Dialogue…..

Dear friends,

Most of our Elite abroad have been living over 20 years far from their
community and the “active leaders” are as well educated as any of their
colleagues in their “new” vicinity.

But …But….what impedes our Elite to discuss our Ethiopian problems
at this intellectual level ( See below…the “book review”…in a way
relevant to the problem of the “Ethiopian political mind set-up”)?

The same question could be posed to the Elite at home too, since it was
highly in touch with the same intellectual community. But….given the
different social and political prerequisites and environment…..(lack
of democracy etc.)…, the question could be conceived and understood
somewhat complexer….

********************

********************

From: Sandy Heierbacher
Organization: National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation
Subject: [NCDD-LIST] summary of Gore’s new book

I bought Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” a couple of weeks ago, but I
haven’t really had the chance to read it yet… I thought I’d scan the
final chapters to see what Gore is proposing.

First, just to provide a bit of context, the first seven chapters of the
book (with titles like “The Politics of Fear,” “The Politics of Wealth,”
“National Insecurity,” and “The Carbon Crisis”) support the premise that
“The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of
policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the
contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were
previously unimaginable. (p. 1)” Š”Why has America’s public discourse
become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of
reason-the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and
fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence
available, instead of raw power-was and remains the central premise of
American democracy. This premise is now under attack. (p. 2)”

I flipped through the book and examined the index, and there doesn’t
seem to be any mention of deliberative democracy or facilitated dialogue
– but much in the final chapter sounds strikingly familiar. I decided
to include quotes and page numbers from the last chapter in case any of
you would like to reference some of this in papers, grant proposals, or
on your websites (I know I plan to use some of this!).

At the end of chapter 8, Gore writes (p. 244):
“When reason and logic are removed from the process of democracy-when
there is no longer any purpose in debating or discussing the choices we
have to make-then all the questions before us are reduced to a simple
equation: Who can exercise the most raw power? The system of checks and
balances that has protected the integrity of our America system for more
than two centuries has been dangerously eroded in recent decades, and
especially in the last six years.

“In order to reestablish the needed balance, and to check the dangerous
expansion of an all-powerful executive branch, we must first of all work
to restore the checks and balances that our Founders knew were essential
to ensure that reason could play its proper role in American democracy.
And we must then concentrate on reempowering the people of the United
States with the ability and the inclination to fully and vigorously
participate in the national conversation of democracy. I am convinced
this can be done and that the America people can once again become a
‘well-informed citizenry.’ In the following chapter I outline how.

Some quotes from chapter 9, “A Well-Connected Citizenry”

p. 245
“What passes for a national ‘conversation’ today is usually a television
monologue consisting of highly sophisticated propagandistic messages.”

He then talks about how TV is one-way, passive communication and that
“attachment theory” holds that responsive two-way communication is
essential for an individual’s feeling empowered, and that authentic
free-flowing communication is important for any relationship that
requires trust (such as the relationship between citizens and public
officials).

p. 248
“I believe that the viability of democracy depends upon the openness,
reliability, appropriateness, responsiveness, and two-way nature of the
communication environment. After all, democracy depends upon the regular
sending and receiving of signals-not only between the people and those
who aspire to be their elected representatives but also among the people
themselves. It is the connection of each individual to the national
conversation that is the key. I believe that the citizens of any
democracy learn, over time, to adopt a basic posture toward the
possibilities of self-government.

“If democracy seems to work, and if people receive a consistent,
reliable, and meaningful response from others when they communicate
their opinions and feelings about shared experiences, they begin to
assume that self-expression in democracy matters. When they can
communicate with others regularly, in ways that produce meaningful
changes, they learn that democracy matters.

p. 248-249
“If they receive responses that seem to be substantive but actually are
not, citizens begin to feel as if they were being manipulated. If the
messages they receive from the media feed this growing cynicism, the
decline of democracy can be accelerated.

p. 249
“Moreover, if citizens of a country express their opinions and feelings
over an extended period of time without evoking a meaningful response,
then they naturally begin to feel angry. If the flow of communication
provides little opportunity for citizens to express themselves
meaningfully, they naturally begin to feel frustration and
powerlessness. This has happened all too often to minority communities
who suffer prejudice and are not given a fair hearing by the majority
for complaints.”

