we are lucky with our right-wing authoritarian

(Washington, DC) At today’s Deliberative Democracy Consortium’s Research & Practice Meeting on “Deliberative Democracy and Human Cognition,” Shawn W. Rosenberg made a point that I have often considered but never expressed.

Here is the background to the point: A broad range of people in many advanced democracies are potential supporters of ethno-nationalism (which means racism in the United States), autocratic leadership, and hostility to opposition parties, a free press, and intellectual critics. In a contest with liberal democratic values, this combination has built-in advantages. It is simpler, less cognitively and emotionally demanding, and more affirming of the people who belong to the ethn0-nationalist in-group.

In the United States, the chief representative of that combination is Donald J. Trump. But he lost the popular vote in 2016 and has never surpassed 45.5% popularity in the polling average. I think this is because he combines the globally ascendant right-wing authoritarian package with: personal indiscipline and frequent incompetence, laziness, blatant small-bore corruption and nepotism, a failure to retain the loyalty of his lieutenants, ignorance of the structures of power, a superficial grasp of his own ideology, and a rhetorical style that impresses only a small minority of Americans (a subset of his own voters).

If and when we face a right-wing authoritarian “populist” who moderates his (or her?) rhetoric skillfully, deploys resources efficiently, develops and implements strategies, sacrifices some personal needs and interests for his ideology, and manages the White House competently, we will be in deep trouble.

On the other hand, we might prove lastingly fortunate if this special moment of opportunity for white nationalism in America (while the national majority is still white but perceives status threat*) is dominated by a man who happens to be very bad at his job.

See also: Trump at the confluence of populism, chauvinism, and celebrity; fighting Trump’s populism with pluralist populism; pluralist populism; is Trumpism akin to the European right? etc.

*Whether status anxiety explains the 2016 election is controversial; but even if it doesn’t, the anxiety still seems palpable.

EvDem Announces New Leadership in Democracy Awardee

In case you missed it, our friends at Everyday Democracy, an NCDD member organization recently announced the winner of the third annual Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award! Please join us in congratulating Happy Johnson and Arthur Johnson of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for the Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) in New Orleans, who for almost a decade has been “combining citizen engagement with environmental science to create equitable development and policy on climate resilience”. The Aicher Award Committee recognized the following finalists: Catalyst Miami, BRIDGE, Lisa Jo Epstein, and Ximena Zúñiga; and honorable mentions to Brandyn Keating, The Phoenix Association, Blontas (Winkie) Mitchell, and Roanoke Valley Points of Diversity. We encourage you to read the announcement below or on Everyday Democracy’s blog here.

3rd Annual Paul J. Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award Announced

For more than 25 years, Everyday Democracy has worked with communities across the country to foster a healthy and vibrant democracy – characterized by strong relationships across divides, leadership development, including the voices of all people, and understanding and addressing structural racism. The Aicher Award seeks to elevate community leaders who embody these values.

After considering more than 60 nominations from around the country, Everyday Democracy has announced the winner:

Happy Johnson and Arthur Johnson of New Orleans, LA

Happy Johnson and Arthur Johnson of New Orleans, La., were selected as the winners of the 2019 Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award. This team’s winning nomination was selected from 64 nominations in this third annual national contest. Everyday Democracy will present the two men (who work together but are not related) with a $10,000 award at a ceremony on December 5th in Hartford, CT.

Happy Johnson and Arthur Johnson have been working at the Lower Ninth Ward Center for the Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) in New Orleans for almost a decade, combining citizen engagement with environmental science to create equitable development and policy on climate resilience. According to Martha McCoy, Executive Director of Everyday Democracy, “there are many others across our country and globe who are facing the inequitable effects of climate change and want to tackle it through democratic ways of working. Arthur Johnson and Happy Johnson provide inspirational models of the kind of leadership we need, so that we can address critical climate issues in inclusive, sustainable ways.”

The Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) has been on the front lines of restoring the fragile ecosystem of the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans while strengthening the Ninth Ward’s civic fabric. CSED is committed to equity and social justice in an already underserved community that was completely devastated after Hurricane Katrina. Arthur Johnson and Happy Johnson have been leading the effort every step of the way.

The Lower Ninth Ward is still reeling from the effect of Hurricane Katrina. With a population that is 93% African-American, the neighborhood has been marked by an uneven recovery effort compared to other neighborhoods in New Orleans. Thirteen years after the storm there were still no supermarkets in the Lower Ninth, and residents had to fight the city to ensure that at least one school of the five that were closed after the storm would be rebuilt. A couple of months ago, one small grocery store was opened.

Arthur Johnson and Happy Johnson are leaders in and advocates for the neighborhood at the heart of CSED. They are an incredible example of steadfast and consistent leadership. They are homegrown and grassroots. In an environment where resources are drying up, they implement programs that have strengthened and restored both the ecological and civic infrastructure of their community.

Their work has elevated the voices of African American, Vietnamese, and Latino residents in conversations with state-level agencies, demonstrating that bridge building, equity, inclusion, and transparency make equitable, community-driven change possible and sustainable. Their commitment to racial and intergenerational equity is evident across all of their work. Arthur and Happy were nominated by Nicole Cabral of Public Agenda, and received several letters of support including one from the National Wildlife Federation that noted: “CSED’s sought-after expertise transcends politics and is regularly tapped for non-profit, mayoral and community appointments, panel discussions, presentations and public policy recommendations.”

“Community engagement is who we are.” – Arthur Johnson

Happy Johnson served as one of the youngest African Americans to drive an Emergency Response Vehicle in New Orleans post-Katrina and has dedicated his life to building cultural and environmental resilience. Additionally, his series of children’s picture books about wetlands restoration and disaster preparedness have been taught to thousands of students throughout the American South. Arthur Johnson noted, “We are thrilled to be recognized, because it will help us move the mission of equity and democracy in the Lower Ninth Ward in the face of many challenges.” He went on to say that “Having two black men being recognized for something like this is unusual and also a powerful symbol…. The kind of recognition your foundation gives doesn’t happen a lot in our country.”

Happy added that “the work is difficult, and recognition doesn’t happen often. This award is a great boost to our morale.” Happy Johnson was excited that he and Arthur were being recognized together, noting that this is the first time this has happened. Arthur reflected that people don’t work together across generations often enough, and that seasoned leaders and younger people should work together all the time. This thought aligns directly with the intergenerational equity work Everyday Democracy is focusing on, to complement its focus on racial equity through community dialogue to change.

This year, the Acher Award Committee also recognized these strong finalists for the award:

Catalyst Miami, FL; BRIDGE, Lee, MA; Lisa Jo Epstein, Philadelphia, PA; and, Ximena Zúñiga, Amherst, MA

There were also four honorable mentions:

Brandyn Keating, West Bridgewater, MA; Blontas (Winkie) Mitchell, Springfield, OH; The Phoenix Association, CT; and Roanoke Valley Points of Diversity, Roanoke, VA.

Paul J. Aicher and his wife Joyce were known for their generosity and creative genius. A discussion course at Penn State helped Paul find his own voice in civic life early on, and sparked his lifelong interest in helping others find theirs.

Paul founded the Topsfield Foundation and the Study Circles Resource Center, now called Everyday Democracy, in 1989. The organization has now worked with more than 600 communities throughout the country, helping bring together diverse people to understand and make progress on difficult issues, incorporating lessons learned into discussion guides and other resources, and offering training and resources to help develop the field and practice of deliberative democracy.

Learn more about Paul’s journey and the origins of Everyday Democracy.

The Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award honors work that creates opportunities for meaningful civic participation for all people, addresses racial inequities through dialogue and collective action, and shows the power of bridging all kinds of divides by making dialogue a regular part of how a community works.

The award winner will be celebrated in Hartford, CT on December 5th. More information to follow.

