cj#997> re: democracy & revolution – the means are the end

1999-10-20

Richard Moore

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 1999 14:42:20 -0400
To: •••@••.•••
From: "Edward  A. Plunkett" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: democracy & revolution - the means are the ends

Hello, Richard,

John Lowry picked up your great article from CyberJournal and forwarded it
to our (still existing) AfD discussion list.

Another subscriber to the list, Maryellen Lake (who was not around, I
think, when you were affiliated with us), made a response to it. I though
you might be interested in it, so I quote it below.

        I found your dissertation on democratic processes
        fascinating.  The thought occurs to me, as an American, that
        perhaps those of us who are on the fringes of liberal
        thought and who are only just beginning to examine the
        possibilities inherent in proportional representation (as
        opposed to our winner-take-all system) can benefit mightily
        from your ideas and ideal.  That, coupled with a currently
        strong push for campaign finance reform, might represent a
        very small step toward the very system you propose.

        It is unfortunate that we Americans have developed a nasty
        habit - that of talking problems to death and then, having
        talked about whatever it is, tend to continue on with our
        daily lives in the belief that we have talked the problem
        out of existence.  This is further compounded by  mass media
        pundits who are very good at presenting the problems without
        suggesting solutions.  They simply reinforce the idea that
        talking about our troubles will make them go away. It's rare
        when anything is actually accomplished.  Just one of many
        reasons that I so welcome your perspective.

        You are obviously far more learned than I.  But I would
        welcome your thoughts on this.  As an American, I have had
        many youthful illusions about my country shattered, one by
        one, as we have progressed (?) politically and economically
        since the end of WW II.  As children we were taught that the
        Founding Fathers of our government were heroes - heroes who
        are now being represented as just another greedy bunch who
        founded a government solely to protect their own wealth.  I
        am not wholly disillusioned, however.  I still believe that,
        at the very least, they had future generations in mind.
        While they may not have envisioned the vastness of the
        country nor its potential for extravagant wealth and rampant
        global corruption that exists at the top now, my sense is
        that they certainly recognized the benefits of enlightened
        self-interest. Unfortunately, the wealthy elite and the
        corporate special interests are blind to that philosophy,
        able to see only the immediate benefits of the bottom line.

        Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your idealism. Most
        heartening.  I have printed out your piece.  I am certain
        that I will have several occasions to re-read it as the
        online discussions progress. (End of quote)

Personally, I do not see very much difference between the way you are now
describing the new democracy and the old emphasis on "consensus,"  which
has divided and nearly destroyed the Alliance several times since its
beginning, some of which I am sure you remember.  Still, it is an
interresting way of putting it, and rather amazing that you can find
'models' in the business world, on the one hand, and in the communist
(dictatorial) state of Cuba, on the other hand!  I am not questioning the
accuracy of the information you are providing.  You may very well be right.
I would be interested, however, in the sources of your knowledge of the
workings of corporate boardrooms and the extraordinary participation of
Cuban citizens in their governance. This would go along way in changing the
commonly-held notions of decision-making in these areas.

It requires, it seems to me, a great leap of faith to believe that ability
of relatively small and probably homogeneous people to work out the
solutions of commonly recognized problems can be the beginning of
problem-solving on a national, or even large-city, scale. When considering
massive and heterogeneous groups, democratic majority rule seems to me
inescapable.

In any event, it is great to hear your always challenging thoughts on
governance once again.

For old times' sake,

Ed Plunkett

=================

Dear Ed,

Nice to hear from you, and I always welcome discussions which cross list
boundaries - that's one way to gradually approach consensus.  You're
welcome of course to repost this to AfD or forward to Maryellen.


  >I would be interested, however, in the sources of your knowledge
  >of the workings of corporate boardrooms...

I wasn't speaking of meetings of corporate boards, but rather smaller scale
team meetings.  My knowledge of those is from decades of personal
experience in corporations of all sizes.  I'm not saying that corporations
are run from a bottom-up process, only that 'local group issues' (so to
speak) are decided with a problem-solving process rather than a voting
process - except for those cases where the manager simply decides on his or
her own.


  >...and the extraordinary participation of Cuban citizens...

I'll send you a copy of a testimonial regarding the Cuban system from
Charles McElvey, who spent considerable time there, which can also be
re-posted.  I used the examples of Cuba, and of Porto Alegre, to encourage
us to at least _consider the 'great leap of faith' that you mention.
'Bottom-up solutions' seem to have achieved democratic results in some
cases, and have been attempted only seldom.  'Democratic majority rule', on
the other hand, has been conclusively proven to not work - at least that's
how I evaluate our condition in the West.  And given that democratic
majority rule is being abandoned (via transfer of sovereignty to free-trade
institutions), perhaps we should risk adopting something else that has more
promise  - what do we have to lose?


  >I do not see very much difference between the way you are now
 > describing the new democracy and the old emphasis on "consensus,"
 > which has divided and nearly destroyed the Alliance several times
 > since its beginning, some of which I am sure you remember.

There isn't really a difference.  I picked up those concepts from postings
to AfD by Randy Schutt, of Stanford U.  But I've found emphasis on the term
'consensus' brings an immediate negative reaction from all but a few.
Randy explained that consensus turns out to be a problem solving process -
making it different in quality from voting - and I decided to start with
that as the first principle, rather than consensus itself.   In practice,
if a few mal-contents in the back of the room refuse to go along with any
solution, then the group should probably overrule them - hence _strict
consensus may be irrelevant to an effective community process.

As I saw it, the problem with consensus on the AfD list had primarily to do
with the kind of people who tend to join those kinds of lists... too many
of them seem to be fixed-idea ideologues who have a particular
point-of-view to sell, and they aren't really willing to approach
discussion as collaborators in a community process.  Their response to
every suggestion is to re-state their particular solution.  Admittedly, I
also was pushing certain ideas myself, but I did try to listen to what
people had to say, to seek areas of agreement, and to respond in their own
terms.  When people don't make such an effort is when group collaboration
becomes impossible.


I too may have been guilty of such behavior, which would only go to
underscore the point I'm making.  At least I tried to listen to what people
had to say, and to respond in their own terms.

To: Maryellen -

You wrote:
        As children we were taught that the
        Founding Fathers of our government were heroes - heroes who
        are now being represented as just another greedy bunch who
        founded a government solely to protect their own wealth.

Where are they being so represented?  Are you referring to my statements,
or to recent films or documentaries?  I'd be very interested in seeing
evidence of such a propaganda shift - it would be good evidence for my
analysis of globalization.


        I still believe that,
        at the very least, they had future generations in mind.
        While they may not have envisioned the vastness of the
        country nor its potential for extravagant wealth and rampant
        global corruption that exists at the top now, my sense is
        that they certainly recognized the benefits of enlightened
        self-interest.

The founding fathers were, as I understand it, divided into two camps,
identifiable perhaps as "Jeffersonian" and "Hamiltonian".  Jeffersonians
(including Thomas Paine) pushed for more democracy, more decentralization,
the Bill of Rights, etc.  Hamiltonians (including James Madison, architect
of the Constitution) pushed for stronger central government, a stronger
executive, and for an emphasis on property rights over other rights.  In
general, despite which camp they were in, most founding fathers tended to
be wealthy white males, with whatever bias that entails.

They weren't evil people, but they weren't saints either, and their own
selfish interests were certainly part of the equation.  I think we can say
they did a pretty good job under the circumstances, and some very
remarkable results have followed.  But the system, as it has operated, has
run its course and is in need of major repairs.  The same thing goes for
capitalism.

-rkm

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