WRONG QUESTION?

(Thorbjørn Mann overhearing a conversation in The Fog Island Tavern)

– What in three twisters’ names is wrong with you today, Bog-Hubert? How many times have I told you that reading those papers from the mainland in the morning will just ruin your attitude for an otherwise glorious foggy day on the island? And furiously stirring your weird habitual dose of crushed red peppers your coffee with nothing in it except will n o t improve its taste! At least let the grounds and the peppers settle to the bottom where they belong!

– Ah Vodçek, quit your nagging. But you’re right, I should have left reading the paper to the evening when a dose of guilt for imbibing too much of your Zin would balance out the outrage this so-called news creates in any righteously reading man’s mind. Well, too late now: What is wrong with these people?

– All right then, I’ll let you vent yer spleen this time. Let’s get this out of your system before the others come in so you won’t ruin their moods too. What dismal news gets your temper up today?

– Well, it’s not really news. It’s that they can’t come up with some useful new ideas. I was just reading this column, some right-wing think tank guy, pontificating about the stupidity of the leftists who want to overturn the capitalist system of free enterprise and replace it with socialism, big government and taxes for free welfare for everyone.

– Right, sounds like the old battle cries: capitalism versus socialism, less government, more government, old hat slogans, but they still work, getting people worked up, right? So can you really blame the politicians to use them? If they don’t have any better ideas?

– You’re putting the finger on the sore spot: better ideas. Or the lack of any.

– Well, if you are worried about the size and power of government, and the issue hasn’t been resolved yet – which I agree it doesn’t look like they have, yet – what’s wrong with hammering away on the question to get some better answers about it? Or are you finally deciding which side you are going to root for now? Which side you’re on?

– Vodçek, you know me better than that. There are well-intentioned ism-ists on both sides, equally exasperating. Isn’t the problem that they all, right and left, each blinded by the alleged flaws and misdeeds of the other side, are missing the real problems? Capitalism-socialism, big government – small government:  all

w r o n g   q u e s t i o n!?

– I see. I have some ideas about that myself. But please enlighten me: what, in your mind, is the right question?

Misrepresentation, polarization

– Or questions – there is never just one. The first problem – before getting to the better questions — is the way those issues are framed in the first place – both deliberately misrepresenting the other. Needless polarization. Nobody on the right really wants a regime with a government so feeble that it can’t effectively deal with any common problems we can’t address as the rugged individualists we are supposed to be; nobody on the left really wants a big government so big that it would tyrannical control every aspect of our lives, along the lines of older feudal, monarchist, soviet-style communist, fascist, maoist, militarist let alone mono-religious and other dictatorial regimes. So the first step would be to quit that misrepresentation and begin to focus on the underlying and shared problems.

– Shared problems? Ad several of those? Explain.

The control of power

– Just a few, for starters, should be enough. One main feature that truly bugs me is that none of those regime models have yet found a good way to deal with the problem of power.

– You don’t think the provisions of western really democratic constitutions are adequate?

– Yes and no. – Yes, I think it can’t be said too often that those provisions – based on the separation and balance of powers in the political governance system – are important and impressive achievements of civilization; the best we have seen in history. When they work properly.

– And you are saying they don’t?

– Yes. Compared to some regimes that emulated these trappings but ended up turning autocratic, the mechanics of which remain to be fully understood, I think you can argue they are still valid. But —

– I agree. The assumption of some revolutionary regimes that it would be enough to wrest the power away from the current powers and just proclaim that thereby power has been returned to ‘the people’, it is rather childish if not deliberately deceptive.

– Yes: they ignore that in whatever regime that needs positions of power – which every society does need, regardless of its policy-decision-making process: any ship at sea suddenly encountering an iceberg must have a captain who decides whether to pass it on starboard or port, the decision can’t wait for a lengthy deliberative process – such power becomes addictive and self-serving. And therefore must be controlled.

– But, you were going to say?

– Yes: Even in so-called democratic systems, the traditional power control provisions in the governance system are losing their effectiveness, because the military and private enterprise sector that has morphed into huge near–monopolistic, transnational corporate monsters, and financial entities, as well as the media conglomerates, where the governance system controls do not apply, have intruded and overwhelmed the governance control systems. To the point where legislatures can now without constraint pass laws that ignore and contradict even explicit popular opinion and referendum results. Do I have to give you more detailed examples?

– I get the idea. How did this happen?

– That is one of the questions that need to be asked and explored. But even the governance system based on the parliamentary principle of deliberation before deciding – remember, the old civilized gentlemen’s agreement of “let’s leave our weapons outside, sit down and talk, each side listen to the other, and then decide”, is fatally incomplete and flawed in one crucial respect.

– Ah, I see. Majority voting.

Voting as a decision criterion

– Yes. Majority voting; where votes are determined less by reasoning, communication and deliberation than by propaganda, partisan news reporting of the media, if not outright censorship, and ignorance. When voters are led by government and media misinformation and lack of adequate news reporting, to vote for going to wars in faraway countries they can’t even find on a map, let alone explain what threat those countries pose to our national interests, what is the value or merit of those votes? But that is what we get decisions based on the count of votes where there’s no distinction between the votes of well-informed people who have been listening to each other, getting the supporting evidence before making their judgment, and votes by totally uninformed folks who may just have been getting one side of the issues, if any.

– You’re getting yourself on thin ice there, my friend.

– I know, I know. As if all this global warming will even get us any ice on which to get ourselves in trouble. Yes, the last thing we should aim for is a system that denies any person the right to make their opinion count, however ill-or well-informed. But that does not mean that we should stop looking for better ways to inform each other, to get people involved in the discourse, to get a better overview of all the opinions on each side, to eventually get decisions better influenced by the merit of all entries into the discussion? To even refrain from looking for better ways?

– Calm down, Bog-Hubert. I applaud your exasperation. Yes, it’s curious that we don’t hear more about such improvement efforts.

– Yes, Vodçek – all we hear about is the constant battle-cry of ‘getting the vote out’ and the controversies about gerrymandering and other obstacles to people’s voting rights. But isn’t there another aspect to this that deserves attention and suggests looking for alternative measures of merit of discussion entries that should influence decisions?

– What’s that, besides the issue of finding out who can be trusted to make the decisions we don’t have time to even discuss?

Issues transcending traditional governance boundaries

– Well, think about it. The challenges we are facing, increasingly, are not neatly confined to the geographical governance boundaries where we can (if we really want to, which is another question) count voters and determine majorities. Where law-makers like those I heard about in North Carolina can make fools of themselves (and apparently even get voter support) for proposed legislation such as denying state funding for research on global warming and rising sea levels that might result in predictions of more that three or four feet of sea level rise. Which well illustrates your point about who to trust with such decisions…

– Yes, they may have very powerful legislators there? Or governors? That can stop global warming single-handedly?

– Don’t you wish? For one, that gets back to our power issue. But more importantly: when problems like global warming, or ocean pollution, transcend the borders of our arbitrary governance entities and their governing institutions – what are you going to do to get decisions based on citizen participation, with the majority voting system? Whose information – concerns, fears, ideas, votes or judgments — are going to be invited to contribute to the discussion, to the formation of decisions?

– I see. How do you determine who will or should have the voting rights, or even legitimate polling credentials, to calculate majorities. So you are saying that for such issues, there should be different decision criteria?

– Right. For example, criteria such as the plausibility measures we could derive from the systematic assessment of the pro and con arguments people raise in planning discussions, in policy-making discussions. As I said, for example: the abbeboulistic ideas we have discussed in this very tavern should be seen as challenges to all the better funded think tanks to come up with better ideas, if they don’t think these proposals are worth trying out?

– Hmm. I see. So what do you think should be done about all this? That you are so disappointed not seeing in your morning paper?

– Good question. Well, even with my fortifications, your coffee isn’t powerful enough to make me conjure up all the answers by my lil’ ol’ self, I’m sorry. But didn’t we discuss some ideas here in this very Tavern, that should be considered as first step items on a better agenda than trying to figure out how to get candidates elected to ensure party majorities – majorities by party discipline, by Abbé Boulah’s drooping mustache!! — in the bought and paid-for institutions that we have determined to be systemically incapable of dealing with the problems?

Agenda?
Discourse platform

– Agenda? Let me guess. The development of the better discourse for planning and political decision-making would be right on the top of that one, if I know you.

Participation incentives
Assessment of contribution merit

– Right. A platform that includes meaningful incentives for participating, and at least the possibility for a more systematic assessment of the pro and con arguments and their supporting evidence.

Overview display

– Is that complication really necessary? I’d have thought that a good, concise display of all the pertinent aspects and opinions would be the more important addition to current practice to inform participants?

Development of measures of proposal merit to guide decisions

– I agree – it’s an important item – but the key to develop different measures of merit of the information to guide the overall decisions is the combination of the incentive provisions with the assessment results. And …

Control of power

– I see where you are headed with this: These provisions are part of your Abbeboulistic schemes of having people in power p a y for the privilege of making power decisions?