You can read the original version of this announcement on Everyday Democracy’s blog at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/3rd-annual-paul-j-aicher-leadership-democracy-award-announced.

Congressman Lou Frey Celebration of Life Nov 1 2019

Lou 3


Good morning friends. We just wanted to let you know that Congressman Lou Frey’s Celebration of Life is open to the public, and we hope to see you join us, as Lou so loved civic education and how it could shape our young people and our state. It will be held this Friday, 10 a.m. at St. John Lutheran Church, 1600 S. Orlando Avenue, Winter Park, 32789. Overflow parking is available at Mead Botanical Garden which is a couple of blocks from the church. Mead Gardens will have a golf cart to transport those who can’t make the walk to the church.

Memorial contributions can be made to: The Lou Frey Institute at UCF, 12443 Research Parkway, Suite 406, Orlando, FL 32826-3297

And if you have a few minutes, please take a read of Representative Stephanie Murphy’s remembrance of Lou on the floor of the House. 

View the Affordable Housing Discussion at UCF, Hosted by the Lou Frey Institute

On October 29, the Lou Frey Institute was thrilled to host a discussion of affordable housing in central Florida, with a particular attention to college students. We were joined at this discussion by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (District 49),

Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla (District 5),

Rep Anna Eskamani (District 47),

AJ Range (UCF Assistant VP, Neighborhood Relations & Safety Education),
aj range

and Oren Henry (City of Orlando Director of Housing & Community Development).

oren henry

It was wonderfully moderated by LFI’s own Dr. Terri Susan Fine.

The talk addressed questions of rental and housing stock, transportation, homelessness, and of course affordable housing and housing/rental development. We are grateful for all that chose to attend, and for everyone involved in the planning and implementation, especially LFI’s Shena Parks, who was a driving force in putting this wonderful event together. Thank you to to the panelists, who were honest, open, and frank in the discussion on this issue. You can view the entire discussion in the videos below!



Weds Webinar Roundup Ft MetroQuest – Register ASAP

This morning at 11am Pacific/2pm Eastern, NCDD member organization MetroQuest is hosting the webinar “Transit Plans to LRTPs – MDOT’s Formula for Engaging 1000s ” that we encourage you to check out!

Here are the upcoming D&D online events happening over the next few weeks, including NCDD sponsor org The Courageous Leadership Project and partner org National Civic League, NCDD member orgs National Issues Forums Institute and Living Room Conversations, as well as, from the  International Association of Facilitators (IAF), International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.

NCDD’s online D&D event roundup is a weekly compilation of the upcoming events happening in the digital world related to dialogue, deliberation, civic tech, engagement work, and more! Do you have a webinar or other digital 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!

Upcoming Online D&D Events – From Our Sponsors & Partners

The Courageous Leadership Project webinar – Brave, Honest Conversations™

Wednesday, November 13th
9 am Pacific, 12 pm Eastern

Some conversations are hard to have. Fear and discomfort build in your body and you avoid and procrastinate or pretend everything is fine. Sometimes you rush in with urgency, wanting to smooth things over, fix them, and make them better. Sometimes you go to battle stations, positioning the conversation so you have a higher chance of being on the “winning” side. NONE OF THIS WORKS. Instead, it usually makes a hard conversation harder; more divided, polarized, and disconnected from others. The more people involved, the harder the conversation can be. I believe that brave, honest conversations are how we solve the problems we face in our world – together.

In this webinar, we will cover: What is a Brave, Honest Conversation™? Why have one? What can change because of a brave, honest conversation? How do you have one? What do you need to think about and do? How do you prepare yourself for a brave, honest conversation?

REGISTER: www.bravelylead.com/shop/freewebinarbhc

National Civic League AAC Promising Practices Webinar – Engaging your Community Outside of City Hall

Wednesday, November 13th
10 am Pacific, 1 pm Eastern

Join the National Civic League to learn how communities are engaging residents where they live, using unique and entertaining approaches. This webinar will highlight three community events that are giving residents entertaining opportunities for engaging with the city. Registrants will hear about events in Denver, CO, Decatur, GA and Mission, TX.

