“THERE ARE FEW words in English that seem to be spoken with as much disgust or despair as Politics», Writes Taylor Dotson in The Divide: how fanatical certainty destroys democracy – but it is too little politics, he argues, not too much, which is the main obstacle to bridging the ideological divides.

The author analyzes our obvious failures to use pluralist political involvement to resolve issues as troubling as economic and racial inequalities, gun violence, and climate change – issues that provoke undue anger and mistrust.

Despite its catchy caption, this calm and largely convincing analysis of civic unrest in the United States – and much of the world – lowers the thermostat long enough to show a potential outcome, if we have the foresight and the foresight. retained to try it.

Dotson, who teaches social sciences at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, is not subject to calcified doctrines. A cornerstone of his work is practical application, making the social sciences useful to average citizens as a bulwark against the tendency of technological societies to become less individualistic and more authoritarian. The basic arguments may seem trivial: negotiating and making compromises, designing and implementing a pluralist policy, walking a mile in the shoes of an adversary. But it is Dotson’s in-depth and intellectual analysis that impresses the most.

Dotson notes that a majority of Americans see little logic in debate or political discussion, and that compromise is often vilified as a betrayal of principle. He regrets that negotiation is often seen as an obstacle rather than an essential function of democracy.

What is the role of truth, this most elusive construction, in the practice of democracy? Dotson wonders how a democratic system can survive when a population is divided by basic, often mistaken, assumptions about each other, and how such a population can hope to govern itself.

All questions valid. It begins by taking a critical look at the intersection of science and politics, then examines those supposed opposites that have defined so many political cultures: governance by informed ‘elites’ versus ‘populist’ rule, or, expressed differently, a standoff between expert opinion and common sense. He pillories excessive loyalty to both, but not before he has gutted the idea of ​​a “post-truth” era, where opinions “crowd out and overwhelm” facts. When has the objective fact ever guided the policy?

Many political experts claim that their opposition is trafficking in fallacious, misinformed or misleading ideas, striving to end disagreements as quickly as possible. But the argument – thoughtful, if at times resentful – is precisely what greases the wheels. How can one understand the position of another if he refuses to consider it? Our current climate seems to rule out the idea that people’s views are malleable, that they might change in light of opposition, or change with lifelong learning. When a disagreement arises, we are inclined to fan the flames and further undermine democracy, instead of using it to work for smarter results.

But political interactions will not refine democratic principles by the force of argument alone. The shaping of a more democratically pluralistic society will require significant, if not radical, reform of political structures and media systems, not to mention “dramatic changes in school, childhood, workplace and other institutions” . Dotson believes it is possible for citizens to recognize their commonalities, but many will remain skeptical. It suggests a degree of pluralism and idealistic connection, a matter of potential, and promotes language and identity to transcend social differences.

Ever growing political polarization has consequences. Resentful and vengeful anger is perilous, but Dotson points out that waves of outrage have been instrumental in some of history’s most defining social changes – changes that probably wouldn’t have happened if people hadn’t. not channeled their outrage constructively, forcing others, in turn, to negotiate and compromise.

Polarization in the political sphere is nothing new. Many Americans seek community through their political identities, which only partially explains today’s entrenchments. Is this a pipe dream that we can avoid “always more austere and [more] ideological divisions solidified ”and work towards better understanding? It certainly seems unlikely, given the times. But Dotson insists:

By putting people in the position of having to persuade, negotiate and strategize against opponents, democratic pluralism turns politics from a machine where groups fight only to ensure the victory of their own narrow preferences into a process. more dynamic where goals, beliefs, and aspirations evolve in response to their interactions. Politics thus becomes more intelligent and circumspect.

The question is, can we stop idealizing expert knowledge and romanticize the beliefs of the average Capra-esque citizen long enough to open a real dialogue?

With his distinctively reasoned tone, Dotson approaches the limits of technology and free markets as a panacea, the deceptive appeal of moderation, the importance of respecting experience, the excesses of identity politics and the error of entrust complex problems to cloistered experts or staunch populists.

Dotson argues that the tensions between truth and democracy are ingrained in their very nature. Could it then be that the ideal of truth is the problem, rather than the fact that we rarely achieve it? It may be smart to abandon the pursuit of objective truth and embrace a more pluralistic democratic process, but it is suspected that it may not be as productive as the author hopes. Moreover, the old democracy versus republic argument does not go away, and not everyone will buy into Dotson’s “more is more” saying.

The divide sees democracy as a process, more fundamental but complex than a simple translation of popular opinion into politics. He advocates a system that does not define democracy strictly in terms of electoral politics, a system in which citizens can exercise significant influence over decisions that affect their lives. He argues that flawed policies are more often the result of processes that fail to be inclusive.

While his solutions are not always convincing, Dotson successfully describes why most proposals to fix traffic jams and polarization are wrong by showing how they fail to address the underlying causes and even flirt with the aggravation. of the situation :

As experts dominate political decisions, the government seems increasingly distant and insensitive, sowing discord among ordinary citizens. At the same time, idealizing the beliefs of the laity or mythologizing “the majority” creates anxieties among experts and other important decision-makers, concerns which may motivate attempts to centralize power.

And this is his primary fear: the threat of authoritarianism from all sides. Maybe it should be ours too.


Bill Thompson is the author of Why travel? A way of being, a way of seeing.