body (see above). If you think their careful recommendations about roads, police or water is an agenda, then off you go to that Montana cave.

"And I have no doubt that people "innovated" and solved problems "together." It's exactly that sort of thing that stifles the competition of conflicting ideas." I like orange. "Well, that's exactly the sort of thing that stifles a good shade of purple." I mean, what kind of logic is that?? Did I say we shouldn't have competition? That dDeliberation only exists in some impossible socialist utopia? When you are walking in town, do you shout down your friends when they want to go to one bar and you want to go to the one across the street? No, you go to both, either together, sequentially or separately. You bloody well work it out without resorting to "survival of the fittest."

"Synergy is the buzz word that I keep expecting from you here. Of course, I think that came from the more competitive corporate world, but it's the same idea." Well, I have actually been involved in a design process with a group that none of us could have done as well individually. But it does not happen often, and I wouldn't be hinging every deliberative event on it. But several people working together can ask more questions and there is a better probability that no aspects of a problem go unforgotten.

"If we all cooperate, it'll work even better than one idea or a compromise." This is an over-generalisation. Can a thousand carpenters build a house in four seconds?

"It's a dangerous thing to pretend that consensus produces better ideas." Consensus does not produce better ideas. It finds common ground in ideas that already exist. For those who choose to learn and shift their preferences, they may move towards consensus. But in some deliberative processes, polarisation actually increases and consensus does not happen. So there is no pretending and no danger.

"Competition has, throughout history, produced most of the best ideas." You have no idea how ideas are produced. What you are talking about is the old wives tale that "necessity is the mother of invention", and that necessity implies a scarcity that motivates competition. Fine, but while competition may motivate the development of ideas, the ideas themselves could be conceived by groups participating freely and creatively, or by individuals taking a crap.

"When people get together and try to reach consensus, some will always find that the best parts of their ideas aren't implemented. In many cases, the best parts of most ideas aren't used, and the product is inferior." You are a sad, victimised fellow who has never been influential in debate. Maybe if you weren't so cocky, you'd be more successful. Best according to whom? Inferior to whom? Are you the norm-setter? The fashion police? Does the world rotate around you? Geez, you are a clever dick, then. Sorry, it looks like you'll have to take your "best" part and try it on somebody else.

"Harmony makes people feel warm and fuzzy." This is the first valid thing you have written. But I get the impression nobody ever agrees with you, so you view warm and fuzzy with scorn?

"Competition drives them to test and thoroughly develop their ideas." No, you are talking about dialogue and debate. And these are good things. We do in fact need to be accountable. That's why I am writing this here. To stand my ideas up and to challenge yours. But this isn't a competition. Neither of us are going to win. You'll keep pounding out your misinformed and illogical invective. Meanwhile, I am learning more about how to defend myself against your particular brand of weak logic.

"We gunners know what happens when people try to reach a consensus." Now wait on, I thought you didn't like groups who always have an agenda!

"Some who claim to be speaking for us will make it sound like taking the shaft is really a sensible way for everyone to get what they want." Yes, everyone who takes decisions (see police, water and roads above) are out to screw you. No, of course you are not paranoid and victimised, couldn't be.

"As I have heard it said: When everyone agrees with you, you're probably wrong." Well, you would be the Emporor, then, as it is you who is making claims that do not hold up.

"You also say that I shouldn't say that it's wrong for you to try to force this on me. You say you prefer a different existence. The problem is that your perfect world idea involves forcing your existence onto mine." See police/water/roads example above. I don't believe we should have deliberative events about certain irreconcilable moral issues, although some would try (see, deliberationists are not all alike, unlike you gunner groupies, apparently). For some issues, you just have to move to the place that supports your views. If you support euthanasia, move to Netherlands. If you like handguns, move to America.

"If the consensus is that we should all disarm, you won't tell me that I'm okay because I never agreed to live in your world." Here in Australia, there was no consensus. The government made handguns illegal except for professional licence holders. Consensus could never have been reached. No, it was the evil executive arm of government that did it! Our constitution does not include a charter of rights. It's no wonder you don't live here. I'm glad I do.