REGISTER: www.nationalcivicleague.org/resource-center/promising-practices/

From Our Members

MetroQuest – click here

  • Transit Plans to LRTPs – MDOT’s Formula for Engaging 1000s – Wednesday, October 30th at 11 am Pacific, 2 pm Eastern

Living Room Conversations – click here

  • Training (free): The Nuts & Bolts of Living Room Conversations – Thursday, October 31st at 2 pm Pacific, 5 pm Eastern
  • More Curious, Less Furious – Thursday, October 31st at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern
  • The Golden Rule in Politics – Sunday, November 3rd at 12 pm Pacific, 3 pm Eastern
  • 2020 Election: Concerns and Aspirations – Thursday, November 7th at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern
  • Status and Privilege – Thursday, November 14th at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern
  • Relationships Over Politics: Connecting with Friends and Family – Thursday, November 21st at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

National Issues Forums Institute click here

  • November Cross-Campus CGA Forum Series on “A House Divided”: How Do We Get The Political System We Want? – Monday, November 4th to Saturday, November 9th at 10 am Pacific, 1 pm Eastern
  • November CGA Forum Series: How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities? – Thursday, November 21st at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

From the Network

International Association for Facilitatorsclick here

  • Becoming a CPF with the IAF (Mandarin) – Wednesday, November 13th at  pm Pacific, 12 am Eastern

International City/County Management Associationclick here

  • Having Difficult Conversations In Your Organization and Beyond – Thursday, November 14th at 9:30 am Pacific, 12:30 Eastern

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) – click here

  • Education for sustainable Peace, an initiative by Aegis Trust – Friday, November 15th at 9:30 am Pacific, 12:30 Eastern

Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice – click here

  • Harm, Healing & Human Dignity: Catholics in the Restorative Justice Movement – Wednesday, November 20th at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

Apply Now for Citizen University’s Civic Saturday Fellowship

Citizen University is now accepting applications for the 2020 Civic Saturday Fellowship Program! Civic Saturdays bring together communities “to cultivate a sense of shared civic purpose and moral clarity”. This nine-month fellowship is an opportunity to receive a three-day training in hosting Civic Saturday and bring these skills back to their communities. Priority deadline is November 8th and final applications are due Wednesday, November 20th. You can read more in the announcement below and find the original information on the CU site here.

Civic Saturday Fellowship Program

Apply today for the 2020 Fellowship Cycle!

All around the country, we are facing a crisis in civic life – people are becoming more socially isolated, disconnected from a sense of common purpose, and cynical about their own ability to affect change. Enter Civic Saturday: a gathering that brings communities together to cultivate a sense of shared civic purpose and moral clarity. At Civic Saturday, people get to know one another, share a meaningful communal experience, and leave inspired to become more powerful, responsible citizens.

The Civic Saturday fellowship prepares motivated, local leaders (or, as we like to say, civic catalysts!) to start their own Civic Saturday gatherings in their home communities. In this nine-month fellowship, civic catalysts will attend the Civic Seminary, a three-day training in Seattle with Citizen University staff, and return home ready to create lasting impact in the civic life of their communities.

Fellows will explore the ethical foundations of their beliefs (and those of others), learn to craft and deliver catalytic sermons that draw on both the current day and civic traditions of our society, and ultimately establish Civic Saturday where they live and work.

The Civic Saturday fellowship was launched in 2018 with the goal of training motivated, local leaders to start their own Civic Saturday gatherings, and bring a sense of shared civic purpose and moral clarity into the civic life of their communities. In the first two years, over 50 civic catalysts have trained with Citizen University’s team in Seattle to learn how to create this unique, joyful gathering.


Apply here and access the Fellowship Information Packet here.

