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Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in its PlaceWhy We Must Put Politics in its Place

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Abstract

Democracy is an extremely important social political good. Nonetheless, there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. When we overdo democracy, we allow the categories, allegiances, and struggles of politics to overwhelm our social lives. This has the effect of undermining and crowding out many of the most important correlated social goods that democracy is meant to deliver. What’s more, in overdoing democracy, we spoil certain social goods that democracy needs in order to flourish. Thus overdoing democracy is democracy’s undoing. A thriving democracy needs citizens to reserve space in their shared social lives for collective activities and cooperative projects that are not structured by political allegiances; they must work together in social contexts where political affiliations and party loyalties are not merely suppressed, but utterly beside the point. Combining conceptual analyses of democratic legitimacy and responsible citizenship with empirical results regarding the political infiltration of social spaces and citizens’ vulnerabilities to polarization, this book provides a diagnosis of current democratic ills and a novel prescription for addressing them. Arguing that overdoing democracy is the result of certain tendencies internal to the democratic ideal itself, the book demonstrates that even in a democracy, politics must be put in its place.
... However, there is a different way of construing the distance that is the mark of political polarization. In particular, the extremity of a belief can refer not to the content of a belief and its location in an ideological spectrum but also to the degree of belief (Talisse 2019; see also Aikin and Talisse 2020, 34). To see this, suppose that Dereca did not change her initial belief in terms of its content. ...
... It is well-documented that deliberation with like-minded people seems to promote polarization. The study of what happens within a group of like-minded people when they deliberate on a particular issuea phenomenon sometimes called 'group polarization' to emphasize the group character of the phenomenon (see Broncano-Berrocal and Carter 2021) and other times called 'belief polarization' to emphasize its link with the beliefs of the group (see Talisse 2019)is one of the most prominent mechanisms discussed in relation to political polarization (Aikin and Talisse 2020;Breton and Dalmazzone 2002;Talisse 2019;Sunstein 2002Sunstein , 2009Sunstein , 2017. This phenomenon consists in the tendency of members of a group of like-minded people to hold more extreme beliefs and positions than the ones they started with after discussing with each other (see Brown 1985, 203-226). ...
Article
When public opinion gets polarized, the population’s beliefs can experience two different changes: they can become more extreme in their contents or they can be held with greater confidence. These two possibilities point to two different understandings of the rupture that characterizes political polarization: extremism and radicalism. In this article, I show that from the close examination of the best available evidence regarding how we get polarized, it follows that the pernicious type of political polarization has more to do with radicalism than with extremism. Reinforcing the confidence in the core beliefs of the group we identify with makes our beliefs immune to the reasons coming from the other political side. Finally, I also suggest that the rise of political polarization is not necessarily the result of an irrational process.
... On the other hand, political polarization follows a centrifugal movement responsible for separating the political field into opposing ideological camps while leaving the central position voided (Castanho Silva, 2018). It stimulates interactions only among like-minded groups, which in turn polarizes society by creating distance between groups and radicalizing their opinions (Talisse, 2019). Upon radicalizing society and enacting revolt against "the establishment," elite collusion evokes anger, which can lead to the activation of populist attitudes (Hawkins, Rovira Kaltwasser, and Andreadis 2020;Rico, Guinjoan, and Anduiza, 2017). ...
Conference Paper
While several contemporary explanations for the electoral success of populist parties include the impact of populist attitudes by voters, the mechanism through which those attitudes turn into voting behavior remains elusive. One theoretical proposition (Hawkins et al. 2018) is the “activation theory”, according to which voters’ populist attitudes lay dormant until being activated by a combination of the right contextual factors with a viable populist political actor. Tests of this theory so far, however, have been restricted to single or comparative case studies. In this paper we go further by testing the activation mechanism with surveys from 27 countries (n = 52,466) part of module 5 of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES). Using a series of multilevel models, and operationalizing the activation theory as a cross-level interaction, we find that populist attitude only lead to populist voting where the offer of populism by parties or candidates is balanced, meaning no subdimension of populism overshadows the other, nor are there other radical or extreme ideological elements to parties’ appeals. These findings qualify the link between populist attitudes and voting and help us better understand the factors driving populists’ successes around the world.