"On the flip side, if you and a group of friends form some sort of commune and don't interfere with my life, I'm not going to stop you." How very generous of you.

"You see the problem here. Our ideas can't cooperatively coexist if you want this to work at a governmental level. Mine will not demand you change, but yours very well could demand I do so. This is why I must defend my side." So here is the final contradiction. You say that competition is the way ideas are fostered. But you also insist on casting your relationship to group decisions as a personal competition. But as a result of that framework which is bereft of ideas, you isolate yourself by definition.

Have an uninformed day.

Drew said...

Well, let's see where I should start...Yes, someone has to make decisions about a lot of things. It's funny, though, that you assume that bringing in a group to talk it over necessarily facilitates good decision-making. And you assume that a group that wants to make decisions will be informed. Rule by popular opinion does not make for well-informed decisions. And that's assuming that your group is ever truly representative. Some people, even if they show up, will not be heard. It's beside the point, though, so I'll let that part go.
As for the part about broad-minded folks reflecting on community values to make decisions...well, let's just see how quickly the "community" wants to tell others how to live. It'll be pretty fast.

You say community is not artificial when you bring in your sample of people. Just because they have one thing in common does not mean they are a community. Any time someone categorizes a group into a community, it is artificial.

When I walk down the streets with my friends, it is far different than a formal gathering someone has put together. And, yes, my friends and I will have an agenda at a bar. Everyone has an agenda. At a bar, that agenda may be to simply have fun, just get drunk, or whatever. The problem is that the people putting together a DD event aren't necessarily honest about their agenda. And they'll still be trusted to be neutral...very different from going to a bar.

Actually, if my friends and I want to go to different bars, we each make arguments for our own choices. Whichever choice wins is where we go. We don't assume everyone's choice is equally valid. Let's take another choice...you want to build a bridge at the bend in the river, while I want to build it just downstream. We only have a budget for one bridge. One location is going to be a better use of that money. We can't both have our way.

A lot of people working together can just as easily miss aspects of a problem...especially if the group is not a group with knowledge, but one that is supposed to be representative.

"For those who choose to learn...they may move towards consensus." Even you should recognize the problem here. Once again, you try to imply that consensus is necessarily the proper option for those who are educated. This is, as you should realize, incorrect.

As for the common ground in ideas, the common ground is not necessarily better. Similarities are not strengths.

Groups do not often have motivation to come up with the best, most efficient product. Individuals are motivated by profit, competition, and need, while groups (especially those using public funds) eliminate at least competition, and usually profit (almost all publicly-funded groups eliminate the worry about money), from the equation. Therefore, efficiency generally suffers.

Actually, I have seen many good ideas get lost in "consensus," few of them my own. Hell, I have probably even contributed to the death of some fantastic ideas. And, yeah, when I have the better idea, I will often work on it myself, assuming I have the resources. Sometimes the group then wants my finished product.

I disdain the idea of giving people warm and fuzzy feelings in order to control them. And letting them feel like they've contributed does just that, in many cases.

Debate forces people to defend their ideas. Competition forces them to develop them to the point that they are proven. After all, a good invention may be wonderful, but if it costs more than its function is worth, you really need to develop some means of producing it that will cost less, or the other guy who's making a similar product will end up outselling you.

I never said I dislike agendas. I'm sure you've seen that, though. I dislike hidden agendas and pretended neutrality.

Ah, calling me paranoid for noticing that I shouldn't everyone who says they're on my side. Perhaps everyone who has ever seemed to be your ally has been completely on the level. I doubt it.

It's true that complete agreement is generally wrong. It's only when ideas are actually debated and tested that the truth can come out. Agreement is dangerous because of the amount of certainty it brings. Complete agreement stops people from thinking critically.

You say you don't believe in having DD events regarding irreconcilable issues. You do admit, though, that some would try. My way of life, though, has little risk of interfering with yours. If we minimize government, irreconcilable moral issues are not the business of any governing body.

