Join the #AfterNov8 Conversation on Bridging Our Divides

During the NCDD 2016 conference, we focused on how our field can help bridge our divides after such a toxic and divisive election cycle, and now team at NCDD member organization Essential Partners have launched an effort to continue that conversation on social media. It invites us to share their hopes and goals for how we move forward as a country after Nov. 8th by making a video, a voice memo, or posting on social media, all using the hashtag #AfterNov8 – we encourage our members to participate!

We think this can be a powerful way for our field to shift the conversation to moving forward together as we transition out of the election, so we hope you’ll add your voice! You can read more about the #AfterNov8 campaign in Essential Partners’ blog post below or find the original version here.

#AfterNov8 Launches

Essential PartnersThis election season, we’ve spent a lot of time obsessing about November 8th. We watch debates, we share memes, we pore over maps, heralding the candidate of our choice and criticizing their opponent. But little attention has been paid to what happens after November 8th.

What do we do after the election? How do we heal? The fact remains that we have to live and work together. No matter the winner of this election, it will not undermine our responsibility to do meaningful work over the next four years.

Whether we have a President Trump or President Clinton will not change the need to volunteer in our schools, to work toward racial reconciliation, to commit to supporting refugees from war torn nations, to supporting our veterans and soldiers, to help families in need, to living out our professed beliefs that all people are created equal.

So we want to hear from you… not about your hopes for this election, but for our lives and our nation after November 8th.

  • What do you wish for us as a nation after Nov. 8?
  • What do you hope we can work on together?
  • What issues do you hope we will meaningfully address?

Using #AfterNov8, please share your perspective on social media. We’ll be sharing some of the ones we’ve collected. Email us your audio or video file(s) and we’ll integrate them into our story. Ask your family, friends, students, neighbors to join the conversation.

Please consider sharing your voice with us directly – we’ll integrate it into a video debuting next week!

Here are images for you to share on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find the original version of this Essential Partners blog post at

Tooting a Horn: The Doyle Casteel Leadership Award at FCSS


Dr. Doug Dobson (LFI Executive Director), Peggy Renihan, and Senator Bob Graham


So the Florida Council for the Social Studies annual conference was this past weekend. It was well attended, and I will be sharing some pictures of our own booth and thoughts on the conference later. Right now, however, I am thrilled to share that the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship‘s own Peggy Renihan, who by the way chair the conference organizing committee, was recognized by the Florida Council for the Social Studies. She was give the Doyle Casteel Leadership Award at Saturday’s awards dinner (co-organized by our own Chris Spinale). This award is given to those FCSS members who have excelled as leaders, advocates, and mentors.
Having worked with Peggy over the past two years, I am completely unsurprised by this recognition. We are grateful for the work she has done and continues to do for both FCSS and for FJCC and PAEC.
Congrats, Peggy, and thanks for all that you do for our profession and our work and, most importantly, our teachers and students.

evolution, game theory, and the morality of modern human beings

It’s valuable to model the development of phenomena like altruism and spite (harming someone else at a cost to oneself) by combining game theory with evolutionary theory. The results should be seen as predictions to be tested against empirical evidence about actual organisms. My question is what this combination tells us about our situation as human beings in historical time.

The basic assumptions are:

  1. Organisms interact with each other so that each one can win or lose. For instance, a parent feeds its child, a predator eats its prey, a mite hitches a ride on an insect. These interactions can be modeled as games in which each player makes a choice (e.g., kill or don’t kill), and positive or negative outcomes result for each as a joint result of their decisions. (“Choice” is a metaphor, because completely non-sentient organisms can be modeled as players in a game. For instance, a plant can release a chemical or not.)
  2. Changes in how organisms interact in game-like situations arise more or less randomly. As a result of a genetic mutation, an organism may begin to mimic another species. Or, as a result of a change in climate, an organism’s prey may become scarce.
  3. If playing a game in a particular way increases the odds that a species will reproduce, that behavior will become more common. For instance, if mimicking works, it will spread.
  4. This means that the payoffs that matter from game-like interactions among organisms are best measured in terms of evolutionary fitness. Whatever an organism may want or think or feel, what matters is whether its chances of reproducing increase or decrease.
  5. Given the first four assumptions, under certain conditions, behaviors that we might consider proto-moral, such as helping offspring, helping others outside the family lineage, or even sacrificing oneself to punish another for violating a norm, predictably arise. By being altruistic (or punitive) in game-like interactions, an organism may gain evolutionary fitness.
  6. Thus we can explain proto-moral behavior through a combination of game theory and evolutionary theory. The behavior is a consequence of background conditions. This form of explanation applies to homo sapiens, who have cognitive capacities and instinctive drives for things like fairness and punishment because of the conditions that pertained before historical time when we evolved into our current form.

