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ART OF THE POLIS March 20, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Duckspeak.
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Can people from different political standpoints even successfully talk to one another about political issues and positions? Is it foolish to even try?


The polis can be defined the people with common social lives talking about matters of common concern.  One might induce that some notion of a common or public good is a corollory.  And then there is the practice not simply of inquiry, but of debate, dialogue and dialectic. The process should be structured to bes constructive and inclusive.  Occupy Wall Street, with its anarchist inspiration got some aspect of this process right, contrasting with the top-down decision-making we unthinking presume is representative democratic government, which in actuality is in practice a form of at best benevolent government without representation. However the OWS Movement, before its public pretense was ruthlessly and systematically curtailed in the Land of the Free, was criticized simultaneously for failing to provide leaders or masking their presence.

Walking down the street and saying “g’day mate”, or “good morning, nice day” is not quite the ancient Athenian model of civil engagement. Then in many suburbs you may not necessarily find the equivalent of the Agora, although I noticed in Sydney the notion of speakers corner is not completely dead. There is the tradition of writing letters to the editor. I suppose people can engage talkback radio, enhanced by twitter, but these are short messages. And then there are blogs. Indeed they may be more like front bars in pubs than public squares where the proprietor sets the rules.

So what gives with deliberative democracy? Patricia Moy and John Gastil in describing deliberative democracy suggest:

First, deliberative conversations embrace conflict. Although citizens may seek a consensus judgment, they welcome conflicting conceptions of the public good (Burkhalter,Gastil, & Kelshaw, 2002; Cohen, 1989). Optimal collective decisions may exist for many issues, and in such cases, citizens can deliberate to discern the best single policy. At the same time, participants in a deliberative conversation remain open to—and even expect— significant political conflicts among individuals and the groups with which they identify.Moreover, citizens might expect that on some topics, fellow conversants might reject the very notion of a shared public good (Sanders, 1997). Even on such issues, which often have emotional moral implications, deliberation requires participants to remain open to political conflict (Gutmann & Thompson, 1996; Pearce & Littlejohn, 1997).

Though deliberation entails conflict, participants in deliberative conversations disagree without being overbearing or aggressive. Democratic deliberation has an egalitarian and respectful atmosphere and affords each participant an equal and adequate speaking opportunity (Gastil, 1993). Whereas typical conversations can be dominated by individual participants, participants in deliberative discussions resist the urge to impose their own view on other conversants.

In deliberative conversations, speakers can make and challenge one another’s validity claims. This requires participants to present clear and logical arguments. Though speech need not be sterile and free of metaphors (Sanders, 1997; Thompson & Hoggett, 2001), deliberation is disrupted by unnecessarily vague statements, innuendos, and hidden messages. Logical arguments connect claims to premises and avoid fallacies and contradictions. By contrast, deceptive statements, unreasonable claims, and evidence-free arguments interfere with the deliberative process (Gastil, 1992; Makau & Marty, 2001).1

Finally, deliberative speech is complemented with careful, considerate listening (Burkhalter et al., 2002). That is, listeners make certain that they understand the gist of what is uttered and try to consider the speaker’s arguments and perspective. When a conversation is truly deliberative, participants emerge from it with a clearer understanding of the reasons and values underlying opposing points of view. This emphasis on respect and listening is a corrective to the strictly rationalist, argumentative account of deliberation, which can downplay the importance of plurality, cultural differences, and perspective taking (Benhabib, 1992, 2002).

In sum, deliberative political conversation is an inclusive problem-solving process that provides opportunities for citizens to reach meaningful judgments on public issues. This process is characterized by an openness to conflict, nondominance, the use of clear and logical argument, and mutual comprehension. Though a single conversation rarely resolves a political disagreement, over time ongoing, deliberative political conversation can contribute to the democratic process by improving the sophistication of the public’s judgments, which ultimately influence the policy-making process.

Fisky at Catallaxy proposes The Frisk Doctrine. I have not Frisky’s permission to quote him, nor have I advised him I would  reference him in this post. I am quoting him, not to make any personal attacks, although as I repeatedly  noted I do find his conclusions to be a concern.  The most important point for me is to review and identify the mistakes I made in not  clarifying and assuming too much. Blogging can be mistake prone, especially where scrolling is involved.

The Left so Frisky contends now finds it expedient to curtail freedom of speech. The Left, he suggests over the past decades has moved from being outsiders to insiders. He explains:

Being the status quo now, the Left no longer have a compelling interest in supporting free speech, and virtually every piece of Leftist legislation in the last two decades relating to free speech has been an attempt to tighten the controls on free expression, not to loosen them. The sine non qua [“Without which, not” ie essential feature] of the Left is equality. The arguments made against free speech by the Left do not begin with a requirement to avoid offence or licentiousness as with the old establishment – this is a secondary matter for Leftists – but rather a determination to create equality, as at least one Catallaxy contributor has said before.

