Thursday, July 28, 2005

discourse and the quality of democracy

I just wanted to add a comment to Chris' question about where Zanby fits into the edemocracy spectrum. I believe that strong social interaction outside the specifics of overtly political events is incredibly important to maintaining a robust democracy.

Former state Senator Roger Moe was on the local public radio station today. One of the questions he discussed was if the reporting of politics as a "sports event", with a mandatory winner and a mandatory looser, was contributing to the decline of the ability of our elected officials to actually achieve workable solutions.

He pointed out that over the last 20 years, there has been a marked decline in the "socialization" events that are avaliable to our representatives. By "socialization" events, he didn't mean partisan mixers, or lobying opportunities. He meant opportunities for all representatives to begin to meet and learn about each other's backgrounds, opinions, ways of thinking, and so on.

His basic point is that the more opportunities we have to actually sit down face to face with people and learn about them, the more likely we are to be able to find a working solution with them. This socialization comes from repeated, individual contact: whether hashing out some knotty problem or simply discussing the weather or what the first job was they had. To my way of thinking, the social interactions are probably the most valuable ways to learn and grow.

Of course, there are plenty of wing-nuts and whack-jobs where one personal contact is one contact too many. But most of the time, you can learn something new by sitting down and chatting with someone else.

Without this contact, the person across the table is easily reduced to cliches, to simple sound bytes. In our low-contact, high media environment, it becomes easy to provide these sound bytes, easy to pre-bias one group against another. Without social contact, these biases quickly become perceived truth, a barrier around which the individual rarely looks. These barriers become the foundation of a profound distrust of everything "Them". The higher these barriers, the harder it is to come together to find solutions to our truly difficult problems. If we don't trust the other side, we can't effectively work with them.

The more people actually meet and work with and understand their neighbors, the less power soundbytes and cliches will have. This is why I think Zanby has such value as a true democracy-supporting and sustaining tool. We are facilitating formal and informal gatherings of people with interests ranging from vintage baseball to bettering their local school district. What makes systems like Gatheroo so interesting and valuable is that they are able to bring people together across much larger "neighborhoods" -- the group of vintage baseball fans may discover another group across the country, and gather with them.


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