– Right. At least that is one partial idea for getting at the problems. I don’t know if the fact that these provisions are all interrelated tools serving different purposes, if that is a problem or an advantage. But as I said before, isn’t it at least a challenge to come up with better ideas if you don’t like these suggestions? O buckle down and engage with this agenda, discuss them, work out the details, do some experiments?

– Bog-Hubert, I don’t know if I should congratulate or feel sorry for you guys who keep harping on this. Well, here’s a shot of Fundador to fortify your coffee. And give you the strength to do what needs to be done, as they say in Minnesota. Okay if I don’t light it first?

– By all means, if you join me. Cheers.

–0–

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About public planning discourse contribution credits

A Fog Island Tavern Discussion. Thorbjoern Mann 2019

 

– Bog-Hubert: Got a minute? I want to ask you something…

– Hi Sophie — sure — if it’s not too complex and involving long-term memory this early in the morning…

– Coffee hasn’t taken yet?

– Well,  It’s the third cup, so there’s a chance…. What’s the question?

– Planning discourse contribution credit points. Remember the other day, there was a lively discussion here about the credit points in that planning discourse platform you guys — I mean Abbé Boulah and his buddy up in town have been cooking up — and I’ve been telling my email friend over in Europe about it. He is politely asking to get to know more about it, but I have a feeling he’s, well, not outright against it, but very skeptical about the idea.

– Well, I wouldn’t blame him; it is a bit involved, if you’d try to apply all parts of what it might be used for. Any feelings about what specifically is bothering him?

-It could be that I haven’t been able to explain it well enough; the discussion was mainly about the use of those credits outside of the planning discussions itself. The idea of those credits replacing the rile of money in the political process. I got the impression he sees it as elitist. So he may have lost sight of their basic purpose in the planning discourse itself, that as I understand it establishes their value in the first place. So maybe you can help me go through the basic benefits or uses of those points from the very beginning of the process? What they are for, again?

– Well, I’m glad you’re asking, because since that discussion, I’ve gotten kind of confused about it myself: it can get kind of complicated, and there are some questions that aren’t quite worked out yet, as far as I can see. So it gives me the chance to clarify things in my mind as well, I hope. As that old German professor said that Abbé Boulah keeps invoking: If you are not quite certain about something, it helps to give a lecture about it. Or better, a discussion, so you can interrupt and ask questions any time it’s getting derailed.

– Okay.

– Hmm. Let’s see. So we assume somebody has raised an issue, started a discussion about some problem or plan that needs attention; asking that something needs to be done about it, because it’s an an issue that affects, bothers, hurts many people in different ways. A community problem, perhaps even in a community that isn’t clearly defined — in that people in several different governance entities — state, countries — are affected and not at all clear what can be done about it and who is supposed to do it. And we optimistically assume that there is something like that discourse platform where all that can be discussed, eh?

-If you say so.

Participation: getting all pertinent information

– Well, there’s got to be some talk about it, whether it’s properly public and organized is a different question. Now the first thing that needs to happen is to get the information about that issue. What’s going on, who is getting affected, and how? And who has the knowledge, — call it expertise or just common sense — about what could be done about it — and then how that in turn would affect people. The common cry and demand is for public ‘participation’. The principle is that all the concerns of all the affected and interested parties must be brought into the discussion so that that can be given ‘due consideration’ in making plans and decisions, right?

– Right. Shouldn’t that be a matter of course, by now?

Credit points as incentives to contribute

– Sure. Well, governments don’t seem to like it much. But it’s also a bit of a problem for the public. You can make all kinds of provisions for citizen participation, but the fact is that that requires time and effort on the part of those citizens, time and effort that the ordinary citizen doesn’t always can afford and doesn’t get paid for, right? And some folks may have their suspicions about whether and how their concerns will actually make much if any difference in the decision. So shouldn’t there be some incentives — for everybody who has something meaningful to contribute to the issue, to contribute that information?

– Hmm. I see the problem: you can’t do it with money, it isn’t in anybody’s budget yet. So you are saying that it should be done with those credit points?

– Yes. At the very least, there should be some form of public recognition, appreciation for bringing in pertinent information. So you’d reward any such contribution with a ‘civic credit’ unit. And that credit should actually be ‘worth’ something, not just an empty and useless gesture. We’ll get to that later.

– Oh boy. That looks like more of a problem than a solution to me — now everybody comes in with all kinds of silly information, all the same ‘concerns’ or demands — what a mess.

Avoiding duplication, repetition

– You are quite right. That’s why full credit should be given only to the first entry of the same essential content — not to repetitions of the same point. This provision, incidentally, serves another purpose besides keeping the mass of incoming information manageable: it encourages people to enter the information fast, not to wait and let the discussion go around in circles missing a vital item of information.

– Okay, that makes sense. But is it a problem that some people who have made an effort to enter information but don’t get it in fast enough, will be annoyed at having their effort ignored?

Getting the information ‘fast’

– Good point. This makes it supremely important to have a good public display of information entered, updated as fast as possible, ideally of course, in ’real time’ so that a new item is instantly seen the moment it’s posted. The technology for doing that is available today, but if you want to allow information to get entered by different means — letters, phone calls, email etc. there will necessarily be some delay in getting it posted. So if there’s such a delay, you may want to have people who enter the same point before it gets posted for everybody to see, share that reward.

– Uh. Okay, but…

Decisions based on the merit of contributions

– Ah, I think I see what bothers you. It looks like something like restricting people’s ‘voting rights’ or ‘rights to free speech, does it? Yes. That impression would be bad, not necessarily justified. There must be a clear distinction between entering an information item, and making it ‘count’ in the decision. As long as decisions are made on the basis of vote counts, that impression is understandable, sure. But what we are after, is to reach decisions based on the merit of the information, not just on the number of votes — votes that may be un-informed , ill-informed, or deliberately ignoring the concerns of many other parties — the losing minority of the voting process. And to determine the merit of a piece of information or argument pro or con a plan, it only needs to the stated once. But now we have to deal with the issue of the method by which the merit of a piece of information can be determined.

– Yes. Just another question, before we get into that: what about intentionally ‘bad’ information? Wrong or unintentionally ill-informed claims, as you said — even deliberately false, misleading, confusing information? Trolls? Obscene language? Shouldn’t there be some boundaries on that in public discourse? — You agree, Vodçek?

– Well, Sophie, my responsibility as the keeper of this establishment is a little different than what’s going on in a public discourse. See, I am very much in favor of freedom of speech, in principle. But I also have a great interest in keeping this tavern somewhat civilized. So here, I feel entitled to ask people who start that kind of thing to please shut up or leave, before it degenerates into physical brawls. And I’m using my personal judgment on drawing the boundary, such as it may be, and I’m okay with some people thinking it’s not strict enough, and others steamed up about my stuffy old-timer attitude. Now in a public discussion, I’m not sure my standards should be imposed on everybody. So who’s entitled to set those standards? In fact, shouldn’t everybody have the right to publicly make fools or buffoons out of themselves?

– Huh. Never looked at it that way. Some people seem to get a kick out of doing that. A right to offend?

‘Empty’ acknowledgement points and later judgments

– I think Vodçek has a point there, Sophie. Whether you want to call it a right or not. But the platform process is actually dealing with that in a different way. It doesn’t try to finagle the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable entries — by language or content. So it accepts all entries as they come, stores them and makes them accessible in what it calls the ‘Verbatim’ file. And it acknowledges an entry as a contribution with a ‘point’ that is not much more than that: an acknowledgement: You participated. But then it gives all the other participants the opportunity to respond to it, either by making another verbal entry, or by assigning the original — offending — entry a judgment score. One on a scale of, say, minus 3 (for totally offensive, unacceptable, useless) to plus 3 for totally valuable and proper content. So if there is an actual ‘account’ for those contributions, that contribution point will add to — or diminish — a person’s public credit account, as judged by the public, by all participants in that discourse.

– Well, how will that be done? Are you saying that everybody gives every such contribution a judgments score?

– That would be one way, or a first step towards such a credit point account. Sure, it’s a little more involved that the current practice of ‘liking’ or adding another kind of emoticon to a person’s comment. But some such evaluation, actually a somewhat more specific evaluation, will be necessary further on in the process if the participants are going to be serious about getting a decision based on the merit of all contributions. Then the adjustment of a person’s initial entry will just be result of that systematic deliberation.

– Sounds good, but you’ll have to give me some more detail about that, Bog-Hubert.

Plausibility and importance judgments of argument premises

– Patience, Sophie. First let me ask you, were you here to listen to Abbé Boulah about his buddy’s method for evaluation planning arguments?

– You mean that story about looking at all the premises of those arguments and giving them plausibility scores?

