Habermas, illustrated

I’ve categorized a bunch of recent tweets by putting them in Jürgen Habermas’ three buckets:

  • In the first column, the tweets are literally legible–I can read them–but I don’t know much about their significance. That is because they are meant for friends, people who share experiences with the authors. Because so much common experience is assumed, these are essentially private messages in a public space. In Habermas’ terminology, they represent the Lifeworlds of the authors and their friends.
  • In the second column, employees of formal organizations are doing their jobs–telling people to file their taxes, encouraging them to buy products. For Habermas, these are Systems. They have pre-determined goals that they are openly pursuing–power and profit.
  • In the third column, people are expressing views to audiences that include strangers about matters of common or public concern. These authors have emerged from their respective Lifeworlds to say something about how Systems should change. Their goal is to educate or influence. This is the Public Sphere.

Below is a diagram of how it should work. People should enjoy their Lifeworlds. They have a right to them. I show each person’s horizon of experience and assumptions as unique but overlapping with those of other people, to allow shared meaning.

Individuals should emerge into the public sphere to advocate for changes, addressing other people as free subjects who will respond to good reasons. Together, they create public opinion.

Since opinion always involves disagreement, a deliberative and representative legislature should take their input and make decisions, which should affect the Systems of law, market, and government.

This is how it often actually works:

The systems of money and power influence public opinion by infiltrating people’s Lifeworlds.

One particular mechanism is a message from a System that pretends to be your friend. Budweiser tweets all day with private individuals who drink its beer. And Donald Trump sends tweets to 58 million people that look like messages from a buddy at loose ends around his house. Josh Patten brilliantly satirizes them by responding in kind.

(These are some slides from today’s lecture in Introduction to Civic Studies. See also Josh Patten’s satire; Lifeworld and System: a primer; protecting authentic human interactionDoes Twitter “smoosh” the public and private?; and Habermas illustrated by Twitter.)

Nat’l Institute for Civil Discourse Offers Grant Opportunity

NCDD member organization, the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) recently announced a call for proposals on a new grant opportunity to fund cross-sector research on American civic and political life. With funding from the Charles Koch Foundation’s Courageous Collaborations initiative, they seek to fund five projects, up to $25,000 each, for research projects across disciplinary and ideological lines on a core concept or institution in American civic and/or political life. Awardees would receive the grants to collaborate on research over the next 15 months then present their findings at future public events. Proposals must be submitted by April 1st. You can read the announcement below and find the original on the Charles Koch Foundation site here.


National Institute for Civil Discourse Projects to Provide Models for How to Restore Civility

Though Americans of varying worldviews share a concern over the health of our country’s institutions, the way in which we discuss the topic differs across communities—including academic disciplines. The University of Arizona-based National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) aims to bridge those gaps. In a new project announced today, NICD is issuing a request for proposals to scholars with different ideologies and from different disciplines who seek to come together to research the core concepts and institutions that are vital to American political and civic life.

NICD will select 10 scholars for a total of five projects. Each group will receive grants to enable them to conduct research over 15 months and present their findings at events around the country. Additionally, to demonstrate how – and why – researchers of varying backgrounds and beliefs can work together, each grantee group also will write at least one paper that documents how they collaborated.

Read NICD’s full request for proposals below and find the original here, and read a recent Washington Post article highlighting NICD’s work here.

Call for Proposals: Creating Research Projects across Disciplinary and Ideological Lines February 4, 2019

The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) is pleased to announce its intent to oversee, fund, and promote five projects in which pairs or teams of scholars with different political views or areas of academic specialization conduct research together on some of the core concepts or institutions in American political or civic life. We are open as to the precise subjects of these projects, but we do propose that many such political and civic concepts – for instance, civility, community, freedom, and tolerance – are subjects of inquiry in many different fields. Moreover, many Americans across the political spectrum share a concern that the health of American institutions – not only governmental institutions such as congress or political parties, but social ones such as the media, organized religious groups, or even the established business community – is in question at the moment, although the way in which this subject is discussed varies across academic and political communities. The funding for these projects would be sufficient to enable the researchers to play a role in helping to develop joint projects. That is, we are interested in ensuring that constructive criticism across political and disciplinary lines is raised before the research is undertaken, and that the criticisms are raised by people who have a stake in the work itself. If we are to take seriously the occasional criticisms about the insularity of academic work, it is vital to provide models of how this work might be done differently.

