Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Professor Matthew Pamental spoke at the Intelligent Inquiry Educational Society meeting. The discussion brought up different methods of democracy and focused primarily on Dewey's thoughts on deliberative democracy.

Pamental used the Utah initiative No More Homeless Pets as a demonstrative example of deliberative democracy in work. Basically, a group of animal rights activists, and concerned pet owners have gotten together to reduce the euthanasia of unwanted pets. Using principles of deliberative democracy, the different groups had been able to overcome many of their personal political views on the subject, and came up with a mixed bag of solutions that is making a dramatic difference in the number of pets that get put down in Utah. One of their activities is Strut Your Mutt.

The principles of deliberative democracy does a good job of showing how groups can get over their personal conflicts and get down to work. It also does a good job of showing how smaller community groups can have a bigger, positive impact that national initiatives and laws. The smaller groups do a better job of involving the people in the group, and allow people to make concise deliberative steps. Professor Pamental agreed that he now sees local actions as a better way to solve difficult problems than federal action.

However, the ideal falls apart when you try to apply them to other problems. Many of the big problems of our day involve bigger groups than the pet activist crowd. When you deal with larger problems you suddenly have  a system with hundreds of different groups with different methodologies interacting. Group A and Group B may have deliberative processes, but the two groups are likely to come up with different solutions to problems and will end up being in conflict.

You can't just morph the solutions of two different groups without changing the entire balance of both groups.

Pamental blasted George Bush as the ultimate example of non-deliberative democracy. Personally, I disagreed with the war for oil. However, it is not an issue of deliberative v. non-deliberative activities. Bush is famous for his ability to build coalitions. He had received substantially more international support for the invasion than one would have expected. The only true hurdle were parties that would opposed dramatic action regardless. There were other voices that wanted to sucker the US into all sorts of things like increased grants.

The truth of what happened with the Iraq War was that Bush realized that the UN was not designed as a deliberative body...so he went elsewhere. He was dealing with the problem of interaction of groups.

No More Homeless Pets showed the same kind of initiative in their organization. The Utah Legislature is the legitimate authority for establishing social policy. Organizations like PETA lobby the legislature for action. No More Homeless Pets realized that it is a dysfunctional forum for true action...so they worked outside the legitimate channels and built its own contingency. By working outside the legislative channel, they are able to have a more profound impact.

The frustrating thing about Dewey is that he developed this silly putty approach to logic to make his arguments impenetrable. There are no faults to Dewey's work...because the silly putty arguments are self sealing, and would warp around any criticism. The Dewey scholar is above all else, and has the tools to switch positions as politics dictate. Any thought that leads to a less than popular conclusion would glossed over...Dewey is very much the founders of politically correct thought.

The better conclusion from Dewey's work on deliberative democracy is not to say that it is an ideal that we should seek to attain, but to use it in descriptive terms. We can look at different groups and say if they are a deliberative democracy or if they could benefit from adopting a more deliberative paradigm...but it does not work well as a filter of ideals.

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