... Such interplay belies the need for democratic oversight on technology. Further, efforts to maintain and protect democracy require a great deal of attention (Talisse 2019), and behooves engagement in everyday public and political contexts. The first author has been active in public discussions about the implications of a nation state, the limits of direct democracy, and what ways we could change the structure of democracy (Older 2019a, b, c, d). ...
Chapter
The new gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, been described as “revolutionary” This paper takes up the question of what sense, if any, might this be true and why it matters. I draw from the history and philosophy of technology to develop two types of technological revolutions (Hughes, Technological momentum in history: Hydrogenation in Germany 1898–1933. Oxford University Press, New York, 1969; Wimsatt, Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007; Constant, The origins of turbojet revolution. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1980; Scaife, Sci Am 252(4), 1985). One type of revolution involves a technology that enables users to change a generatively entrenched structure (Wimsatt, Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007). The other type involves a technology that works within a generatively entrenched structure, but as a result of incremental improvement becomes the “new normal” technology for a community (Scaife, Sci Am 252(4), 1985). In what follows, I argue that if CRISPR-Cas9 is revolutionary at all – and I do not take a stand on the issue – it is in becoming the “new normal” molecular technology across biology labs. By contrast, a technology that has the potential of being revolutionary in Wimsatt’s sense is the orthogonal tRNA technique developed by Peter Schultz’ synthetic biology lab. Whether or not CRSIPR-Cas9 or the orthogonal tRNA technologies are revolutionary, I propose to treat these two types of putative revolutions as distinct types of technological innovation. I argue further that observing distinctions between types of technological innovation can be useful for tracking the epistemic and normative consequences that technology raises.
... Many studies have shown that people frequently engage in politically motivated cognition: we often tend to conform our assessments and beliefs about information to our political goals and political identity rather than to accuracy (Kunda 1990;Taber and Lodge 2006;Nisbet et al. 2015;Kahan 2016). Politically motivated cognition, which is taken to be less than fully epistemically rational because it involves a diminished sensitivity to facts (Huemer 2016;Ringel et al. 2019), has recently become a hot topic in philosophy (Gerken 2019;Peters 2019;Talisse 2019;Carter and McKenna 2020). The present paper offers a social epistemological investigation of a specific type of politically motivated cognition. ...
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It has recently been suggested that politically motivated cognition leads progressive individuals (e.g., liberals) to form beliefs that underestimate real differences between social groups (e.g., in academic performance) and to process information selectively to support these beliefs and an egalitarian outlook. I contend that this tendency, which I shall call ‘egalitarian confirmation bias’, is often ‘Mandevillian’ in nature. That is, while it is epistemically problematic in one’s own cognition, it often has effects that significantly improve other people’s truth tracking, especially that of stigmatized individuals in academia. Due to its Mandevillian character, egalitarian confirmation bias isn’t only epistemically but also ethically beneficial, as it helps decrease social injustice. Moreover, since egalitarian confirmation bias has Mandevillian effects especially in academia, and since progressives are particularly likely to display the bias, there is an epistemic reason for maintaining (rather than counteracting) the often-noted political majority of progressives in academia. That is, while many researchers hold that diversity in academia is epistemically beneficial because it helps reduce bias, I argue that precisely because political diversity would help reduce egalitarian confirmation bias, it would in fact in one important sense be epistemically costly.
... In the past, polarization centered around important subjects that needed to be addressed, and we were forced to confront and resolve these disagreements. Now our once-peaceful society has been lacerated by technologically-driven opportunistic polarization shaped by algorithms and insiders (Sunstein, 2009;Talisse, 2019). Communications technologies promise to be moduled to the needs of niche audiences or specific individual users, leading to an increase in diversity in society and the breakdown of cohesion (de Sola Pool, 1990). ...