Our intent here, however, is not just to fund research but to encourage reflection on this research. The research teams will be asked to write a paper or set of papers that outline the process of their collaboration. What steps were taken? What did the participants learn that they could not have learned from working with someone closer to their field of specialization? How would the collaboration of, for instance, a historian and a sociologist concerned with defining what moderation is, or a political scientist and an expert in classical and religious philosophy working to understand what the corruption of political institutions is, proceed? In short, how would participants in this study offer their work as a model for others, not only in terms of the quality of the research but as a tool for building tolerance and civility within the academy?

NICD will provide $25,000 for each project. All grants are to cover research conducted during the 15½ month period from June 1, 2019 to September 15, 2020. Eligible expenses include course buyouts, research travel, or any other research-related expenses. At the end of this period, grantees will submit drafts or final versions of their work, along with a reflective essay on the work process, and will make themselves available for events designed to explore the merits of the project. NICD public relations staff will work with the grantees to ensure that the collaborative nature of this project is presented as a model that others might follow in working to promote civility and tolerance and to overcome divisions within the academy.

1-2 page proposals, with a description of the project and the nature of the collaboration, biographies of the collaborators, and a budget, should be submitted to NICD Research Director Robert Boatright (rboatright@clarku.edu) no later than April 1, 2019. Inquiries about potential projects are also welcome. Grant recipients will be notified by May 1, 2019.

This grant is made possible through the support of the Charles Koch Foundation, as part of their Courageous Collaborations initiative. NICD is a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization affiliated with the University of Arizona. It was established in 2011 with the goal of encouraging and studying civility in American political and social discourse. For further information on NICD, consult the organization’s website at https://nicd.arizona.edu/.

Proposed Timeline for Projects

  • Feb 4, 2019: Call for proposals for research projects issued
  • Apr 1, 2019: Deadline for proposals
  • May 1, 2019: Select and notify grant recipients
  • June 1, 2019: Research period for grantees begins
  • Sept 2019: Researchers invited to participate in 3rd NICD Research convening, Tucson, AZ
  • Jan 15, 2020: Informal midterm report from grantees due to NICD
  • Sept 15, 2020: Close of research period for grantees; research summary and reflective essay due to NICD
  • Fall 2020/Winter 2021: NICD public events and/or academic conference presentations on results Publication of reflective essays

You can read the original version of this announcement on the Charles Koch Foundation’s site at www.charleskochfoundation.org/news/nicd-projects-to-provide-models-for-how-to-restore-civility/?

Legal Friends, Help Judge a Mock Trial!

Friends, one of the most important methods of civic learning is centered around engagement with the principles and actions of civic life. Few things approach that like a mock trial. If you are an attorney, please consider helping to judge with a mock trial competition in Dade County! nd you can even get general credits from the Florida Bar for participating! See below for more information!

@TheFlaBar & @DadeCountyBar attorneys needed to judge @MDCPSSocStudies #MockTrial competition. Please share and register. Link:http://socialsciences.dadeschools.net/…/mock-trial-judges-f…
@miamischools @floridalawed @miamisup @dadecountybarassociation

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Special Valentine’s Day Roundup on D&D Online Events

We are sending some extra love your way with this robust roundup of dialogue and deliberation goodness! Check out the webinars being offered over the next week, let us know in the comment section below which ones you joined and if you have some exciting takeaways- we’d love to hear how people are connecting with these D&D practices! Below are events from NCDD member orgs Living Room Conversations,  National Issues Forums Institute, and from the International Associate for Public Participation, Zehr Institute and Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

Do you have a webinar or other event coming up that you’d like to share with the NCDD network? Please let us know in the comments section below or by emailing me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org, because we’d love to add it to the list!


