Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Maybe Policy Matters?

MinnPost has a pretty annoying article up about disagreements and conflicts on the Minneapolis School Board. I say annoying because it's indicative of a lot of whats wrong with political writing these days. That is rather than focusing on the structural realities that drive political disagreement over issues like partisanship, incentives, and interests it treats disagreements on the school board as being caused by "conduct":
Specifically, a majority of the board had opined that its members and the superintendent do not trust one another, work as a team or engage in joint problem solving. To add to the discomfort on display, they also gave each other low marks regarding “demeaning verbal or nonverbal communication.”
But here's the rub. Just a few paragraphs latter the article describes how the board is divided between a largely status quo majority block and a reformist minority block. But rather than explain what these differences are and why they might cause political disagreement the author of the piece goes on to talk about the idea of having everyone taking the, "Myers-Briggs personality instrument" as a way to learn about each others personalities or something.

Well maybe that's the problem, and maybe a round of hand holding and affirmations would help too. But maybe, just maybe, these politicians have different ideas about how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, what district priorities should be, and whose interests should be considered in decision making. Maybe since they don't all agree they come into conflict not because of a lack of personality tests, but because as Bonnie Honig once put it, "To take difference -- and not just identity -- seriously in democratic theory is to affirm the inescapability of conflict."

To put it another way, if you have a school board of two people where one likes charter schools and one thinks charter schools are evil, you are going to have conflict. Even if both people take personality tests before you try to reach an agreement.

Yes I understand that shouting at each other isn't helpful, and civility is a good thing in public life. But conflict is inescapable in a democracy and it's presence isn't necessarily evidence of poor "conduct" or general dysfunction. If you want a system where disagreement is rare go to Westeros, but you probably wouldn't like it there.

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