I am aware that Australia's leadership did not use DD to take away your guns. I am also aware that you do not have a Bill of Rights. On the other hand, I am also aware that even a governing document can be changed, and a group brought together to make decisions that are supposedly "best" for everybody could easily do so.

You say that my choice to offer competing ideas isolates me because of how I view "group decisions." I don't believe in a system of rule by consensus or majority. I believe in a system in which government is elected. That elected government is limited. This keeps government from interfering too much. I am not defending the system the US has allowed to sprawl out into a monster. I am talking about a system that cuts it down and limits it. You, on the other hand, have decided that government interference is a constant, so you want as many people involved as possible.

Like I have already said, my system allows everyone to live their own lives without constant interference.

rlubensky said...

Thank you for your response, I have to acknowledge your tone is more personal and thoughtful. I won't contest your beliefs, but I will just make these comments on fact:

"...you assume that a group that wants to make decisions will be informed. Rule by popular opinion does not make for well-informed decisions." Rule by popular opinion is called voting, and the misinforming influence of stakeholders through the media mucks it up. When it comes to the problems of majority rule or plebiscite, we actually share some agreement there. What sets deliberative processes apart is that they include a formal information-gathering phase. You believe that no such exercise can be performed objectively, as any organising group will be biased. There is no question that a great deal of effort has to go into the provision of the full range of views that everyone sees as relevant to the issue. If a deliberative event is planned poorly, or if the sponsor and the organiser of the deliberative event are one and the same, then you have every reason to be cynical about the outcome. This is not a problem with deliberative democracy per se, but perhaps with a particular implementation. Every event and process must be publicly evaluated.

"A lot of people working together can just as easily miss aspects of a problem...especially if the group is not a group with knowledge, but one that is supposed to be representative." The point you raise is a valid and important one. Many argue that large-scale deliberative processes are better than small because the latter could let some aspects fall between the cracks. (The merits of large vs small is worth a whole post in itself.) But this is where facilitation helps. Rather than the group stopping at whatever three problems they might naturally identify, for example, a facilitator can push the group to further their consideration. I have witnessed several times where the quiet participant is given just a bit more time and space to articulate a personal story that illuminates a new angle that is greatly relevant to all. So professional small-group facilitators are hugely valuable in helping the process work by opening it up.

"I don't believe in a system of rule by consensus or majority. I believe in a system in which government is elected." By majority, you mean by plebiscite.

"You, on the other hand, have decided that government interference is a constant, so you want as many people involved as possible." Interference is your word. But no, I don't like how gov't and all its regulations just get more and bigger and unwieldy. I just lodged my income tax for the year (which ends in June in Australia), and the guide goes to over a hundred pages!). IMO, throw out income tax and all its special perks for the rich and just charge me the flat rate consumption tax (GST) that we already have. End of story. So I want simple government with less regs too. But, I do believe that there will always have to be some legislation, civic processes and enforcement.

Am I correct in my understanding that you believe that there exists a minimalist set of constitutional laws which can stand like commandments for the duration of time? Beyond that, there should be no other constraints to civil behaviour (eg speed limits), enforced by any means? (I'm not sure where laws which apply constitutional constructs to particular contexts would fit into your framework). Your elected reps (presumably voted in by majority rather than putsch, although there are other voting systems in the world) should have nothing more to do than directly interpret the constitution (or its contextualised corollaries) in maintaining civil progress? If so, then that is a fundamental belief that defines your identity like belief in God. Fine.

In my opinion, operationalising this belief may have been possible in 1770 but not today--our economic and social structures have just become too complex. It's not about choosing whether or not to embrace that complexity, I don't think I can avoid it. So I can't live by your fundamentalism.