Article
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Modern societies have been strongly influenced by the development of digital media, which has facilitated not only the transmission of information and symbolic content, but also the creation of new forms of action, interaction, and social relations. The pervasiveness of digitization increased between 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the lockdown of the entire world population and moved sociality predominantly online. The year 2020 also saw the emergence of a new social media platform called Clubhouse, which was based entirely on oral communication. The "global village" is recovering what Walter Ong calls secondary orality, which is typical of electronic media in literate societies, characterized by the recovery of speech in electronic form. Today, the development of technologies has introduced what Derrick de Kerckhove calls tertiary orality. The objective of this article is to follow the ¹ This output was created as part of the student project "Mother and father? Nonbinary and transgender families in the Czech Republic: a legislative norm and the ideas of NB/TG people" using objective oriented support for specific university research from the University of Finance and Administration. 750 re-emergence of oral cultures as a new mode of online communication, focusing on the Italian community and the divergence between different groups of users strictly associated with polarization in highly propagandistic discourse.
... Posteriormente, este patrón se encontró no solo en situaciones de toma de decisiones sino en situaciones de deliberación más generales y recibió el nombre de 'polarización de grupo'. La polarización de grupo es la noción de polarización con mejor pedigrí: es el fenómeno más estudiado y la noción más destacable en los debates sobre el extremismo político y la polarización (Aikin & Talisse 2020;Breton & Dalmazzone 2002;Sunstein 2002Sunstein , 2009Sunstein , 2017Talisse 2019). La dinámica de la polarización tiene que ver con la tendencia de las personas de un grupo a adoptar posiciones y opiniones más extremas que las iniciales tras discutir con personas de ideas afines (véase Brown 1986, 203-226). ...
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El funcionamiento de las tecnologías digitales de la información y, más particularmente, las oportunidades para la acción que los dispositivos tecnológicos nos brindan, afectan a nuestros procesos de formación de creencias políticas. En concreto, parece haber una conexión estrecha entre nuestras affordances digitales y el aumento de la polarización que amenaza el buen funcionamiento de la democracia. En este trabajo analizamos si el tipo de polarización ligada al uso de las tecnologías digitales, y que pone en peligro la salud de la deliberación pública, tiene que ver con la adopción de creencias cuyos contenidos son cada vez más extremos —extremismo— o, por el contrario, tiene más que ver con el aumento de la confianza en las creencias centrales de nuestra identidad política —radicalización.
... This is because increased exposure to these social factors (just as increased exposure to media violence) may desensitize people and increase their tolerance threshold for them (Krahé et al., 2011) . Crucially, one of the countries currently dominating much of the most influential AI developments, namely the USA (Savage, 2020), fits the bill of a nation with strong, widely broadcast political polarization (Finkel et al., 2020;Talisse, 2019). ...
Article
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Some artificial intelligence (AI) systems can display algorithmic bias, i.e., they may produce outputs that unfairly discriminate against people based on their social identity. Much research on this topic focuses on algorithmic bias that disadvantages people based on their gender or racial identity. The related ethical problems are significant and well known. Algorithmic bias against other aspects of people’s social identity, for instance, their political orientation remains largely unexplored. This paper argues that algorithmic bias against people’s political orientation can arise in some of the same ways in which algorithmic gender and racial biases emerge. However, it differs importantly from them because there are (in a democratic society) strong social norms against gender and racial biases. This doesn’t hold to the same extent for political biases. Political biases can thus more powerfully influence people, which increases the chances that these biases become embedded in algorithms and makes algorithmic political biases harder to detect and eradicate than gender and race biases even though they all can produce similar harm. Since some algorithms can now also easily identify people’s political orientations against their will, these problems are exacerbated. Algorithmic political bias thus raises substantial and distinctive risks that the AI community should be aware of and examine.
... For example, we may be more likely to seek out, attend to, perceive, and remember the successes and unfair criticisms of our own group than competing groups and less likely to seek out, attend to, perceive, and remember the failures and level-headed criticisms of our group than competing groups (Derreumaux, Bergh, and Hughes 2020;Carlson et al. 2020). This is why one epistemic difference between two groups can result from multiple polarizing processes from each group (Talisse 2019). This is also part of the reason why providing people with more information does not always reduce polarization (Gershman 2018;Lee et al. 2020): polarization can occur not only while receiving information (à la Lord, Ross, and Lepper 1979) but also while remembering it. ...
