Promoting Democratic Dialog

Systemic/Essays

By Wade Lee Hudson

Increasing authoritarianism calls for deep commitment to democratic dialog. Winning elections is not sufficient. Popular movements with supermajority support are needed to sustain meaningful change. Face-to-face, democratic communities active year-round can counter disinformation, save the planet, and transform our nation.

Democratic dialog involves equal respect — respect for everyone’s equal value as a human being, respect for equality under the law, respect for minority opinions, respect for the right of everyone to have a voice in affairs that affect them, respect for freedom — freedom from oppression and freedom to the means required for a good life. Private institutions such as businesses provide some of those means; the government provides others. How to mix private and public means is the focus of constant debate, but if society respects its members, it must assure they have what they need to be free.

Equal respect involves humility. There are many sides to most questions. When people respect others, they’re open-minded and appreciate the “wisdom of crowds.” No one assumes they have the complete answer. The separation of powers protects democracy by promoting consensus. Pluralism and diversity improve decisions. Democratic leaders help people formulate their own solutions to problems. Spirited, nonviolent activists bring attention to issues and build pressure for corrective actions, but most issues are not black-and-white. Decision-makers must engage in deliberation, negotiation, compromise, and, ideally, reconciliation.

Humility involves compassion — compassion for self and compassion for all humanity, the environment, and life itself. When people are humble, they seek to understand those who hold different opinions. They accept how others identify themselves. They love themselves as they love others. They avoid both selfishness and self-sacrifice. They channel anger and face fear. If they work to increase their income, they don’t do so in order to look down and dominate others. If they’re satisfied with their income, they enjoy life, their family, and their communities — and concern themselves with the needs of others.

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Democratic dialog rooted in equal respect, humility and compassion stands in opposition to authoritarianism. Dominating others is justified only when necessary to stop people from denying freedom to others. “Win-win” solutions can work. Our gain usually does not depend on others losing. Mutually beneficial partnerships are preferred — in families, communities, nations, and between nations. When others benefit, we can benefit.

Judgmental arrogance undermines the potential for unity, which is essential for real progress. No individual or tribe holds a monopoly on wisdom, and they should not try to monopolize power. Enlightened leadership does not consist of leaders mobilizing followers to do what the leader wants. Dogmatism is deadly and assumptions of moral superiority are risky. Demonizing opponents as “enemies” is wrong morally and counterproductive politically. We can hold individuals accountable for specific actions without scapegoating and placing total blame on them. Inflaming anger and fear breeds anger and fear. Ending friendships due to differences of opinion, labelling people disrespectfully, and hurling generalizations about others’ character rather than discussing specific actions weakens community.

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With methods such as the following — informally (alone and with others) and formally (by establishing new social structures) — step by step, person by person, we can nurture equal respect, humility and compassion and promote democratic dialog.

Self-development. Most individuals want to be a better person, to grow, to be more fully human, to better serve others, to help improve the world. This growth requires acknowledging mistakes, resolving not to repeat them, and forgiving oneself. Deciding how to do so is each individual’s responsibility. With a strong commitment to self-development, we can help democratize our society.

Mutual Support. Human beings are social creatures. Society is a cooperative venture. We help each other. We rely on and learn from each other. We need others to listen to us, especially when we speak from the heart; when we listen to others, we benefit. Especially when requested, advice from peers and mentors can be useful. With a strong commitment to mutual support, we can nurture democratic dialog.

Holistic Check-ins. When group members “check-in” at the beginning of meetings, they can briefly report on their efforts with regard to what they’ve been doing, or thinking about doing, with regard to: 1) self-development; 2) building community, and; 3) political action. These check-ins can help hold members accountable to their commitment to promote democratic dialog throughout society. Verbalizing feelings enhances self-understanding, and hearing others’ report on their feelings can be a learning experience.

Support Groups. Leaderless groups can help members support each other with their self-development. These groups might meet monthly or more frequently. Their focus might be broad, like “spiritual development” or “political activism,” or even broader, like “holistic transformation.” They might be a women’s group or a men’s group, or consist of people from a particular race or ethnic group to support each other with issues associated with their social identity. They might take turns presenting readings to focus their discussions, or they might simply share extended check-ins followed by reflections.