p. 250
He goes on to talk about how his generation still believes that
democracy works, and that communication and participation are the keys
to making it work well – but that many young Americans aren’t sure
whether democracy actually works or not. Referring to television as the
primary medium for democratic discourse, he writes “If the information
and opinions made available in the marketplace of ideas come only from
those with enough money to pay a steep price of admission, then all of
those citizens whose opinions cannot be expressed in a meaningful way
are in danger of learning that they are powerless as citizens and have
no influence over the course of events in our democracy-and that their
only appropriate posture is detachment, frustration, or anger.”

pp. 250-251 (Here’s where the former VP is channeling our friends Tom
Atlee and Jim Rough, among others):
“Our political system today does not engage the best minds in our
country to help us get the answers and deploy the resources we need to
move into the future. Bringing these people in-with their networks of
influence, their knowledge, and their resources-is the key to creating
the capacity for shared intelligence that we need to solve the problems
we face, before it’s too late. Our goal must be to find a new way of
unleashing our collective intelligence in the same way that markets have
unleashed our collective productivity. ‘We the people’ must reclaim and
revitalize the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving
our Constitution.”

He talks about how the traditional progressive solution to problems that
involve a lack of participation by citizens in civic and democratic
processes is to redouble their emphasis on education. He acknowledges
the importance of education, but then says “Education alone, however, is
necessary but insufficient. A well-educated citizenry is more likely to
be a well-informed citizenry, but the two concepts are entirely
different, one from the other. It is possible to be extremely well
educated and, at the same time, ill informed or misinformedŠ.

p. 251-252
“ŠAbstract thought, when organized into clever, self-contained, logical
formulations, can sometimes have its own quasi-hypnotic effect and so
completely capture the human mind as to shut down the leavening
influences of everyday experience. Time and again, passionate believers
in tightly organized philosophies and ideologies have closed their minds
to the cries of human suffering that they inflict on others who have not
yet pledged their allegiance and surrendered their minds to the same
ideology.

p. 252 (how’s this for a D&D-supporting quote?!)
“The freedoms embodied in our First Amendment represented the hard-won
wisdom of the eighteenth century: that individuals must be able to fully
participate in challenging, questioning, and thereby breathing human
values constantly into the prevailing ideologies of their time and
sharing with others the wisdom of their own experience.

p. 253 (these paragraphs gave me the chills; they’re also a great
summary of what Gore’s book is all about, AND what dialogue &
deliberation are all about)
“In an age of propaganda, education itself can become suspect. When
ideology is so often woven into the ‘facts’ that are delivered in fully
formed and self-contained packages, people naturally begin to develop
some cynicism about what they are being told. When people are subjected
to ubiquitous and unrelenting mass advertising, reason and logic often
begin to seem like they are no more than handmaidens for the
sophisticated sales force. And now that these same techniques dominate
the political messages sent by candidates to voters, the integrity of
our democracy has been placed under the same cloud of suspicion.

Many advocacy organizations-progressive as well as conservative-often
give the impression that they already have exclusive possession of the
truth and merely have to ‘educate’ others about what they already know.
Resentment toward this attitude is also one of the many reason for the
resurgence of the traditional anti-intellectual strain in America.

When people don’t have an opportunity to interact on equal terms and
test the validity of what they’re being ‘taught’ in the light of their
own experience, and share with one another in a robust and dynamic
dialogue that enriches what the ‘experts’ are telling them with the
wisdom of the groups as a whole, they naturally begin to resist the
assumption that the experts know best.

p. 253-254
If well-educated citizens have no effective way to communicate their
ideas to others and no realistic prospect of catalyzing the formation of
a critical mass of opinion supporting their ideas, then their education
is for naught where the vitality of our democracy is concerned.

p. 254
The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education
(as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can
be), but the reestablishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which
individuals can participate in a meaningful way-a conversation of
democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do,
in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

And in today’s world, that means recognizing that it’s impossible to
have a well-informed citizenry without having a well-connected
citizenry. While education remains important, it is now connection that
is the key. A well-connected citizenry is made up of men and women who
discuss and debate ideas and issues among themselves and who constantly
test the validity of the information and impressions they receive from
one another-as well as the ones they receive from their government. No
citizenry can be well informed without a constant flow of honest
information about contemporary events and without a full opportunity to
participate in a discussion of the choices that the society must make.”

