GROUP DELIBERATION, THE ACT OF ARGUING ABOUT and chewing over the best options for addressing collective challenges, plays a vital role in any functioning democracy. The commonly held belief – and longstanding hope – is that deliberation helps a diverse citizenry work toward consensus, if not always around the ideas most worthy on their merit, at least around compromise positions that enable cooperation. Sunstein argues, however, that the opposite outcome results when like-minded citizens deliberate among themselves. In this case, rather than converging toward the middle, the opinions of individuals within the group move toward a more extreme point in the direction of their prior like-mindedness. Group polarization, in other words, breeds extremism. To the extent that people can shield themselves from those who hold differing opinions, as they increasingly can in the ideological echo-chambers of the Internet and social media, this presents a challenge to an open and heterogeneous democracy. Sunstein will explore the implications of this for the practice of free speech and the viability of American politics.
“For citizens of a heterogeneous democracy, a fragmented communications market creates a considerable number of dangers. There are dangers for each of us as individuals; constant exposure to one set of views is likely to lead to errors and confusions, sometimes as a result of cybercascades. And to the extent that the process entrenches existing views, spreads falsehood, promotes extremism, and makes people less able to work cooperatively on shared problems, there are dangers for society as a whole.” – From Republic.com 2.0
CASS SUNSTEIN is currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard. From 2009 to 2012, he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. Mr. Sunstein has testified before congressional committees on many subjects, and he has been involved in constitution-making and law reform activities in a number of nations.
Sunstein is author and co-author of many articles and books, including Republic.com (2001), Risk and Reason (2002), Why Societies Need Dissent (2003), The Second Bill of Rights (2004), Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005), Worst-Case Scenarios (2001), Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler, 2008),Simpler: The Future of Government (2013) and most recently Why Nudge? (2014), Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas (2014), and Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter (with Reid Hastie, 2015).
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