Living Room Conversations: Special Opportunity – Ongoing All-Women’s Cohort

We are a group of 5 women from around the country who meet online every month to have Living Room Conversations. We have 4 women who call ourselves “liberal” (whatever we mean by that). One of our two “conservative” women had to drop out for personal reasons even though she enjoyed our group. A really nice group. We’re looking for one more “conservative” woman. Learn more about Living Room Conversations at https://www.livingroomconversations.org/. If you think you might be interested, contact Cobie deLespinasse, cdeles@peak.org.

Living Room Conversations webinar – Men: Victims, Perpetrators and Allies

Friday, February 15th
10:30am Pacific, 1:30 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Men: Victims, Perpetrators and Allies. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include:

  • In response to the “#MeToo” movement, what are your initial thoughts about personal experiences you have had (including your own actions or conduct), situations you have witnessed, and/or the recent public disclosures?
  • Role as a Man — What do you consider your role to be? What has informed your perception of your role (e.g., society, family, religion, education, etc.).

REGISTER: www.livingroomconversations.org/event/online-living-room-conversation-men-victims-perpetrators-and-allies/

National Issues Forums Institute – February CGA Forum Series: Coming To America: Who Should We Welcome? What Should We Do?

Saturday, February 16th
2-4 pm Pacific, 5-7 pm Eastern

Please join us for a Common Ground for Action (CGA) online deliberative forum on Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome? What Should We Do? If you’ve never participated in a CGA forum, please watch the “How To Participate” video before joining. You can find the video link here: https://vimeo.com/99290801

If you haven’t had a chance to review the issue guide, you can find a downloadable PDF copy at the NIF website.: https://www.nifi.org/es/issue-guide/coming-america

If you’d like to watch the starter video before registering, you can view it here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/comingtoamerica/256884446

REGISTER: www.nifi.org/en/events/february-cga-forum-series-coming-america-who-should-we-welcome-what-should-we-do

Living Room Conversations webinar – Social Equity

Wednesday, February 19th
4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Status & Privilege. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include:

  • What does the concept of “social equity” mean to you?
  • Are there “social equity” concerns in your community? If so, what are they? If not, should there be?
  • Is the idea of social equity on your top 10 list of concerns? Why or why not?

REGISTER: www.livingroomconversations.org/event/online-living-room-conversation-social-equity/

Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice webinar – RJ work in Korea and NE Asia – a case study in implementation, innovation and adaptation

Wednesday, February 20th
1:30pm – 3pm Pacific, 4:30pm – 6pm Eastern
Guest: Hannah Kim, Jae Young Lee
Host: Howard Zehr

What does restorative justice look like in a context such as South Korea and Northeast Asia?  How was it introduced and spread, and what can we learn from these initiatives? Growing interest in RJ has been emerging in South Korea among scholars, law practitioners, and civil society group since as early as the late 1990s. The practice of RJ, however, didn’t begin until late 2000s after the Seoul Juvenile Court established a victim-offender reconciliation program.

On the other hand, RJ approaches began to be adapted among school teachers as alternative measures to school discipline after corporal punishment was officially banned in all schools in 2011. Restorative Discipline (RD) trainings were widely spread and number of teachers implementing RD in their classes was gradually growing during 2012-2015. Since 2015 RD has increasingly been adopted by Provincial Offices of Education as an official approach to school discipline.   Recently, the interest in RJ has also spread beyond the legal system and the school to hospitals, companies, and even apartment resident communities. Over the past 3 years, Korea Peacebuilding Institute conducted more than 1500 lectures and workshops on RJ annually. In addition, Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) has offered a RJ course every year since 2011. NARPI has been a platform for people in the region to learn about the concept and practice of RJ. And also, how to apply RJ in historical conflict in Northeast Asia is another area NARPI aims to initiate, including the conflict between the North and South Koreas.