The problem is that equality, or anything approaching equality, cannot possibly be achieved in an advanced technological civilization, and wouldn’t be a desirable goal even if it were achievable, thanks to the division of labour (less specialization, lower productivity and therefore less goods to go around). Working in total opposition to reality, the greater one strives to create equality, the more authoritarian the government becomes. The most extreme cases were the Communist movements that swept through East Asia last century, killing far more people than their European comrades did.

Having identified the problem, what is the prescription  “what are we going to do about this?”:

Those of you who have children will know that the most effective means to get your way with someone is not to reason with them, but to impose a high cost on their behaviour should they act contrary to your wishes. Regardless of whether the other person is able to extract any moral principle from your act of deterrence, the constraints placed on them will establish patterns of behaviour that are not easily broken. This has been applied on a large scale, with a lot of the Latin American Left having been put in their box by the harsh discipline imposed on them in the 1980s, as Chomsky has argued. Danny Ortega looks like a broken man nowadays, and the post-Pinochet Chilean Left have remained within the neo-liberal paradigm.

When I suggested that the discussion should include consideration of defamation as well as provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, he resplonded:

Wmmb, although I allergically opposed to discussing anything of importance with Leftists, your question appears to be a sincere attempt to discover an alternative position, and an exception can be made.

I genuinely wondering why in logic – my implicit argument – you are not in principle opposed to defamation, as a restriction on free speech?

Defamation is a tort. People really could inflict career-destroying damage on others by spreading malicious falsehoods, and the costs imposed by this behaviour can be calculated and repaid. The same is true of the Left’s behaviour. We can calculate the damage caused by Leftist ideas in lost GDP, lost lives (over 1,100 on the high seas) and wasted hundreds of billions. Ideally, the Labor party would be forced to repay all of this money from its bank account, but I would be happy to accept a 10-year silence from Leftists as a compromise.

I don’t know any conservatives. Frisky seems to be concerned with restrictions of “right wind speech”, so perhaps he is not a Libertarian. Chris Mooney reports on the personality differences between, as the American polarity has it, “conservatives and liberals”. In this interview with Thom Hartmann, he highlights the personality traits of openness  and  conscientiousness. Chris Mooney scores on the latter, and presumably the former.

And then there is Corey Robin, also interviewed by Thom Hartmann who argues that conservatism is essentially a reactionary movement opposed to democratic enfranchisement and the maintenance of hierarchical, non egalitarian social formations, except when they are trade unions designed to sustain worker’s strikes.

Libertarians presumably propound free speech, and possibly as was suggested right wing speech, rather than left wing speech.

You never know how these things will go, and what will be the sticking points. For example, I suggested that vilification was a gratuitous attack on someone’s cultural identity. No response.

The contentious issue was the allegation that both the Qu’ran and Das Capital advocated violence against respectively non-believers and capitalist exploitation. Frisky implicitly claimed to have read the Qu’ran, which implies a very high competence in reading Arabic, including the particular form in which it is written. You might read the English version, but you would need to identify the translation, somewhat analogously quoting the King James Bible.

Finally Frisky concludes, after I had withdrawn from the discussion:

Wmmmb, I would be delighted to discover what you think you know about the Crusades, and the Inquisition for that matter, but I also shouldn’t get my hopes up given your epistemological crimes on this thread – chastising someone for quoting a text “out of context” and then admitting you know nothing about the text, but later maintaining that you still have enough of a “sense” to make a judgment anyway. This is totally unacceptable.

I dropped in the references to the Crusades and Inquisition, as if they were self evident in the context of Islam for inciting violence. Whereas the Crusades owed something to “The Peace of God” injunctions to constrain the unruly behavior of the nobles within Europe, their subsequent violence beginning with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and the interaction with Saladin. The Wikipedia entry, for example notes:

His reportedly noble and chivalrous behavior was noted by Christian chroniclers, and despite being the nemesis of the Crusaders, he won the respect of many of them, including Richard the Lionheart who led the Third Crusade; rather than becoming a hated figure in Europe, Saladin became a celebrated example of the principles of chivalry.

The cultural impact of the Crusades was greater and more enduring in Western Europe than in the Levant . How did Islam achieve the geographic reach it did from its origins in the Southern Arabian Peninsula? In recent days, we have been reminded that the last non-European pope was Syrian. And yet formerly Christian areas became deeply Muslim, albeit with remanent Christians populations unrecognized by the barbarians who fell upon them both during the crusades and in more recent history of Western crime.

The recourse to extremist of a threatened, traumatized and economically disrupted population is common. One notices that the Taliban destroyed Sufi shrines. The Inquisition was a particular form of trauma with implications lasting to the present. We might remember the Albigensian Crusade with its slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Western Europe and the displacement of  the Jews from the Iberia.

Otherwise, I could  have gone to the Argument Clinic:

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