Priority deadline: November 8, 2019
Application deadline: November 20, 2019

Training dates for this round will be on March 10-13, 2020 or April 21-24, 2020. Please read the information packet for complete details.
Applications for September and October training sessions will open in the spring of 2020.

You can find the original version of this announcement on Citizen University’s site at www.citizenuniversity.us/civicsaturdayfellowship/.

work and play and civic life

(My notes for a talk this evening at a Ludics Seminar at Harvard’s Mahindra Center on “The Role of Play in Human Evolution and Public Life: Work, or Play?”)

It is very common to distinguish politics or civic life from both work and play. (The words “politics” and “civic” have overlapping meanings, coming respectively from Greek and Latin, and I’ll use them interchangeably here.)

Aristotle provides an early example of the distinction between work and politics. He begins with the premise that “the citizen’s function” is “deliberating and judging (whether on all issues or only a few).” In other words, to act as a citizen means to talk, to listen, and to vote. It is discursive and cognitive. Citizens, understood as deliberators and judges, must be free from doing the necessary tasks of life, which are done by slaves (who work for individuals) and by mechanics and laborers (who work for the community). Aristotle advises: “The best form of city will not make the mechanic a citizen.” Note that the mechanic or laborer is not defined by poverty, for some are very rich, but by participation in the marketplace. Working distorts people’s values and goals and makes them bad at deliberation about the public good, perhaps because they focus on their economic interests. Governance is best reserved for a class that has enough wealth not to work.

I cannot think of anyone today who would openly disenfranchise workers for the reasons that Aristotle cites. However, the same distinction between work and politics is evident in several political traditions that make the opposite value-judgment from Aristotle’s. Like him, they presume that politics is about talking, listening, and deciding, and it’s done outside of work. But unlike Aristotle, they think that only those who work are worthy of politics, because they alone have the appropriate values or because their productive labor gives them the right to rule.

One version holds that people of industry and thrift are worthy of governing a republic. This idea is familiar from the English Revolution, the Dutch Republic, and Colonial New England. It associates the bourgeois work ethic with republican virtues.

A different version is agrarian populism, which sees the stalwart farmer as the most legitimate citizen. Like Cincinnatus, a republican farmer puts down his plow to govern and fight, but he hastens back to his fields when his civic duty is done. Jeffersonian American populism and Russian Narodnism are examples.

A third version is Marxist. The workers form a class, distinguished from the bourgeoisie, who merely claim a “work ethic” while they exploit the actual laborers. The working class should rule. Marx offers the resonant ideal of unifying work with Aristotelian politics, removing the alienation between ruling and making. But my impression is that Marxist reforms–from mild democratic socialism all the way to Maoism–have hardly ever realized that ideal. Instead, they have tended to distinguish–just as Aristotle did–between work and governance, but they make the workers into the governors. You work in the factory by day, and after the whistle blows, you attend a workers’ council meeting to make decisions. In fact, the problem with socialism, according to Oscar Wilde, is that it occupies too many evenings.

Two additional strands of reform have developed since the Industrial Revolution. I endorse both, but they are not my main subject here. One aims to democratize the workplace by creating co-ops and other alternative enterprises that are governed on the basis of one-worker, one-vote. The other puts democratic pressure on the workforce by forming an independent association of workers than can negotiate and strike–a union. Both reforms narrow the gap between work and politics, but not in the way that I will describe.

My friend Harry Boyte advocates a different ideal, which he calls Public Work. He has uncovered many precedents for it from around the world.

Public Work begins with a conceptual shift. We should no longer distinguish deliberating and judging from designing and making. They are all aspects of building our public world, our res publica or common-wealth.

For example, the democracy of ancient Athens was not just a discussion among gentlemen; it was also a set of physical spaces–like the Pnyx, where the discussions occurred–that people had built with their hands. The workers and the deliberators were jointly responsible, and their tasks were not sharply distinguishable. Talking in a forum is one kind of work; building the forum requires deliberation and judgment as well as skill and sweat.

