I remember profound realizations that were evoked by these charts of what the wealth of the 1% is compared to the vast majority of everybody else. The wealth of the .01% or the .001% – the super wealthy – bas an even bigger revelation. Their wealth overwhelms everyone else’s, even the rest of the 1%. They’re billionaires and you can barely understand a billion or billions.
Indeed, you can barely understand millions. You can kind of understand thousands, but thousands and millions and billions start to blur together. You don’t really GET the relationship between a trillion and a billion. You think: “Oh yeah, that’s a lot more…”, but you don’t GET IT that a trillion has a thousand billions in it, and a billion has a thousand millions it…. Your mind simply can’t comprehend what’s going on there. So having a chart that actually shows it is mind-bending and revelatory. There is a whole field – which was sort of named and promoted by a guy named Edward Tufte – that’s called the field of visual presentation of information.
And then there is playback theater, which can take somebody’s life or a group or conference and reflect it back dramatically. They gather information about the person or situation or activity – or they watch it – and then they do a spontaneous play about it which is like this mirror revealing underlying dynamics. Watching them do their thing, you GET what’s going on, at a different level.
I don’t fully understand the idea of bodily intelligence, but one of the profound things that I’ve experienced along those lines was a movement a bunch of us did at a conference. It was a flocking exercise: We stood up and were told to move forward together and try and keep the same relationship to the people that were immediately around us, the same distance. Another rule was if we came to a barrier, we were to turn to our left. There were like three or four rules. I was mixed into this crowd of about 30 people and we walked together across the room. We came to a wall and everybody turned to the left and I suddenly realized that I was in front just by turning to the left – which I hadn’t been before. Suddenly I was in front as a “leader” and I got a visceral sense of how leadership shifts instantly in a flock. That came home to me on a very deep level, much deeper than if I’d just been told about that dynamic.
To the extent wise democracy takes off – to the extent you have citizen deliberative councils, etc. – and to the extent you empower those people to have an impact, they really have to know what they’re talking about. You are going to have, for example, fifteen or a hundred randomly selected people in a Council studying an issue and becoming lay experts in that issue. They are going to be recommending policy to the government or the citizenry – policy or mass action around something – and we want what they recommend to be wise. We want those people to get what’s going on, and to take into account whatever’s important about that issue for the longterm.
So it’s really important how they get briefed and how they talk to each other. Randomly selected people are not necessarily scientists, not poets or artists or whatever. They haven’t lived through X, Y, and Z that is relevant to the issue they’re looking at it. If it’s all abstract, it’s really hard for them to be wise. It’s really hard to get out of their own limited perspective in order to provide greater service to their community.
So some of us involved in furthering wise democracy need to become artists in the broad sense – of being able to take specific things that need to be understood and making it so that very different and ordinary people can GET it at a deep level. That is a big, big problem – and opportunity. So that’s the fundamental thing. There are many other dimensions you could have to this pattern that are just delightful – such as what should children’s books look like – but the most important thing here for wise democracy is this:
Not only does the citizen council or the stakeholder group or whatever need to achieve understanding of an issue or situation. They need to be able to relay the understandings that THEY have come up with – becoming lay experts through days or weeks or years of deliberative activity. Now they’re on the other side of expertise – they’re experts! How do they communicate what they’ve learned to the broader public? What media, what storyline, what images, what do they use for that?
So that’s what this is about. The understandings are being brought up out of abstraction or obscurity into something that’s alive, that means something for the people, for the players in a particular situation, so that they behave differently because they understand differently – they see the world with new eyes.