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Human nature and political debate


The RSA recently posted video of Matthew Taylor’s lecture on how brain and behaviour research is increasingly being incorporated into political and policy debate.

A section of the debate is animated below:

His lecture explores what’s wrong with our democracy and what needs to be done. Extracts of the speech are outlined below:

Democracy can only be successful as we the people make it. But how well suited are we to being good democrats. We come, over recent years, to understand more about the idiosyncrasies of our mental processes. Some of these appear to compromise our ability to make wise and fair democratic judgments.

[…] The problem with our democracy is not, as we often think, about the performance of our politicians nor the workings of our constitution, but it’s about the content of the democratic conversation. Proper processes of democratic deliberation in which we either participate directly, or which we can acknowledge as legitimate, would help us to be less petulant, wiser and more responsible task masters for beleaguered representatives. These are some of the practical ways we might encourage people to be better citizens.

[…] I believe both the case for a new collective spirit and the principles that could underpin the development of modern civic and democratic spaces, are to be found in thinking about human nature.

Co-operation and engagement are not things we ought to do, they’re a necessity to help us steer a course through the modern world, using brains that evolved before the invention of the wheel.

[…] As a schoolboy socialist…the first explicitly political arguments I ever had were about human nature. My vision of a good society rested on the view of people as fundamentally collaborative and benign, something only hidden by the depredation of the system.

In this vein, the essence of Gov 2.0 and the Open government movement – as a means of facilitating collaboration and engagement – can, in time, lead to democratic renewal through empowering us all to become better democrats.

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