Closer to our time and place: Harvard Square is the joint creation of the Cambridge City Council (which deliberates and judges about things like zoning rules), many firms and corporations (including the Harvard Corporation), workers who do everything from drawing blueprints to pouring cement, and the people who put their bodies onto the streets for a wide variety of reasons, including the homeless who sleep there. All of them create the common space.

Public Work disputes the standard definition of “civic engagement” as activities that people undertake voluntarily without being paid, such as voting, protest, or discussing issues. That definition trivializes civic life by reducing it to after-work voluntarism and marginalizes the many ways that people contribute to public spaces and institutions. Public Work also disputes the distinctions among public, private, and nonprofit sectors. A private enterprise might turn out to contribute more and better to a public good than a government does.

We do need a definition of the word “public” in “Public Work,” or else the phrase threatens to encompass all work and ceases to guide judgments and reforms. Perhaps to be public, work must involve intentional efforts to create public goods (at least as byproducts) and must be responsive to other citizens. If you run a bank in Harvard Square, you strive to make a profit; but if you also ensure that the facade of your building is attractive and harmonious with the other structures in the Square and you take advice and feedback from other people, including the homeless who sleep on your doorsteps, you have made your work more public. If everyone behaves like that, we have a democratic commonwealth.

This ideal suggests a whole range of reforms, from regulations that compel consultation to changes in the training and education of professionals. We might also reconceive some policy proposals, such as the Green New Deal, as opportunities for many people in many sectors to do Public Work. Reducing greenhouse emissions and mitigating the damage of climate change are public goods. People can contribute to these goods by paying taxes, supporting regulations, participating in local planning processes, volunteering after work, reorienting their businesses, conducting research, refraining from certain purchases, and educating their own children. All of this–together–can be seen as Public Work and promoted (but not fully realized) by federal policy.

So far, I have discussed work and tried to soften the distinction between work and politics or civic engagement. But we are not only workers and artisans; we also like to play. We are homo ludens as well as homo faber.

In Making Democracy Fun, Josh Lerner argues that civic and political leaders should learn from people who know how to make good games. For instance, in an enjoyable game, you glean the information you need as you go along. You needn’t study for months before you can begin to play. But we tend to assume that you can’t be a good voter until you have already studied many details about government and policy. Couldn’t we integrate learning into political participation?

Likewise, fun games give most of the players something satisfying to do all the way through. If only a few get to play, or if the game continues long after the result is obvious, people drop off. Couldn’t we redesign civic processes so that everyone has interesting roles all the way through?

Our colleague Eric Gordon [who will be present] has contributed excellent examples of such redesigns and important theoretical insights, such as his idea of “meaningful inefficiency“:

Well designed human systems are indeed comprised of efficient transactions, but they should also include encounter, wonder, relation and caring, experiences largely absent from the smart city paradigm. Borrowing from game design, where players are provided with goals, and confronted with unnecessary obstacles that make their striving for that goal meaningful, I suggest that these meaningful inefficiencies are necessary for making a city smart. When there is room for play in the systems with which we interact, there is opportunity for people to form relationships, build trust, care for one another, and make shared meaning — all of which comprise the foundation for resilient communities.

To summarize the argument so far: Most people reflexively distinguish citizenship and politics from work and from play. When you’re on the job or having fun, you are not involved in politics or civic engagement. If you get paid for public service, that is work; but if you help others for free, that is volunteering, which is an example of civic engagement. If your after-work activity is a game, it is not service. The standard view is a three-way distinction: work, play, politics.

Harry Boyte and others reject one of these distinctions, the one between work and politics. For Boyte, politics is Public Work. In passing, he sometimes complains that we have reduced it to mere play. “It is as if citizens have been consigned to the playground of civil society after they have been chased off everywhere else.”

Josh Lerner, Eric Gordon, and others reject the other distinction: between play and politics. In passing, Lerner suggests that we have made politics too much like work (in a bad sense). He cites Erik Erikson for the idea that play involves self-imposed rules. So does democratic politics, because the people are supposed to make the rules that govern them. In contrast, work is defined by externally imposed rules (p. 61).

