‘Deliberative Democracy’?

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More like deliberate democracide.


ENTER BERNARD, PRINCIPAL PRIVATE SECRETARY, carrying a 20-page report from the Lowy Institute.

BERNARD: Excuse me, Prime Minister. Good morning, Sir Humphrey.

SIR HUMPHREY: Bernard. What’s that report you’ve got tucked under your arm?

BERNARD: It’s the Lowy Institute report on [chuckles] ‘deliberative democracy’. Seems to come to the right conclusion, as requested.

SIR HUMPHREY, glaring: Yes Yes well that will be all Bernard, you can put it in my case and I’ll read it at home with all my other very important work.

BERNARD: Ah, they told me to give it to the Prime Minister…?

SIR HUMPHREY: Oh the Prime Minister’s got many more important things to be dealing with…

PRIME MINISTER: Ahem! What’s this report Bernard?

BERNARD: Ah, well, er, you see…

SIR HUMPHREY: What Bernard is trying to say is that the government has paid for a report called Overcoming Digital Threats to Democracy as part of a larger project which the government is also paying for called Digital Threats to Democracy.

PRIME MINISTER: ‘Threats to democracy?” The only threat to democracy around here is MPs on the take from the industrial military and industrial pharma complexes. And MI6 and the CIA censoring social media and instigating colour revolutions all over the world by manipulating public opinion. Have you seen that interview Tucker Carlson did with Mike Benz? Get with the program. In any case this sounds like a waste of taxpayer money. How much are we paying them? Don’t wave your hand at me like that. What are they going to suggest – I presume you know the outcome already?

[Prime Minister raises coffee cup to lips]

SIR HUMPHREY, reddening: Prime Minister, a consensus of experts…

[Prime Minister coughs explosive amounts of coffee onto the desk]

PRIME MINISTER: ‘Consensus of experts!’ Ha! This will be good. Go on then Humphrey, keep going!

[Bernard chuckles]

SIR HUMPHREY: Mop up that coffee, Bernard. Prime Minister, as I was saying, a consensus of experts has found that while the internet was once considered an open door to democracy and liberty, today, it is seen as an agent of democratic erosion.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, really? I would have thought having the ability to read what all manner of people think about a given issue would strengthen democracy, Humphrey. People could get a range of views and then easily make their opinions known to their parliamentary representatives, who would take those into account when drafting and voting on legislation before the parliament.

SIR HUMPHREY, becoming exasperated, reads from the report: “Digital platforms are increasingly perceived by the public as serving the needs and interests of the powerful rather than the public good. Average users have few means to influence key decisions and debates about how digital technologies are used and developed. The rules of the digital sphere — whether made by tech companies, regulators, or politicians — often lack public legitimacy.”

PRIME MINISTER: Bollocks. It’s not the ‘rules of the digital sphere’ that lack public legitimacy. It’s the whole shooting match. No-one pays any attention to petitions or protests. No-one gets any sort of of proper answer from the local MP when they write to express concerns. Legislation is rushed through just before Christmas or on New Year’s Eve so nobody has a chance to read what’s in it…alright, alright… Let’s assume that there is a problem. What does this institute, whoever they are…

BERNARD: The Lowy Institute, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Never heard of em. What do they propose we do about it?

SIR HUMPHREY, quoting report again: “Applying deliberative democracy principles — where small but representative groups of people make decisions after deliberating on issues in depth — can help address the challenges of legitimacy and generate broadly acceptable solutions to the problems that bedevil online spaces and challenge democracy.”

PRIME MINISTER: And in English?

SIR HUMPHREY, quoting report: “Essentially, they are forums made up of average digital users and tech experts that convene regularly to help shape the rules of a particular platform and engage in precedent-setting decisions around content moderation and de-platforming, or the removal and banning of a registered user.”

PRIME MINISTER: You mean citizens policing what their neighbours say on facebook.

SIR HUMPHREY: Prime Minister, I don’t think you understand just how serious a problem we have. Your constituents can read online all manner of unsavoury things about you and your government, and some of them are untrue. If more people read this kind of stuff you may very well lose your seat.

PRIME MINISTER: Lose my seat?

BERNARD: Not your actual seat, Prime Minister, you’ll still have that to sit on. Sir Humphrey means…

PRIME MINISTER: I know what he means. I think. Go on Humphrey.

SIR HUMPHREY: This sort of thing has been called misinformation and disinformation. Surely you’ve seen our planted stories in the press? Most of it of course is what we tell the public when we’ve screwed up. You know, like ‘safe and effective’. Anyway, we need to stop people reading bad things about the government.

PRIME MINISTER: Censorship, you mean. Hmmm I see what you mean. But won’t that look bad, Humphrey?

SIR HUMPHREY: That’s where ‘deliberative democracy’ comes in. You get a panel of ordinary people, selected carefully of course, to meet with some IT ‘experts’ which we’ll provide, and a facilitator to help them come to the right conclusions. No one from the government will have anything to do with the decisions they make about what should be censored. And because the internet is so vast, and since we couldn’t possibly empanel enough censors, er delegates, to get through all the bad things people might write about you, we enlist AI to do it. Thus, the government can plausibly claim to have ‘followed the will of the people’ in eradicating all sorts of uncomfortable opinions on all sorts of topics the government would rather not have anyone talking about. You know, like not eating meat anymore, and not owning a car, and…

PRIME MINISTER: Let me have a read of that report, Humphrey. I think you might be on to something.

SIR HUMPHREY: Yes, Prime Minister.

This post first appeared on Richard’s Substack here.

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  • Richard Kelly

    Richard Kelly is a retired business analyst, married with three adult children, one dog, devastated by the way his home city of Melbourne was laid waste. Convinced justice will be served, one day.

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