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...or is ideology here to stay? The case for a new golden rule: "shared values first"

In the last post I made the case that perhaps, if we could engage in political discourse without ideology, we might find more synergies between seemingly opposite points of view. Is it possible to break down polarized politics by removing ideology from the equation, and focusing on specific policies, localities, and data?

Political scientists such as Boris DeWiel would suggest that the answer is no; that politics is fundamentally a contest of values, and political discourse boils down to alternate conceptions of a "good" society. His book, Democracy: A History of Ideas, reminds us that our political differences are often the result of the values that are most important to us. For some: personal and individual liberty, for others: equality and fairness. These values are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and there's nothing inherently wrong with values such as these. Our difficulties begin when we prioritize a given value over another, and focus on a particular value at …
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What would democracy look like without ideology?

The two men look at each other, and the conversation ends. The tension is palpable, with a haze of uncertainty hovering where there was once jubilant discourse. They had been drinking together for just over an hour, reminiscing about old times, family, and the highs and lows of parenting toddlers. Upon the realization that one of them was a conservative, and the other a liberal, a veil of awkward self-doubt had imposed itself in the midst of the intimate discussion. With their political preferences revealed, how could a conversation possibly ensue?

What is it about ideology (or political preferences, ideals, or whatever) that infuses our political discourse and severs the deeper connections we might have with one another? How does the political system in which we're situated require our preferences and ideals to be aggregated into leanings across some imagined spectrum?

What would it make possible if we practiced democracy and politics without ideology? Would this hamper or furth…

Moving beyond a tyranny of the majority

I really like the colour orange, and orange shirts. But what if a majority of the people in my life wanted to stop me from wearing orange, and decided to take a vote of those who were opposed to ever allowing me to wear orange again? What would I do!?

In the last post I made brief mention of the possibility that, under majority rules, decision-making could result in a tyranny of the majority. This can occur anytime there is a minority (which is pretty much possible all the time) who do not have the sufficient numbers to influence decisions under this approach (majority-based decision-making). In this scenario there is no incentive for the majority to take into account opposing views. Those who find themselves in the minority will have their needs and desires rejected, ignored, or worse, oppressed.

To put it bluntly - a group could decide it's not cool to wear orange anymore, and to put in place a law whereby anyone caught wearing orange would be imprisoned. All they would need to …

Why democracy doesn't mean you get your way - Part 2

If you do an online search of the word "democracy", you'll come across references to things like 'majority decision-making' or 'control by a majority'. Majority decision-making, and voting, are often assumed to be key features of a democracy.

However: neither voting, nor control by a majority, are necessary for democratic decision-making.

This may come as a shock, but there are ways for groups of people to make decisions that do not involve voting. Voting leaves very little room for nuance, for the exploration of alternatives, or for compromise between disparate perspectives.

Majority decision-making, for its part, can lead to a tyranny of the majority, the oppression of minority perspectives, the polarization of opinions, and, by definition, a portion of participants whose preferences are ignored.

So what's the alternative?

If you're part of a group that is empowered to make a decision on some issue (a board, community group, committee, etc), you…

Democracy doesn't mean you get your way - Part 1

Open Houses and Public Hearings:  Public Deliberation, not Delegated Decision-Making
Unfortunately, and contrary to popular belief, showing up at an open house or public hearing does not mean you get to veto issues that are going forward to council. Quite often, participants in municipal consultation events are frustrated and disheartened that their feedback does not lead to obvious and explicit policy change. "But I live in the neighbourhood! I should be able to say what gets built, and what doesn't!" These sentiments are common, especially at the municipal level when rezoning applications are put forward, or communities are reviewing their Official Community Plans (OCP's) to accommodate new and different developments.
Which begs the question - why bother holding open houses or public hearings at all?
Making decisions democratically is not always straight forward. Once we get beyond foundational elements of a democratic society (rule of law, freedom of speech, equali…

One way to avoid public participation nightmares

You're a decision-maker, with some institution or organization, and there's an issue or project where you want to consult with members of the public. How can you get their input in a way that will be meaningful, in a process that will feel inclusive and collaborative? If the issue is contentious, and you want to gather input without delegating your authority to make the final decision, how can you engage participants in a way that won't feel completely disingenuous?

This is no small task, and is the subject of much research, training, and deliberation amongst public participation facilitators and consultants. More often than not, efforts at public participation are a disaster. Participants can feel as though their input is not considered seriously, are frustrated that their proposals and feedback are not adopted, and practitioners are left with more information than they know what to do with. At worst, trust in the institution itself is eroded.

Trust in the public realm is…

Including rational thought in decision-making: novel idea?

The post last week brought up the idea that we need to think about what concepts and ideas are put forward in the public realm. From pop music to sports to local community events, our approach to decision-making is influenced by commonly understood cultural practices. Meaningful democratic decision-making requires that we think about the practices, ideas, and values that percolate throughout society.
More specifically, when it comes to engaging a group of people to get together and go through a democratic decision-making process, practitioners need to think about how participants are being, or have been, educated. By definition, democratic decision-making is not limited to specialists. "Rule by the people" means everyone gets to participate in decision-making, even about issues where we are not experts.
This does not mean, however, that democratic decision-making should be approached from a place of ignorance. Robert Dahl emphasized the importance of enlightened understanding