Building A Society that Listens

This post is a response to Graeme Archer’s eloquent and well received post “Does Labour Understand why it Lost?”, and I encourage all to read his work.

This post is also an invitation to attend an online event on Saturday 21st December at 11h00 Central Time (US) which will be a discussion about the role of experts in civic deliberations, to which everyone is welcome.  Learn more about it and register here.

A quote from Lao Tzu goes like this: Those who know, don’t talk. Those who talk, don’t know.

The protagonist in Graeme’s blog, Keith, was initially a silent type, at least politically. “He’d never dream of mentioning his feelings about the Labour Party in public”.

I suppose the wisdom of such silence comes from understanding that communicating with those who will not listen is pointless— even if it makes you sad or angry to stay silent.

However, alongside such wisdom is the knowledge that actions speak louder than words. Actions, such as voting Conservative in this election, had the inevitability of an asteroid striking the planet. Such actions are more satisfying, ultimately, than winning a pointless argument on twitter.

So keep silent. Bide your time and punch where it hurts. Where it is effective. At the right moment.

The message I hear from Graeme’s eloquent and insightful post is that there are many silent people like Keith, who hate Labour and their message, which they understand perfectly, and that they are sick of lectures from the elite. Of an elite that continually fails to understand them. The misdirected Academy.

And I think I understand why commenters rallied to support Graeme’s post; to hear that others feel as you do—that understand how you have been suffering in the wisdom of silence—is a relief, and creates a sense of vindication and common unity. To feel that the country is united in solidarity with your point of view, and that your silent suffering is at an end. At last, we have been listened to.

Graeme’s post is an insightful read, and I have no doubt that I would do well to heed its message. However, unlike many who commented on it, I don’t feel the same sense of relief when I read it. I am, after all,   a misdirected member of the academy.

My job is to determine the nature of reality. It’s what I, and the other members of the misdirected academy, are paid to do. We are collectively paid millions to do this because if we can understand reality that brings even greater wealth.

So many millions of hours of thoughts and training have gone into creating experiments to measure the truth about reality and guess what? Across my peers in the misled academy we have learned some things that are true. Beyond doubt. That’s why you have a phone or a computer on which you are reading this.

Sadly, our political system is deliberately designed to prevent meaningful contact between disparate perspectives. Between the Keith’s and the misled scientists who seek the nature of reality there is a dark chasm.  I fear that, as well as the millions invested to measure reality, millions have been spent to deliberately misinform the public and to create huge amounts of fake-news in the media, to protect billions that have been invested from wayward electoral decisions.

So my challenge to the Keiths and the Graemes is to determine fact from fiction for themselves. To live out the consequences of their choices. Now that Labour is no longer the issue, the challenge is to see right wing reality for yourselves through the media fog and billionaire lies.

Fortunately, a new tool has emerged in democracy besides voting. It is a new way of dealing with disparate perspectives and it is based on precisely the premise that Graeme espouses: that his protagonist Keith is more than competent to make decisions.

If Keith is competent to judge the competence of those who represent him, then he is competent to make other kinds of decisions as well.  That is why well managed civic deliberations among randomly chosen citizens are an excellent way of determining fact from fiction. From weeding out the fake news and the propaganda and helping citizens to make good judgments.

Such civic assemblies side-step fake news and create convergence between disparate world views. Something that we badly need and they require input from Keith and his friends—as well as experts who possess subject specific knowledge, but have no knowledge of Keith or his point of view.
We are not in a Hollywood disaster movie. The scientists, like me, won’t come up with a magic bullet to dodge climate change and it is very real and far greater threat to you all than Labour ever was.

Defeating climate change requires us to not blindly support those we have elected but to question them every step of the way. To question those who would dare deny reality to further their own facile & pointless pursuit of wealth.

Enjoy your current sense of relief and vindication. When you choose to talk about reality, those of us whose job it is to understand reality will be here, as we always have been, to discuss reality and what needs to be done.

To that end, I ask all the Keith’s to please engage with the citizens assembly that will soon occur on climate change and I ask everyone to hold the government to account on its findings. Why be afraid of the truth?  It is no longer a left-wing plot.

Remember that the assembly, commissioned by parliament, will be filled with people like Keith. Members of the Great British public who are more than capable of making wise choices for themselves. Please don’t sit on your laurels waiting for the next election. We need all the Keiths in the UK to engage with that process now and make sure that the government they have elected is behaving in the public’s interests and not their own.

Know that the asteroid hurtling towards Earth did not care which herd the dinosaurs belonged to.

If anyone would like to learn more about the process of public deliberation on Saturday 21st December at 11h00 Central Time (US) there will be an online discussion about the role of experts in deliberation to which anyone is welcome to join.  Learn more about it and register here.

Dr Chris Forman, FRSA

Co-ordinator of Deliberation Gateway – A thematic network of the RSA-US.



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