Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deliberative vs. Participatory citizens

This is an interesting passage from Jason Brennan’s The Ethics of Voting:

Let’s describe two kinds of democratic citizens.

1.  Deliberative citizens have frequent crosscutting political discussion.  That is, they frequently consider and respond to contrary views.  They are careful in forming their own political preferences.  They are able to articulate good reasons on behalf of contrary views.  They have high levels of political knowledge.

2.  Participatory citizens engage heavily with politics.  They run for office, run campaigns, vote, give money to campaigns, attend town hall meetings, engage in protests, write letters to the editor, etc.
Diana Mutz’s empirical work shows that deliberation and participation do not come together.  Deliberative citizens do not participate much, and participatory citizens do not deliberate much.  The people who are most active in politics tend to be (in my words, not Mutz’s) cartoon ideologues.  The people who are most careful in formulating their own political views and who spend the most time consulting contrary views tend not to participate in politics.

Being exposed to contrary points of views tends to lessen one’s enthusiasm for one’s own political views.  Deliberation with others who hold contrary views tends to make one ambivalent and apathetic about politics.  True believers make better activists than cautious, self-skeptical thinkers.  (Imagine a street evangelist saying, “Hear ye!  My religion might be the one truth path, but, you know, there are good grounds for doubt!”)  Crosscutting political exposure decreases the likelihood that a person will vote, reduces the number of political activities a person engages in, and makes people take longer to decide how to vote.

 In contrast, active, participatory citizens tend not to engage in much deliberation and tend not to have much crosscutting political discussion. Instead, they seek out and interact only with others with whom they already agree. When asked why other people hold contrary points of view, participatory citizens tend to respond that others must be stupid or corrupt. Participatory citizens are often unable to give charitable explanations of why people might hold contrary views. (This is worrisome, because people who tend to demonize all contrary views tend to be unjustified in their own views).

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