There are many interpretations of what constitutes a democracy. Not all of these recognize that the fundament for a democratic society is the acceptance of dissent. All qualities that we see as constituent of democracy, like separation of powers; equality; elections; freedoms of speech, political expressions and press; etc., are however empty phrases unless society protects those who do not subscribe to the predominant, publicly endorsed ideologies. Nevertheless, it cannot be disregarded that dissent can be destructive and even pose a danger to the democracy that protects it. Recently we have seen all over Europe that populist right-wing parties are gaining increasing influence; influence that could be interpreted as a threat to democratic principles like equality of individuals. How can this be dealt with democratically?
We believe that the only reasonable way — the only democratically correct way — to handle populist discontent is by careful scrutiny of what is being expressed. To stigmatize and trying to exclude the dissent from public debate has not been successful in suppressing the tendencies. By instead refuting the fundamental premises for the claims, it should be a minor problem to refute these. Complaints should not be denied but instead publicly challenged. This presupposes great trust in democratic principles but also a preparedness to change ones own position.
To facilitate democratic dialogue about concrete issues, on any level in society, we have constructed a collaborative tool. The principle is very simple, almost banal, and the fact that we propose a simple tool to solve a complex problem in deed seems presumptuous. Yet we have experienced that the tool is remarkably powerful. The reason why we can claim with some confidence that it works, is the theoretical founding of it. It is built on the assumption that people are not making judgments in isolation. Societies are systems of people and thus societal problems can only be solved by addressing values and interests of the involved stakeholders; by answering questions about how these are affecting the problem situation and how these are affected by any proposed solution.
The advantages with using the tool for this type of analysis are many. First, the tool supplies an open, distributed platform, in which an analysis can evolve organically. It allows different parties to include their points of view and decision makers to follow how arguments have been applied in concrete situations. Second, it counters the power of rhetoric and invites pluralism. Unlike debates, there is no need to limit the number of issues. Structure is instead given by application of arguments in concrete situations. Finally, the tool is designed to counter a number of biases, commonplace in decision making. The form in which arguments are presented makes it difficult to revert to value-laden principled reasoning, and invites to a proactive, concrete, solution-oriented discourse.
At the conference, we will present the moral philosophical and psychological foundation for the tool and demonstrate how it works. It represents a form of social media that has the purpose of facilitating democratic dialogue.
Critique, Democracy and Philosophy in 21st Century Information Society. Towards Critical Theories of Social Media. The Fourth ICTs and Society-Conference.Uppsala University. May 2nd-4th, 2012