Jae Young Lee and Hannah Kim, who have been part of these initiatives, will provide an overview of developments as well as reflections that will be useful to those implementing restorative in other parts of the world.

REGISTER: http://zehr-institute.org/webinars/rj-in-korea-and-NE%20asia.html

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) webinar –  Peace Education: School mediation in multiethnic communities in Serbia

Wednesday, February 20th
6 am Pacific, 9 am Eastern

In this webinar, peace education expert Tatjana Popovic will talk about the benefits and challenges of implementing School mediation in multi-ethnic communities in Serbia. Examples will be presented from schools on how school mediation became mechanism for prevention of violence among peers

REGISTER: https://www.gppac.net/peace-education-webinar-series?fbclid=IwAR371vw1Gxi_tpRI3NZsCMRgbf7Rd_IlD1keNf2KuT30iUwHzMDCiw6t154

Living Room Conversations webinar – Status & Privilege

Thursday, February 21st
1:30 pm Pacific, 4:30 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Status & Privilege. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include:

  • Where did you learn about your personal values and develop self esteem?
  • How has money or “keeping up with the Jones’s” played a role in defining you?
  • Where did you learn about the relationship between individuals and community?

REGISTER: www.livingroomconversations.org/event/online-living-room-conversation-the-search-for-purpose/

IAP2 Taster Series: Reconciliation & Public Participation

Thursday, February 21st
11 am Pacific, 2 pm Eastern

Reconciliation between Indigenous and all Canadians is a frequent topic in news headlines, political speeches, and communities across the country. Through their 94 Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered a roadmap to Canadians on the way forward to a more inclusive, productive, and engaged society. So where do public participation professionals and the practice of P2 fit in this reconciliation journey? Join Indigenous Engagement specialists Teneya Gwin and Anne Harding to explore the intersection between reconciliation and public participation and advance your own reconciliation journey in the process.

REGISTER: https://iap2usa.org/event-3102052

avoiding a sharp distinction between the state and the private sphere

Several political theories and ideologies are invested in distinguishing the state from the private sector (which may encompass the market, families and civil society):

  • For libertarians, the state bears the badge of original sin because it alone claims a legitimate right to coerce violently. That doesn’t mean that we should abolish the state, which plays an essential role in protecting rights, but government requires special controls and constraints because it could not exist without its ultimate power to kill.
  • For strong popular democrats and European-style social democrats, the state alone reflects the people’s will, so it is free from the corrupt influences of money that infect the market and that often spill over into nonprofits. That doesn’t mean abolishing markets, but states should hold the commanding heights and be shielded as much as possible from market influence.
  • For many American constitutional lawyers, the state must be distinguished from voluntary associations because the state alone should be constrained by the First Amendment and committed to neutrality about matters like religion. In contrast, the First Amendment gives voluntary associations the right not to be neutral in their own domains. A university, for instance, may discriminate pervasively in favor of high-quality expression and against poor speech and writing. No one has a First Amendment right to tenure. This constitutional argument fits with certain versions of philosophical liberalism, such as John Rawls’ and Ronald Dworkin’s.

Here is my objection. I don’t think that people experience actual institutions differently depending on whether they belong to the state or the private sector. Phenomenologically, the political and the civil are not sharply distinct.

I had that realization a year or so ago when I was with classical liberals/libertarians in the conference hotel of Michigan State University. I wondered idly whether that was a public or private space. It was not easy to tell, given the complex relationships between a state, its university, and the university’s hotel. But I realized that I had no reason to care. The distinction would make no difference to how I was treated.

I had the same thought again recently in New Haven, the city where I first became politically active three decades ago. We were discussing Ian Shapiro’s fine recent book, Politics Without Domination. I agree with much in it, but not with this distinction on p. 31:

Political institutions are centrally concerned with power. This differentiates them from civil institutions, which, though invariably suffused with power dynamics, are ultimately geared to the pursuit of other goals. … Governments should stay out [of the affairs of civil institutions] unless people’s basic interests are at stake, and even when they are, it is best to seek the least intrusive available means to protect them. But political institutions are different because politics is about power through and through.