– Right. Plausibility scores, on a scale of -1 (for ‘totally implausible’) to +1 (for ‘totally plausible, virtually certain) and the midpoint of zero (for ‘don’t know, can’t judge without more evidence…). But also weights of relative importance of all the ‘ought’ premises in the entire set of arguments pro and con a plan proposal. That one would be on a scale of zero (for totally unimportant) to +1 (for totally important) such that all the weights of all the ought-premises in that set of arguments will add up to 1.

– Right,  I got that part. I remember there was some math involved in getting from that bunch of scores to an overall measure of plausibility of the plan being discussed — I’m not sure I really understand that.

– We can go over that part separately some other time. Can you have some faith, for now, that some such equations can be developed that explain how your overall plan assessment should depend on those scores for the argument premises?

– Well… I’m not sure I’m ready for buying that cat in a bag, but let’s hear the rest of the story about the credit points.

– Okay. Remember, a person’s comments to the planning discourse, that is, to a discussion about whether a proposed plan should be adopted for implementation, can be roughly distinguished as three kinds of claims, premises, of arguments: One that claims that the plan A (or some plan detail) will lead to some outcome, result, consequence. B, given some conditions C. Another claim is about whether B ought to be aimed for or not; and the third is about whether the conditions C under which A will produce B are actually present or will be present when the plan is implemented.

Premise plausibility and importance scores are merit judgments

– Yes I remember now. And the plausibility and importance scores actually are judgments about the merit of those claims — is that what you are saying?

– Bravo! That is precisely it: those assessment scores are another way of saying how much someone’s comment providing those claims is worth, in that planning discussion. So if we now get some overall statistic of the whole group’s assessment scores of those contribution items, we are not only getting a measure of that item’s merit or weight towards the group’s plan decision, which is also a measure of that entry’s merit in the entire discourse. And the original ‘credit point’ acknowledgement can now be adjusted up or down according to those scores. If the scores as plausible, truthful, supported by evidence, and the ought-premise is important, the entry credit will shift from just ‘present’ upwards to a positive value, but if the claims are less credible, untrustworthy, the entry credit will become negative.

– I see, It’s beginning to sound interesting. But won’t everything now depend on the math shenanigans you’ll use to add up or whatever you are doing to the scores?

– True. But as we said, let’s assume for now that this can be made to work. Because then, there are more interesting things that can be done with these credits.

– Well, go on.

Calculation of overall plan plausibility
Versus
Calculation of group’s judgment of premise merit

– Fine. Where were we? Okay. With a little help from our computers, we have calculated the overall judgment scores for the proposed plan, from all the personal scores of discourse participants. And along the way, the computer has stored and used all the judgment scores for the set of argument premises that the participants have made. So we can also calculate the group scores for each premise judgment, don’t you see? And that would be one way to express the value, the merit of that piece of information in the opinion of that group. So now the original contribution credit can be adjusted up or down according to that score.

Negative credit scores discouraging poor or unsupported contributions

– Ah, I see. So that will become part of the contributor’s credit point account. And you think that will be some kind of encouragement to make valuable, constructive comments?

– Yes. And discouraging information that is misleading, false, unsupported by evidence or further plausible arguments, that will reduce your credit account.

– So why should people care about that? Is that account made public?

– Good question. I guess that needs to be discussed, or left to each participant to decide, whether to make it public or not. But the real question is how that account can be really useful to a person, other than giving them the personal satisfaction of having made useful contributions. Can you think of ways that could happen?

– Credit points influence on overall decision?

– Well, now that you mention it: would it make any difference in how the decision is made for the plan?

– Hmm. I guess it could. It depends on how each decision has to be made, legitimately, in each case. You could argue, for example, that the total public score for a plan should determine the decision. In the sense that if that final score is positive (somewhere between zero and plus one, or above a threshold that must be agreed upon, the plan is approved. If it falls below that, it’s rejected? Then, of course an individual’s contribution merit will be part of that final score.

– But that’s not very visible, right?  I remember those equations or ‘aggregation functions’, I think you called them, to  somehow add up all the individual judgments  to some overall score and then to a group score?

– Yes, that part needs discussion, sure. For now, let’s say that this overall score is just a recommendation to guide an official’s decision or elected committee’s final, traditional yes/no vote (that may be mandated by law or constitution), then somebody might suggest that the vote of each member of the voting entity could be ‘weighted’ according to that person’s credit score: If you have a high contribution credit score, your vote could be ‘worth’ more than the vote of somebody whose credit account is low or negative because of a lot of bad contributions to public discourse. Okay, okay, don’t hit me. That calls for a lot more discussion, and perhaps agreements in each case. But it offers some interesting possibilities that do need discussion, don’t you agree?

– Interesting, yes. I’m not sure I see how it would really improve things, perhaps I need to look at some actual examples. By the way, isn’t this why my friend was worrying about this scheme being, wait, what did he call it: some kind of meritocracy? Is that bad?

– Well, it’s a valid concern if in a society power and income is going mainly to people who have been declared as ‘meriting’, at the expense of all the other folks who never evened a chance to build up a merit for anything. Where ‘merit’ is mainly measures in financial terms.  The kind of measure we are talking about here is a very different  thing, isn’t it? Actually moving away from the power of money, wouldn’t you say? But I’ d say there is an issue of balancing the concern for getting decisions based on the merit — value, truth, plausibility, appeal, quality — of information brought into the discussion about plans, and making sure that the concerns of people who don’t have the time or opportunity to earn those credits aren’t being neglected.

– Yes, Bog-hubert: balancing is the problems sounds like the key. I agree that this open planning discourse platform seems to aim at making that easier. The concerns may be articulated and entered into the record to be considered by representatives of people who can’t do that for themselves for one reason or another — children, people too worn out by their work to get as well-informed as the democratic ideals want us to assume. But maybe there should be more robust safeguards to ensure that the meritocracy aspect doesn’t get out if line?

– I agree. As I said, there are many aspects that need more detail work and discussion, or better ideas…

Credit account use ‘outside of project discourse

– Now, those issues were all potential uses ‘within’ the discourse about a specific plan. Perhaps looking at how your contribution credits might be used ‘outside’ the particular project, in general, might be more useful?

– What do you mean?

– Well, think about it. Your financial credit score makes a difference in your ability to get a mortgage or a business loan. Could your public discourse contribution credit score make a difference in landing a job, say, or a public office? As part of your qualification for such offices? Sort of indicating how much you can be trusted to use sound judgment in decisions that can’t wait for a lengthy public discussion? A more quantitative indicator of your reputation?

– I see, yes. People are looking at a candidate’s voting record in previous positions, already — but that can be misleading, not very clear information. So yes, such a contribution credit record may be useful.

– Hey, I’m not so sure about that. One way of looking at it is how single incidents can destroy years of apparently trustworthy behavior and judgments: Like your famous Zinfandel: One glass of Zin poured into a sinkful of dishwater doesn’t do much to the essence of dishwater — but what do you get if you pour one glass of dishwater  into a bottle of Zin, eh? One big case of defrauding Medicare by millions of dollars should make you ineligible for any job in the government’s health departments, shouldn’t it?

– You’d think.

– Well. Those details must be ironed out, but I’d say that’s one way your credit account can be come ‘fungible’ — worth something, in everyday social life. Can you think of other ways?

– I think I need more coffee to cope with all these unusual issues. Vodçek, can you help with that? Too early for Zin, anyway, after that story of yours.

– Sure, Sophie, here you go. I remember hearing Abbé Boulah mention some real unusual ways to apply that credit account — something about making officials pay for their privilege to make decisions?

      Contribution credits versus money and power in public governance:  

PAYING for power decisions? 

– Right, I heard that too. I thought he and his buddy were really going out in utopia-land with those ideas. But it’s sticking in my mind: If you really are looking for ways to get some better control of the role of money and the temptations for less than beneficial public use of its power in public governance: do you see many promising innovative ideas out there? Better ideas than the traditional venerable ‘balance of power’, term limits, re-election, and in the extreme: impeachment tools? That all are more and more losing their effectiveness to the power of money from the private sector that is undermining those provisions? Because they don’t cover the relations between private sector money and public controls well enough?

– Well, how could ‘paying for decisions’ make a dent in that? You are making me curious.

– Okay. See, It’s really based on a different understanding of power. It’s not only the ability to make important decisions about your own life — where we call it ‘empowerment’, as a good thing, right? — but also about projects that involve others, that are too big for just one person to decide for themselves. So what if we look at the desire for power as a human kind of need, just like the need for food and shelter?  Getting those are considered close to human rights — but we make folks pay for them. So why should we treat power differently from those needs? But we also need to find better ways of preventing power from becoming addictive and abusive. Now, can we say that the general social concern regarding needs is to first make sure that people will be able to earn the means to satisfy those needs, that is, to p a y for them, and then actually make them pay. So why not apply that pattern to the power issue?

– But, uh. But…

– But but. Yes, I hear you: Pay? But with money, no: that would just dig our hole deeper? Well,  perhaps we can use a different currency?  Now that we have one: what about paying for public power decisions with your discourse contribution credit points? The more important a decision, the more points you need as an office holder, to make it. And you use up your credits with each decision. There might be a way to treat it like a kind of investment by providing a way to earn credits back with the public appreciation of successful, beneficial decisions, which means that if it was a poor decision, you lost your credit investment and some of your power to make more decisions. If it’s all gone: time to step down from the power office, hmm?