Open Topic Dialogs. Horizontal, self-regulating, self-perpetuating, peer-to-peer conversations. Talk, listen, learn, brainstorm. Speak from the heart. Gather 8-15 people in a circle. Focus on: How can we help improve the world? Participants speak only if they’re holding the “mic,” which may be an object. The Facilitator sets a timer when each person begins speaking. Speakers talk for no more than 90 seconds. If the timer goes off, the speaker finishes the sentence. When speakers finish, they recognize the next speaker by handing them the mic. Speakers respond to the previous speaker, and then shift the topic if they wish. Speakers are encouraged to: 1) be respectful and avoid personal attacks or name-calling; 2) avoid going back and forth repeatedly with the same person, and; 3) call on people who haven’t spoken. People with mobility difficulties can select the next speaker and ask someone to give the mic to that person. The Facilitator convenes the dialog, explains the guidelines, selects the first speaker randomly, and adjourns the dialog.

Transform the Democratic Party. The Democrtic Party is already a multi-issue, inclusive, relatively democratic, national coalition vaguely committed to democratic equality. With sustained effort, Party activists can make it more democratic and transform it into an activist organization more clearly dedicated to democratic equality. The Party, however, is geared to elections – supporting Democratic candidates and backing or opposing ballot measures. In between elections, the Party forgets about its platform. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) could regularly recommend to all Americans that they communicate a specific message to their Congresspersons, Senators, and President on a top-priority, timely issue. At the local level, the Party could engage in year-round precinct organizing, build face-to-face community among its members with methods such as Open Topic Dialogs, and ask members to address the DNC’s monthly recommendation.

Community Dialogs with Elected Officials. On the second Saturday at 10 am, Congresspersons, Senators, and the President could participate in two hour Community Dialogs, whether in person or via video calls. The moderator would be a neutral, well-respected journalist. Speakers would be selected randomly and have 90 seconds to comment or ask a question on any topic. Speakers could ask the audience to indicate support on an issue by raising their hand. The elected representative would then have 90 seconds to respond. Community organizations could distribute literature to participants, who could stay after the Dialog to discuss issues informally. The officials would be responsible for recruiting the moderator, arranging logistics, publicizing the event, and arranging to have it streamed live on the Internet and cable TV. Federal legislation could require all elected federal officials to participate.

Citizen Assemblies. As described by the wikipedia: A citizens’ assembly is a body formed from the citizens of a state to deliberate on an issue or issues of national importance. The membership of a citizens’ assembly is randomly selected. The purpose is to employ a cross-section of the public to study the options available to the state on certain questions and to propose answers to these questions through rational and reasoned discussion and the use of various methods of inquiry such as directly questioning experts. The use of citizens’ assemblies to reach decisions in this way is related to the traditions of deliberative democracy and popular sovereignty in political theory. While these traditions stretch back to origins in ancient Athenian democracy, they have become newly relevant both to theorists and politicians as part of a deliberative turn in democratic theory. Citizens’ assemblies have been used in countries such as Canada and the Netherlands to deliberate on reform of the system used to elect politicians in those countries. There are also examples of independent citizens’ assemblies, such as the 2011 We the Citizens assembly in Ireland that became a template for the Irish Constitutional Convention, which led to a referendum that amended the Constitution to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015.

A Purple Alliance. A Purple Alliance could advance democracy by pushing for new compassionate national policies supported by a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Periodically the Alliance would urge its members and the general public to support a specific bill. Supporters would communicate with their Congressperson with phone calls, emails, text messages, letters, office visits, or by going to a public forum with the Congressperson. In addition, at least once a month, many Alliance members would meet in small Alliance Teams in members’ homes to discuss how to advance the Alliance’s mission and support the monthly action. Many would share a meal and build supportive friendships by socializing informally prior to and after the meeting. So long as they operate in harmony with national policies, each team would be free to design its own activities.

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Promoting democracy in these ways could steadily grow the number of individuals who participate in democratic communities. Members of these communities could frequently unite to push for major changes in national public policy dedicated to humanity, the environment, and life itself. This growth could lead to the eventual transformation of our self-perpetuating social system (which we reinforce with our daily actions) into a compassionate community of communities.

NOTES: Originally posted here. I posted a slightly different, earlier version on Daily Kos here. A comment there prompted me to change the title from “Promote Democratic Equality” to “Promoting Democratic Dialog” and somewhat edit the content as well. The comment was: Great ideas. It looks to me that their central focus isn’t equality, but dialog — yes, dialog depends on equality, but equality doesn’t assure dialog.