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Reflectivists consider reflective reasoning crucial for good judgment and action. Anti-reflectivists deny that reflection delivers what reflectivists seek. Alas, the evidence is mixed. So, does reflection confer normative value or not? This paper argues for a middle way: reflection can confer normative value, but its ability to do this is bound by such factors as what we might call epistemic identity: an identity that involves particular beliefs—for example, religious and political identities. We may reflectively defend our identities’ beliefs rather than reflect open-mindedly to adopt whatever beliefs cohere with the best arguments and evidence. This bounded reflectivism is explicated with an algorithmic model of reflection synthesized from philosophy and science that yields testable predictions, psychometric implications, and realistic metaphilosophical suggestions—for example, overcoming motivated reflection may require embracing epistemic identity rather than veiling it (à la Rawls 1971). So bounded reflectivism should be preferred to views offering anything less.
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Unter dem Stichwort der Polarisierung wird zurzeit die Sorge artikuliert, dass die westlichen Demokratien an inneren Spannungen zu zerbrechen drohen. 1 Aber ist es tatsächlich so, dass zunehmende Distanz zwischen den politischen Lagern die Demokratie zwangsläufig beschädigt oder gar ihre Existenz gefährdet? Um dies zu beurteilen bedarf es eines differenzierten Blicks auf Polarisierungsphänomene und normativer Maßstäbe, die der unhintergehbaren Pluralität moderner Gesellschaften angemessen sind.
Article
Recently, researchers and reporters have made a wide range of claims about the distribution, nature, and societal impact of political polarization. Here I offer reasons to believe that even when they are correct and prima facie merely descriptive, many of these claims have the highly negative side effect of increasing political polarization. This is because of the interplay of two factors that have so far been neglected in the work on political polarization, namely that (1) people tend to conform to descriptive norms (i.e., norms capturing [perceptions of] what others commonly do, think, or feel), and that (2) claims about political polarization often convey such norms. Many of these claims thus incline people to behave, cognize, and be affectively disposed in ways that contribute to social division. But there is a silver lining. People’s tendency to conform to descriptive norms also provides the basis for developing new, experimentally testable strategies for counteracting political polarization. I outline three.
Conference Paper
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Populism has been historically present in Latin American politics. The region is particularly known for left-wing populist experiences, often featuring authoritarian leaders. Following the so-called “Pink Tide” of the 2000s, the recent rise of politicians like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (2018), Sebástian Piñera in Chile (2017), Ivan Duque in Colombia (2018), and Mario Abdo Benítez in Paraguai (2018) has spiked a discussion about a fourth wave of Latin American populism. Different from the previous waves, many of the new populists are distinguished by a right-wing ideology and authoritarian orientation. They were elected through democratic processes, but there is a debate about potential challenges they pose to democracy. Indeed, in recent years, democracy has been under risk in several countries, particularly due to reducing space for civic action, weakening institutional checks and balances, rising levels of inequality, and attacks on human rights. These political tensions and disruptions simultaneously affect and reflect in the latest indicators measuring the quality of democracy in Latin America, which have been in decline according to the institutes V-Dem, Freedom House and IDEA. Against the backdrop of these two simultaneous phenomena - a new right-wing (populist) turn and the erosion of some aspects of democracy - , this study examines three research questions: i) What factors would help explain the emergency of this new right-wing populist trend in Latin America? ii) Do newly emerged right-wing populists share similar positions on socio-economic issues? and; iii) To what extent (and in which terms) do they pose a threat to democracy? Given the complexity of these questions and the qualitative nature of our empirical observations, we will conduct an exploratory analysis using the method of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), covering 18 Latin American countries. The aim is to assess the configuration of necessary and sufficient conditions that help explain the phenomena under analysis, including institutional, party, contextual and public opinion factors. With this study, we expect to be able to expand the literature that tends to attribute more emphasis to socioeconomic and structural factors to uncover populism in Latin America.
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Public engagement is one of the fundamental pillars of the European programme for research and innovation Horizon 2020 . The programme encourages engagement that not only fosters science education and dissemination, but also promotes two-way dialogues between scientists and the public at various stages of research. Establishing such dialogues between different groups of societal actors is seen as crucial in order to attain epistemic as well as social desiderata at the intersection between science and society. However, whether these dialogues can actually help attaining these desiderata is far from obvious. This paper discusses some of the costs, risks, and benefits of dialogical public engagement practices, and proposes a strategy to analyse these argumentative practices based on a three-tiered model of epistemic exchange. As a case study, we discuss the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, arguably a result of suboptimal public engagement, and show how the proposed model can shed new light on the problem.
