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The software of democracy


 

Mark Kingwell’s essay on political civility, to which I referred last week, is now online.

It is sometimes said that literacy is the software of democracy. Let’s be more accurate, and more demanding. The real software of democracy is not bare literacy, which permits and even enjoys all manner of rhetorical nonsense and short-sighted demagoguery. It is political literacy, the ability to engage in critical dialogue with ideas both agreeable and disagreeable, interests that align with ours and those that do not. We need to learn this skill, run it, and revise it constantly by repeated engagements. We must be prepared to sacrifice something we value, for the sake of the larger good. That is, finally, the only thing I or anyone could mean by “civility.”


 

The software of democracy

  1. Democracy is software? Ours is definitely Microsoft. Probably a Beta version.

    • Microsoft Democratica 2.1.1: Political Literacy Edition.

  2. "We must be prepared to sacrifice something we value, for the sake of the larger good. That is, finally, the only thing I or anyone could mean by “civility.”"

    My OED disagrees with you on this last point, Kingwell, and I'm not quite sure where it came from (in the context of talking about political literacy as the software of democracy).

  3. 404 Error: Democracy not found

      • Nice.

        To lodge a complaint against your government, please press Alt + F4.

  4. The Harper PMO uses a Macro on its version of the software to write answers for Question Period. All you have to do is hit Function F U.

    • For those who enjoy Excel:

      (IF (COUNTIF "Detainee") >1, "Why do you hate the troops?", "Mr Speaker, I think Canadians are more concerned about the economy right now").

      • =IF(GOVT_RESPONSE="WHY DO YOU HATE THE TROOPS?", "MR. SPEAKER, WE SUPPORT THE CANADIAN FORCES", "MR. SPEAKER, WE SUPPORT THE CANADIAN FORCES")

  5. We must be prepared to sacrifice something we value, for the sake of the larger good.

    ***

    This would be true only from a collectivist or even socialist perspective. If he was talking about politics generally, did he mean we must be prepared to give up something we value in exchange for getting something else we want? Or are we supposed to understand that we sacrifice the opportunity to disparage our opponents in exchange for a better functioning polity?

    • I think the intent of Kingwell's phrase is the latter of your two questions, but hey:

      One man's logroll is another man's compromise; one man's tragedy of the commons is another man's free market.

      (t of c may also be replaced by free ridership).

  6. Thank you Mr.Wherry, for pointing us to Mark Kingwell's piece. There are many good suggestions he brings forward.

    One aspect I would like to highlight at this point, is the difference between being literate (meaning one possesses the capability to speak and write) and being literate comprehensibly. Mark talks about that as well.
    We need to be able to read between the lines if we are interested in coming to understand (or solve) political problems, or for coming to a better functioning of a democracy at large. Just like body language is used by humans when interacting in person, so too must reading between the lines be considered.

    • The technical term for the inability to read between the lines is "interlineal dyslexia."

  7. Thanks for the link – I had forgotten how enjoyable Kingwell is to read.

  8. I'm reading that sentence (We must be prepared to sacrifice something we value, for the sake of the larger good) in relation to "But relatively little attention has been given to discursive versions of collective action problems"

    The collective and the individual cannot be separated. In other words, by doing onto others what we wish not to be done onto us, will come back to haunt us in turn.

  9. That paragraph is the best summation I've ever seen of what to strive for on these comment boards, in journalism generally, and in Parliament.

    Bravo Kingswell, and bravo Wherry!

  10. And now having read the piece, I say bravo Kingswell again. Engagement with those with whom we disagree, if possible, is the best way to refine and flesh out the good ideas from the bad, to lead others toward the good, and best of all to correct our own misperceptions and blind spots.

    By the way, for all those disagreeing with "We must be prepared to sacrifice something we value, for the sake of the larger good," I think he means not that we must sacrifice our principles, but rather that we must be willing to sacrifice the short-term advantage of shouting down the opponent in favour of the long-term common good. Winning an argument by intimidation or slander may further a specific goal, but it leads to complete breakdown of discourse. If we acknowledge that we're all wrong sometimes, even about things that we think are obvious, it behooves us to listen and engage with opponents rather than taking the easy nuclear win. This small personal sacrifice for the common good is what Kingswell means by civility.

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