– What about decisions that require more credit points than a single person can ever come up with?

– Good question! But doesn’t the very question contain the core of the answer? See, if you are a faithful supporter of an office holder, meaning that you’re confident that this person will make good judgments in power decisions, you can transfer some of your own hard-earned judgment credits to that person, to enable them to make those big decisions on your behalf. Not money: judgment credits. Instead of all the election financing ending up in the advertising media coffers…

– Hey, great idea! Perhaps I could even specify the kind of programs and decisions my points should be used for?

– Power to your kind of people! Yes! There might be a way to build that into the system — with the possibility of your taking your credits back if the person makes decisions you don’t approve of, huh?

– Bog-Hubert, Sophie, do I have to point out to you that this devious scheme will make you, the supplier of credit point power, just as a c c o u n t a b l e for the decisions you support? Because you too, would lose your points for poor decisions? With the possibility that you too might lose your credit investment in an incompetent power holder?

– Trying to scare us now, Vodçek? Yes, it makes sense: I guess it will make people more careful with their credit point contributions, besides being able to ‘punish’ politicians who win elections with promises like ‘no more taxes’ but then go ahead and raise taxes anyway once they are in office. If you can withdraw your credit points, that is.

Power and accountability

– Yes: If your glorious leader has squandered all his own and your points on lousy decisions, there may be nothing to get back. Unless we can make those fellows go back to regular status to earn more points to pay back their credit point debts… I guess the point is: all the talk about power and accountability is rather meaningless without an account whose wealth you could lose is you use your power unwisely or irresponsibly.

– This is getting way too futuristic to have a chance to be realized any time soon, Bog-Hubert, don’t you think?

– Well, that’s what they said about those crazy fools who said let’s build flying machines… Abbé Boulah says that the technology for doing these things is already available, so now it’s just about working out the details, getting the system programmed and set up, and getting public support for putting it into practice. But perhaps there are better ways to do those things — public planning discourse, better control of power, — could better ideas be triggered into the open by the very outrageous nature of these proposals?

The discourse platform as a first needed step

– Sounds like what we need as a first step is that planning discourse platform itself, to run the public discussion needed to reach agreement about what to do. And to work out the details?

– Couldn’t have said it better myself, Sophie.

Overview

–o–


Unimpeachable Wall-Speak in the Fog Island Tavern

– Hello Vodçek; what’s going on? You look unusually worried today?
– Hi Bog-Hubert. Yes, you could say I’m a bit worried. Somebody must have snuck something weird into my coffee machine.
– What makes you say that? People complaining about it?
– No, it’s not that. It doesn’t taste any different. But listen to them! They’ve been ranting and raving about the wall and whether the president should be impeached, like they’ve been hyperstoned!
– Well, it’s a common affliction these days, isn’t it? I mean, the topics, not the state of mind you suspect. Well, on second thought…
– Bog-Hubert, go listen to them. You haven’t heard nothing like it.
– Oh, the news is full of stuff like that, every day… And you should have heard things before in here that even the news can’t even think of.. So what are they saying? About impeachment? That’ll never fly.
– Never? Why? Now you are starting to amaze me too.. I wouldn’t even want to ignore talk of such topics in here, if I had my druthers.
– Well, look at what he promised when he took the oath of office…
– You mean about protecting the Constitution and all that?
– You’re leaving out the important stuff. The crossed finger qualification.
– Huh? Have you heard something his lawyers will pull out of their hats if it comes to that? Aren’t people saying that he violated that oath?
– No, it’s right there in plain sight, It says “… to the best of my ability”, doesn’t it?
– So?
– Well, think about it. If he says, I did what I did, to the best of my ability, can you prove that he could have done better, according to his ability? If you can’t see that, does it raise questions about your ability?
– You’re getting into dangerous territory there, my friend. Better watch it all the time. But what they are talking about over there is different.
– Oh? What are they saying?
– Well, one argument I’ve heard from over here is that He’s just not letting all his tricks out of his sleeve, or his hat, yet.
– Never seen him wear a hat. Would it muss up his hair? So sleeve it is. Now: For example?
– Well, about the wall…
– Do they have suspicions about what tricks that might be?
– Yeah, they do. In fact one of the things is an idea that actually came out of this tavern a while ago, somebody put it into a ‘Zing’ in the paper, but nobody seemed to pick up on it, so they think it’s being kept secret for now.
– You’re killing me with suspense. Let me have a cup of that fortified coffee, the Café Cataluña, with Fundador, eh? To kill whatever somebody might have put in it, will you? So what’s the idea?
– Okay. It’s that they should put solar panels on top of the wall, to generate power.
– That’s actually a great idea, isn’t it? Brings that whole wall thing into the 21st century. Because just the wall won’t work, we know that. Even that big one in China from thousands of years ago didn’t work so well, even back then.
– Right. Like all the walls in history since then — where are those now? Today, a wall just doesn’t keep anybody or anything from going over, under, or around it.
– Wait, I remember now: did’t Renfroe there come up with the idea to then sell that solar power to Mexico?
– Right, I had forgotten that. Now Renfroe says — I don’t know where he gets that kind of information out here, not even Fox News is coming up with that stuff — that’s how he’s going to keep his promise to make Mexico pay for it. But that they’re waiting until the re-election campaign gets into critical territory to throw that out of the hat. But they are going off on all kinds of tangents expanding on that idea.
– I can imagine. For example, aren’t there possibilities to make it work without the actual wall underneath, if you make clever, sneaky use of some of the power.
– By Abbé Boulah’s twisted mustache, here you too are going on with that craziness! And you haven’t even had a taste of the fortified coffee yet, I just finished it; here!
– Thanks. It isn’t all that crazy, but I have been wondering why all the folks in this great innovative country have been so stuck on that antiquated, obsolete wall idea, — both sides. No ideas! No imagination!
– Well, they are at it, over there. Yes, they found out that if you just were to put a kind of advanced electrical fence out there, powered by the solar panels, — one that would just taze anybody that tried to get across, you wouldn’t need the wall itself. You’d just stun the intruders to immobilize them until the border guards could get there on their electrical ATV’s to take them in.
– Electrical ATV’s, I get it: powered by the energy produced by the solar panels overhead! And if you put charging stations on the other side, for Mexicans to buy power for their hybrids and electrical cars, that would be the way the Mexicans would pay for the non-wall-wall. Not the Mexican government, but the people using the vehicles.
– And backing off the wall idea itself, I mean the concrete or steel versions of it, will be the negotiating carrot he’d use to pull the rug out from under the wall opposition. Saving lots of the money that’s already appropriated, after spending enough on the competition-demo versions they’ve been building so far, to pacify those companies. Ol’ Renfroe, again — the others seem to be too stuck on the notion of just one side winning and the other losing to even image old-fashioned negotiating and getting ahead on the offers? You think the president will hire Renfroe?
– No, even Renfroe has heard about how everybody he’s hired gets fired before they even finished redecorating their new home in DC. He just wants a new outboard for his boat, so he can get out to Rigatopia for a fun vacation… I taught them how to make Eau D’Hole, some of the folks out there are getting better at it than the Slovenians…and Renfroe can’t wait to check it out.
– Well, over there it sounds like they have been tasting a smuggled-in sample already. There oughtabe a law…

***


Poking holes in the timespace remembrane of the Fog Island Tavern regulars

— Hi guys — what’s with all the thoughtful faces?

— Hello Sophie — well, don’t you look thoughtlessly happy today!

— Yeah, I feel like celebrating: solved my solitaire three times in a row, yippee! But you didn’t answer my question — You guys are looking, well, kind of —

– You’re right. Indeterminate. Thing is, we’re not quite sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with our friend here, the esteemed professor Balthus, who is equally indeterminate. Right now, he’s on what seems to be the other side of an emotional Möbius strip.

– You’re not making sense. Even lil’ ol’ me knows that a Möbius strip has only one side. It’s just twisted into joining both sides into one, so they, wait…

– Ah, you’re inadvertently stumbling on the very conundrum we’re facing here. Let me explain the momentous situation that transcends the flat-world simplicity of the Möbius-stripped-down topological imagination we have gotten used to. While your friends here are recovering from their conundruminations that stunned them into silence for, lets see, more than three minutes already. Unheard of!

– Your speech is getting darker by the minute. KInd of spaced out?

– Okay. Let me see if I can summarize it for you. See, our dear professor has applied a series of analogical reasoning inferences to the phenomenon of the Möbius strip flatness, a flatness persisting even into the curved ‘ring’ figure of the familiar Möbius strip armband we know. A device he once suggested as a campaign device for a friend who was running for some public office — with the inscription ‘we are all on the same side’. Sadly, the friend’s political advisors did not think much of it, so it wasn’t used. But the friend lost the election; what can I say.