The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

By Wade Lee Hudson

Books and articles often show me new angles, offer new information, or deepen my perspective. Rarely do they change my thinking in a major way. Elizabeth S. Anderson’s 1999 tour de force “What is the Point of Equality?” is an exception. I’m still absorbing the impact of her passionate manifesto. No wonder colleagues have called that 50-page article “path breaking” and The New Yorker described her as “The Philosopher Redefining Equality.”

Anderson wants to end oppression by creating communities “in which people stand in relations of equality” to one another. Her thinking is rooted in numerous grassroots egalitarian movements, such as the civil rights, womens’, and disability rights movements.

Unfortunately, however, most grassroots political movements today don’t clearly reflect those social values. Rather, they focus on material reality. And, as indicated by what they said at the September 2019 debate, neither have the Democratic candidates for President absorbed her insights.

In the following review, which includes extensive excerpts, I place in bold her language that prompted new insights for me, and place in italics points that strengthened my convictions. 

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As Anderson sees it: 

Recent egalitarian writing has come to be dominated by the view that the fundamental aim of equality is to compensate people for undeserved bad luck—being born with poor native endowments, bad parents, and disagreeable personalities, suffering from accidents and illness, and so forth…. This “equality of fortune” perspective [or “luck egalitarianism”] is essentially a “starting-gate theory”: as long as people enjoy fair shares at the start of life, it does not much concern itself with the suffering and subjection generated by people’s voluntary agreements in free markets…. 

[Their] writing…seems strangely detached from existing egalitarian political movements…[that have fought for] the freedom to appear in public as who they are, without shame, [and] campaigned against demeaning stereotypes. 

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 National Popular Vote interstate compact

they could award them to the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, regardless of the state outcome. That’s the elegant approach of the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which achieves a popular vote not by abolishing the College but by using it as the framers designed it — as a state-based institution. So far 15 states and the District of Columbia, with 196 electoral votes among them, have joined the compact, promising to award their electors to the national vote-winner. The compact goes into effect once it is joined by states representing 270 electoral votes — the bare majority needed to become president — thus guaranteeing the White House to the candidate who won the most votes.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/opinion/electoral-college.html

Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

By Penn Garvin, Lois Passi, Wade Lee Hudson

Penn Garvin, an activist and organizer living in rural PA recently wrote the following:

How to Listen:

(1) Put aside your own beliefs and enter into new territory as an anthropologist

(2) Watch your reactions to what you hear – when do you get angry, defensive, scared, etc. – try to understand how you are being triggered

(3) Try to listen for what is the anger, fear, etc. underneath what the other person is saying – don’t just listen to the ideas, policies, “what we should do” that they are saying

(4) Validate with the other person anything that you can – don’t be fake because people sense that – but are there things being said that make sense to you even if you don’t agree and maybe there are things being said that you agree with in part

(5) Don’t try to work anything out or agree on anything at first – just be able to feed back to the person accurately what they have said to you so that you both know that they have been understood.

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Lois Passi, a Unitarian Universalist living in PA who works with her local United Way to end poverty, recently included in one of her sermons the following:

•Old and New Brain:

The old brain’s job is to detect threats to survival, and to respond to those threats either by fighting the enemy, fleeing from the enemy, or if neither of those is possible, hunkering down and enduring (fight, flight or freeze responses)….

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Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election
By Wade Lee Hudson

Several Democratic candidates and some pundits have injected promising spiritual commentary into the 2020 presidential primary campaign. Some have even gone beyond discussion of public policy to address how ordinary Americans conduct their daily lives. Trump’s example has certainly opened the door for this conversation. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of those candidates and pundits have thus far affirmed the need for an explicit, intentional commitment to mutual support for self-improvement.

The most popular Google search term during the second round of debates was “Marianne Williamson.” This surge of interest in the New Age author was prompted by her statement:

This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it.… The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.

This statement inspired New York Times columnist David Brooks to post an op-ed titled “Marianne Williamson Knows How to Beat Trump.” Prior to quoting Williamson’s statement, he wrote, “It is no accident that the Democratic candidate with the best grasp of this election is the one running a spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort. Many of her ideas are wackadoodle, but Marianne Williamson is right about this.” He also addressed personal, social, and cultural issues:

None of us want congenital liars in our homes or our workplaces…. Human difference makes life richer and more interesting. We treasure members of all races and faiths for what they bring to the mosaic…. We want to be around people with good hearts, who feel for those who are suffering, who are faithful friends, whose daily lives are marked by kindness.

