Thursday, August 24, 2006

 

Do we argue just for the sake of disagreeing?

In her essay "The Problem of Moral Disagreement and the Necessity of Democratic Politics," Noelle McAfee warns about political disagreements that run so deep that there is no need to argue. She asks if that is where American democracy is going. If so, deliberation can help.

Deliberative democracy can only get off the ground if there is something uncertain and contested that we as a community need to decide but also only if there are limits to uncertainty and contestedness. It also only gets off the ground if we are included to take part.
I've conducted over 30 public issue forums. They have varied in size and success but one thing remains constant: people attend forums because they are worried about what is happening regarding a certain topic.

A forum on Social Security attracted retirees. A forum on fireworks attracted 60 people from one community. What about forums on revitalizing democracy. So far, attendees seem to want an answer that can be given in 30 minutes.

The fact is, deliberation can be a real success when people with real concerns about their community come to the table ready and willing to participate. McAfee happens to agree.

Moreover, only a small portion of deliberation follows the course of rational argument and the give and take of reasons. For the most part it proceeds with people explaining how they came to have the views they have and what their experiences are that shaped their sense of the world. In the course of these conversations, participants change their views of other's views. They enlarge their understanding of problems and begin to appreciate the complexity of how issues affect other members of the community. Sometimes, instead of reaching agreement, participants leave saying that they are more uncertain than ever.

The salient feature of these deliberations is not a search for agreement; rather it is a sensitivity to others. Afterall, politics is about relationships.

What do you think?
Comments:
This sounds like a liberal idea to me. Conservative views always win the day when based on facts. This looks to me like deliberation wants us to base decisions on our "feelings" and on compromise, which is the only way liberal views float to the top.

I'm pretty skeptical of this entire process. Seems political to me.
 
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