Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Online blowhards are killing democracy

Interesting article over at Salon.
    The Internet is making us stupid

    Legal sage Cass Sunstein says democracy is the first casualty of political discourse in the digital age.

    By Ben Van Heuvelen

    Freedom of choice is not always good for democracy. This observation is at the heart of University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein's book "Republic.com 2.0" (an update of "Republic.com" in 2001), which argues that our country's political discourse is fracturing in the information age. Sure, the Internet has been a boon to democracy in all sorts of ways, Sunstein acknowledges -- but if new technology gives us unprecedented access to information, it also gives us more ways to avoid information we don't like. Conservatives are increasingly seeking only conservative views, liberals are seeking only liberal views, and never the twain shall meet...

    ... The way our Colorado experiment worked is, we got people from Boulder, a liberal place, together in small groups to talk about climate change, same-sex civil unions and affirmative action. On the same day, we got people in Colorado Springs, a conservative place, to talk about the same three issues. We asked them to record their views anonymously first, then to deliberate on them in small groups, then to record their views anonymously afterward. What we found was that on these issues, the Boulder people, before they started to talk, were pretty liberal, but there was a distribution of views, a degree of diversity. After they talked, they were significantly more liberal and less diverse. So, deliberation among our liberal citizens of Boulder produced more extremism and less diversity. In Colorado Springs, after they talked to one another, they went far to the right. They started out somewhat open-minded on these issues, somewhat diverse, and after discussion the diversity was squelched and the extremism was increased.

    I think this is a clue to what is happening in the political domain all over the United States: People through their own voluntary behavior are replicating our Colorado experiment. Or, savvy political entrepreneurs are creating the conditions of our experiment because they want to decrease internal diversity. Karl Rove could be described as a "polarization entrepreneur." The left isn't quite so good at this, but they're learning...
If you spend any time at Democratic Underground you have seen this phenomenon in action. It has a limited appeal - to me, anyway. I sometimes think if I hear the term "bipartisan legislation" one more time, I might throw something. But it would be a wonderful thing to get to the place where we could once again have meaningfully cooperative bipartisan congressional output that would move the country forward, and was not the product of either force or capitulation.

Nauseatingly wrongheaded bipartisanship. I'll post an example of the good kind if I ever find one.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Well, it depends on the person. If I delve too far into liberal la la land, I start getting restless, and will read Andrew Sullivan, or open Time magazine or The Economist. As soon as you are certain that you're right, it's time to be suspicious that you're probably wrong. I agree that real thoughtful bipartisanship is the way, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Look what happened to Bush when he ignored the Foreign Policy Establishment, and became so ideological with the neoconservatives. If you turn away from those you disagree with, you're going to miss out on some wisdom. If not, there's a good chance disaster is on the horizon (otherwise known as the Iraq War).

There are places to go on the internet where liberals and conservatives can discuss issues in a reasoned civilized tone. Perhaps we need to do more of that. Similarly, I wish that more Dems and Repubs in the Congress would spend time together to try to understand the other side and find common ground and wisdom.