Who really represents We the People? How do we find the Public Wisdom we need?

I have recently heard that people in the Coffee Party and the No Labels movement and some other groups seeking to represent “We the People” have recently been wondering how an organization can be about both “advocacy” AND “dialogue and deliberation”.

The most legitimate way I can see to have both “dialogue and deliberation” and “advocacy” is to have an organized method for a fully diverse We the People to deliberate in ways that uncover a common Public Wisdom on each issue — a wisdom which can then be comprehended, fleshed out and spread by broad dialogue and then pushed into reality by mass advocacy.

When the policy options being advocated ACTUALLY represent the interests, ideas, and wisdom of We the People, there is no contradiction between “dialogue and deliberation” and “advocacy”. In fact, I suggest that we couldn’t discover legitimate We the People wisdom to advocate WITHOUT dialogue and deliberation.

However, there’s an important caveat here: The claim that what a person or group advocates represents the considered will and wisdom of We the People is the democratic equivalent of the religious claim that a person or group represents God. It is a readily assailable claim and potentially devastating not only to those who assert it, but to the very authority around whose alleged wisdom they rally. The concept of “The People” as a source of authority and wisdom can be degraded by wildly diverse groups — from the Tea Party to the Communist Party — claiming to be its Voice.

When everyone claims God is on their side, where is God? When everyone claims The People support what they advocate, what, exactly, is The People?

I suggest there is a difference between CLAIMING to give voice to the Public Wisdom of We the People and ACTUALLY giving voice to that Wisdom. However, at this moment I know of no one who ACTUALLY can do this. Yet I am hopeful. Evidence suggests that humanity is on the verge of being able to call forth and give voice to an inclusive, informed, thoughtful, coherent, LEGITIMATE voice of We the People. Advanced methods of dialogue, deliberation, information analysis, systems thinking, and tapping “the wisdom of crowds” — to name just a few key resources — can to be creatively woven into innovative approaches to collective citizenship. We can apply these approaches to microcosms of whole communities or whole societies using scientific random selection and identification of stakeholders. We can’t claim full success yet, but diverse experiments abound and the potential for full realization of this ideal is ripe to the point of bursting. Figuring out how to actually and legitimately identify the highest Public Wisdom of We the People is both an unprecedented challenge and an unprecedented opportunity. It is an initiative that as we succeed will almost certainly transform politics forever.

The potential is clearly there. But its realization is held back by a certain reluctance, a habituation to old ways of doing politics, habit patterns that may be more challenging for us than calling forth real Public Wisdom. Consider: Are we ready to let go of our polarized partisan positions, or at least subordinate them to the realization of true Public Wisdom — to behave as we so often do when we support “the lesser of two evils” or “the best we can get” in traditional politics? Are we trusting enough of Public Wisdom that we would advocate for it even if it came out in favor of a policy or program to which we were personally opposed? Are we humble enough to serve The People and channel our partisan perspectives and information into knowledge systems designed to inform and inspire them? Do we trust The People, UNDER THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, to arrive at wisdom and then continue to learn from their collective experience, so that their (our!) collective mistakes get corrected over time? Are we willing to continue searching for those “right conditions” — a process or processes that, when used by The People to discover their common Public Wisdom, over and over, would justify our trusting the future of America and the World to that wisdom?

Are we ready to use all we know to make democracy ACTUALLY wise? How important do you think real Public Wisdom would be in our ability to successfully meet the massive challenges and impending crises emerging all around us with increasing clarity and urgency?

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