And referring to Trump’s mean-spirited values, he concluded, “You can’t beat a values revolution with a policy proposal.” Rather, he echoed Williamson’s call how a “moral uprising” with his call for “an uprising of decency.”

On the Aug 2 Newshour, Brooks pursued the same argument: 

And so they need to talk about values, and they need to tie it to policies, but say, I’m for kindness, I’m for diversity, I’m for honesty. And the only person who seems to get that is Marianne Williamson, and because she’s not just trying to run a purely economic campaign. She at least gets it…. I think what she says about that and what she says in the debates was exactly right.

On the program, Mark Shields replied:

I do differ from David. I think there is a strong spiritual, almost religious chord to the Democratic story. I mean, there is no abolitionist movement in this country without religion. There is no anti-war movement without religion in its ranks. There is no civil rights movement…. Listen to Elizabeth Warren’s speech at the PUSH conference. It was highly religious. It was on Matthew 23, and it was quite spiritual. 

However, Warren’s appeal to religion is rooted in the Social Gospel, which has been a Protestant movement that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially economic injustice. This heavy focus on economics reinforces the materialism that Brooks criticizes. In fact, as summarized in Vox.com’s piece, “Is it me or is Marianne Williamson making a lot of sense?” Williamson’s focus is also political and economic, not personal and cultural issues that deal with daily life. It seems Brooks is trying to co-opt Williamson into his advocacy for a cultural revolution (which stops short of calling for deep personal transformation). 

Pete Buttegieg’s religion also is rooted in the materialistic Social Gospel. None of the 27 issues discussed on his website address personal or spiritual change. In town halls and interviews, he does discuss his spirituality. He told Father Edward Beck that he believes “Scripture is about protecting the stranger, and the prisoner, and the poor person, and that idea of welcome. That’s what I get in the Gospel when I’m in church.” Concerning his own spiritual development, he talked about “finding the humility to realize that there were forms of truth that I was not going to be accessing through reason [which] kind of prompted me to look for more..” And he appreciates how “ritual organized prayer makes sense because it is a way to tune my own heart to what is right.” However, he also does not discuss the need for self-improvement.

The exception to this pattern is Cory Booker. In “Can I Get a Hug?” Jonathan Van Meter quotes Booker as saying “I think we’re becoming a society where people, especially men, can’t be vulnerable. I don’t hide my emotions. I just don’t,” and reports:

He talks about love and kindness and compassion and empathy all the time. He calls America “a physical manifestation of a larger conspiracy of love.” …In a potentially vast field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, [he] stands out for having said: “I love you, Donald Trump,” because, well, that’s what Jesus would do…. My faith tradition is love your enemies. It’s not complicated for me, if I aspire to be who I say I am. I am a Christian American. Literally written in the ideals of my faith is to love those who hate you.” … He noted he had just come from a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting where he had lifted a line from his stump speech: “Before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”

Booker’s fluency with faith isn’t restricted to Christianity. His Facebook feed includes mentions of the Buddha, he referenced the Hindu god Shiva in a recent interview, and at Oxford in the 1990s he chaired the L’Chaim Society…. An image of Mahatma Gandhi [is[ one of the few adornments on his office walls. “I’ve studied Torah for years. Hinduism I’ve studied a lot. Islam, I’ve studied some, and I’ve been enriched by my study. But, for me, the values of my life are guided by my belief in the Bible and in Jesus.”

In “Cory Booker could be a candidate for the ‘religious left,” the Religion News Service reported that Booker says that every morning he prays on his knees and then meditates. Republican Sen. John Thune is reportedly a member of his Bible study (along with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand). And in ‘I’m calling for a revival of grace in this country’ the same news service quotes Booker:

Faith without works is dead…. I imagine God has a place in heaven for…people that don’t believe in God but live every day in accordance to the precepts that I try to live up to…. I’m calling for a revival of grace in this country. I speak very passionately for the need to love each other. I used this line in a hearing just now: “Patriotism is love of country, and you can’t love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”

In his closing speech at the second debate, Booker said:

We know who Donald Trump is, but in this election, the question is who are we as a people?  We have serious problems in America. We have deep wounds and seriously deeply rooted challenges. We desperately need to heal as a nation and move forward. Because we know in this country that our fates are united, that we have a common destiny. The call of this election is the call to unite in common cause and common purpose.