Compare a classroom in Shapiro’s university, Yale, with a street nearby in New Haven, and think of the various people who populate these spaces: students, workers, shoppers, professors, salespeople, bosses and administrators in various roles. To students, I think Yale will feel the most like a government, with its centralized authority and formidable power to judge, exclude and punish. New Haven will generally feel more permissive and informal.

If they are activists, students may find themselves working voluntarily with New Haven municipal employees on common goals, like making the city more beautiful or safer. The city employees and the students wear different hats, but they all have complex lives and multiple attachments. A city official is also a parent; a student is also a shopper. The official normally has very limited scope to compel but may have tax dollars to allocate. Those dollars work just the same as the money that students might generate from a fundraiser. Students, other citizens, and workers all contribute to making the city with their bodies, their voices, their purchases, and their choices to stay or to exit.

If we start with a fundamental distinction between the state (with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force) and voluntary civil associations (with their non-political purposes), then we will strive to disentangle hybrid cases–a Yale police officer who carries a gun as a sworn peace officer but gets her paycheck from a private institution; a lab that is funded by the NIH but employs Yale students; a university disciplinary hearing the enforces Title IX; a campus/community event that is funded by the city and philanthropy.

I think such hybridity is not the exception but the norm, because all institutions are composed of people who have multiple identities and objectives. The state is not made up of human beings “centrally concerned with power” but is composed of teachers, accountants, counselors, office managers–just as Yale is. A government or state is not one thing, a leviathan that derives all its powers from its ultimate ability to compel. It is rather a bunch of schools, parks, military units, prisons, welfare offices, scientific labs, deliberative fora, authoritarian fiefdoms, secret agencies, purchasing offices, etc., etc. It is pervasively related to various “private” entities that have similar functions. In New Haven, the Alders have what passes for state sovereignty, but all of them are also mainly other things: business owners, activists, teachers, and one Yale undergrad. When they define and address problems, they probably don’t sharply distinguish their roles.

As Shapiro argues (p. 21), Foucault went too far in seeing every space as equally suffused with domination. A prison is different from a classroom or a clinic. But Shapiro draws the distinction too sharply. A classroom may be no easier to escape than a prison, even if it’s in a private school. Yale may dominate much more thoroughly than New Haven does, and Yale may dominate because of its function as a gatekeeper to a corporate sector that determines what the US government does.

I would propose this alternative view. People are involved with “politics” at all scales, in all sectors, and in a vast variety of forms. “Politics” does mean domination and exclusion, but also deliberation, problem-solving, and co-creation. These are the two sides of the coin, as powerfully illustrated by the Book of Nehemiah.

The venues of politics constantly influence each other, and often those agencies that are officially arms of the state are not the most influential or the most likely to dominate.

We are all subject to domination, prone to dominate others, and capable of improving our shared condition. Our degree of power and vulnerability varies with our social position; to be a just person requires attention to those differences. But there is room for everyone to combat domination, everywhere. And how we manage that task in smaller settings may affect what happens at larger scales. The Tocquevillian argument for the importance of civic culture is that citizens who learn to deliberate, cooperate, and respect each other in associations may be more likely to choose national leaders who do the same.

Elinor Ostrom concluded her presidential address to the American Political Science Association (1996) with a call for a different approach to civic education:

All too many of our textbooks focus exclusively on leaders and, worse, only national-level leaders. Students completing an introductory course on American government, or political science more generally, will not learn that they play an essential role in sustaining democracy. Citizen participation is presented as contacting leaders, organizing interest group and parties, and voting. That citizens need additional skills and knowledge to resolve the social dilemmas they face is left unaddressed. Their moral decisions are not discussed. … It is ordinary persons and citizens who craft and sustain the workability of the institutions of everyday life. We owe an obligation to the next generation to carry forward the best of our knowledge about how individuals solve the multiplicity of social dilemmas- large and small-that they face.

