The consequences of adversarial debating

Imagine that you have signed an on-line parliamentary petition. When you sign such a petition it is understood you fully agree with it. Since you cannot modify the petition’s wording in any way, the only other option then is to disagree or to abstain. Secondly, the polls usually use the ‘Agree – Disagree’ survey types, like about Brexit. One unintended consequence of that is that more and more often the polls are wrong, like in the USA elections in 2016. It happens because the polls indirectly by formulating bias questions prime the voters for who to vote. That stops some voters from voting because they think the result of the coming election is already clear, so why bother to vote. That was exactly the case with Brexit. Most people thought ‘well, I wouldn’t go voting for staying in Europe because the polls have already predicted the win for the remain side’. So, they didn’t go voting and that’s why Brexit happened, considering a margin of about 2%, and which is a good example of how the polls themselves impact the result. If we had the electoral system which stimulates compromise and consensus, among others through the way how the political debates are carried out, this would not have happened.

But even more important is the need to reduce or eliminate altogether adversarial politics and replace it with consensual relations among politicians. One of the consequences of prolonged, adversarial debates is that we have ineffective and expensive way of governing a country by introducing a new legislation after sometimes years of debating. Even with the best of intentions, debates at the committee stage where discussions can be less heated and factual, they may take many months or even years before a draft legislation is put to a debate and voting by the whole parliament.

At a national level, polarization of societies so evident today is the consequence of adversarial relations, underpinned by the system of voting and the conduct of debates on the radio, TV, and the parliament. That fossilizes the division between the winners and the losers because there’s no room for a compromise. We are only asked a question “Are you ‘for’ or ‘against’”, with no room for a compromise, mainly because there are no easy means to facilitate the selection of the third option. How can we improve that? The answer is – by incorporating Consensual Debating in such debates, which can deliver immediate benefits in every democracy.

We need to embrace new technological solutions, such as ‘a digital democracy’ if they enable more consensual politics. It is in this area where Sustensis has been working, creating Consensual Debating. It takes the advantage of these new capabilities, which together with other innovations, such as Citizens’ Assemblies, may contribute to long overdue deep reform of democracy. Consensual Debating can be used for debating complex political, social, scientific or economic problems on digital platforms such as websites or Facebook. It allows even tens of thousands of participants to debate thousands of topics simultaneously and come to an agreement in a consensual way many times faster (in a few days rather than in months).