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Sunday, November 6, 2022

Deliberation, persuasion, and democracy

"The lifeblood of any free society is persuasion: changing other people’s minds in order to change things. But America is suffering a crisis of faith in persuasion that is putting its democracy and the planet itself at risk. Americans increasingly write one another off instead of seeking to win one another over. Debates are framed in moralistic terms, with enemies battling the righteous. Movements for justice build barriers to entry, instead of on-ramps. Political parties focus on mobilizing the faithful rather than wooing the skeptical. And leaders who seek to forge coalitions are labeled sellouts.

In The Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas takes us inside these movements and battles, seeking out the dissenters who continue to champion persuasion in an age of polarization…

As the book’s subjects grapple with how to call out threats and injustices while calling in those who don’t agree with them but just might one day, they point a way to healing, and changing, a fracturing country."
I was not aware of this book until this morning. My Bad. Will have to rectify that oversight ASAP. I'd read Anand's excellent prior book "WinnersTake All" back in 2019.
"Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can—except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. They rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; they lavishly reward “thought leaders” who redefine “change” in ways that preserve the status quo; and they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm. 
Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? His groundbreaking investigation has already forced a great, sorely needed reckoning among the world’s wealthiest and those they hover above, and it points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world—a call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike."

I'm pretty anxious about the upcoming US midterms. Cheryl and I have already voted early. Make sure y'all vote.

Is that excessively cynical? [UPDATE: This Bill Maher segment didn't age all that well.]

Economistic reasoning dominates our age, and we may be tempted to focus on the first half of each of the above sentences—a marginal contribution you can see and touch—and to ignore the second half, involving a vaguer thing called complicity. But [Chiara] Cordelli was challenging elites to view what they allow to be done in their name, what they refuse to resist, as being as much of a moral action as the initiatives they actively promote.

Her argument is not that every bad thing that happens in the world is your fault if you fail to stop it. Her claim, rather, is that citizens of a democracy are collectively responsible for what their society foreseeably and persistently allows; that they have a special duty toward those it systematically fails; and that this burden falls most heavily on those most amply rewarded by the same, ultimately arbitrary set of arrangements. “If you are an elite who has campaigned for or supported the right policies, or let’s suppose that you are not causally complicit in any direct sense,” she said, “still, it seems to me that you might owe a responsibility or duty to return to others what they have been unfairly deprived of by your common institutions.”

The winners bear responsibility for the state of those institutions, and for the effects they have on others’ lives, for two reasons, Cordelli said: “because you’re worth nothing without society, and also because we would all be dominated by others without political institutions that protect our rights.”

To take each of those in turn: She says you are worth nothing without society because there can be no hedge fund managers, nor violinists, nor technology entrepreneurs, in the absence of a civilizational infrastructure that we take for granted. “Your life, your talents, what you do could not be possible if they weren’t for common institutions,” Cordelli says. If the streets weren’t safe or the stock markets weren’t regulated, it would be harder to make use of one’s talents. If banks weren’t forced to offer a guarantee of guarding your money, making money would be pointless. Even if your children attended private school, public schools very likely trained some of their teachers, and publicly financed roads connected that island of a school to the grid of the society. Then there is the fact that absent a political system of shared institutions, anyone could dominate anyone. Every person with anything precious to protect would be at constant risk of plunder by everybody else. To live in a society without laws and shared institutions that applied equally to all would be, Cordelli says, to live “dependent on the arbitrary will of another. It would be like a form of servitude.”…

When a society solves a problem politically and systemically, it is expressing the sense of the whole; it is speaking on behalf of every citizen. It is saying what it believes through what it does. Cordelli argues that this right to speak for others is simply illegitimate when exercised by a powerful private citizen. “You are an individual,” she said. “You can’t speak in their name. I can maybe speak in the name of my child, but other people are not your children.

“This is what it means to be free and equal and independent individuals and, for better or for worse, share common institutions,” she said. Our political institutions—our laws, our courts, our elected officials, our agencies, our rights, our police, our constitutions, our regulations, our taxes, our shared infrastructure: the million little pieces that uphold our civilization and that we own together—only these, Cordelli said, “can act and speak on behalf of everyone.”

Giridharadas, Anand. Winners Take All (p. 258-262). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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