See also polycentricity: the case for a (very) mixed economy; from classical liberalism to a civic perspective; against state-centric political theory; is our constitutional order doomed?the Citizens United decision and the inadequate sociology of the US Constitution; and free speech at a university.

Creating Visuals that Inspire Real-Time Conversation

We are thrilled to share the following piece written by Lydia Hooper on the powerful way that graphic recordings can both capture a conversation in real time, and as folks saw first hand at NCDD2018, can be a motivator of conversation as well. We were fortunate to work with Lydia during the 8th National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation in Downtown Denver this last November (view her work here!) and she helped create and facilitate an interactive graphic recording project over the course of the three days. She describes it more in the post below…


By Lydia Hooper

How many conversations have you had this week about something you saw, on TV or happening in front if you? Vision is the primary way we sense and experience our world, and we are social beings who process information with others. We can easily leverage these tendencies if we want to inspire specific conversations in specific moments.

The conventional way of doing so is using presentation slides or videos to introduce or explain important topics. These visual forms, however, emphasize what is important from the perspective of the presenter. They do not necessarily offer opportunities to capture what a larger group of people thinks or feels.

Visuals that can break this norm are known as graphic recordings. Graphic recordings are visuals that capture conversation as it is happening in real time. By doing so they are able to help us literally see what is being said and thereby process this information in different ways.

There is a third way that can ensure both that many people are able to collectively create a meaningful visual and that the meaning is specifically tied to a clear objective. These visuals, which do not yet have a single term associated with them, are typically templates that evolve as the result of participation. Creating them requires little technology nor aesthetic skills, but it does require use of a thoughtful design process.

I recently had the pleasure of creating a visual of this type for the 2018 National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation conference. Here are the basic stages of design, their main elements, and how I experienced them for this project in particular.

  1. Empathize. There are two sides of this coin, both of which are important for planning appropriately. First, think about the audience or group the visual will engage: What kind of support do they need to think, feel, and/or act in ways that help them reach their individual goals? Now, consider the conveners’ or facilitators’ needs: What would help them reach collective goals, whether those be to build relations or to accomplish tasks? For this example, conference organizers were quickly able to articulate their desire to deepen conversation related to their partnership with the White Privilege Symposium. After some discussion they also identified that attendees may have a need to extend dialogue about related topics beyond individual sessions and contribute ideas perhaps anonymously.
  2. Create. A clear understanding of goals and needs is what informs what the visual will look like and how participants will engage with it. At this stage, collaborators work to develop main themes or questions as well as what specific words would be best to use. The purpose of this stage is to design a template that is incredibly clear and that invites active engagement. Conference organizers used a basic sketch of this template to solicit feedback from key stakeholders, in which is crucial for ensuring these purposes are fulfilled. Then I created the visual on a very large (four by eight foot) piece of paper that we planned to place in a highly visible location.
  3. Engage. During the previous stage decisions were made about how exactly ideas will be shared. These decisions will determine to what extent the visual will or will not require any degree of facilitation. In this case, we’d decided on a mix of both: attendees would be able to mark different options with stickers on their own and I would engage those who visited me during the showcase and capture those conversations on the template as well. I appreciated this approach because it allowed attendees to get a quick “big picture” idea of their fellow attendees perspectives and it also allowed them to learn from the individual insights that were captured. In my experience, this stage, like the previous one, is somewhat experimental, especially since some people will test the limits of any creative license you give them while others will be confused or even paralyzed by such an interruption in group norms.

The key thing to keep in mind for these visuals is that, unlike other visuals perhaps, the product or outcome matters less than the fact that group members are being offered an opportunity to participate in a shared experience and to collectively make meaning. Because they are nontraditional, these visuals also provide space for intentional conversations to occur in unexpected ways.

In the co-creation of this example visual, NCDD conference attendees made it abundantly clear how they feel power and privilege impacts them, their work, and the field. They reflected on familiar ideas, posed new questions, and, if nothing else, were heard.