The Booker campaign website reports that while in college he worked as a peer crisis counselor and after graduating from law school he moved into a low-income neighborhood, where he still lives, and “teamed up with the other tenants to take on a slumlord accused of intentional neglect of the property and won.” The site declares:

  • The lines that divide us are nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us.
  • Our movement [aims] to unite people and build a more fair and just country.
  • Bringing people together to do things that others thought were impossible. 
  • He believes that when we join together and work together, we will rise together.
  • The answer to our common pain is to reignite our sense of common purpose to build a more fair and just nation for everyone. 

Those statements at the debate and on the website do not explicitly affirm his spiritual convictions, but they do imply them. Together with his affirmations on the campaign trail, they make him an authentic voice for personal and spiritual growth that involves honest self-examination and a commitment to self-improvement. He’s not perfect and no savior, but a promising development nevertheless.

The Democratic Primary: A Comment

The question is not whether to pursue big, structural reforms. The question is whether to focus on big, structural reforms that the American people support now. There are many such reforms. Medicare for All is not one of them, as revealed by good polls.

Hardly anyone talks about one possible scenario. A “public option” attracts many people to switch away from their private insurance. Then, support for a complete transition to Medicare for All might be much stronger.

–Wade Lee Hudson

The Systemopedia’s Principles (7/28/19 Draft)

Following is the latest draft of the Systemopedia’s core Principles. I want this statement of principles to be as brief as possible, while also including essential points. Your feedback is welcome.

Wade

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PRINCIPLES

The Systemopedia is based on these principles:

— Our institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals are woven together into a global, self-perpetuating social system, “the System.” Everything is connected.  

— The System’s primary purpose is to encourage everyone to climb social ladders, look down on those below, and look up to those above. 

— The System teaches individuals, organizations, and nations to dominate or submit — by accumulating status, wealth, and/or power at the expense of others. It cultivates envy, resentment and disrespect, and undermines self-empowerment and mutual support.

— Individuals reinforce the System when they are excessively selfish, materialistic, domineering, individualistic, and/or competitive.

— Transforming the System will involve establishing a new purpose of our global society, such as: to serve the common good of all humanity, the environment, and life itself.

— Massive, nonviolent, grassroots movements focused on achievable objectives can help achieve that goal. 

— Face-to-face communities whose members set aside time to support each other with unlearning oppressive conditioning and nurturing self-improvement can help grow those movements.

— Improving national policies is critical. With healthy patriotism, each nation can focus on its own interests while cooperating with other nations to help each other do the same. 

— Transformation in one country alone is difficult if not impossible. “Americans for Humanity” offers an example of how to move toward global transformation.

— We can respect legitimate authority, honor our highest ideals and best traditions, recognize everyone’s dignity and humanity, and learn how to more profoundly:

       — respect ourselves and each other;

       — oppose efforts to dominate others due to one of their identities;

       — nurture partnerships;

       — appreciate the awesome beauty of the Creation and the power of the Creator, and;

       — cultivate humility and acknowledge mistakes.

— When the government has created or reinforced social, racial, or economic injustice, we can use the government to reverse those actions and establish fairness.

— We can avoid scapegoating and demonizing. No one element controls the System. We are all responsible.

— With evolutionary revolution, we can build on the best qualities of the current system and eventually transform it — that is, implement structural reforms that change its appearance and character.

— Reforms undertaken within the framework of a clear commitment to principles such as these can contribute to long-lasting systemic transformation, but work that is only focused on the compassionate reform of one element of the System can also be helpful. 

 

Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose

By Wade Lee Hudson

The Democrrats should have opened the Mueller hearing (months ago) with an expert counsel posing questions for 30 minutes to highlight the key points in Mueller’s report. That could have provided a clear, concise, compelling narrative that would have been devastating to Trump. But no. They chose to give all of their politicians face time on national television (in disjointed five-minute segments) to help them get re-elected. First things first. So the most compelling testimony happened in the last hour of a seven-hour hearing (which dragged on and on, losing most of the audience and the hearing’s impact).

As I discussed in “Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization,” the Democrats acted in a similar manner with regard to the government shutdown over border-wall funding and the Kavanagh hearings. Maneuvering for re-ellection was primary then as well.

The System teaches everyone to climb social ladders and look down on those below and look up to those above. The goal is to boost egos and accumulate status, power, and/or money. Congress is a near-perfect example. Unfortunately, the System has conditioned all of us.  

Originally posted here.