Must these two critical positions conflict? It may depend on how we define play or games and work. These particular definitions are notoriously difficult. In the great text of his late phase, The Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein uses “game” as his primary example of a word that functions very well for communication even though it cannot be defined with necessary and sufficient conditions. We can learn what the word “game” means. We can use it correctly or incorrectly. Mistakes in our use of the word can be demonstrated. Yet the dictionary’s definition will not teach us how to use it, basically because it is a family-resemblance term. It encompasses many types of behavior that cluster together without having one common denominator.

The same is likely true of the word “work.” In fact, Wittgenstein gives examples of games that are work. Already on the first page of the main text of the Investigations, he asks us to imagine

[A] language that is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words “block”, “pillar”, “slab”, “beam”. A calls them out;—B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.——Conceive this as a complete primitive language. (PI #2, Anscombe translation)

This example is also a game, and it is also work. Wittgenstein presents the example as he begins to analogize all language to games, and all purposive human behavior to language.

To explore the similarities further: Both work and game-play usually involve interactions among multiple parties, although at the limit, one can work alone or play solitaire. Both require planning and execution. Both can result in success or failure. Both can either satisfy or bore and alienate. (Similar design features may increase the odds of satisfaction). Both imply agency: purposive action within a larger structure. Both depend on rules, but the rules must permit innovation and judgment. Both usually develop as traditional structures that newcomers can learn, but we can invent new forms of work and new games. We can find what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow” in either work or play.

The overlap is large and important, but I would like to conclude with a difference that inclines me to favor Public Work.

Characteristically, work produces things of market value (even if the producer does not choose to sell or trade them). This is not characteristic of play. Borderline forms of play, such as professional athletics, hunting, and such hobbies as knitting may produce tradable goods, but in each case, we wonder whether “play” is really the right word.

Producing things with market value generates political power or leverage over systems. Once producers organize themselves, they can refuse to provide goods or deploy their revenue to influence politics. By these means, workers have been able to win a share of political power. They haven’t been granted power because they deserve it as a matter of fairness; they have demanded and seized it.

The classic case is an organized strike, but workers have many other ways to influence states. I believe that democracy arose basically because elites in certain countries (beginning with Holland and England) offered segments of their productive classes political voice in return for a willingness to pay taxes, purchase government bonds, and enlist in the military. These countries then decisively defeated monarchies because they could field much larger and better armies and navies. The nascent democracies had a Darwinian advantage over monarchies; they spread because their workers and elites coorperated.

This means that work tends to promote democracy. I don’t see the same pattern for play. Josh Lerner offers excellent advice to benign political leaders (including the organizers of insurgent social movements) whose goal is to engage the people. Such leaders should learn from game-design and create opportunities for play. But I don’t see an equally viable strategy for using play to combat obstinate power, whether in the state or in popular movements (which tend to turn into oligarchies).

It is worth thinking about some interesting cases in which play does seem to confer power. Lerner cites the Theater of the Oppressed of Augusto Boal: poor people improvise public theatrical performances. Their activities can be classified as “play,” and they contribute to radical social reforms. But I suspect that they only succeed when poor people also use their work for leverage.

Another interesting example is Participatory Budgeting, which invites the public to develop and choose proposals that get public funding. It is somewhat game-like and it turns out better to the extent that it uses good practices of game design. It originated with an elite: the leaders of the newly elected Workers party in Porto Alegre, Brazil. But it proved so popular that succeeding governments retained it. That suggests that the popularity of play generated some power. On the other hand, I once wrote a chapter for the World Bank that conceptualized Participatory Budgeting as Public Work. I think it was the play aspect that made PB enjoyable, but the work aspect that made it powerful.