If I can interpret your writing, I think the main aspect of government that you disagree with is executive decision making, whether it be by the elected officials or by bureaucrats. Their incursion into your daily life using laws and policy that you believe should simply not exist (whether arrived at by consensus, plebiscite or abject bloody-mindedness), is what you detest. If this is true, then the irony of this conversation is that we agree to some degree about this! What makes us different is what we choose to do about it. You take a "fight or flee" approach, in that your general posture towards executive influence is aggressive, and you set yourself apart because you believe most people have been corrupted. Oh, and get rid of the executive. My approach is conciliatory, to work within the system to devolve the authoritative stance of the executive.

Would you say my characterisation of your position is accurate?

Drew said...

I, likewise, must admit that your latest response is far more reasonable than some of the things you've said earlier. I thank you for that.

While I'm certain there are certain strengths to DD vs. voting, you must also acknowledge the difficulty in actually having an unbiased person or persons in charge. While a vote that has several options put forth may not fully explore some options, it does often include more research into each option. I don't believe either one, though, can truly avoid tyranny by majority.

Facilitators can probably push a group to discover all sorts of things. But, at the same time, in their zeal to attempt this, they can easily influence the group's decision. I actually believe that a smaller group is MORE helpful, so long as it is a well-informed group. A group of civil engineers and architects is going to know more about that bridge than a group of teachers and truck drivers. In fact, those truck drivers may be so intent on getting the bridge placed for their convenience that they may overshadow ideas that are far more cost-effective.

By majority, I mean any simple majority opinion. Even if it comes from a bunch of those opinion polls some officials spend all their time looking at. Just because 75% of the population would like to forcefully remove 10% of the population does not make it right.

We are in agreement on a flat tax on consumption (or, really, on income, if the consumption tax just can't go...either one levels the whole thing a lot). And, yeah, there'll always be some regulation. As soon as there were three people on Earth, one wanted to tell the other two how to live.

You're fairly close on my minimalist laws. I figure that there will always need to be enforcement, oversight, diplomacy, and defense. The laws should be minimal, but someone will have to administer the punishments for breaking them, someone will need to collect the taxes, someone will need to keep those two honest by showing the public what's going on, someone should deal with other countries, and someone will have to be ready for the possibility of diplomacy failure.

I know that my ideal system is somewhat stylized, highly unlikely, and not nearly as simple as I make it out to be. But it's the easiest way to describe it.
My goal at this point is to attempt to minimalize government as much as I possibly can. Not an easy task, but something any libertarian can dream of.

You are fairly close to determining my opinion. I don't like a meddlesome state that interferes with my life or the lives of others. I don't, however, necessarily want to get rid of the system (though I might want some term limits, since career politicians aren't really a good thing). I am aware that government is the only way to keep order (anarchy tends to crash into tyranny pretty quickly). I do take a head-on sort of approach, which is rough at times, but the key is to keep convincing others. I do not, however, set myself apart by appreciating the corruptability of man. I, too, am easily corrupted, I'm sure. I don't want to be an elected official. I'll lead when circumstances force it upon me, but I will not retain that authority. Power, they say, corrupts. I'm willing to rally those who also prefer a hands-off government, but that's it.

Your approach of working within the system is, ironically, largely about recruiting others as well. Yours is less aggressive, which may work for some things, but I am almost certain that there's a breaking point for everyone. If the government crossed a certain line, you'd probably find yourself pretty firmly in my camp (well, not MY camp, but the less conciliatory approach). We just have different breaking points.

Would you agree that there's always a line in the sand, even if you aren't sure where it is?

One might also note that my approach might be more aggressive because aggression motivates the apathetic more than compassion. Your method, though, attempts to motivate the already active to band together, while they might be put off by something more divisive.

It also seems to me that you're happy with most of the laws in place (with the exception of tax law), and simply want to prevent more from spiraling out of control, while my method is to attempt to remove existing law (which is easier said than done, mind you, especially with bizarre legal precedents that can't just be repealed). Differing goals will equate to differing methods. While I can honestly say that I would never go for a government by DD (which I don't think would stem the tide of new laws, but that's something we'll probably always disagree on), I can indeed see how you hope it'll work (which is quite different from how some others hope it would work).