Chapter
We reflect on the novel Infomocracy as a way to simulate the relationship between democracy, technology and society. While some talk about science fiction predicting the future, its predictiveness has been questioned. We think science fiction holds greater potential to help us understand what sort of world we want to create, starting from the present. A key part of how we create the world we want to live in is by creating policy, that is, setting forth plans of action and governance principles for how humans govern themselves and technology. We provide a framework for how science fiction can help inform policyserve as a kind of simulation to test values and ground normative assertions about governance and to offer space to reflect on how technology and society relate. To motivate this framework, we will draw significantly on key themes from the first author’s 2016 novel Infomocracy.
Article
The essay addresses contemporary trends in modern democracy, especially focusing on the transformation of the public sphere. It seeks to answer the following question: how can we strengthen ideologically diverse spaces of public discourse today in light of the social trends toward homophily and echo chambers? Specifically, it addresses the way in which modern political discourse has been transformed by social media and broader social and economic trends. Furthermore, it raises questions about the future challenges of discourse ethics and ideal conceptions of overlapping consensus in our contemporary context of pluralism. The role of the media in this broad public sphere is also addressed. An ideal-type conception of the wisdom tradition, one which can strengthen the channels of communication, is offered as a response to these trends. It is a pattern of thought capable of embracing the ambiguity.
Article
The so-called Spanish transition to democracy has largely been a process of collective forgetting undertaken for the sake of progress and measured by the country’s perceived success at democratization, for example, by adopting a new constitution and joining the European Union after forty years of a repressive fascist dictatorship. As the 15-M movement took off in 2011, the effectiveness of the Transition started to be openly questioned. In the 2017 film El bar, directed and co-written by Álex de la Iglesia, the characters find themselves in a situation that appears to be a random terrorist killing as one of the characters walks out of a bar in Madrid. Implying that we live in a society where “pedir un café puede costarte la vida”, the film employs a rather predictable narrative trope of trapping a handful of characters from different walks of life in an enclosed space and shows the audience how they organize themselves into a community whose goal is to leave the trap as a community, thus questioning its functionality. This article examines the plethora of fears that circulate in democratic Spain including terrorism, disease and Balkanization through a cinematic lens that seeks to reevaluate the Transition process and the very notion of crisis that shapes the public sphere and is, in turn, shaped by it.
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Frente a problemas de decisión colectiva de cierta complejidad, distintos métodos de votación pueden considerarse igualmente democráticos. Ante esta situación, argumento que es posible investigar cuáles de esos métodos producen mejores resultados epistémicos sobre asuntos fácticos. Comienzo ilustrando la relación entre democracia y métodos de votación con un sencillo ejemplo. Muestro cómo el uso de modelos idealizados permite descubrir algunas propiedades de los métodos de votación; varios de estos descubrimientos muestran que, frente a problemas de cierta complejidad, no hay una respuesta clara acerca de cuál es el resultado de una elección democrática. Frente a esto, sugiero que deberíamos tomar en cuenta un rasgo epistémico instrumental de varios métodos de votación: su capacidad para generar respuestas correctas ante varias situaciones. Esta intuición ofrece lecciones importantes para el diseño de instituciones electorales.
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This review essay critically discusses Robert Talisse’s account of democracy and polarization. I argue that Talisse overstates the degree to which polarization arises from the good-faith practice of democratic citizenship and downplays the extent to which polarization is caused by elites and exacerbated by social structures; this leads Talisse to overlook structural approaches to managing polarization and leaves his account of how citizens should respond to polarization incomplete. I conclude that Talisse’s insights should nevertheless be integrated into a broader agenda for thinking about the causes and solutions to polarization.
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The concept of adversariality, like that of argument, admits of significant variation. As a consequence, I argue, the question of adversarial argument has not been well understood. After defining adversariality, I argue that if we take argument to be about beliefs, rather than commitments, then two considerations show that adversariality is an essential part of it. First, beliefs are not under our direct voluntary control. Second, beliefs are costly both for the psychological states they provoke and for the fact that they are causally related to our actions. As a result, argument involving agreement can also be understood to be adversarial.
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