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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Deliberation « Previous | |Next »
April 10, 2003

Of and on these last few days I have been mulling over the remarks by Ken Parish here. Ken says:

"Regular readers of Troppo Armadillo will be aware of my vision of blogging as a vehicle for development of a neo-Athenian-style democracy, in which respectful and open-minded civic dialogue sustains a tolerant, engaged and informed citizenry."

He then poses a problem for the formation of public opinion through deliberation:

"...it's only been the entrenched, unyielding prejudice of both sides in the Iraq war issue that has imposed a reluctant acceptance that the real world bears no resemblance to my idealised vision and never will.Apparently thoughtful, rational people on both sides interpret exactly the same facts in diametrically opposed ways to fit their preconceived and immovable viewpoints, or choose to believe only those press reports that suit their ingrained prejudices."

Its a big problem for deliberative democracy. It is assumed that group discussion is likely to lead to better outcomes, if only because competing views are stated and exchanged. We start from partial views formed by our biases (prejudices) and through a conversation we shift from our partial view and come to appreciate the view of the other participants.

What Ken highlighted was a process of group polarization where members of the conversation move towards more extreme point of their original viewpoint. The result is increasing polarization not consensus. We get deliberation within enclaves where people hear the echo of their own voices. Opposing voices are really heard. Few are left in the vacated middle. People start talking about the hate speech of those in the opposing camp. The relationship between the two camps becomes one of an ongoing feud or war. So we have a divided nation.

Ken never did address overcoming the problem. Maybe in such circumstances it is the very jarring that loosens up the horizons of the self-insulating enclaves within which we live and we become aware of alternative voices. Maybe.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:58 PM | | Comments (0)
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