– Is that the reason for the long-face aspect of the current mood here?

– No. Sorry, that was long ago.  We’ll get to the two-faced mood later. Now, the professor suddenly encountered a reminder of ol’ Einstein’s edict that space is curved. Cleverly putting things together, he embarked on the following line of reasoning:
* A Möbius strip, for all its ‘global’ one-sidedness, does have the ‘local’ property of being two-sided. In any short-sighted locality, it patently does have two sides.
* So, could it not follow, when we extend our imagination to the third dimension, that space has an analogous property of being two-sided, or should we say ‘two-spaced’? So that we, in our old Cartesian habit, ‘locally’ describe our location with the three coordinates, blindly find ourselves on just one ‘side’, I mean space, of the location? That there might be, as it were, ‘another ‘space-side’ to where we are?

– I get it. And that our ‘location’ is just on the other ‘side-space’ of the location of the place just on the other ‘side’ of space? Like any point on the Möbius strip has that close neighbor on the other side of the paper, that is really on the same side? Close by?

– You got it. I think. As close as the thickness of the space-membrane separating the two sides, but separated from it by the distance you’d have to travel if you were to stay on ‘your’ side to get there. This has, of course, profound implications — even practical ones, — that haven’t even been explored for the Möbius strip itself, surprisingly.

– Explain, please. I’m getting a touch of space travel sickness already…

– Well, look at all those network and systems diagrams. Say, communication networks. They are all flat, representations smashed flat against a two-dimensional environment whose other side isn’t ever even entering the oft-invoked superior whole-system awareness of the systems thinking analyst. The flatness of paper on your ‘desktop’, so unthinkingly adopted by the computer folks onto the monitor screen, does not make it easy to visualize and explore this amazing möbiousness. Even if they did, the flat-screen diagrams would have to extend half the distance around the round of the Möbius ‘band’ to reach that point on the other side of the paper. When the point is just ‘on the other side’ — so if we could find a way to punch a hole in the strip — we’d be right there!

– Well: that’s weird enough for the strip — what about space?

– Ah Sophie, yes: Now remember: If space is curved, as Einstein proved: could it be that space itself is a kind of Möbius space? That has ‘another side’ — but being quite spacious, you’d come back to the ‘point’ on the other space-side’ only after a long journey around the universe? Impossible? No — if it’s a Möbius-space, we’d still be on the same ‘space-side’, wouldn’t we? And if there’s such a thing, wouldn’t you want to know what’s there — what it looks like, on the others side?

– So?

– So? Oh ye of little curiosity! Now think: That point on the ‘other side’ — it’s right there, so close, on the other side of space! And what if we could find a way to ‘poke a hole’ in that wall, we’d be right there? Might that not be easier than trying to travel light-years around ‘our side’ of space?

– Sure, if you put it like that. But how?

– Well, Sophie: that would take some research, wouldn’t it? A whole new domain of scientific investigation, think about all the new university departments and independent think tanks: The new Science of Möbius-Curved Space Membrane-Drilling? A whole new meaning to the old ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’? Or ‘Poke, Baby, Poke’?

– You’re getting too excited, Vodçek Poke-man. You’re rousing our friends from their temporary stupor. Hi, Professor: Congratulations to your discovery! So you think you’ll land a new job as Director of the Department of Curved Space-Membrane Research?

– Oh Sophie, no, sadly: I am getting too old for that, some young whipper-snapper will be hired to research all my notebooks on the matter and getting all the glory. But Vodçek, I think you have been feeding Sophie only half of the story.

– How so, Professor?

– By Abbé Boulah’s Untimely Curved Straight-edge Ruler! You’ve forgotten what Einstein said about space — it’s not just space — its space-time! So the other space-side of your möbius membrane — if you were to travel to it the ‘long way’, properly staying on ‘your’ space-time-side of the thing: what time would you be getting there? And what time do you think you’d be if you just ‘poked a hole’ in the space-time membrane? That hole, my friend, is a black time-hole, if I ever saw one. I’m not sure I’d want to be poking holes in that.

– But if you say that the ‘next-door’ point is ‘right there’ on the other space-side — would the black hole open up only when you start poking? Is it there all the time?

– Beats me, Vodçek. Pour me some Zinfandel, will you? But don’t use that Klein bottle we gave you for your birthday — Im not sure it’ll hold any wine? What’s the matter, Renfroe? Some Zin?

– No thanks, I think I need some of that Bog-Huber’ts Spatial, I mean Special, dammit, you’ve got me talking that funny talk too. The one without the label in the corner.

– Here you go. Go easy though. So what were you trying to say?

– Well, Jus’ thinking’, man. If’n you could poke holes in that thingamabrane, yeah, I don’t believe anybody can do it from this side yet — and that may be a good thing for all I know — but what if somebody has figured out how to do it — from the other side? Wouldn’t that explain it?

– Explain what, Renfroe?

– Well, all them alien sighting’s! It’s them aliens! What if they been poking holes in the screen to come see what’s on our side?

– Interesting idea. So why don’t they come in here, have a drink and communicate? Why do they just pop in for a sec up in the air and then disappear again?

– Good question. Mebbe its ’cause of the time being bent too, like the professor said — they’re just zipping by in a time window, like? From the future, or the past?

– Yeah, And maybe they just take a look at what’s going on here and get so scared they get the hell out again as fast as they can?

– I’m cutting y’all off, guys. This is getting out of hand.

– See? that kinda thing? Even scaring the bleepin’ timespace outta them aliens!



NOTES  ON A DIFFERENT ‘PATTERN THAT CONNECTS’

The Design or Planning Argument that connects claims of Meaning, Science, Know-How, Needs, Desires, Ethics Morals, Justice and Aesthetics…

 Thorbjørn Mann

There is much discussion these days about the relationship between different domains of knowledge; relationships that easily turn into divisive  and unproductive controversies. Borrowing a phrase from the  community of research of C. Alexander’s ‘Pattern Language’, an examination of the different kinds of knowledge making up the arguments used in planning, design, policy-making shows how this argument ‘pattern’ connects the reasoning patterns of the different domains. 

THE “STANDARD PLANNING ARGUMENT 

The  common structure of ‘pros and cons’ exchanged in discussions about whether a plan should be adopted for implementation  I call the ‘standard design /planning argument’ can be described as follows:  (The letters D, F, I, E in the following stand for ‘deontic’ (ought) claims, fact-claims, instrumental claim, explanatory claim, respectively.)

Proposal:  D  (X)  (Plan X ought to be  adopted / implemented)

    because

Instrumental premise 1:    FI ((X —> Y) | C) (Plan X will have effect / result/consequence Y given conditions C

    and 

Deontic premise  2:              D (Y) Outcome Y ought to be pursued / aimed for

   and 

Factual premise 3:               F (C) Conditions C are (or will be) given 

These premises (which in practice aren’t always all made explicit, assuming some premises  as ‘taken for granted’) draw on and are supported by very different kinds of ‘knowledge’.  To fully appreciate — understand and giving it due consideration — such arguments in the process of reaching a decision about a proposed plan, a person must understand, and if necessary raise questions to clarify their meaning, content, and forms of supporting ‘evidence’:  

MEANING, DISTINCTION, DEFINITION:  CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE

‘X’, ‘Y’, ‘C’:  and relationship  R —-> Understanding , meaning of the terms / words (as understood by proponent and audience to be persuaded):  Explanation, description, definition;  Relationship of concepts;

‘Plan X’:          Idea, vision, desirable outcome,  state of affairs, solution to a problem:  description in context;

‘Effect’ or ‘consequence  ’Y’: State of affairs, Result, Meaning,/implication)

Relationship R of ‘X —> Y’.    E.g. cause – effect, implication, part-whole relation;

Condition ‘C’:           Data:  about state of affairs (‘now’);  Others’ intentions, desires, needs, plans. (Actually, a systematic description of the conditions C would amount to a complete ‘systems model’ showing all the factors in the ‘whole system’ and their relationships…)

Argument pattern:  D(X) <—( FI ((X—>Y)|C) & D(Y) & F(C):  the reasoning ‘rule’ (among other standard  argument patterns)

WHAT THE WORLD ‘IS’ LIKE:   ‘DATA’, fact-claims, descriptions

F (C) Descriptions about current  and past states of affairs, basis and EVIDENCE for claims about such ‘facts’;

HOW THE WORLD ‘WORKS’: 

 FI (X —> Y) Or  FI (X —>REL—>Y)|C     The instrumental premise, expressing a ‘law’ (natural, logical, or man-made agreement’) ( also expressing a belief in causality) that makes it possible to achieve some proposed change with a specific plan of action. Technical  ‘know-how’ engineering, management skills.

WHAT ‘OUGHT’ TO BE DONE OR AIMED FOR:

D (X) and (D (Y):    ‘Deontic’ premises and claims:  The proposed plan or action, and the desired or undesirable effects it will bring about (or avoid).  Also:  ‘It’s the law’ (regulation);  or.  Command: “Authority A said so”.  