Lydia Hooper is a creative who collaborates to communicate about complexity and create culture change. She is the creator of the 40 day listening challenge. To learn more and download her free ebook Using Visuals to Support Collaborative Work, please visit www.lydiahooper.com.

on playing hardball with the shutdown

On the one hand … The recent shutdown and the threat of a second one result from the Democrats’ choices as well as Donald Trump’s. Nancy Pelosi could reflect that she previously supported legislation that expanded walls on the Southern border, that $6 billion is a mere 0.16 percent of the federal budget, and that closing the government to thwart the president’s desire for a wall causes real people real pain–above all the low-income contract workers who will never be repaid for missed work. These might be reasons for her to compromise. I might add that the shutdown gives me the satisfaction of a successful political brawl without costing me anything. (I wasn’t even inconvenienced at the various TSA inspections I crossed while the TSA workers weren’t being paid.) And there is a long, very ugly tradition of sacrificing other people’s immediate interests for political purposes, sometimes justified on the ground that you can’t make omelets without breaking eggs or that the revolution is more likely to begin if the government gets worse. This is a path to evil paved with dubious intentions.

On the other hand … The president was elected with (although not necessarily because of) racist and factually false claims: migration from the south is hurting “us,” a wall would stop it, and the republic to our south can be forced to pay for it. In a world of partisan polarization and weaponized disinformation, there are scant consequences for making such claims. A shutdown forces Trump to pay a price. For the American people and the political elites who watch the public’s reactions, it sharply clarifies what is at stake. It has reminded many voters of the value of civil servants’ work. It deters similar behavior by Trump and by his allies. Along with a few more such conflicts, it may prevent him from being reelected.

In the end, I favor playing hardball. I think the last shutdown was a good moment, and it is worth risking a second one by negotiating hard with the president.

We must be constantly attentive to the dangers of forcing conflicts when other people bear the costs, and we must resist the narcotic attractions of partisan victory. I’ve been reading a lot of Gandhi lately and can imagine him fasting or doing something self-sacrificial after having heightened tensions in this way–for the good of his soul and as a method of preventing hubris.

But he and other nonviolent political leaders do intentionally heighten tensions. When the openly racist Public Safety Commissioner of Birmingham, “Bull” Connor, was defeated by a White moderate candidate, the Civil Rights Movement rushed to take advantage of his lame duck months in office. They knew that he would turn firehoses and dogs on the children and teenagers in their movement. His reaction was an opportunity for victory that they didn’t want to squander.

Just because the end does not justify the means, it doesn’t follow that you can’t strategize with goals in mind. We must not forget the contract workers who go without pay in a shutdown. Neither can we overlook the long, slow, and vast injustices of our immigration and criminal justice policies. A shutdown forces those issues onto the agenda and may increase the odds of a new coalition governing the country.

If public deliberation is a value (as I think it is), then there would be better ways to reason together about public policy. We wouldn’t have to force vulnerable people to sacrifice in the interest of clarity. But the reality is a system of unaccountable government plus partisan polarization and hypercharged misinformatibon. Under those circumstances, nothing cuts through the fog and illuminates citizens’ choices as well as a crisis. Wise leaders must be ready to force crises if they think they can win.

See also: should Democrats play constitutional hardball in 2019-20?; game theory and the shutdown; moderation, civility, and bipartisanship are not the same; Brag, Cave and Crow: a contribution to game theory; and Gandhi on the primacy of means over ends.

Reminder to Join This Week’s Confab with Nat’l Civic League

Last week, we announced that NCDD has teamed up with the National Civic League to offer the next exciting Confab call, happening later this week! Join us, Wednesday, February 13th at 3-4pm Eastern/12-1pm Pacific, as we discuss the upcoming All-America City Award and share tips for winning this prestigious award. This free call will offer space to learn more about the award, hear from past awardees, and ask questions. The award deadline is March 6th, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity and register today to secure your spot on the call!

Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the All-America City Award. The Award, bestowed yearly on 10 communities (more than 500 in all) recognizes the work of communities in using inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofit and government leaders. The 2019 All-America City theme is “Creating Healthy Communities Through Inclusive Civic Engagement”. The 2019 All-America City Award is focused on celebrating examples of civic engagement practices that advance health equity in local communities.

Representatives from the award-winning cities, Las Vegas, NV and Decatur, GA will join us on the call to speak about their experiences winning the All-America City Award in 2018. Las Vegas was recognized as an All-America City because they provide residents, stakeholders, staff and elected officials with a collective vision for a future of income equality and economic mobility, building programs and services that remove barriers and address challenges faced by their most vulnerable youth. Decatur, GA was recognized as a 2018 All-America City for its commitment to civic engagement. Through their projects, Decatur showed that it is actively seeking to build an equitable and inclusive experience for its residents and visitors, focusing on racially-just community policing and building diverse and affordable housing.

Don’t miss out – register for our call today!

About NCDD’s Confab Calls

Confab bubble imageNCDD’s Confab Calls are opportunities for members (and potential members) of NCDD to talk with and hear from innovators in our field about the work they’re doing and to connect with fellow members around shared interests. Membership in NCDD is encouraged but not required for participation. Confabs are free and open to all. Register today if you’d like to join us!

integrating the northeast’s transit systems

I’m on Amtrak, en route from Boston to New Haven. I’ve also been in Newark, Delaware, the Philadelphia airport, and other points along the Northeast Corridor this week. This means navigating portions of a fragmented public transportation network that is composed of long-distance train lines, commuter rail lines, subways, public buses, and even some ferries. It extends from southern Maine well into Virginia, serving a population of 50 million or more.

From NortheastRailMap.com, which offers a large version (of rail only)

In a way, this network is already connected. Google Maps does a fairly decent job of telling you how to get from an address in one city to an address in a different city by public transportation. Since all these transit systems take US currency, your cash or credit card enables you to move from one mode of transit to another. But because the systems don’t coordinate themselves, the whole network is less efficient, useful, and enticing than it could be.

Imagine that the various transportation networks (municipal, regional, long-distance) kept their autonomy–for political reasons and because a behemoth agency might perform worse–but they coordinated closely through a compact. It could have these features:

  1. One ticket (perhaps either a mobile phone app or a plastic card for those without smartphones) would get you from any point to any other point in this network.
  2. Prices would reflect the needs and capacities of the various components. Traveling one mile might be cheaper within one city than another. But there would be opportunities to set prices to increase ridership for everyone’s benefit. For instance, right now, Amtrak is much more expensive than commuter rail for the same itinerary. This is necessary because of Amtrak’s financing. But Amtrak trains are much faster for longer distances, so it would be better for more people to take them. If the whole system subsidized Amtrak, I think more people would ride, and net revenues would rise.
  3. The network could be enhanced where there is demand for more connectivity. For instance, right now there is only one gap in the commuter rail network that otherwise connects Richmond, VA to New London, CT. It’s 2o miles in Delaware. Whether a lot of people would travel those 20 miles by rail is an empirical question–maybe they wouldn’t. But the integrated system could test such questions and fill in the most significant gaps, wherever they are.
  4. The whole system could also invest in “intermodal” connections, places where people change from one kind of transit to another. Transfers would become a little smoother if a single ticket covered your whole journey, but there is still much need for better stations and other facilities. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 invested in such upgrades, but I can’t believe it solved the problem.
  5. The whole system could advertise, not only with generic messages about public transit, but also by delivering tailored ads to remind you that you can get from, say, my house in Cambridge, MA to a friend’s house in Washington, DC by a combination of Amtrak and subway rides.

I’m certainly for subsidizing public transportation, but it’s significant that other OECD countries actually charge transit customers more, spend proportionally less government money, and provide much better service for many more people. Once public transportation becomes a welfare good, it may be subsidized, but it is degraded. A unified northeastern system should receive federal and state support, but the ideal is a more attractive business model that encourages the riders to pay more for investments. The goal would be to get a lot more people more efficiently from A to B with a lot less carbon.