He goes on to talk about how citizens who don’t have meaningful
opportunities to participate in the national conversation develop a lack
of interest in the process, and outlines how people’s knowledge of basic
democratic processes and principles is one of the outcomes of this lack
of interest.

Beginning on p. 256, he talks about various steps that can and should be
taken to foster more connectivity in our self-government, including:

– Reconnecting citizens to the substance of the deliberative
process in congress (by airing the most important debates during prime
time on television, for instance)
– Limiting the influence of large financial contributions to
candidates for elected office
– Full and robust public financing of all federal elections
– Increasing the transparency of all contributions to make it clear
where the funding is coming from

p. 259
“Ultimately, however, no reform measures will save American democracy
until and unless we find a way to restore the central role of a
well-informed citizenry. The revolutionary departure on which the idea
of America was based was the audacious belief that, as Thomas Jefferson
said, ‘An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public
will.’

Our Founders knew that the people who are armed with knowledge and the
ability to communicate it can govern themselves and responsibly exercise
the ultimate authority in self-government. They knew that democracy
requires the open flow of information both to and, more important, from
the citizenryŠ.

p. 259-260 (this is where he gets into how the Internet is the answer)
“Fortunately, we now have the means available to us by which the people
of America can reestablish a robust connection to a vibrant and open
exchange of ideas with one another about all of the issues most relevant
to the course of our democracy. The Internet has the potential to
revitalize the role played by the people in our constitutional framework.

ŠThe Internet is presenting us with new possibilities to reestablish a
healthy functioning self-government, even before it rivals television
for an audience.

In fact, the Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for
reestablishing an open communications environment in which the
conversation of democracy can flourish. It has extremely low entry
barriers for individuals. The ideas that individuals contribute are
dealt with, in the main, according to the rules of a meritocracy of
ideas. It is the most interactive medium in history and the one with the
greatest potential for connecting individuals to one another and to a
universe of knowledge.”

He says many great things about the net, and calls it a platform for
reason because it is a place for the decentralized creation and
distribution of ideas. He does acknowledge the Internet’s various
problems and abuses, but says that “as always, it is up to
us-particularly those of us who live in a democracy-to make intelligent
choices about how and for what we use this incredibly powerful tool.”

He talks about how the Internet must be developed and protected through
the establishment of fair rules of engagement and the exercise of the
rule of law (as was done to protect the freedom and independence of the
press). Gore asserts that we must shape the evolution of the internet in
ways that are conducive to the reemergence of a fully functional
democracy (by ensuring it remains open and accessible, for one thing).
On p. 262, he writes “in contrast to radio and television broadcasting,
there is no inherent limitation on the number of entryways to the public
forum as it exists on the Internet.”

He talks about the Internet being an ideal medium for people with common
perspectives and concerns to find one another and form communities
around their shared interests, and talks about how the internet has
already been changing politics. He uses blogging as an example of how
people are using the internet for public discourse without the public
ever needing to gather in a single public place – and influencing
national politics as a result. He also uses wikis (especially Wikipedia)
and Web 2.0 social networks (like MySpace and Facebook) as examples of
Internet advances that have enormous democratic potential.

He admits that television will remain people’s primary medium of
communication for the rest of this decade, and mentions his phenomenal
cable TV channel, Current TV, to which anyone can submit “viewer-created
content” for consideration, and which empowers viewers to participate in
programming decisions.

Gore goes into depth about net neutrality and the danger of network
operators creating a “tiered Internet” with first-class and second-class
citizens on the Web in order to make more money. He ends the chapter with:

“Šthe key requirement for redeeming the integrity of representative
democracy in the age of electronic media is to ensure that citizens are
well and fully connected to an open and robust public forum-one that is
easily accessible to individuals and that operates according to a
meritocracy of ideasŠ.”

In his 3-page conclusion, Gore writes (p. 272):

“Today, reason is under assault by forces using more sophisticated
techniques: propaganda, psychology, electronic mass media. Yet
democracy’s advocates are beginning to use their own sophisticated
techniques: the Internet, online organizing, blogs, and wikis. I feel
more confident than ever before that democracy will prevail and that the
American people are rising to the challenge of reinvigorating
self-government.”

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