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Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]

Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:


There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts


    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    In Praise of Charles Cameron

    Thursday, October 10th, 2013

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    I am not sure how many of the readers ever make it to the “About” page, but there are blurbs for all of the bloggers here, done in my usual ad hoc style. This is what it reads for Charles Cameron:

    Charles Cameron,  has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute

    All well and good, though that does not begin to scratch the surface of Charles who has a most interesting biography as a poet, bohemian adventurer and independent scholar. There’s a bit more available at his Sembl project page. If you ever have the chance to sit and talk with Charles F2F over coffee or a beer, you are in for a treat, if wide-ranging intellect and deep learning delivered with gentlemanly grace is your thing.

    The reason for this post is that there is a new addition to Charles’ bio – he is now the Managing Editor of zenpundit.com.

    Charles’s contributions here in terms of writing are invaluable, but he has also been an increasing factor behind the scenes. His ideas for potential round table projects, soliciting guest posts, recruiting new bloggers and raising the profile of ZP have been all to the good. I have come to realize that my own limitations in terms of schedule to execute some of these ideas Charles has brought may be preventing good things from happening that the readership would enjoy. It is time for me to step back a bit and give Charles the freedom to grow the blog and move zenpundit.com  forward.  I can’t think of anyone better suited for the role than Charles Cameron.

    Yes, I will still be here, as will Scott Shipman and Lynn Rees, but it’s time for a new hand at the wheel.

    “Truth is lived, not taught”

     – Herman Hesse

    Choices: Burning Man or Bali?

    Saturday, August 31st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — we have as many possible futures as there are eyes in the tails of numberless peacocks — for your consideration, here are two of them ]


  • Burning Man, live webcast, h/t Scott Hess
  • Bali, Pura Tanah Lot
  • **

    I’ll go for Bali, with wifi and a laptop to watch the live feed from Burning Man. You?

    The Nation of Islam and Scientology

    Saturday, August 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — at the confluence of two relatively new religious movements ]

    I’ve known for a while that Minister Louis Farrakhan had expressed a positive view of L Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, but this short clip from a Nation of Islam leadership talk took me by surprise:


    I am not a member of either faith, let alone both — but as a student of religions I find possible confluences between them — such as this one promises to be — fascinating.

    New Book: America 3.0 is Now Launched!

    Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

    America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – why America’s Best Days are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

    I am confident that this deeply researched and thoughtfully argued book  is going to make a big political splash, especially in conservative circles – and has already garnered a strong endorsement from Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, John O’Sullivan and this review from  Glenn Reynolds in USA Today :

    Future’s so bright we have to wear shades: Column 

    ….But serious as these problems are, they’re all short-term things. So while at the moment a lot of our political leaders may be wearing sunglasses so as not to be recognized, there’s a pretty good argument that, over the longer time, our future’s so bright that we have to wear shades.

    That’s the thesis of a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century.The book’s authors, James Bennett and Michael Lotus, argue that things seem rough because we’re in a period of transition, like those after the Civil War and during the New Deal era. Such transitions are necessarily bumpy, but once they’re navigated the country comes back stronger than ever.

    America 1.0, in their analysis, was the America of small farmers, Yankee ingenuity, and almost nonexistent national government that prevailed for the first hundred years or so of our nation’s existence. The hallmarks were self-reliance, localism, and free markets.

    At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people were getting unhappy. The country was in its fastest-ever period of economic growth, but the wealth was unevenly distributed and the economy was volatile. This led to calls for what became America 2.0: an America based on centralization, technocratic/bureaucratic oversight, and economies of scale. This took off in the Depression and hit its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when people saw Big Government and Big Corporations as promising safety and stability. You didn’t have to be afraid: There were Top Men on the job, and there were Big Institutions like the FHA, General Motors, and Social Security to serve as shock absorbers against the vicissitudes of fate.

    It worked for a while. But in time, the Top Men looked more like those bureaucrats at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and the Big Institutions . . . well, they’re mostly bankrupt, or close to it. “Bigger is better” doesn’t seem so true anymore.

    To me, the leitmotif for the current decade is supplied by Stein’s Law, coined by economist Herb Stein: “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.” There are a lot of things that can’t go on forever, and, soon enough, they won’t. Chief among them are too-big-to-fail businesses and too-big-to-succeed government.

    But as Bennett and Lotus note, the problems of America 2.0 are all soluble, and, in what they call America 3.0, they will be solved. The solutions will be as different from America 2.0 as America 2.0 was from America 1.0. We’ll see a focus on smaller government, nimbler organization, and living within our means — because, frankly, we’ll have no choice. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. If America 2.0 was a fit for the world of giant steel mills and monolithic corporations, America 3.0 will be fit for the world of consumer choice and Internet speed.

    Every so often, a “political” book comes around that has the potential to be a “game changer” in public debate. Bennett and Lotus have not limited themselves to describing or diagnosing America’s ills – instead, they present solutions in a historical framework that stresses the continuity and adaptive resilience of the American idea. If America”s “City on a Hill” today looks too much like post-industrial Detroit they point to the coming renewal; if the Hand of the State is heavy and it’s Eye lately is dangerously creepy, they point to a reinvigorated private sector and robust civil society; if the future for the young looks bleak,  Bennett and Lotus explain why this generation and the next will conquer the world.

    Bennett and Lotus bring to the table something Americans have not heard nearly enough from the Right – a positive vision of an American future that works for everyone and a strategy to make it happen.

    But don’t take my word for it.

    The authors will be guests Tuesday evening on Lou Dobb’s Tonight and you can hear them firsthand and find out why they believe “America’s best days are yet to come

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