The Counter-revolutionary Left

If you read Bryan Caplan's book The Myth of the Rational Voter, you probably remember the discussion about democratic fundamentalism. If you haven't, you are missing a serious piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the world. You're like a pre-Copernican pondering the cosmos.

Here's some democratic fundamentalism to blow your hair back: Deliberation Day. The attempt to patch the massive holes in democratic fundamentalism is almost to painful to watch, but they keep going.

I haven't said it too explicitly before, so I'll say it now: the radical Left, the revolutionary Left, the anti-state Left, these people, though we are occasionally at odds, are valuable allies. The NPR Left, the comfortable Left, the democratic fundamentalist Left, these people are an obstacle to the increase of human freedom and flourishing. Their attempts to change very little while expecting the world couldn't stifle real fresh air in the world of ideas more even if they were meant to.

Deliberation Day link via Richard Chappell

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explain

The idea behind deliberation day is simply that better-informed voters are likely to do a better job than ill-informed voters. Can you explain how this constitutes "democratic fundamentalism"?

Informing is not deliberating

The idea behind deliberation day is simply that better-informed voters are likely to do a better job than ill-informed voters.

Is that so? Informing is one thing, and deliberating is another. The process of informing someone is mostly non-deliberative, because the information flow goes one way (one might imagine some sort of back-and-forth, e.g. question-and-answer, but this isn't really deliberation). The assumption in the current case is that one group (the knowledgeable organizers) has the information, and the other group (the ignorant voters) does not. The point is not for the organizers to have their own minds changed by the ignorant voters. The point, as you remind us, is for the organizers to inform the voters.

It should not be called "deliberation day". It should be called "political education day". Of course, the voters are already presumably educated. It should therefore be called "political re-education day".

Again

I'll take that as a seconding of my request for an explanation how in the world this could possibly be described as "democratic fundamentalism".

(Off-topic: the idea is that deliberation comes after information. This assumes a rough fact/value distinction. Give voters the facts, then have them deliberate about how to respond -- which may involve weighing conflicting values, etc.)

P.S.

Of course, the voters are already presumably educated

What country do you live in?

Re-education day

the idea is that deliberation comes after information

Presumably. But when you described the "idea" what you chose to describe was not the deliberation, but the information. And I think you were right to do so.

Give voters the facts, then have them deliberate about how to respond -- which may involve weighing conflicting values, etc.

There are two relevant senses of deliberate. One, a person can think about something by himself. He can be said to be deliberating. Two, many people can discuss something among themselves.

But whichever sense we pick, why must it be under the auspices of these organizers? There is actually a familiar pattern which this falls into. Guided classroom discussions are a way to teach. The children discuss, but the teacher is ever-present and guides discussion in the right direction. The discussion is in fact not something that follows the delivery of information, but is an integral part of it, helping to pound it in more firmly. And here we need to understand "information" more broadly. One sense of "to inform" is "to give form to" - to shape. E.g., to indoctrinate.

Here, I googled "classroom discussion" and found this description which nicely illustrates one of the recurring problems even with discussions which are supposed to be unguided:

When we were students, many of us had the following experience: our teacher would start to lead a classroom "discussion," but we had a sinking suspicion that it was just a sham. All she wanted from the class was for us to fill in the blanks of her pre-programmed curriculum. She would fish around from student to student until she got the answer she was looking for. So we kids had to make a choice between sincerely expressing our own thoughts on the subject, at considerable risk to our grade, or simply giving the teacher what she wanted to hear. The "smarter" kids chose to play it safe. Their reward was the teacher's effusive praise for supplying the "right" answer.

The writer claims to have solved this problem.

Let 100 flowers bloom

The WSJ points out that this is likely to end up as a school of political indoctrination:

[...] the weekend-long events seemed to make participants know more. But they also ended up as more vocal advocates of government activism. Perhaps this wasn't a coincidence.

[...] Maybe the briefing materials had something to do with this transformation. They were "typically supervised for balance and accuracy by an advisory board of relevant experts and stakeholders."

[...] Indeed, the whole notion of DDay is, in its essence, nondeliberative. Its rules and forms and structures--not to mention those briefing materials and the advisers who supervise them--are handed down from on high rather than arrived at through democratic, um, deliberation. This is a rich irony of which the authors are seemingly unaware.

As if twelve years of government primary and secondary school weren't enough! Now voters are to be further indoctrinated into the correct views on the issues of the day throughout their lives.

Thanks but no thanks. I prefer to leave the re-education camps in the dustbin of history.

Non-Deliberative?

Constant, suppose that "rules and forms and structures" X would in fact be most conducive to reasoned deliberation, compared to some other rfs Y. Further suppose that ordinary irrational voters would tend to choose Y over X by default. (We can imagine that Y gives them more opportunity to vocally denounce opponents, feel smugly self-assured, and all that fun stuff Caplan reminds us that voters like.) Do you really think it follows, from the mere fact that structure X was "handed down from on high", that the resulting forum is "essentially nondeliberative", or even less deliberative than structure Y? This is just transparently bad reasoning.

I'd also note that it's obviously at odds with Randal's claim that DD is "democratic fundamentalism". (Presumably the democratic fundamentalist would trust ignorant voters to come up with reasonable forums on their own, rather than trying to improve them.)

Straw man

Do you really think it follows, from the mere fact that structure X was "handed down from on high", that the resulting forum is "essentially nondeliberative", or even less deliberative than structure Y? This is just transparently bad reasoning.