I mention all of this because automation and artificial intelligence may worsen the scarcity of work, yet human needs may continue to be met by an increasingly productive economy, giving more people more time for play. If play conferred power and tended to strengthen democracy, this would be good news. But if democracy depends on work–on elites needing the support of workers–then the news is bad. We may be heading for authoritarian oligarchies that rely on machines and very high-skilled labor to generate wealth and that offer play to keep most people compliant. To respond to that threat, we probably ought to save work rather than expand play.

Affordable Housing Discussion at UCF Sponsored by the Lou Frey Institute

One of the most pressing issues here in the Orlando area is affordable housing, and everything that goes with it. In addition to our general work in civic education, the Lou Frey Institute is dedicated to facilitating conversations around issues of civic concern. Please consider joining us on Tuesday evening, October 29th, for a discussion about affordable housing. More information is below!

Affordable Housing

Town Hall Meeting

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

6 – 8 p.m.

Morgridge International Reading Center, UCF

The Lou Frey Institute is hosting an Affordable Housing Town Hall at UCF in partnership with Florida State House Representatives

Carlos Guillermo Smith ’03

Anna Eskamani ’12 ’15MNM

and District 5 Commissioner

Emily Bonilla ’03

The event will be held to discuss affordable housing in Central Florida, with a special focus on its impact on college students.

This event is FREE and open to the public!

RSVP is requested.

Parking is available in Parking Garage A

and Lot B5 for $5 per vehicle.



(Provo, UT) I am at Brigham Young University, discussing civic engagement with insightful faculty and students, against a background of cold, clear mountains. Within the past two weeks, I have had somewhat similar conversations inside the classroom of a Massachusetts medium security prison, a Tufts classroom with 50 talented 18-20-year-olds, a glittering living room in Boston’s Louisburg Square (at a political fundraiser), and in various coffee shops around Cambridge, MA. I’ve also heard a lecture on Tagore and the Upanishads and chatted with colleagues scattered across the country.

I just want to express my gratitude for these opportunities. To some extent, they come with being an academic, which is a privilege in itself. But my particular role and institution make such experiences especially frequent, diverse, and rewarding.

See also: at BYU; and teaching about institutions, in a prison

MassForward event: Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts

Please Join MassForward for “Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts” (Register Here)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Continental breakfast will be available at 8:00 a.m.

The Edgerley Center for Civic Leadership at the Boston Foundation 75 Arlington Street, 3rd Floor, Boston

Please join the Boston Foundation for the release of new research by MassINC and Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life that examines the health of our Commonwealth’s democratic processes and institutions. From increasingly strong one-party rule to lack of representation for communities of color, this report new provides data to illuminate acute challenges and presents a comprehensive set of reforms and innovations to fortify our democracy at the state and local level. This opening presentation will be followed by a panel conversation with leaders who can offer a wide-range of perspectives on workable solutions to these pressing challenges.

Welcome & Opening Remarks

Paul S. Grogan, President & CEO, The Boston Foundation

Presentation of Report

Peter Levine, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs & Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University

Panel Discussion
Jay R. Kaufman, Retired State Representative (D), 15th Middlesex District, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Founder & President, Beacon Leadership Collaborative
Beth Lindstrom, Former Executive Director, Massachusetts Republican Party
Keith Mahoney, Vice President, Communications & Public Affairs, The Boston Foundation (Moderator)
Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, PhD, Interim Director, Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy; Interim Director, Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy Graduate Certificate Program at UMass Boston Pavel Payano, Councilor-at Large, City of Lawrence

Closing Remarks
Juana Matias, Chief Operating Officer, MassINC

For additional information, please contact Michelle Hinkle at 617-338-4268 or michelle.hinkle@tbf.org

By working in collaboration with a wide range of partners, the Boston Foundation provides opportunities for people to come together to explore challenges facing our constantly changing community and to develop an informed civic agenda. All of the Boston Foundation’s civic leadership activities are supported by our annual campaign for Civic Leadership. Visit www.tbf.org/civicleadership to learn more about this important campaign. Visit www.tbf.org to learn more about the Boston Foundation and its activities.