Re: SCOUTED: Wonkette: Jurassic Perk: Crichton's Fame Exchanged for Dignity of Senate Panel
- More thoughts on Brin's notion of `dispute arenas'.
Brin proposed using the Internet to enhance the traditional arenas.
Consider four marvels of our age -- science, democracy, the
justice system and fair markets. In each case the participants
(scientists, litigants, politicians and capitalists) are driven by
selfish goals. That won't change; not till we redefine human
nature. But for years, rules have been fine-tuned in each of
these fields of endeavor, to reduce cheating and let quality or
truth win much of the time. By harnessing human competitiveness,
instead of suppressing it, these "accountability arenas" nourished
much of our unprecedented wealth and freedom.
The four arenas aren't always fair or efficient! A good theory,
law or commercial product may flounder, or else face many trials
before prevailing. But remember that organic systems needn't be
efficient, only robust. Likewise, our core institutions have to
keep functioning despite individual incompetence, or the most
everlasting human temptation -- to cheat. In achieving this, the
four old accountability arenas have done pretty well by us, so
First, let us consider a problem: in so far as everyone worries that
a loss is fatal, an arena will cease to be robust.
Consider a political party: if a portion worries that a loss means
that they will no longer have any chance at a decent job or other
source of income, then they will use all their rhetorical skills and
all their other skills to prevent such a loss. They will subvert the
system as a whole in an attempt to preserve themselves.
On the other hand, if people in a political party expect that a loss
means only they must `fight another day' (and perhaps win), they will
be more graceful in losing.
The same happens with court systems, but the process is not so clear
because the defendant is usually seen as the prime concern. However,
from the point of view of the society as a whole, his fate is not
critical. To the powers-that-be in a society, the prime concern is
whether their court system delivers justice frequently enough to be a
mechanism for preventing revolt.
Obviously, the powers-that-be want their people to win more often than
not. And this is possible in a court system in which their people can
afford to hire better lawyers, one of whose skills is rhetoric. But
none want their people to win all the time. When that happens, no one
uses courts to settle disputes; instead, people learn to see courts as
a mechanism to enforce injustice. Then, if the opportunity looks
feasible, a revolt occurs. To prevent that, those who do wrong in
dramatically unpleasant ways must be sacrificed as `fall guys'.
Brin's suggestion for a fifth `arena' is more likely for a business in
which senior managers do not know what is best for them and their
company. His suggestion includes,
* Clear and lengthy statements and criticisms, so that most `rhetorical'
devices are exposed.
As Brin says
A hyperforum technique would be ideal for this stage,
allowing facilitators to take advantage of this new medium's
slow, relentless, meticulous pace and leave no logical stone
* Paraphrasing, so all can come to recognize that opponents do not
talk past each other.
As Brin then says,
This stage continues until we reduce the battle to a limited
number of Core Conflicts over Substance. These would then be
the focus of further intense scrutiny and research.
This mechanism forces disputants to articulate their "underlying
assumptions about human nature, about society, about near and long
term goals", and the like.
It goes without saying that this mechanism extends the deliberative
branch of oratory to include a great deal more of `determination'.
In contrast, in Aristotle's day, it seems to me that many presumed
that outcomes might turn bad. However none thought that an outcome is
currently unknowable, but can become knowable. That presumption is no
longer the case.
For example, people debate
* whether north-flowing Russian rivers are putting more fresh water
into the Arctic Ocean than in the past, as Soviet and Russian
* whether this, if true, is because glaciers at their heads are melting;
* whether human actions can reduce rates of melting;
* whether extra, lower density fresh water in the Arctic Ocean and
then the North Atlantic will shut down the Gulf Stream; and
* whether that will thereby cause northwest Europe to grow colder.
Each of these statements is an issue for determination. Each is a
question of what (more or less) can become known?
The actions people might take, such as cutting greenhouse gas
releases, are an issue for deliberation.
Aristotle catalogues arguments based on "Good Birth, Good and Numerous
Children, Wealth, Good Reputation, Honor, Health, Beauty, Strength, or
Bodily Stature" (among others).
However, the notion that a dispute be reduced to `a limited number of
Core Conflicts' suggests that other means of persuasion be used, that
some of the motivators that Aristotle suggested fail when it comes to
determining what is true or false (and, therefore, are immoral,
although social robustness should not depend on people being
Besides suggesting that such a dispute arena could be used profitably
by the Board of a corporation that faces two apparently equal yet
incompatible strategic plans, Brin also suggests using the area for
governmental issues, such as gun control.
Although he does leave aside the perception of zero-sum conflict, Brin
... why would anyone agree to enter the arena?
The prospect of tense confrontation, more relentless and extended
than any previous kind of debate, may strike many as daunting.
As he says,
There have to be incentives to participate.
* a chance to score points and defeat opponents
* direct challenge, and
* the potential of achieving real change.
Moreover such disputes could entertain a few, much as televised budget
hearings do, and could provide paid jobs for some.
I doubt that at the moment the two parties contending in the United
States would agree to the `determinative' forms of speaking that a
Brin-style dispute arena would induce. What happens if the debate
concerns government borrowing or fossil carbon taxes?
However, portions of those two parties might consider such arenas:
for example, when is it wise for a government to borrow money? Is
there really a conflict between Americans' liberties and actions
intended to cause them to feel safer in two generations?
When does a favorite of libertarian Republicans, `freedoms from', such
as those that permit a woman to choose whether to abort, conflict with
`freedoms to', a favorite of other Republicans, such as the freedom of
society to insist that unwanted children be raised to adulthood?
When does the US constitutional entreaty, to `provide for the common
defense' involve the US internationally over air pollution, a favorite
issue of green Democrats?
More immediately, is it likely that hurricane damage to US oil rigs in
the Gulf of Mexico will cause an increase in heating prices this
winter? Or will hurricane damage cause a recession, less demand, and
a near-term fall in oil and gas prices?
And on the Brin-list, we could continue to discuss, albeit not so
formally, such issues such as what rates of pay should be mandated for
the reconstruction of New Orleans?
The government is paying contractors an average of $2,480 for less
than two hours of work to cover each damaged roof ...
In normal circumstances, Lowery [an estimator with Pioneer Roof
Systems in Austin, Texas] said, his company would charge $300 to
tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job,
the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as
much, plus additional administrative fees that can't be readily
Would that average of $2,480 per roof be higher if the government
insisted that regular wages be paid? What are current wages, anyhow?
Are they higher or lower than the Davis-Bacon minimum?
If the Federal government reinstated the wages suggested by the
Davis-Bacon Act, would the same prices be charged but the surplus
Or is the whole issue of government-mandated rates irrelevant given
the availablity of illegal immigrants?
Robert J. Chassell
bob@... GnuPG Key ID: 004B4AC8