The claim that you are critiquing is not comparative. You are making up an argument (after setting up background suitably skewed to suit yourself) and then knocking it down. Now, maybe you would like to restate your point. You might like to say:

Yes, you are right, handing down the forms and structures and briefing materials (aka political propaganda) from on high is hardly deliberative in itself. However, it creates an arena in which deliberation, suitably soaked in political propaganda carefully selected by the organizers, can take place, though I can well understand why a person might have few hopes for this outcome given the way it is set up. While this may be far from the ideal, the current state of political discourse is even further from the ideal, because the different political groups have isolated themselves from each other and formed echo chambers.

That would have been a fair response. One to which I might have replied. However, I am not particularly inclined to engage your actual straw man, except to point it out as such.

It's not a straw man, it's

It's not a straw man, it's the argument in your quoted excerpt. Here's the straight quote:

Indeed, the whole notion of DDay is, in its essence, nondeliberative. Its rules and forms and structures--not to mention those briefing materials and the advisers who supervise them--are handed down from on high rather than arrived at through democratic, um, deliberation.

What do you think I'm "making up"? It's right there in black and white.

Okay, let's take it a bit at a time

Indeed, the whole notion of DDay is, in its essence, nondeliberative.

What does that mean? Could mean different things. Okay, then, let's look at the next line for disambiguation:

Its rules and forms and structures--not to mention those briefing materials and the advisers who supervise them--are handed down from on high rather than arrived at through democratic, um, deliberation.

Okay, so this specifies what was meant. Okay. Is it true? Are the rules and forms and structures handed down from on high? You are not contradicting this. Are the briefing materials (i.e., the political propaganda) handed down from on high? You are not contradicting this either. Are the advisers supervising the deliberations appointed from on high? You aren't contradicting this either.

So you aren't contradicting anything that was said.

So, straw man.

Disagreement

Erm, read my comment. I was disagreeing with the claim you put in bold, that DD is essentially "nondeliberative". I pointed out that what comes after is not any kind of support for this claim. No matter its genesis, the forum itself may still be perfectly deliberative.

Hence my diagnosis: non-sequitur.

(Your response seems to be that there wasn't any reasoning involved that could have gone wrong. What I identified as a faulty inference, you excuse as "disambiguation" -- it wasn't an argument, you say, but a mere restatement. That makes your bold quote pretty misleading, not to mention redundant. But whatever; I'm happy to let others judge that one for themselves.)

Disagreeing with straw men

I was disagreeing with the claim you put in bold, that DD is essentially "nondeliberative".

Actually, you were disagreeing with your own straw man:

that the resulting forum is "essentially nondeliberative", or even less deliberative than structure Y

That is not anything they wrote. They didn't say that it would not be conducive to reasoned deliberation. They said:

Indeed, the whole notion of DDay is, in its essence, nondeliberative.

They didn't say "the resulting forum" - that is, the forum that would result from the preparation. They said "the whole notion of DDay". And what they found non-deliberative about "the whole notion" was this:

Its rules and forms and structures--not to mention those briefing materials and the advisers who supervise them--are handed down from on high rather than arrived at through democratic, um, deliberation.

That's it. They didn't say, "and therefore, the forum resulting from the rules and forms and structures would not itself be conducive to reasoned deliberation." If they had meant that, then they would have said it.

That makes your bold quote pretty misleading, not to mention redundant.

No, they used a familiar structure found everywhere in good writing: summary followed by extended statement. Moreover if you read the rest of the text that I quoted, it is all about the information that is given to the participants. It is not about the forum itself, but about the briefing materials. Tellingly, in your comment, not only do you change the subject from the briefing materials to the forum, but you completely drop any mention of the briefing materials. You write:

Constant, suppose that "rules and forms and structures" X [...]

and

Do you really think it follows, from the mere fact that structure X was "handed down from on high", that the resulting forum is "essentially nondeliberative", or even less deliberative than structure Y?

Now look at the statement you are talking about:

Its rules and forms and structures--not to mention those briefing materials and the advisers who supervise them--are handed down from on high rather than arrived at through democratic, um, deliberation.

What gets lost in the translation from the original quote to your discussion of it? All mention of the briefing materials is dropped. And that is a very strange omission, considering that the quoted material taken as a whole (including the bits you didn't address) is about the briefing materials - it is about what the participants were and were not told and how this affected their views. This topic, the topic, goes missing from your response. Backing up still further to my own comments, I am also talking about what the participants are and are not told. I write:

this is likely to end up as a school of political indoctrination

How? Through the selection of what to inform the voters of. I am talking about DDay as a process of informing the voters - specifically, as a process of selectively informing the voters.

Oh, and by the way, what is it that you yourself wrote? It was this:

The idea behind deliberation day is simply that better-informed voters are likely to do a better job than ill-informed voters.

The idea? Do you mean, the notion? So is it fair to say that you think the notion of DDay is that the voters will become better informed? Interesting notion. Do you know what is conspicuously absent from this notion? Deliberation. So, when you are speaking for yourself, deliberation drops out of the picture. Quite so. Good instinct.

Democratic fundamentalism

Richard,

It's democratic fundamentalism because it's such an obviously poor solution to the problem, but they're so philosophically infatuated with the idea of participatory democracy--damn the facts!--that they really think it could work. If we don't approximate ancient Athens well enough yet (minus the slavery), maybe we just aren't pushing hard enough!

Apologies for the late response, I was away from the computer most of the day yesterday.