From Active Tolerance to Participative Democracy

From active tolerance to the creation of new tools in order to make participative democracy viable. An overview.

Active tolerance is not an end in itself, but a means:

—to calm the “clash of civilizations”

—to resolve through collective intelligence diverse problems—be they environmental, social or even philosophical.

This ambition may be broken down into three stages, connected but relatively independent.

1st Stage: Bringing together “free electrons”

It’s this task that has been most widely developed on the website. Some reminders will suffice here: Fragmented perspectives, biased information and the partisan mindset constitute the number one problem we are facing. No group, party or church holds alone the “Truth”. To affiliate oneself with one camp, whichever one it be, is to perpetuate conflict. We need to get out of this game. And in order to do so we need to bring together individuals from all horizons, who would move among different circles of influence and colligate a lot of information. These network men and women could understand the antagonistic points of view and thus build bridges—to the inside of their own minds and between social atoms. But concretely, what could they do? How are we to respond to the great challenge constituted by the fragmenting of our societies into “communities” that just stare hostilely at one another? We are going to respond to this indirectly, not—or not only—by attempting to construct an interfaith and intercultural dialogue, but in starting from the great problems of the world. For it’s always that which preoccupies each of us, whether it’s a matter of problems that are personal, collective, practical, existential or other…

2nd Stage : Comprehending the major problems and their solutions.

With the Network of Possibilities or by way of other associations, or thanks to foundations who wished to finance such a project, we need to gather together small groups of people motivated to work on the problems that interest them (problems like unemployment, the energy crisis, the existence of God, and so forth). Instead of considering the answers to the big problems as givens or “obvious”, the participants of these groups would see themselves as researchers, as agents of collective intelligence, in the service of a progressive construction of solutions.

Ideally, the function of these small groups would be —to consider, as a point of departure, a major problem (such as unemployment for example); —to colligate as far as possible all the solutions hitherto proposed (the big macro-economic answers, going from the programs of the extreme left to those of the extreme right, from anarchist self-governing to liberalism, or to the most centralized collectivism); —to present each of these solutions in the form of a short synthesis, with references, and with a summary of the principal arguments (the pros and cons of each proposed solution, with well-researched sources); —to identify and list the practical and local initiatives to resolve the problem concretely (unemployment centers, psychological techniques of re-motivation, creation of new jobs, etc.).

One might object that the task outlined here is infinite. I think that when one truly studies the big problems facing us, one finds that the number of possible responses is finite—and that thus these responses are knowable and assessable. This is just as true for an existential or philosophical problem such as “Does God exist?”, as for economic, social or political problems. It is also true for territorial or religious conflicts. There exists a limited number of possible solutions, which can therefore be defined, compared and evaluated after having considered their moral presuppositions, how realistic they are, and the arguments for and against each of them. Thus, cataloging the “proposed responses” is work—possible and, above all, advantageous work. Such a catalogue would allow us to make a more enlightened choice between the different courses of action to be taken and the possible initiatives to be supported.

Conclusion to this stage: Working from a consideration of a given problem, a new tool might be created, in the form of an essay or a web page for example (with an appropriate title like “Unemployment and Possible Responses to it”, etc.). Thus, information that was once scattered and partial would be gathered together and organized. This tool would respond to the lack of prioritized information, to discouraged individuals who have lost interest in politics (asking themselves: “What can I do about it?”) and to the partisan spirit (which leads people to commit themselves to one proposed solution without having properly considered a large panel of other possible ones).

But such an overview of the big problems, even if it’s an important stage, is not the final goal of the process.

3rd stage: the methodical debate of these solutions.

Once a group grasps a problem in its complexity (having researched it, met many of the people involved in it, etc.) it can attempt to advance toward a real resolution.

In order to do so, two paths may present themselves:

—Organizing methodical debates, with no constraints of time or place, on the internet. This kind of debate would allow a certain consensus to emerge, as seems to be the case with questions of “science/society”. The debate over OGM created a consensus on the principal of precaution, for example.

¬–> See my article on “Methodical Debate”.

—Organizing conferences of popular initiative regarding an important question, to which many stakeholders—experts and laymen alike— would be invited. These conferences would, again, be aiming for exhaustiveness in the investigation of proposed solutions, and for the creation of sympathy, or even synergy, between those involved in the problem.

I think that such exchanges of arguments, provided that they are well led, could really make a difference. In making such a statement, I am relying on one major presupposition: that certain essential questions can be settled be reasoning. It’s a strong presupposition, which calls for discussion and has often been rejected by some schools of thought. –>On this subject, see my article “Toward a Typology of conflicts”, where I try to show why the great philosophical or political conflicts are not irresolvable.

In any case, what alternatives exist to the search for solutions in common?

—There’s “soft tolerance”: the kind that says everyone has there own truth, that promotes pacifist coexistence and just “getting along with each other”. This situation may not last forever. The tensions between different communities show that the coexistence of “social atoms” each with differing visions of the world is not a given, and is more and more being broken apart. Besides, from the point of view of human dignity, simply to let all have their truths in their corner, without leaving a place for discussion, does not get us very far and does not measure up to our fundamental vocation as homo sapiens.

—There’s the dogmatic attitude: a truth has already been found, it’s in a political or religious system, and in order for things to get better the rest of humanity must be “converted”. This option, even if it’s possible, seems pretty improbable. Given the multiplicity of points of view, often well-argued, it seems difficult to believe that one among them is truly superior to all the others.

Given that neither “tolerant” relativism nor closed dogmatism is satisfying to reason and capable of creating social peace, we are left with the path that I am advocating here: the idea that truth is a horizon, a construction, to be elaborated by a collective intelligence.

Summary and Conclusion

Faced with a important human problem, certain people gather together, acquaint themselves with all the solutions that have been proposed to it, and index these solutions exhaustively and comparatively. Based on this index, methodical debates and/or conferences could be organized. This would allow certain questions to be clarified: either by referring us to other debates connected to the problem being discussed, or by arriving at a certain consensus regarding the problem (like the “citizen conferences” that take place in Europe) and, hopefully, attracting the public’s attention to this consensus.

This consensus, if it’s sufficient, and when it engages social and political questions, could become the base of participative democracy. The preceding stages would then be but the indispensable preparation for the realization of this development in democracy. In order for this to happen, the consensus reached would have to: a) Incorporate a political program (the idea being a political party that builds its platform without apriority, and after the debates on each of the big questions). b) Be the object of referendum proceedings, for example, in order to then become law.

Thus the mission would accomplished. The “free electrons” would have found a form of action that goes beyond individualist renunciation and partisan activism. The ultimate goal of this site was to offer a way for individuals who are too critical or too eclectic to identify themselves with a group and with a unique vision of Good.