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Sender: Tom Atlee
Subject: Re: Is Ours a Culture of Hasty Findings? Can Transpartisans Do Better?
Date: Wed, May 28, 2014
Msg: 101037

Thanks for a provocative, invocative commentary, Steven!

To me the most important thing the transpartisan movement could do is promote a culture (and processes and institutions) of deliberation and choice-creating, especially among diverse ordinary citizens ("We the People"). This is less a matter of speed or caution and more a matter of taking into account what needs to be taken into account for a wise decision or solution (for which time and pace are considerations, but not the only or even primary considerations).

While understanding that we don't (and can't) know everything about an issue, we can endeavor to be wiser by acknowledging (personally and in our culture, processes, and institutions) that there is ALWAYS more to it than we realize and that there are ALWAYS trade-offs, downsides to our beloved favored views and solutions. This generates humility and its corollary of respect for - tolerance for, curiosity about, actively seeking out - other views.

I find it fascinating that the National Issues Forums and Kettering Foundation have developed a detailed practice of "framing an issue for deliberation". This is explicitly distinguished from "framing an issue for debate". Framing an issue for debate involves articulating an issue with metaphors that make people think the way you want them to think about that issue (as famously promoted by George Lakoff for liberals). Framing an issue for deliberation, in contrast, involves a detailed and accessible presentation of the argumentation around 3-5 alternative approaches to handling an issue, usually in an attempt to cover the vast majority of options being debated in the existing political discourse on the subject. You don't use two options, which would involves oversimplified polarizations and would, itself, be polarizing. And you never use more than five options because most people can't hold more than five comparable ideas in their minds at the same time. Each alternative view is presented with an effort to communicate that a thoughtful person could reasonably adhere to that position.

The purpose of framing an issue for deliberation is two-fold: To educate the citizen deliberator about the factual and opinion landscape of the issue and also to complexify their thinking, to shake up their own pet assumptions so that they are more ready to hear what each other has to say. NIF forums go on to take volunteer citizen deliberators through a process of clarifying the trade-offs - the downsides of the various approach they consider - and in the process to do the difficult "choice work" of deciding what downsides they are willing to live with in order to have the upsides of their favorite options. Here we find informed (and somewhat wise) humility instilled not so much by the virtue of the deliberators as through the process being used.

I should note that we find some similar dynamics in "Principled Negotiation" and "Nonviolent Communication". These practices are concerned more with resolving a conflict than with solving a public policy issue (although these two situations often overlap, as in bipartisan/transpartisan policy negotiations). Principled Negotiation clarifies the legitimate interests of both/all parties and then engages those parties to work together to find solutions that satisfy all of their interests. Nonviolent Communication does similar work with each party's deep needs, albeit from a more empathic stance. In each case, people's initial demands, positions, or proposals are seen to be motivated by - and can be deconstructed into - more fundamental manifestations of their life energy - namely, their interests or needs - which, in turn, can be satisfied in many diverse ways. Recognizing that diversity of satisfiers creates space for resolutions that satisfy all parties, often in startling ways, given the stark distance between their initial positions. (And given the artistry with which some NVCer's practice empathy, conflicts sometimes evaporate through one or both parties' emotional experience of feeling fully heard, without any other action or decision involved.)

But let's return to the challenge of diverse ordinary citizens addressing public policy issues in formal ways together...

Citizens Juries, Consensus Conferences, and Citizen Assemblies (all of which are made up of randomly selected citizens) involve briefings and deliberative choice-work similar to the NIF practice, albeit with much more detail, depth, and intensity, given that they take longer (a week, several weekends, a year of alternate weekends, etc.). Sometimes their charge is to choose among the options presented. Sometimes they are encouraged to mix-and-match the best of any or all of them, perhaps involving intelligent compromises. Sometimes they are helped to move beyond the options totally: To try to find or create new options which are clearly better than anything being discussed in the mainstream debate.

Dynamic Facilitation (and its political manifestation called the Wisdom Council) is an extreme form of that last phenomenon. In fact, its focus on breakthrough leads it to use briefings only to the extent that they expose the citizen participants to the conflicted energy involved with the issue they're considering. DF most powerfully works in a context of conflicted energy, using that energy to expose more of the whole landscape of the issue and (counterintuitively, using that "being fully heard" dynamic noted above re NVC) to open up participants in a profound way until they find themselves together facing the obvious full complexity of the issue and together experiencing a compulsion to resolve it in its fullness. It is that energized urge which drives them to stumble on breakthrough insights and solutions. The fact that they may not be fully "informed" on the issue is less important than their contribution to the larger dialogue going on outside - namely, dramatically new ways of thinking about the issue - sometimes in the form of proposed solutions, sometimes as provocative insights or questions, sometimes involving a deeper and potentially more productive reframing of the problem itself. The intention is to "stir the pot" of a community's or country's political life and stimulate it into more transformational awareness and initiative (with an intentional side-effect of generating a palpable sense of collective agency - of "We the People" grabbing the political bull by the horns).

