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Against Deliberation

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Colin Bird

on 26 April 2017

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Transcript of Against Deliberation

Against Deliberation?

1. Hillary's response: 'Let's talk'; 'are you going to let me speak?' -- these look like deliberative impulses; but here they function as an attempt to silence, to usher away, to change the subject.

2. The protestor isn't interested in 'talk': she wants to disrupt the event, demand an apology, and embarrass Hillary, but to an intended effect -- to vividly draw attention to Hillary's alleged complicity in policies and attitudes that contribute to mass incarceration of the black population in the US. It matters that the protester is herself black. Performative not discursive.

3. The reaction of the audience: 'not appropriate'; 'rude'; 'trespasser' etc.
Deliberative Democracy (DD)

DD stimulated by perception that civic debate in modern democracies is self-interested, superficial, fanned by demagoguery and prejudice

DD gambit: encourage citizens to think and deliberate at a deeper level, through concrete engagement with the arguments and perspectives of their fellows.

By challenging each other, citizens will be jolted out of complacent dogmas; civic debate will become more sophisticated, more public-spirited.

DD theorists -- Deliberation supports distinctively

holds powerful accountable to critique
opens citizens to other perspectives on a footing of mutual respect
mobilizes the 'unforced force of the better argument' (Habermas) to erode domination, privilege, oppression, prejudice
helps citizens find common ground, and to move forward in a consensual way.
Sanders is not trying to show that deliberation is, in general, a bad thing.

She wants to question whether deliberation actually furthers democratic goals.

Her question: is emphasizing/promoting deliberative attitudes in public life likely to promote desirable democratic practices?
Her answer: No, at least not under present circumstances.
Sanders's main concerns:

1. Deliberation implies caution, thoughtfulness, etc. But sometimes this is not called for. Sometimes the only way to get through is to be disruptive.

2. Deliberation implies slowness: but this can delay engagement with urgent matters

3. The 'etiquette' of deliberative discussion tends 'normalize' terms of the debate and to silence certain voices; e.g. Hillary's protester

4. Distracts
from what really matters: encourages a focus on abstract questions about the qualities of argumentation to the exclusion of matters of concrete political concern

5. Fetishizing deliberative virtues reinforces existing hierarchies and privileges.
Biased in favor of the more educated.
data from jury studies suggest that gendered/racial stereotypes play major role in shaping jurors' deliberation. White juries and black defendants.
disturbing overlap between rhetoric of deliberative democracy and longstanding conservative anxieties about the 'stupid masses'

6. Rational argument is weak as a solvent of exclusion and prejudice. The latter are not sustained by reason, and are rarely dislodged by rational criticism.
linked to a more general tendency to downgrade
and overvalue
as vehicles of democratic engagement.
Sanders's general conclusions:

Most urgent matters of democratic concern today are problems of exclusion and privilege

Deliberative democracy is not the appropriate response.
Sanders's proposed alternative:

Focus on
encourage (especially) excluded members of society to tell their life-stories; stories are not arguments
listening more important than judging/arguing
point is less to find common ground as to attune citizens to difference by cultivating appreciation for the diversity of their life-experiences
aim is inclusion not rational consensus
Some critical questions:

1. Is Sanders too quick to lay the problems of actual democracy at the door of the deliberative ideal? We can agree that 'soundbite' democracy favors the privileged (think of Schumpeter/Bernays on propaganda/'Manufactured Will'). Not obvious that the right diagnosis of this phenomenon is its tendency to promote deliberative virtues.
A&F on civic privatism.
Surely still plausible to think that there is a deliberative deficit in mainstream political debate
Public relations/spin doctors-- based on nonrational forms of suasion.

2. Sometimes Sanders seems to confuse
deliberative attitudes (thoughtfulness, measuredness, caution, aversion to quick decision-making)
standards of rational deliberation (acting on sound reasons, excluding error and delusion, etc.)

These are not the same. You can have cautious, measured, stupidity and sometimes agents are made aware of their reasons by nondiscursive means.

Dichotomy of reason and emotion/passion is a false one.

Eg: Hillary's protester. She is not simply
. She is asking Hillary an awkward question. Doesn't Hillary's defensiveness exhibit the power of the 'better argument'?

3. Problems with Sanders's testimony-based counterproposal.
doesn't it encourage civic narcissism? It's all about me?

Aren't today's white supremacists/anti-immigration protesters offering testimony? Should we be reluctant to judge such testimony?

Emphasizing difference to the exclusion of finding common ground is not obviously desirable from a democratic point of view. Might make it harder to build bridges/coalitions between groups who share common interests.
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