Public debates: Learning, Constructive Deliberations in Lieu of Sterile Confrontations

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the British RSA (Royal Society for the Arts), set forth on his blog ideas to
“promote informed and constructive public debate
with the aim of  “subverting the adversarial nature of much public debate”

He asked his readers to provide ideas and feed-back.

This is what I suggested:

“I believe yours is a great idea.

Following suggestions though:

I like very much the ideas of the Theory of Socio-Cultural Viability, also known as Cultural Theory. I know you are aware of this theory. I know it is still very much kept outside of mainstream social science. Now, all over the world I see old paradigms fall one by one. In the end even social scientists will have to admit the limits of some of the paradigms on which their science is based. Don’t misunderstand, I am not a social scientist, merely a grandfather who tries to understand the state of the world,endeavouring to bring my contribution to society, for the smoothest possible shift. The shift will come, I believe, it will be signioficant, and we just starting to plough through its first manisfestations…. .

The idea that I capture for answering your question is the following:

Around a given subject you invite three persons: each known for holding the mutually opposing worldview of each of the “active socio-cultural solidarities”. You invite a fourth intervener, who plays the detached role of the Hermit.

Having three protagonists keeps the system dynamic, and so the (inevitable?) entrenchment risks, resulting from dyadic opposition, is avoided.

The Hermit’s role is to ensure a top-notch deliberative quality of the dialogue (I dare to call it dialogue, the process should result in one). He guides the three active “protagionists” to explain their deeper belief systems and worldviews (moving up and down the inference ladder – Chris Argyris).
As their deep belief system will usually be implicit (unconscious), the Hermit can help make them explicit (and by the same token open up their, and the public’s mind).

This process will lead the general public to understand that it is OK to have different worldviews, to understand where they come from, and to accept that solutions will necessarily have to be “clumsy”.

I believe It will be very powerful in raising the consciousness of both intervenors and public, in expanding their mental meaning making intelligence, in bringing about mutual respect for divergent opinions, and in fine, for promoting deliberative quality of debates throughout society.

This way, your initiative may contribute to fundamentally pave the way out the intractable problems of our time.

Given my belief expressed herein, II wanted to share it with you, dear friends, in the hope that together we might implement ways to define our problems, deliberate their solutions, and transform these into reality, “from a higher level of thinking, meaning-making and consciousness, with which we created them in the first place” (paraphrasing Einstein)

Light not heat?

February 23, 2011 by Matthew Taylor
Filed under: The RSA 

A core objective of the RSA is to promote informed and constructive public debate. It is an aim which runs through our history and was also central to the values of the 18th century Enlightenment, whose champions saw tackling ignorance and prejudice as essential to social advance.

I have written here in the past of a long standing ambition to find a way of subverting the adversarial nature of much public debate. I have tried various ways of developing a programme format to do this. Now at last I think I have the right idea, and Radio Four have commissioned a pilot. But as it’s still in the formative phase I am looking for any thoughts and tips from my wonderful readers. The programme – provisionally titled ‘agree to differ’ – works like this. Two people well known for holding totally opposing views on a big issue are asked to participate. They are joined by an active Chair/presenter and a fourth person who may be well known for their opinions on other issues but has no strong view on the matter in question. 

The meat of the programme comprises the protagonists interviewing each other to discover what lies at the core of their respective beliefs. For this to work they have to agree to abide by some strict rules, chief among which is that they have to conduct the interview in a thoughtful and friendly way, genuinely seeking to find out what makes the other person hold their beliefs. The role of the chair is to ensure the rules are enforced. The role of the independent guest is to reflect on how what they have heard has influenced their own view of the issue at question.

The power of the programme is that it subverts the usual process of public disagreement in which we caricature our opponents’ beliefs and – more perniciously – denigrate the motives which lie behind those beliefs. Instead the programme’s participants are committed to trying to get to the heart of the matter. Does their difference reflect disagreement about core facts, about ideological starting points or even matters of faith? Does the attempt to discover the foundations of polarised beliefs reinforce difference or start to bridge the divide?

So, dear readers, do you think this will work? How would you refine the idea? Can you think of some good parings (George Monbiot and Matt Ridley on capitalism and the environment, or John Gray and Jonathan Sachs on whether human beings are capable of ethical development are a couple of suggestions that have been made to me).



About charlesvanderhaegen

I am a grandfather of an immensely inspiring family, thanks to the most incredible wife. To satisfy my family's needs, I was for 30 years business entrepreneur, roller coasting between success and failure. 17 years ago I was forced to stop and reflect. I dug into theory and discovered the World out there, that my involvement in Business had kept hidden to me. I feared that I will not escape remaining amidst my trans-disciplinary quest forever, bouncing back and forth from action to theory, always puzzled by Europe's apparent incapacity to free itself from its Institutional/Technological Lock-ins. My horizon opened up when Gunter Pauly, my intimate friend of 35 years, asked me to join him and take charge ZERI's development in Europe. I am now fully engaged alongside Gunter Pauli in the and the @myblueeconomy Networks as CEO of ZERI.EU vzw (Non for Profit association)
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