Bouncing Around in the Book “Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions”
by Dan Penisten
December 3, 2012
If a literary work captures my enthusiasm and imagination enough, I just can’t read it once and move on. I must read it again and then start referring to it, like it was a textbook for learning…a tome from which to operate and try to affect my world for the better. Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions has had that influence on me; partly because it is the very first book I have ever read about citizen competence and direct democracy and partly because it is, in itself, a composite work of many minds and variations on the theme. It’s a pretty darn good examination of the principles and issues that come from us trying to evolve into a direct democracy in order to build a better America—and there’s lots of good meat here.
I am not especially brighter than the average citizen—though, perhaps a bit more enlightened due to my own curiously and emotional investment in current events. Personality has a lot to do with this activity of mine…I just can’t help but imagine a better way to be—or better things to strive for. That’s just me, just my attitude and opinion. Besides, I was asked to try and contribute and I care enough about America and the rest of humanity to make these little helpful efforts.
So right now, these efforts are articles like this one; that endeavors to bounce off of things already written and help, in my limited way, throw fresh light on them. Shoot! I might even be able to occasionally expand the subject with a fresh insight. For me this is generally aimed at the question of what we should do, to be successful direct democrat-ists.
In chapter seven on page 158, Elisabeth R. Gerber and Arthur Lupia state:
“The task facing direct-legislation voters is quite different from the task facing their candidate-centered counterparts. Several features of direct legislation simplify the task facing voters. For instance, direct legislation voters select directly between an exogenously determined and stable menu of specific policy alternatives. Candidate centered voters, by contrast, select between candidates who represent potentially shifting positions on a wide range of policy and non-policy dimensions. While both types of elections offer limited menus from which to choose, we assert that the possible variance in the quality of a candidate-centered menu item is greater than the comparable variance within a direct legislation election menu item.”
I am thinking here that less variance is a good thing in the sense that less variance is less confusion and challenge to comprehend some bill. It occurs to me that We The People should develop abilities to more clearly and simply, present ideas that come out of the complexity in our lives. Especially if we are about the business of making laws in our nation.
Can we not take one idea out of a mass of ideas at a time? I understand there is a relationship between all ideas, but we must try to make sure we understand one before we try to understand the rest…in a given deliberation. Complexity can be used to intentionally obscure or confuse us, given our present level of basic intelligence as educated. Confusion keeps us off balance and stressed, though this can lead to better knowledge depending on how we deal with these emotional and mental states.
Another danger to We The People in a direct democracy government is getting discouraged and turning our backs on the challenging processes of deliberation and decision. But we can learn to avoid or cut through the dross that our emotions and ideologies will bring. We can learn the art of not going too far and recognizing the falsehoods floating in our stew with the Truth. And more importantly, we can bring ourselves to recognize the degrees of falsehood and truth and weigh that in our considerations. If we do these things, we will probably do well as our own lawmakers and stewards of our culture.
Thousand page bills are ridiculous. They are useless for well-considered and processed laws. If we can’t develop the best decisions in hundred page bills or less, then something is wrong. Do not include exogenous matters into a bill. That is sneaky and dishonest.
This complexity is one thing that shows us the value of being exclusive; not allowing multiple issues and long trains of thought to tax our thinking processes, at least not in the final product. This is one phenomenon that will emerge from many minds and ideological polarities that we should practice exclusion on. Say no to bills that are complicated with multiple issues and inclusions. By doing this, we might be able narrow variance in the proposals that come before us. We might be able to narrow down the best choices for decisions about laws and feel more comfortable in this.
Reduce the size of and simplify, the proposals and bills.
I say these things in a general sense. I realize that sometimes an idea depends on many other ideas to be optimally understood, but I just think that taking things one at a time might help us…at least to begin with. Many ideas will always be part of the deliberation and decision-making process and We would do well to include an accurate record of all of the discussions and make them available to all who need to investigate (after the fact) our bills.
Other factors enter into this deliberative endeavor, besides the information involved…but I am taking one thing at a time. We will be able to handle more complexity and see through the obfuscation of misapplied complexity as the centuries wear on. The laws of evolution will become our ally in this growth toward our destiny as a planetary species. I submit this as suggested ways and means for deliberation that has to do with our becoming direct democrat-ists. One last thought: We would do well to mark this challenging social path with numerous and well-placed votes…maybe even on a daily basis.
Scolos Narbarson is a writer for Democracy Chronicles. He wrote his own bio:
I’m a 67 year old “white” male, worker class, with one year college education. I’m a third party and direct democracy advocate and I’m active in Occupy Sonora. Voted for Ralph Nader in 2008, and then became a little more active in American politics and social structure. Very concerned about the influence and effects of international banking and corporations on Our Nation. Also, active with National Citizen’s Initiative for Democracy (NI4D) that advocates direct democracy.
Take a look at Dan Penisten’s last article:
On Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions: Direct democracy has been a dream for millennium but is the US ready?
Resources for this article:
“Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions” Edited by Stephen L. Elkin and Karol Edward Soltan. (Pennsylvania State University Press,1999)