EACH TYPE OF KNOWLEDGE IS SUPPORTED BY DIFFERENT ARGUMENT PATTERNS 

The ‘standard planning argument’ above has many ‘pattern’ variations,  depending on the distribution of assertion or negation signs for each of the premises, and of the nature of the relationship claims in the instrumental premise. Not all of those are equally plausible as argumentation patterns in themselves; some are outright counterproductive or self-contradictory. So the reasoning pattern of each argument must itself be assessed — even the explicit use (stating all parts) of such an argument does  not guarantee overall plausibility. 

Things are even getting more complicated when we realize that the pattern and its plausibility as intended by a proponent of the argument  may be different from the pattern actually assessed by an evaluator:  if one or several premise elements are assigned a different assertion or negation sign by the person judging, it is thereby becoming a different pattern in that person’s mind. 

The extent to which this complication may affect the evaluation of the arguments supporting the other knowledge type claims involved here — for example, the ‘evidence’ supporting fact-claims, the reasoning supporting scientific hypothesis-testing, such as the inductive pattern of  a hypothesis H corroboration by evidence E : ((H —->  E) & E ) —> H (inconclusive) or refutation:  ((H—> E ( & ~E) —> ~H;  (conclusive);   the explanations of the meaning of terms — may have to be examined in different ways than the usual textbook treatment that study the conclusiveness of arguments, mainly as intended by the proponent.  This task still calls for more attention. 

The aim of this little inquiry, to start with, is to point out that each of the types of knowledge is supported by a set off different argument types. This includes all the argument types and patterns discussed in standard textbooks (where planning argument and arguments including ‘ought’ premises have not been given adequate attention). Serious but unnecessary — controversies often arise from lack of attention to this fact: attempts to justify plans resting on only one such set of patterns, or inappropriately applying the rules of one domain to the others.

For example: from time to time, prevalent ‘approaches’ or methods for doing things in society seem to focus on one of these types of premises with something like faith of their exclusive significance:  F —> D:  What we ought to do follows ‘DATA’ — the fallacy of ‘OUGHT following ‘IS’: the constraint of ‘the facts’:  FI —> D. “ We can do this, therefore we should do it’;  D —> D   ‘Wishful thinking’:  we ought to aim for it because we want it;   or:  We ought to do it (X) because it follows the goal or principle (Y); even: “Do X because it’s right”.

A different way of stating this is that the exclusive reliance on one of these premise types represent different (‘philosophical’?) attitudes about the dominant type of knowledge to guide design and planning:  Science (Facts, Laws of nature), Technology (Engineering: the things we can do); Management skills (Social things we can do: ‘leadership’ and psychology); Religion and ethics, morality principles, societal laws, Political Ideologies. 

All of these are fallacious ‘reasons’ for doing or not doing things— because they ignore the other kinds of premises of the planning argument and the many other arguments, about a proposed plan. We must consider all the pros and cons, and all the premises they rest on, even if they aren’t all made explicit. 

It is also necessary to look at some of the different types of judgments we use to assess these different claims. 

THE DIFFERENT TYPES  OF JUDGMENTS  NEEDED FOR EACH PREMISE TYPE:

Each of these premises must be evaluated, judged, in order to arrive at a judgment about the merit of the argument as a whole. Much has been made and written about the criterion of TRUTH or its absence FALSITY about claims; and the notion that a claim about some state of affairs in the real world must be either true or false — that it corresponds to the actual state of affairs out there. This leads to the careless jump to express our judgments on the binary scale of ‘true’ and ‘false’. 

But we must keep in mind not only that we actually do not make our judgments about the real states of affairs but according to how sure, how certain we are about whether a claim corresponds to reality:  Most thing we do not know ‘for sure’, and even some factual issues are not true (or false all the time under all conditions but with some degree of PROBABILITY. This calls for a different scale upon which we should talk about and explain our judgments:  the common probability scale is one of zero to one  or zero to 100 ‘percent’. 

 For all its common acceptance, the probability scale does not allow us to express a different kind of judgment:  that we simply ‘don’t know’, cannot judge whether a claim is true. false, probable. To express this admission of inability to judge ‘judgment’ by assigning the claim a 50% probability is misleading, it sound like a confident assessment that it will be true about 50%  of the time. So a better scale, one with a midpoint of zero ‘Don’t know’ and for example, a  +1  score for the judgment ‘completely confident that a claim is true, 100% probable, i.e . certain, and a -1 score expressing the same complete confidence that it is not.  

Even the criterion of ‘probability’ does not adequately express what our judgments about the meaning, the adequacy of a description of something (describing a car as ‘having four wheels’ may be true as far as the number of wheels in concerned, but useless when the description intends to help us find the car in the large parking lot…) or — most importantly, assess the deontic premise, the ‘ought’ claims. We argue about those claims precisely because they are neither true nor probable yet — by definition:  we try to decide whether we should attempt to make them come true or not. For all these judgments, something like PLAUSIBILITY, expressed on the  continuous +1/-1 scale, with the zero ‘don’t know’ midpoint, will be better.

One more judgment criterion is needed for the assessment of plans. The usual concern that has been the focus of argumentation has been the question whether an argument — a single ‘clinching’ argument — supports the conclusion:  If all men are mortal and  Socrates is a man, it follows inescapably that Socrates is mortal;  no further argumentation is needed.  But the assessment of plans does NOT rest on single arguments (except possibly the convincing proof that a plan simply is impossible because it contradicts laws of natural (or human laws we do not wish or dare to violate). Plans are assessed by ‘weighing the pros and cons’. They don’t all carry the same ‘weight’. Systems Thinking urges us to find out ALL potential consequences of actions and plans  (including the nasty ’unforeseen consequences’ that result from the nonlinear behavior caused from the interacting relationships and relationship loops in the ‘whole system’ network). We must form arguments (of the above kind for each of those consequences) and assess their merit. This ‘weighing’ requires a judgment about the importance or better:  WEIGHT OF RELATIVE IMPORTANCE of an argument —  how much weight does one pro or con carry in comparison with all the other pros and cons?   

The way we examine and construct overall opinions about the proposed plan from all the partial judgments (which has been the focus of my studies on planning arguments) still needs considerable work. 

IN SUMMARY:  

Thorough, systematic deliberation about proposed plan will require us to make all these judgments about the different kinds of premises, of all pro and con arguments, and how they relate to each other. The planning argument contains and connects all the different forms of knowledge; planning decisions are not adequately supported ONLY by either the FACTS (DATA), the possibility of doing something just because we have the tools, the INSTRUMENTAL knowledge, or just because we feel or WISH (or CONSCIOUSNESS/ AWARENESS) that some outcome OUGHT to be realized.  Promoting plans and policies on the sole merit of one of these kinds of judgment types is not likely to be persuasive let alone constructive — especially when the different participants in a discourse are adherents of different types of judgments:  TRUTH does not apply to all claims, and just DATA aren’t supporting what our plans should be like. Looking more carefully at the patterns  of planning arguments might help us to understand these differences, and how the planning argument connects them.

 


A Five-story parking garage for Midtown Tallahassee?

A garage building is proposed in the ‘MIdtown’ area of Tallahassee. For many years, this area had not been touched by the more forceful development of downtown and other areas. More recently it has has seen a much-appreciated growth — relatively small redevelopment and re-use of older, one-or two-story buildings, generating a lively pedestrian-friendly ambience, in spite of the fact that the main streets in the area are arteries carrying heavy through traffic; for which there are no plausible alternative routes.

For the newer businesses in the area, looking for more customers than the residents of nearby neighborhoods — mainly Lafayette Park neighborhood, to the east, and perhaps some residential areas west of North Monroe streets — there is a perceived need for more parking, which has led to the proposed project. This proposal envisions a five-story building on the corner of Thomasville Rd. and Fifth Ave. on a lot where there currently is only a small one-story building.

The project — announced as a city-private partnership venture, has generated considerable opposition from residents of the area — most likely due to its size, which is visually quite out of scale with other nearby buildings, and the concern about attracting more traffic to the already strained streets.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s coverage of a public meeting about the proposed project suggests that there was more opposition than support for it. This is understandable, given its size and the dubious experience with some large projects e.g. in the downtown area. There were plausible suggestions to provide any needed additional parking on Monroe streets, or on the site of the Tallahassee Police Headquarters that will soon move away from its current location on 7th Ave. However: some development must be expected on the arguably underutilized site of the proposed project; which will generate the same concerns. So a public discussion about what developments in this area should look like is very much needed — now, before any new proposals are developed, or the current one being driven forward based on the assumptions and agreements with the city. Does the public/private partnership offer opportunity to guide this or other projects towards better results? The city might reconsider it apparent tentative approval, and perhaps insist on a few important features in return for some developer concessions.

