Here in Australia we’ve all got a say. For as long as I’ve been politically aware I’ve been hearing people say that what’s being said isn’t being heard – the finer details, at least. The first challenge in learning about democratic theory, for me, was the basic distinction between representative and direct democracy. Referenda made sense early on… but who were these people that I’d get to vote for eventually? I wasn’t actually all that opposed to the idea of deferring to someone who, at any rate, had a great deal more familiarity with all things politics than I. A lot of it was and still is boring. Voting for a representative was delegating the hard work, then. Too bad when they turned to be no good there wasn’t a huge deal of recourse. Four years is a long time and let’s face it – we’ll all be dead soon. If you don’t have the time for politics and end up disliking the guy you voted for really the only thing you can do is not vote for them next time. A vote is a sacred thing because in a some cases that’s all we’ve got. And you’re certainly told it matters (In Australia it is compulsory to vote). So when you place your vote the time, energy and emotion invested into making that decision forms a representation of who you are. And, obviously, it’s a commitment to that particular representative as a person. But there’s no particular framework that satisfies could be described as the desire for an ‘ongoing independent association with expected continuation’ with the notions committed to when the ballot is cast. Currently it’s not like that, despite #gov20. As much town-hall-meeting, stump-speech, baby-kissing while-Tweeting energy could be spent as you want without changing the essential asymmetrical dynamic of the current political structure. That’s not to say a torrent of Tweets won’t change the direction of a day in Washington, only that 130 characters doesn’t necessarily equate to more than shouting something about immigration at your least favourite candidate when you walk by them talking to locals in the only shopping centre in town. Unless the media later uses the soundbite on the 5 o’clock news – then I guess you’re reaching people. The point is you can’t sit down with the guy in power and have a real discussion.
Does Deliberative Democracy solve that? It certainly gives it a good shot. After having experienced my first “deliberative experience” (as an organiser, not a participant) I’ll say that there’s a lot of potential for this kind of system. It’s clear though that the process works better for some topics/issues. Climate change, for example, is a big topic. Our process worked well but the discourse was fairly abstract. Developing a policy position this way would work better when dealing with a problem where most factors are already known about. Land zoning, maybe.
For now it remains a fairly academic exercise. The social alchemists come down from the Ivory Tower from time to time, however!