Game theory is part of my own toolkit. I believe it clarifies many situations that confront human beings as we interact with each other and helps us to devise solutions to collective problems. I also acknowledge that we are a biological species that evolved with certain capacities and drives, and that inheritance must be taken into consideration as we diagnose and try to address our problems as a species. However, I tend to believe that Darwinian evolution gave us certain capacities that now fundamentally change the premises described above (points 1-6):

  1. We can design games. The original Prisoner’s Dilemma, for example, is a situation intentionally created by a prosecutor within a legal system. The prosecutor could change the game, or he could be required to change it by a legal reform. A shared pasture is a very different game from a Prisoner’s Dilemma, but it’s also intentionally designed.
  2. We can choose goals. If natural selection determines change in a whole population, then it doesn’t matter what each organism wants; it matters what promotes survival and reproduction. But human beings can choose what we want in specific interactions. Sometimes we want things that reduce our chances to survive and reproduce, but we compensate with other strategies.
  3. We can change our identities. If a person’s main identity is a parent, his impact on his own offspring is central. But he could instead choose to identify primarily with a church, a community, a nation, or other grouping.
  4. We can design and change the groups within which our interactions occur. As an example, the size of a group influences how organisms interact. But we human beings can merge small groups to form vast nations, decentralize governance to small groups, nest communities within states, or place people in multiple overlapping groups. We can intentionally vary not only the size of groups but also their internal diversity, spatial extension, equality of influence, and cost of entry and exit.
  5. We can influence individuals’ predilections to play games in various ways, e.g., to be altruistic, trusting, selfish, spiteful, or punitive. We can influence children in lasting ways by raising and educating them to have certain character traits. We can also influence behavior in local and temporary ways by changing messages and contexts to encourage desired behaviors.
  6. We are influenced in all the above choices by norms, but we disagree about the best ones, and the available norms are the results of deliberate human creativity. In short, we invent and choose norms.

Game theory remains relevant–in fact, it is an especially useful toolkit for a creature that is capable of designing and redesigning its own interactions. I am less sure that evolutionary theory is relevant, except insofar as it explains certain proto-moral tendencies and limitations that now contribute to our challenges.

Notes: Points 1-6 are guided by my Tufts colleague Patrick Farber and specifically his excellent paper “Reciprocal Spite” (with Rory Smead). Points 7-12 are heavily influenced by Elinor Ostrom, who emphasized the diverse outcomes that result when people face collective action problems and the importance of their intentional choices about groups, rules, and norms.

Public Participation in Drafting a Strategy for Facing Demographic Changes on the Municipal Level

Problem and Purpose The submitted case study aims at introducing an example of a public participatory process conducted by the Municipality of Tuningen as well as analyzing its causes and effects. In order to make it comparable within the broader universe of cases, I will classify the case using Fung’s...

John Stuart Mill, Stoic

I sometimes envy my fellow academics in the humanities who regularly renew their acquaintance with fundamental works that have slipped pretty deep into the well of my own memory because my job is to conduct and administer empirical research about current politics. For just that reason, I am thoroughly enjoying reencountering some major works as I teach first-year undergraduates this semester.

For instance, I now see Mill’s Utilitarianism in an entirely new way thanks to re-reading it with students after our extensive discussions of authors like Epicurus, Buddha, and Emerson. It seems much less an explanation of the utilitarian principle of justice (maximize everyone’s happiness) than I had remembered, and more an exploration of how an individual should pursue happiness. It thus belongs to a genre that Mill knew very well, the tradition of therapeutic philosophy inaugurated by the Hellenistic schools and revived by Montaigne.

In the text of Utiliarianism, Mill refers several times to Epicureanism and Stoicism. For instance: “I do not, indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been by any means faultless in drawing out their scheme of consequences from the utilitarian principle. To do this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic, as well as Christian elements require to be included.” This passage suggests that Mill is interested in constructing the kind of “eclectic” view (drawing from multiple Hellenistic schools) that was popular from the time of Cicero and continued in early Christianity.