The pictures I have seen suggest that the design already includes some general rules of thumb for more pedestrian-friendly environments — for example, the provision of commercial use along the streets. Encouragement for more improvements might be better than mere opposition, to ensure that these features don’t get lost in the further development.

A few general rules of thumb for more pedestrian-friendly environments might include the following:

* The public sidewalk should have ‘layers’ or zones separating the main pedestrian zones from the traffic. This might require some setback of the building to provide a wider sidewalk to allow for trees and other items in the outer zone. A matter for ciity investment?

* The sidewalk: Rather than cute isolated ‘awnings’ over selected openings, (like we see in the picture and in other projects around town, there should be a continuous arcade or awning for part of the sidewalk, for real pedestrian protection from sun and rain.

* The floor area at the sidewalk level: The project to its credit already provides for commercial  space along Thomasville and Fifth street. This is beneficial only if that space — specifically, the area next to the sidewalk — actually is of interest to pedestrians: banks, law or insurance offices, associations are not. Incentives should be considered to ensure that this space will house pedestrian destinations with high visitor frequency. Small stores, possibly movable vending kiosks or carts that can be exchanged to provide destinations appropriate fore different times of day. Public amenities: Restrooms, information waiting areas for bus stops, taxi stops that won’t stop through traffic.

* These destinations should form a continuous chain of friendly experience opportunities with easy transition between them. Even a few dozen feet of un-interesting frontage can disrupt the pedestrian flow.

* The building: Rather than five uninterrupted stories rising from the property edge, it would be better to provide the building with an ‘earthy’ base of two or at most three floors, with upper floors set back by about five feet and designed for a lighter, airier appearance. This would preserve a ‘small town’ comfortable street profile even if the building above were allowed more above (to compensate for the ‘loss’ of profitable square footage at those levels). The sketches below show this principle that perhaps should be adopted as a city regulation, without imposing any specific architectural design constraints:

Not this:                                but this!

Even such large projects that at first sight may seem scary and a threat to the lively, friendly ambience of Midtown can be designed to complement and improve it. But the concerns of nearby residents and businesses, and how they might be addressed, should be worked out in a continuing constructive public discourse.

 


The Fog Island Tavern ‘Quarrgument’ Symposium, third and final night.

The Fog Island Tavern ‘Quarrgument’ Symposium, third and (so far) final night.

– Ah, there you are, guys. I was afraid you were going to chicken out on the last part of our symposium.

– Why, Vodçek, is there any other place on the island to go to for a bit of lubricated conversation? We were just delayed watching our friend trying to run his boat into the harbor — he got a new fancy radar system, and apparently was so busy watching it going into the channel that he ran aground on the sandbank at the third pole.

– Huh? That’s a course he’s been doing for fifty years now, he could do it blindfolded in a moonless pea-soup-fog night?

– Just goes to show. Maybe the radar was made in one of those countries we slapped the new tariffs on?

– Don’t be silly. Even I know the radar doesn’t show stuff under water. He just got distractified with the new gizmo, is all.

– You’re right, Renfroe. Hope the boat is okay. Anyway, are we going to try for the last part of Abbé Boulah’s agenda?

– Haven’t got anything more interesting to do, Vodçek — your desolate Tavern still hasn’t got TV…

– I won’t even bother to ignore that remark, Bog-hubert. Okay then: The idea was to see whether and how our buddy’s proposed Planning Discourse Platform meets the expectations we drew up last night. Bog-Hubert — I believe you are the most familiar guy here, with that proposal — where should we start? You want to give us a rundown on its basic features?

– Hmm. I thought we’d go by the list we set up last night, maybe in a slightly different order. Haven’t we all have heard enough about the basic idea to fit things into the overall scheme? If there are questions, I can always fill in more detail. Keep in mind that this ‘platform’ is meant to facilitate planning or policy-making discourse about issues or problems that cut across the borders of established jurisdictions — municipalities, counties, states, nations. Even more so for global crises and challenges. Problems of the ‘wicked’ kind, where it is not clear who is affected by either the problem or by proposed solutions, where ‘voting’ decision-making practices aren’t applicable because there are no clear boundaries that define who’s eligible to vote, so decisions will have to be based on some other measure, like the merit of the information provided in the discourse. Much of which is not known already, stored in textbooks and data bases, but will mainly be established precisely by means of discourse contributions: the folks concerned talking about what should be done. So the first question probably should be how to get at all that information.

– That’s the question we put up in that list last night as “Inviting, even offer incentives to voice ALL concerns”, isn’t it?

– Yes.

So what does the proposal say about that?

– Several steps.The assumption is that there will be some organization providing that platform, an online website for discussing plans and policies. Which remains to be determined, by the way. It first puts up issues, projects or problems that somebody feels should be dealt with by some collective response, on a kind of ‘bulletin board’, where people can indicate whether it should become a project discussion.

– Makes sense: first people have to become aware of what needs to be discussed and acted upon. The kind and number of responses will determine whether it will be taken up, I assume?

– Yes. For projects that receive a sufficient number of replies indicating the need for public discussion, a kind of website will be set up, that invites everybody who has a concern or pertinent information to send in messages expressing that concern. So it’s open for any input, to respond to part of the question. To offer incentives to do so, the proposal is suggesting to reward every entry with some basic ‘contribution credit points’ — provided that the content of the entry is pertinent to the project and hasn’t already been made. No repetition. But all entries will be stored for reference.

– This already brings up the problem of moderation — keeping the discourse ‘civil’: the issues of ensuring “General ‘netiquette’ ” and responding to violations. General ‘netiquette’ also applied to decision-making discourse: How is that being dealt with?

– That question is dealt with in several ways, Sophie. There is a ‘standard’ set of ‘procedural agreements’ covering the entire platform — expressed mostly as desirable ‘do’, more than ‘don’t do’ recommendations. All comments are accepted into that unconstrained ‘verbatim’ file, as written. But to be entered into the concise overview and assessment displays and worksheets, the ‘core content’ will be translated into the basic question, claim and argument format that omits qualification, repetition, characterization and anything that isn’t connected to the subject being discussed in a distinct ‘if-then’ or similar relationship.

– How is that translation into the condensed format done?

– Good question. Ideally, participants should do that themselves, but that’s something traditional education hasn’t taught us yet. So initially, in small projects, this may have to be done by trained support staff.

– Couldn’t the AI folks write algorithms for that? Dexter?

– Down the road, perhaps, Vodçek. Once they see if they can make money on it? Meanwhile, there could be templates for expressing arguments, for example, — the ‘planning argument’ forms we have identified as key to the planning discourse haven’t been acknowledged by the traditional literature of argumentation yet nor gotten into the textbooks. So those templates would serve to familiarize participants with the approach.

– No suggestions on ‘consequences’ for violating the basic rules — of decency, truthfulness, personal attacks, etc.? The ‘Response to violations’ item on our list?

– One kind of response for that would be through the provisions for contribution credits. Remember the incentive points given to all entries — basic acknowledgements for contributions, at first. Set up to build a kind of ‘civic merit’ account for people, that could be valuable for other things, say like qualification for office or jobs. Those points might be adjusted up or down by the community, depending on their plausibility, they way they are backed up by reliable evidence, an so on. If there is a formal evaluation of contribution items, e.g. arguments, the resulting evaluation scores will be used to do that adjustment up or down in a systematic manner. Otherwise, the community could just enter adjustment judgments.

– You think that might be effective as a preventive strategy, to keep trolls and fake truth posters from entering garbage?

– Well, it’s an idea that should be tried out sometime, at least — better than all the likes and emojis that are kind of useless for any other purpose than saving others from explaining their objection…

– Talking about the AI possibilities: an algorithm might automatically subtract penalty points from a participant’s credit point account for objectionable vocabulary or personal attacks in a post…

– Okay: it looks like that issue is part of the proposal, with room for different expansion ideas, including ‘Evolution of self-governance for responses to violation’ for keeping the discourse constructive. What about the issue of balancing the parliamentary principle of free speech and getting all concerns, but linking them more effectively with the decisions? The goal of getting Decisions based on merit of all contributions?

– This is the part that’s addressed in the ‘special techniques’ appendix of the PDSS paper, offering several techniques both older and new, innovative, for the goal of developing some performance measure based on the merit of discourse contributions, that can guide decisions. It contains the whole set of provisions for evaluation that we decided last night to put on the list for more research and development. But the entire proposal is aimed at making such techniques part of the process.They all aim at ‘Ensuring ‘due consideration’ of all concerns’ — nudging participants to address all aspects, all pros and cons in their assessment and judgments. Encouraging Emphasis on evidence, support for claims that receive opposing judgments from different parties. And displaying arguments with all ‘premises’ explicitly identified for assessment — including the ones that are often left unstated as ‘taken for granted’ but also need scrutiny and evaluation.

– How so, Bog-Hubert?

– Not sure what you are asking, Dexter — details of the evaluation? Or the ‘unstated premises’?

– Well, actually both. But thinking about it now, I think I understand the one about the premises taken for granted. It’s about the ones we often sluff off saying things like ‘all else being equal’, if at all?

