Can Europe Make It?

Launching Parlia

“Now is precisely the time to ask, together, who is it we want to be, what polities do we want to build.”

Turi Munthe
4 May 2020, 12.21pm
'Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's duel' by Ilya Repin, 1899.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts/Wiicommons.Some rights reserved.

We are polarised.

We see it in the increasing radicalism of our political leaders, the return of the language of race, or of communism, the screeching rage of our conversations on social media, and the violence and incivility of our formal political discourse (Trump, Orban, Duterte, etc). We feel it too – tiptoeing around conversations we would have waded into: in Britain, our Brexit PTSD has taught us that arguing about ideas is often attacking someone’s sense of self.

And the research says the same, though to varying degrees in different countries (Britain is interesting here - see the shift from 2005 until today).

Aptly, there’s little consensus as to why.

Perhaps we’re missing a frightening enough outgroup. Without the evil Soviet Union to coalesce against, or even the (overblown) threat of Islamist extremism, we have turned against ourselves.

Perhaps we’re at an epochal turning point, the decline of the West, which prompts a radical, and therefore polarising, rethink of where we should be heading. Perhaps we’ve simply realised the previous period of broad consensus just didn’t work: spiking poverty, a shattered climate, wildly unequal distribution of wealth, downward-facing life expectancy also demand a rethink of who we want to be. The Age of Anger on the Right and the Age of Outrage on the Left.

Perhaps polarisation is the natural end-point of competitive two-party democracy (in which voting patterns now properly do correlate with all the other social indicators – race, gender, neighbourhood, religion, ethnicity…)

Perhaps it’s the fault of TV and our politics as entertainment (Nixon/Kennedy, the TV debate and confrontational talk show), or the fault of the tech platforms, carving us up into information silos (probably not true), and algorithmically showing us only content that outrages or emotes (certainly very true).

Perhaps it’s even broader than all of that. Perhaps the internet subjects us to such informational surplus that it destabilises our sense of who we are, and shakes the very premise of a reality consensus. Perhaps the cognitive overload of the internet sends us scurrying into the arms of brutish tribal identities, and the usually pretty brutish and tribal leaders who articulate them.

I don’t know. I feel a little of all those things.

But whatever the cause, the result is terrible.

Where disagreement is glorious – the foundation of the scientific method, the premise of democracy – polarisation makes it impossible to listen, to learn, to move the conversation forward.

Whatever the cause, the result is terrible.

Gun rights advocates and militia members gather in Virginia's capitol, January 2020.
"Come and take it."Gun rights advocates gather in Virginia's capitol, January 2020.
USA TODAY/PA. All rights reserved.

Faced with the aforementioned – the end of Western dominance, extreme climate change, profound inequality, the rise of automation, a global contest of political visions between democracy and authoritarianism, not to mention the global after-effects of Coronavirus on our societies and our economies – now is precisely the time to ask, together, who is it we want to be, what polities do we want to build?

That is why we have created Parlia.

Parlia is an encyclopaedia of opinions.

We begin from a very simple premise: there is a finite number of opinions in the world about everything: from the issue of Shakespeare’s authorship to the question of American exceptionalism, via transgender bathrooms.

And if there’s a finite number of them, we can map them all, in some sort of dictionary or library of ideas.

If that founding premise is surprising, it is only because it’s counter-cultural. We are used to thinking of the individual as infinitely subjective and unique, of each individual’s opinion as intricately different and special. That’s just not true – we all share a very small corpus of ideas about everything, we just articulate them differently (often badly). Parlia wants to make that deep commonality explicit: not only should it bring us together, it should also calm the information anxiety.

We’re also a Wiki, so join us to contribute.

In the clearest way possible, we want to articulate clear, dispassionate expositions of the arguments on all sides of any question.

We want to explain the thinking – what is the constitutional argument for gun rights, for example. But we also want to get at the motivations for the argument – the hidden premises (in this instance, possibly, a greater weighting of the value of Liberty over that of our duty to protect).

We want to create a place you can come to work out what you think. And, critically, a place to understand what others think and why.

Our hope is that this will help accelerate the conversations we’re already having.

If all the standard arguments on either side of the gun control debate have been calmly and clearly laid out, perhaps we can move to map out the new approaches we desperately need.

The crowd makes better decisions than the single individual. That, of course, is the premise of democracy. There is therefore a potential double-win here. By countering polarisation we’re defusing a terrible negative. But in bringing disparate voices together to address today’s most important challenges, we are also weaponising our greatest human asset – our capacity to collaborate.

See Parlia in action in the widget below – just scroll down to consider:

"Does the marketplace of ideas work?"

Gays Against Guns protest outside Trump Tower, February, 2020.
Gays Against Guns protest outside Trump Tower, February, 2020.
Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/PA. All rights reserved.
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Does the marketplace of ideas work?


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