Of course, one should expect as much based on the author’s Autobiography. In the chapter on the “Crisis in My Mental History,” Mill recalls how reading Jeremy Bentham in 1821 gave him “an object in life; to be a reformer of the world.” He would apply the classical utilitarian principle of justice to improve the general welfare. “My conception of my own happiness was entirely identified with this object.” He says he was open to experiencing his own pleasures–“I endeavoured to pick up as many flowers as I could by the way”–but the purpose of his life was to achieve social justice, defined in a utilitarian way.

“This did very well for several years, during which the general improvement going on in the world and the idea of myself as engaged with others in struggling to promote it, seemed enough to fill up an interesting and animated existence.” (Note that his personal satisfaction derived from two contingencies: political success and a supportive community.) But at one moment during the autumn of 1826, his satisfaction ended as suddenly as if he had awakened from a dream. He asked himself this question:

“Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!” At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

Mill fell into a deep depression that ended only with his father’s death. A Freudian diagnosis is plausible (young John Stuart found momentary relief while his overbearing father still lived by reading a tragedy in which the fictional father died); but more interesting is Mill’s own explanation. He says that he recovered when he saw that happiness requires special strategies and techniques of mind. For instance, he came to believe that you can’t achieve happiness by pursuing it, only by aiming for some other end and becoming absorbed in that. He also learned that his own “passing susceptibilities needed to be cultivated as well as [his] active capacities, and required to be nourished and enriched as well as guided.” With that in mind, he paid more attention to poetry (especially Wordsworth) and music; “and the maintenance of a due balance among the faculties now seemed to be of primary importance.”

Above all, “I, for the first time, gave its proper place, among the prime necessities of human well-being, to the internal culture of the individual. I ceased to attach almost exclusive importance to the ordering of outward circumstances, and the training of the human being for speculation and for action.”

With that background in mind, it is striking how little his book Utilitarianism says about the “ordering of outward circumstances.” It doesn’t explain what policies would maximize aggregate happiness, how happiness relates to values like liberty and equality in a theory of social justice, or even how individuals should maximize their benefits to others. (No trolley problems at all.) Instead, Mill delves deeply into a theory of individual happiness.

For instance, he thinks that anyone who has achieved a higher grade of existence will prefer it to a lower grade, even though the higher grade permits “more acute suffering.” Evidently, we are not striving to avoid suffering, because then we would prefer a simpler or narrower mental life, less sensitive to pain. Something else must explain our preference for refined experiences, and Mill thinks the right word for that is “dignity.” (He notes that the Stoics called the same impulse “love of liberty,” implying that for them, “liberty” really meant pursuing higher interests rather than being free from constraints.) Thus, according to Mill, we seek at least two different things: happiness and dignity. 

Mill is not very specific about what constitutes a higher grade of experience, and I think the text is compatible with two theories. First, it might be possible to make an objective rank-ordering of experiences, so that not only is poetry better than pushpin, but Wordsworth is better than Leigh Hunt because the former’s verse is superior. Alternatively, the quality of experience might mean the degree to which the individual happens to be stretched, engaged, inspired, etc. It would then be possible that playing an elaborate video game is a higher experience for a particular individual than hearing Beethoven, if the player engages more of his mind and soul in the game. We could objectively rank experiences by assessing the mental state of the participants rather than the activities themselves. Pushpin could beat poetry for champion pushpin-players.

In any case, Mill states that mental experiences are better than bodily experiences, and that active pleasures are higher than passive ones.

He also acknowledges that a person can abandon higher forms of experience due to indolence and selfishness. That scenario poses a challenge for him, because he has defended a distinction between higher and lower pleasures on the basis that anyone who has experienced both will prefer the higher. That argument preserves a thread between Mill’s position and classical utilitarianism (which is all about maximizing subjective preferences), but the thread would break if Mill favored higher pleasures even though some people renounce them voluntarily. He has an answer:

But I do not believe that those who undergo this very common change, voluntarily choose the lower description of pleasures in preference to the higher. I believe that before they devote themselves exclusively to the one, they have already become incapable of the other. Capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has thrown them, are not favourable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise. Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have not time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying. It may be questioned whether any one who has remained equally susceptible to both classes of pleasures, ever knowingly and calmly preferred the lower; though many, in all ages, have broken down in an ineffectual attempt to combine both.

