I moderated a panel yesterday at Personal Democracy Forum on deliberative democracy. Because I was the moderator, I didn’t express my own unease with the emphasis on deliberation. Don’t get me wrong: I like deliberative processes and wish there were more of them. I’m just not as bullish on their ability to resolve real differences.
But there are non-rational deliberative processes. For example, Morgan Spurlock’s tv series, Thirty Days, puts together people who deeply disagree. But they learn more and better by living with one another for thirty days than they do through their rational discussions. If “deliberation” refers to a fair weighing, living with someone with whom you disagree is more likely to right the scales. The issues over which we struggle the most and that divide us the deepest cannot be bridge through careful, quiet discussion. Or, at least, the role of rational deliberation often is, in my opinion, over-stated. When rational discussion fails to change our minds, sympathy based on lived understanding can change our souls.