Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, even when we know that it doesn't work. Take the standard model for consultation these days as an example.
There is a familiar pattern. A short period of discussion, on pre-determined topics, at a central location, at a convenient time to the organizers, with a limited agenda, usually well after a decision is actually made on the topic.
Mercifully few people attend these things. Is it because they are happy? Or is it because they have no faith in the system of engagement behind it? I suspect the latter (although we are surprisingly complacent in the face of the dismantling of what made this country the envy of nations). If you feel like something isn't worth doing, you'll stop attempting to do so. As the old anarchist slogan goes, "don't vote, it only encourages them."
"Ah," you protest, "but isn't it better to try to consult, even if it isn't done well?" Maybe so. But why not enrich the process? There is a whole repertoire of methods out there.
The problem is not so much the tools used, but the attitude that underscores such events. If ruling groups don't come to the table with the right purpose and attitude, it will not work. Consultation is not an attempt to convince the public of the value of your position. That is called "persuasion," and it does have its place. But there is a fundamental confusion between the two, in government and institutional circles.
I think that groups should have to go through some kind of self-analysis and purification ceremony before announcing a public consultation. It would be like having to say confession before taking communion. You can't really engage the sacred without a purity of soul.
Years ago, I suggested that we should really redefine "consultation" as a swear word. Maybe it is a close cousin to an oft-used four-letter term I can't use in a family newspaper.
That would make sense of statements like:
- "I think I've just been consulted" (accompanied by a dazed expression)
- "Come here and sit still while I consult you"
- "Oh yeah, well go consult yourself then!"
Next time you're in a meeting, translate "consult" in your mind to that other word and see if it doesn't represent a better picture of what is actually going on.