Another key point is that sacrificing one’s own interests can be good for the individual because it gives her a valuable and absorbing objective. The classical utilitarian would regard sacrifice as a cost, required only if the benefit to others outweighs it. Mill continues to reject the view that “the sacrifice is itself [is] a good.” But sees that some forms of self-sacrifice may constitute happiness for the person who experiences them. In fact, “nothing except [an ability to sacrifice oneself for other] can raise a person above the chances of life … and enables him, like many a Stoic in the worst times of the Roman Empire, to cultivate in tranquillity the sources of satisfaction accessible to him, without concerning himself about the uncertainty of their duration, any more than about their inevitable end.” Mill observes that people who have privileges and yet remain unhappy tend to be those who don’t care for others. Contribution to a community is thus one path to happiness, as Mill himself had found in his early years. But another path is aesthetic experience, and Mill presumably advocates a balance of the two.

Mill also observes that a “continuity of highly pleasurable excitement” is impossible for us. A better objective is tranquility and acceptance, plus occasional excitement. “The happiness which [“the philosophers”] meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing.”

See also: you have a right and a responsibility to attend to your own happinessmust you be good to be happy?on philosophy as a way of life

Statewide Deliberative Forum Series Launches in Alabama

In case you missed it, we wanted to share some exciting news about deliberation in the South that we heard from the team at the National Issues Forums Institute. NIFI and the Mathews Center for Civic Life, both NCDD member organizations, will be partnering to host a series of deliberative forums aimed at helping Alabama residents plan for their futures over the next two years. We encourage you to read more about the initiative below or find the original NIFI blog post here.

“What’s Next Alabama?” Statewide Initiative Moving Forward

NIF logoThe David Mathews Center for Civic Life (DMCCL), based in Montevallo, Alabama, has launched an ambitious project to help residents of the state take stock of how well their communities are working for them, where people would like to see their communities be in the future, and how they might get there. Titled, What’s Next, Alabama? a recent DMCCL newsletter described pilot activities leading up to the initiative:

In preparation for our 2017-19 AIF initiative, What’s Next, Alabama? Mathews Center staff is piloting this new approach in Cullman, Alabama. Our second of three public forums is scheduled for October 25. The community will ask itself, “Where do we want to go from here?” as they uncover common ground for economic, community, and workforce development. From local news source Cullman Tribune, read about the first forum, focused on answering the questions, “Where are we now, and who else should be at the table?”

The following excerpt is from a more complete description of the initiative:

The David Mathews Center for Civic Life (DMC) is gearing up for its most ambitious forum series to date; throughout 2017 and 2018, we will launch our first-ever two-year Alabama Issues Forums (AIF) series entitled, “What’s Next, Alabama?” AIF is a series of community forums across the state that is designed to help Alabamians talk through issues, rather than just about issues. AIF provides citizens with an opportunity to come together and address an issue of local concern through public deliberation.

The issue at hand our upcoming AIF series will be focused on the hyper-local geography of prosperity and, with an eye toward the future, will urge each community to frame its own assets and challenges in order to intimately imagine new futures for the community by asking the question: What’s Next?…

Read the full description of What’s Next, Alabama?

The What’s Next, Alabama? initiative is modeled after the What’s Next, West Virginia? project that the West Virginia Center for Civic Life is coordinating in the state of West Virginia.

You can find the original version of this NIFI blog post at

CIRCLE breaks down the youth vote

When CIRCLE’s Millennial survey was conducted (9/21-10/3), Clinton was beating Trump by 21 points (49% vs. 28%). Clinton may do better when the actual votes are cast, because there seems to be a trend in her favor among youth. That said, the CIRCLE poll allows detailed comparisons between young Americans who were favoring the two candidates at a moment when Trump was drawing one in four.

Young Trump and Clinton voters were starkly different people, and today CIRCLE has published an analysis that compares them by demographics and by opinions. For example, this graph shows Trump winning a plurality of non-college-educated men under 30 even as he was losing college-educated young women by almost 2-to-1.


A couple of other illustrative findings from the report, which deserves to be read in full:

  • 85% of young Trump voters are dissatisfied with the way things are going for the country, and they are far more likely than Clinton supporters to believe that the country’s best days are behind us.
  • Trump supporters are less experienced with various types of political engagement, and more likely than Clinton supporters to say that they would “never, under any circumstances” do things like volunteer for a campaign or attend a political rally, suggesting that Trump supporters are overall less likely to be politically engaged.