Dealing with Extremists
One of the biggest problems facing deliberation is dealing with extremists. Below are five qualities of deliberation that benefit engagement with culturally and ideologically divergent groups. These five are followed by additional qualities of deliberation that are extended to the communication which is the engine that runs deliberation. As Ercan writes: “Deliberative democrats put communication at the heart of politics and emphasize the pursuit of reciprocal understanding between those who have different frameworks and ideologies.” The list is not meant to be exhaustive.
1.Because problems are complex and humans are limited, we have the problem of bounded rationality. Deliberation makes it possible for individuals to step beyond the boundaries of their own abilities and knowledge. Bounded rationality means we are limited to our own knowledge and abilities, but deliberation allows us to participate in the intelligence of others and step beyond those boundaries.
2.Deliberation forces a particular form of justification. At its base, deliberation is founded on “skilled disagreement.” There is much to skilled disagreement (e.g. a task focus, knowledgeable use of reasoning and evidence, perspective taking etc.). The deliberative forms of justification imply a comparative advantages orientation toward moving up from a personal opinion to a group judgment. Strong justificatory criteria help conflicting groups progress from the constrictions of selfish interest to choices made on the basis of inclusion of others.
3. Deliberation between conflicting groups increases cohesive consensus. The decision to subject communication to stricter argumentative criteria – even exceeding the boundaries of one’s own rationality – stimulates decisions that are more public, more shared by the collection of group members. The tensions between divergent groups that hold extreme opinions are such that the commitment to decisions is important if there is going to be progress implementing change. Deliberative communication is process oriented and the process must be perceived as fair and committed; the principles of deliberative communication confer substantial legitimacy since they are grounded in the individuals most affected by the outcomes. The source of legitimacy in the relationship between conflicting groups is not the will of the majority, but the outcome of the idea formation process.
4.The assembly effect the group experiences is beneficial. Errors and misinformation can be corrected, and deliberation does reduce variance, that is, groups converge after talking. Group members have more confidence in their judgments following deliberation and their confidence is high regardless of decision quality. Some cognitive convergence is necessary and communicative contact is the first necessary criterion. The assembly effect recognizes the non-summative nature of the group discussion.
5.Perspective taking is a crucial cognitive skill that allows one to morally appreciate and accommodate the position of someone with a different perspective than your own. Participants in a conflict must have the moral ability to “understand” the position of the other person or group. Thus, an Israeli must understand and respect the position of a Palestinian even if he disagrees with it. This is the core of deliberative disagreement. We can reject the charge that deliberation is too idealistic. On the contrary, deliberation will eventually be required, and authentic communication will engage the other as we expect.
For more on this kind of thinking see:
Landemore, H. (2013). Democratic reason. Princeton University Press.
Ercan, S. (2017). From polarization to pluralization: A deliberative approach to illiberal cultures, International Political Science Review. 38, 114-127.