When I imagine a whole population being more capable and sophisticated in using such practices - and inclined to practice them with such familiarity and expectation that it become the normal way political decisions are made - I think it would add up to a much more wise democracy. And as a consequence, I find myself reconsidering the roles of parties and representation and debate and so many other aspects of our intrinsically adversarial understanding of democratic politics and governance. I find myself thinking that this more considered, creative and collaborative kind of politics would enable not only a whole new level of self-governance, but the precious promise of being able to creatively and successfully address unprecedented issues that not only divide us but are quite capable of bringing our civilization to its knees.

I know some parts of the transpartisan movement share a sense that a transpartisan is "someone of any partisan or non-partisan disposition who is willing to engage in civil and respectful dialogue with people of diverse views in order to arrive at sustainable solutions to local, regional, national, and global challenges". I like to think that such transpartisans might expand the view of this movement to include and transcend relations among partisans (especially partisan leaders) in a way that embraces the challenge of creating political institutions (and their associated culture) that enable ordinary diverse citizens to break out of partisanship altogether to generate shared wisdom through such means as those noted above.

What that would mean for our own discourse among ourselves - as in this forum - would be for us to discover, should we wish to explore it.

Coheartedly, Tom Atlee Co-Intelligence Institute Eugene, OR 97403

On May 26, 2014, at 7:57 PM, Steven H Johnson wrote:

> I want to salute recent contributions by John Miller and Lawry and Michael S and Michael B and John Steiner and Rick and others. > > In my most recent email, I posed the question as to whether our Theories might sometimes be incomplete and thereby get in the way of our seeing Reality as fully as we might. > > As an illustration of this point, I posed the question of whether people on the lower rungs of the economy simply get paid "what they're worth," speaking in an economic sense, or whether power might also play a key role? With a Theory that focuses only on market value, we will see one Reality. With a Theory that acknowledges the role of Power, we will see a different Reality. By inference, our actions will be shaped not be Reality As It Is, but more narrowly by Reality As We Choose To See It. > > Lawry gave a fascinating defense of the case for not raising the minimum wage - much of which I suspect is quite valid - though I didn't think he fully responded to the issue of power at the top and how it affects the economy's larger distributional outcomes. > > Now, as I reflect on the point I made in the last go-round, I find myself wanting to sharpen it. There's more at play here than just a gap between "Theory" and "Reality" as I expressed it in my previous post. > > Let me use myself as a hypothetical example. Option One. I see an issue and treat it as a starting point for a hypothesis - e.g. "charter schools are always better." To check the hypothesis, I investigate the evidence. In doing so, perhaps I learn that some charter schools are outstanding, some are average, and some are terrible. From the evidence, I deduce a new reality - "Charter schools are a mixed bag - sometimes better than public schools, sometimes not." > > With that as my new Reality, I move to a cautious Judgment that charter schools should be tried, but that when they misfire, as some will, one should expect the poor ones to be shut down. Meanwhile, the best should be studied carefully to see just how they got to be so good. > > In this scenario, I have moved cautiously from "Might Be" - a hypothesis - to "Is" - a conclusion about Reality - and then to "Ought" - a normative judgment about policy. > > Now to Option Two. Suppose that I am a conventional partisan. How will my approach change? > > If I am a conventional partisan of the Right, I will jump swiftly from "Might Be" to "Is," I'll jump swiftly from "Is" to "Ought," and I'll declare myself in favor of charter schools, overlooking their weaknesses and overemphasizing their advantages. > > If I am a conventional partisan of the Left, I make the same journey, just with differently selectivity. I'll start with "Charter schools might be harmful because they'll pull the well-motivated kids out of public schools" and then I'll turn that MIGHT Be into an IS and then I'll add a policy judgment and arrive at an OUGHT - "Charter schools should be prohibited." > > Which scenario is more common? Option One - The cautious response? Or Option Two - The impatient response, in both its variations? > > > My observation is that the impatient response is the norm. It's certainly the case that every major issue I've dug into deeply has left me disappointed. Even our credentialed specialists tilt toward premature certainties. Social Security? Conservatives favor one brand of superficial certainty; liberals favor another. Public schools? A similar sensation. (I omit Lawry's EGG from this generalization.) Global warming? Conservatives disappoint. Liberals disappoint. Markets? Conservatives disappoint, liberals disappoint. Again and again and again, I see folks being too hasty in how they process difficult issues. > > Haste is dangerous. It produces and reinforces silos. And then, incubated in partisan silos, our faulty ideas become a danger to the nation. > > The cure - in part - is widespread adoption of a more cautious cultural standard, one in which we encourage thoughtful examination of hypotheses, one in which we discourage hasty conclusions. > > To start with us, here, I'd like to propose that we tilt toward preferring cautious assessments. Lawry's probably right about the pointlessness of raising the minimum wage, but let's just keep it at "probably" in order to be on the safe side. Sharp as Lawry is, I'd be surprised if there isn't at least one key point he's overlooked. Rick is probably right about the value of prioritizing, under certain circumstances, but I don't think I'd go further than "probably." It's just possible that Rick has overlooked something. > > How do others see this? Is ours a culture that moves too swiftly from MIGHT BE to IS, too swiftly from IS to OUGHT? > > And is this an issue for Transpartisans to pick up on? Is it something to consciously resist in ourselves? > > Steve Johnson > > > Steven Howard Johnson - Civic Futurist > 410-562-0361 > Book in Progress: Thoughtful Patriotism > > > To unsubscribe from the TRANSPARTISAN list, click the following link: > >


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