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Why PC is not quite the end of democracy

Published on 2018-06-21 discussion

In his article "Drei normative Modelle der Demokratie: Zum Begriff deliberativer Politik.", Jürgen Habermas explains that there are two different concepts for democracy. I will call the first one the "vote"-concept. In this concept, democracy is mostly about aggregating individual opinions into a collective one via votes. I will call the other one the "let's talk about it"-concept. It is about exchanging arguments and finding a common solution.

You may notice that individual opinions are treated as static in the "vote"-concept, but changeable in the "let's talk about it"-concept. I personally prefer the second approach a lot. I believe that discussion and exchange of ideas can greatly improve the quality of a decision. I also feel much more included in the process if I can engage with other opinions.

But there is one major issue with this approach. And this is where PC (political correctness) comes in. If I have learned one thing from engaging with PC culture, it is that we can not "just talk about it". Words can severely hurt people. What is more, saying (or omitting) the right words can escalate a friendly discussion into an open conflict.

So in short, one core proposition of PC is that "let's just talk about it"-democracy just does not work. However, this is not the end of all. The "let's just talk-about it"-concept does certainly not work on the global level. But I have often seen it in action in personal discussion between friends.

The trick is to realize that there are different arenas of democracy. Every arena has its own rules. A discussion with a single close friend (or close enemy) works very differently from a discussion in a group. The discussion of national politicians on TV is something different altogether.

In smaller arenas, "let's just talk about it" often works really well and should be preferred. But it is not the only option. "Vote"-democracy is always there as a backup, especially in larger arenas. In general terms: Bigger arenas result in less nuanced discussions.

I often here how people claim that PC culture is oppressing differing views and therefore democracy. I think that is a misinterpretation of the kind of arena you are in. Most PC advocates I know are very open to criticism, but not in large, public arenas. Just like everyone else.

So the next time you are in an argument, try to think about what kind of arena you are in: Is it ok to dig deep into the topic or is it more appropriate to have a shallow but inclusive debate?