Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy -- Algorithm for Political Dialogue

Citation: Kenneth Cloke. Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy.  GoodMedia Press. 2018. From Chapter 3, pp. 89-93

Ken Cloke wrote Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy, which was published by GoodMedia Press in 2018.  It is a fabulous book, stock full of ideas about better ways of engaging in politics that will help save our democracy--and that of others.  While we obviously cannot post the whole book on Beyond Intractability, Ken generously gave us permission to post several sections, of which this is one. The other excerpts, and a link to the book's page on GoodMedia Press (where you can buy the whole book for just $24.95!) are immediately below. 


Buy the Book | Table of Contents 

ExceprtsIntroduction | Power, Rights, and Interests | Truth and Falsity | Meditative, Interest-Based Approaches to Political Conflicts | Power, Rights, & Interests in Political Discussions | 20 Ways to Talk about Political Differences, | Algorithm for Political Dialogue | Global Pandemics, National Borders and Political Problem Solving


This excerpt is from Chapter 3, pages 89-93


A generic description of the steps needed to make dialogue, mediation and other interest-based processes more effective and fair, or to build more constructive, collaborative, democratic relationships, seem to me to include the following 15, which can be regarded as an algorithm for interest-based methodologies and recursive improvement, for turning circles into spirals, and revealing step-by-step how to improve our ability to discuss and learn from political conflicts.

  1. All interested parties are included and invited to participatefully in designing and implementing content, processes and relationships.
  2. Decisions are reached by consensus wherever possible, andnothing is regarded as final until everyone is in agreement.
  3. Diversity and honest differences are viewed as sources ofdialogue, leading to better ideas, healthier relationships and greater unity.
  4. Stereotypes, prejudices, assumptions of innate superiority andideas of intrinsic correctness are considered divisive and discounted as one-sided descriptions of more complex, multisided, paradoxical realities.
  5. Openness, authenticity, appreciation and empathy areregarded as better foundations for communication and decision-making than secrecy, dishonesty, insults and demonization.
  6. Dialogue and open-ended questions are deemed more usefulthan personalized, adversarial debate and cross-examination.
  7. Force, violence, coercion, aggression, humiliation anddomination are rejected, both as methods and as outcomes.
  8. Cooperation and collaboration are ranked as primary, whilecompetition and aggression are considered secondary.
  9. Everyone’s interests are accepted as legitimate, andacknowledged and satisfied wherever possible.
  10. Processes and relationships are considered at least asimportant as content, if not more so.
  11. Attention is paid to emotions, subjectivity and feelings, as wellas to logic, objectivity and facts.
  12. Everyone is regarded as responsible for participating inimproving content, processes and relationships, and encouraged to search for creative solutions, synergies and transformations.
  13. People are invited into heartfelt communications and selfawareness, and supported in reaching resolution, forgiveness and reconciliation.
  14. Chronic conflicts are traced to their sources, where they can beprevented and their systems redesigned to discourage repetition.
  15. Victory is regarded as obtainable by everyone and redirectedtoward collaborating to solve common problems, so that no one feels defeated.

While these ideas may seem impractical or idealistic when applied to the rough and tumble of political conflicts, they have proven highly successful and produced positive results in countless dialogues, mediations, collaborative negotiations and similar processes over decades in diverse cultures and conditions around the world.

No technique, of course, can be successful at all times and places, in all cultures and with everyone, but finding ways of applying these interest-based principles in political dialogues and mediations will allow us to reduce the level of enmity and hostility in political conflicts and move just a little closer to solving a growing number of global problems that cannot be solved without them.

We may then discover that the true work of dialogue is to draw our attention inward, so that we can begin to dismantle the internal adversarial assumptions that feed all our conflicts, with the goal of freeing ourselves from their pointlessly polarizing power-based dynamics. As Michel Foucault wrote:

The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the working of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight them.

A potential for violence is implicit in every antagonistic, power-based approach to conflict, because it is easy for power--based debates and the diatribes they inspire to turn people who disagree into enemies of everything the other side believes in and stands for. This, however, is not really politics, but in the famous observation by Carl von Clausewitz, simply war by other means.

Similarly, a potential for coercion and manipulation is implicit in every adversarial rights-based approach to conflict, especially political conflicts, because it is equally easy for rights-based political processes and bureaucratic communications to inspire policies and procedures, rules and regulations, laws and legal interpretations that stack the deck in favor of one side over the other.

We therefore need to carefully consider not just why, but how to design, organize and conduct interest-based communications and dialogues over difficult and dangerous political issues. And rather than create one-size-fits-all rules, models or designs, which can never work because each issue, group and circumstance is different, it is essential that we re-design the process collaboratively, each time, from scratch.

Most importantly, we need to think deeply about how to design dialogues and other conflict resolution processes in ways that leave room for complexity and ambiguity, so that when conversations between political opponents take an unexpected turn and head into dangerous territory, we will be able to move with what is happening in that moment in the conversation and the group, and help them frame it in ways that satisfy everyone’s desire for connection, participation, collaboration and community. . The dalai lama reminds us:

Non-violence means dialogue, using our language, the human language. Dialogue means compromise; respecting each other’s rights; in the spirit of reconciliation there is a real solution to conflict and disagreement. There is no hundred percent winner, no hundred percent loser — not that way but half-and-half. That is the practical way, the only way.

Dialogue supports non-violent approaches and helps them succeed because it elicits respectful communications, invites collaborative processes and encourages interest-based relationships that link and bind us with our opponents, knitting us into a single cloth, and strengthening the capacity for intimacy, caring and connection between couples, families, groups, communities and cultures. It is dialogue that invites us to understand and open our hearts to each other, and dialogue that inspires and sustains our capacity for love and kindness.

Moving from power-based diatribes to rights-based debates to interest-based dialogues, helps us recognize the crucial importance and creative potential of conflict, which require constructive disagreement, healthy dissent, collaborative negotiation and innovative problemsolving, allowing us to return to Aristotle’s search for “the highest common good,” but this time armed — not with swords and arrows, but dignity and respect, and a rich set of collaborative tools that do not require violence or degradation, subordination or domination.

Only by increasing the use of political dialogue, mediation and other interest-based processes, by building more collaborative political relationships, and by encouraging all of us to do the difficult work of communicating with each other about the things that matter most, will we be able to tackle the complex global problems we are increasingly required to solve. Discovering how is the focus of the next chapter.