– Yes, our planning arguments — the pattern, “Yes, we ought to do A [conclusion, proposal] because A will result in B, given conditions C [the factual-instrumental premise] and we ought to pursue B [deontic or ought-premise] and conditions C are present (or will be when we do A) [factual premise]” are almost never completely stated like that — we use any two of those, ‘taking the third ‘for granted’ as needing no further discussion, and people mostly understand the argument. But to assess the plausibility of the whole argument, all three premises need to be evaluated. Was that the other part of your question?

– Yes. And your explanation cleared that up as well, thanks. It’s a bit unusual, though?

– Just at first sight; it’s really the conceptual framework for organizing the discussion based on everyday talk — identifying topics, issues, answers and arguments with their component parts — and for displaying the overall picture of the evolving discourse in maps and model diagrams. The Displays of essential ‘core’ content. And explicitly Separating claims and evaluation. But then, that basis serves to prepare the material for more systematic evaluation: the assessment of argument premise plausibility, the weighing of goals and objectives, together forming a measure of argument weight, and all the argument weights forming a measure of proposal plausibility.

– I get it, all the plausibility scores and weights of the pros and cons tilting the overall proposal plausibility scale towards approval or rejection?

– Wait. Yes, I get that, too, Renfroe. But Bog-Hubert: Just making sure I understand: Are you saying that the decision should be determined by such a plausibility measure?

– No, Vodçek. The proposal warns explicitly against that kind of shortcut. ‘Guiding decisions’ is seen more as using the plausibility assessments by different parties as indications for how a proposal might be improved to lessen the concerns of some participants and improve their evaluation scores. ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ — but now with more specific hints about what aspects need revision, better ideas, more creativity, perhaps even compromises. And even if the final decision is done by vote — according to traditional practices or constitutional rules — to make it less likely that decisions to approve a plan go in the face of very negative assessment results, — or vice versa. Preventing decisions that would ignore significant concerns of the voting minority.

– You keep talking about measures based on plausibility — of proposals, and argument premises. Is that the same as what we might call the quality or goodness of a plan? We didn’t talk about that yesterday, so it isn’t on the list — but isn’t that important?

– Good question, Sophie. Of course, some of the comments and arguments — pros, cons, benefits, costs, may aim at what you are after with the term ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’. But it is also possible to use an evaluation technique that focuses more explicitly on ‘goodness’ — and to combine that with the ‘plausibility’ assessment, if the discussion hasn’t covered that sufficiently well. Again, room and opportunity for creative evolution.

– Yes: I remember, we talked about this too: part of this vision of participatory community planning is the insight that the process must allow participants to not only engage in the creative cooperation towards the solutions, the outcomes, the visions of the activity, but to also shape the process of getting there — as ‘their’ creation, as part of the overall solution?

– Right. The process and platform must remain open to adaptation, refinement, innovation.

– Getting back to our list for a moment, Bog-Hubert: we talked about the procedural agreements that will be needed, and how that could be a problem. How does the proposal deal with that?

– It has several levels of provisions. There are some overall ‘standard’ netiquette-like agreements, that you are assumed to agree to by engaging in a discourse. Like most such rules we are used to, even if few people actually read them before signing. That allows the organization to do the basic moderating, and even to kick you out if you break them in a serious way. Nothing radically new there. Then when a new project is set up, the question will be raised whether the circumstances for that project will call for more specific agreements; those may have to be briefly discussed, and added to the general ‘rules’. Third, when the participants in a project discussion decide to use one of the ‘special techniques’, the vocabulary and assumptions for that technique may have to be explained and agreed upon. Finally, the procedure of the discourse has a Next Step? ‘phase’. That’s where the group decides whether it is ready for a decision, or needs more discussion, or the input from a special technique team etc. And there, participants can suggest to make changes in the initial agreements, if the discussion brings up conditions that make this necessary.

– Okay. Its a bit complex, but flexible — lets people get started by accepting some basic agreements, but change them if really necessary. Puts a few safety nets into that bottomless pit nightmare we conjured up last night.

– So the more people get involved in this kind of approach, the less of a problem it will be, don’t you think? The less need for cumbersome discussions about the rules that distract and hold up the real project discussion?

– Yes, I think so. The alternative would be the last point in that list: Training for proper discourse participation. These procedures and agreements should ideally be part of everybody’s education.

– So what do you do until that is achieved? If ever? Can we wait to use such tools until everybody knows the rules?

– Of course not, Vodçek. There will be a need for training courses, manuals, familiarization exercises to get people ready for effective participation. So the development of those things will have to be priority preparation tasks for the implementation of the concept.

– I remember some papers about that, where the suggestion was to develop online games, for kids and others who want to familiarize themselves with the idea to ‘play’ — online, on their computers, tablets, cellphones. With these tools becoming more and more common all over the world even among poor people, the process of getting folks familiar with the tool would be much faster than waiting for all the world’s school systems to add this to their curricula, training teachers and developing textbooks to be approved by the school boards and government education departments, eh?

– Sounds good, Dexter — the development of such games would actually be the stepping stones, the prototype and test versions of the eventual programming package for the platform. Might be a job for you to program that?

– Hey folks. This interesting speculation is straying far beyond our initial agenda. If we want to continue this, would it be prudent to spend some time on setting up an extended agenda, before we get lost in all the details of actual implementation and variations of the outcome?

– Definitely, Vodçek. But I think it would be useful to take a moment to consider what, if anything, we have learned from this little experiment. We jumped ahead at least once to skip some details of our initial agenda: can we say that we achieved what we set out to do?

– Well, looking at the initial question — dialogue versus argumentation — I think our decision that it was an inadequate question, a ‘wrong problem’, was appropriate. The distinction between ‘argument’, argumentative discourse and ‘quarrguments’ took the wind out of the sail of the opposition to argumentation, didn’t it? While we found that even in discourse that is not aiming at decisions, questions that generate arguments will occur, there is also nothing in the vision of the planning and policy-making discourse that excludes or discourages the ingredients that were used to justify ‘dialogue’ from also be part of a constructive planning discourse. Did that meet the intent of the first night’s agenda?

– There will always be people who will disagree and insist of different interpretations of terms and concepts, theories. But it may be enough — was enough last night — to clear the way out of the endless disagreement about the meaning of words, to proceed with the next agenda item, to set up some specific goals or expectations for a meaningful planning discourse. What can we say about that one?

– Impatient wench, Sophie. Yes, I think we made some good inroads on that one too — but do you agree that there are many more considerations we might have identified, with more time and thought? Even some very important ones?

– Well, can you think about a major issue we have missed, Professor?

– Oh, there are several conundrums that are part of a wider discourse, beyond the initial dialogue – argument issue, that we should keep in mind. There is, for example, the fundamentally different perspective of approaches like Alexander’s Pattern Language. The Discourse perspective can be described as one of generating solution proposals from the examination of information we gather about a problem or ‘situation’, and then examine proposals for their merit, all via discourse, discussion, exchange of information, evaluation. But the Pattern Language suggests, in essence, that solutions should be ‘generated’ from patterns that in themselves embody truth and validity, the ‘quality without a name” — so that the outcome will also have that quality and does not need any more evaluation. How would a discourse deal with proposals and proponents based on such different fundamental principles?

– On the list with it! Now that you mention such issues that go beyond our little agenda: Is the distinction between plans and policies that should be developed in such discourse, and actions in response to emergencies, that can’t wait for the outcome of a lengthy public discourse a significant problem? The traditional arrangement for this is the appointment or election (or acceptance of pretenders) of leaders, empowered to make such decisions on behalf of the community. We know this generates the problem of how to control power, control being needed because power is addictive and fraught with temptations to abuse: How does this question relate to the design of the discourse and its provisions?

– Good points; yes, there may be more such issues that should be discussed and given ‘due consideration’. The existence of such issues itself makes the case for the development of a better platform for in-depth discourse, doesn’t it?

– Which brings us to the third agenda item: How well does the PDSS proposal meet the expectations and requirements we were able to list — and the ones we just added? What do you think, Sophie?

– Oh, I’d say that I was somewhat surprised at how many of those aspects were a least acknowledged and addressed in the provisions of the proposal. How well they will actually work, I can’t possibly tell. It will take experiments and the experience and outcome of actual application to judge that, don’t you agree? I’m not an expert on these things, but I haven’t heard about anything else I’d recognize as ‘better ideas’ yet. We should probably investigate that, but keep working on this concept. I think that work on the development of implementation plans, on the missing programming, on the development of teaching materials or games to familiarize people with this approach is urgently needed. Needed resources, funding? Who will run such platforms? Looks like there’s work to do?

– Your are right, But not tonight, Sophie. Last call.

– Ominous phrase, Vodçek, at the end of such a discussion.

– Ominous abominous. It could drive a fellow to drink? Sophie? Still just apple juice?

– Thanks. We need a clear head for tomorrow. Work to do…

– Last call!

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