Rebooting Democracy

By Manuel Arriaga

“No matter what our personal dissatisfactions are, the ultimate problem is the fact that our politicians—for a variety of reasons discussed in the next chapter—simply do not represent us. In a sense, most social, economic and environmental ills are merely symptoms of this disease”

“A body of work in social psychology known as “social identity theory” describes how, once people identify with a certain group, that sense of belonging significantly affects their attitudes and behavior. They develop an increasingly positive image of fellow group members. They experience a sense of loyalty to the group and exhibit, either consciously or unconsciously, a much greater inclination to help and cooperate with other group members. At the same time, group members start to perceive members of the “out-group”—i.e., those who are seen as not belonging to the group—in a less positive way and find it increasingly difficult to empathize with them. As a result, the group member becomes less prone to help and cooperate with them.

“We can easily envision how this process unfolds. Locked in meeting rooms with members of the business sector for countless hours, our elected representatives will, over time, develop a shared sense of belonging to something we might call the “economic-political elite.” After all, the actions of politicians and business leaders jointly determine many of the crucial decisions we collectively care about. It is only natural that, over the course of time, most politicians will start to see business leaders as their peers in the process of policy-making.”

“So what is citizen deliberation and how can we make use of it? The fundamental idea is a radically simple one. A group of ordinary citizens is tasked with collectively deciding on a policy matter. They consult with experts, listen to advocates representing different interest groups and, with the assistance of skilled facilitators, engage in careful, reasoned group discussions in which they explore the issues at hand. Throughout the entire process, the citizen panel is autonomous and its actions self-directed: it decides on, for example, the information it needs to gather from external sources, which experts or advocates to interview and what questions to ask them. A professional administrative and research staff assists the citizens in these duties.”

Published: 4 Apr 2014

Read the book here.