Fighting political polarisation

From this week’s Substack of mine.

Thomas B. Edsall has an important writeup of research into reducing political polarisation. But to me it seems to be heading in an unhelpfully scientistic direction. Virtually all the researchers quoted examine the causal pathways leading to a decline in “upholding norms of democratic accountability” with a view to coming up with some ‘treatment’ or ‘intervention’ to improve it.

So their work presupposes a manipulator from outside the system. (I can feel a government ad campaign coming on!) But this leaves the competitive electoral system and the vast paraphernalia of media, comms that envelops it intact. But what if “affective polarization” is driven by people’s sense of their own lack of agency in the existing system? Then, as one of the studies’ suggested, “affective polarisation” and the collapse of democratic norms are entangled and part of a wider story of cumulative causation

What if you actually changed the system enough to enable people to feel their agency within it. If you watch the 2 min video “Teaser” on this site you’ll see the story very differently. It’s a teaser for a yet-to-be-released documentary on a citizens’ jury was held through the COVID crisis in Michigan. When people haggle through their differences but all feel heard, whey they all have skin in the game they’re all vulnerable to each other. They all come to understand those with different views. They come to respect them. Indeed the very process of disagreeing, working to minimise it and accepting what difference remains actually brings them together!

Seriously! Watch the trailer and tell me Americans are losing their taste for democracy. They’ve never been more desperate, to have it. Because what they have right now is the bones of an electoral system smothered in propaganda. And you can blame one side more than the other and say it’s worse, but both sides know that if they don’t lay on the propaganda with a trowel, they lose.

All the Americans — from left to right — know that. And they basically hate it. They want it to end. But it CAN’T end without some important changes to give people agency in their democracy.

This entry was posted in Democracy, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - international, Sortition and citizens’ juries. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments