Responding To Fraudulent Consensus Building
By: James White PhD.
Manufacture public in a previous column, we outlined how a new process called Consensus Building is being used to consensus when it does not exist. Consensus Building is a process by which members of the public are encouraged not to disagree with a policy or project being proposed during so called public information sessions.
The first step in coping with this new means of justifying predecided policies developed and promoted by special interest groups is to recognize what is happening. Traditionally, proponents of policies or projects have operated focus groups to seek information and open houses or information sessions to sell their positions to the public. Consensus Building is undertaken at the beginning of a project to prove to policy makers that the public do not object, not that they agree. In order to get political approval for legislation or a project, one does not need to prove support, only the lack of objection. Thus, Consensus Building is an ideal tool for special interest groups, policy makers and politicians. It is important to recognize how you are being manipulated and where the proponents are going before you attend a Consensus Building meeting. If you suspect the whole public participation process is being manipulated, determine who is in charge, what are their motives, what do they really plan to do and the implications of these actions.
The second action is to determine who will attend the session and ascertain their willingness to assist you. Talk to the potential participants and tell them how the game will be played. Raise their concern, suspicion and willingness to ask questions. Pack the meeting with friends and supporters if you have time and can do so.
The third action is to be active during the group session. The facilitator’s goal is passivity. They want to be able to say that no one objected, not that everyone agreed. Be prepared to be obnoxious if necessary. Point out the fact that the statement, question or policy is unrealistic unless the means to achieve it are also specified. All democratic political parties purport to want a similar world in which everyone is healthy, prosperous, happy and fulfilled. They disagree on how to achieve such a world.
Ask how the stated objective will be achieved, who will benefit, what about those who will not benefit and how will the losers be compensated. Stress equity, which means those who benefit should pay, damages to those who are harmed. Ask for details of who, what, when, where, why, etc. Since the group facilitator is unlikely to be knowledgeable of or care about the details of a project or program, one can undermine their credibility by asking about the details, the delivery procedures and the time schedule. Point out that grand slogans are fine but we all must live in the here and now. Always ask for estimates of costs. All participants understand dollars and cents. Higher property taxes may not be of concern to non-residents but they are to local landowners.
If the facilitator claims that some high profile individual does not disagree with the proposal, ask them to demonstrate that they actually have said so and that they do agree with the statement or proposal. When statements or the lack of comments are ascribed to specific individuals, point out that the individual may not be qualified to discuss the subject, is motivated by self-interest, is not trustworthy or doesn’t have any relevance to the issue.
A fourth action is to challenge the right of specific individuals to participate in the workshop. Ask if all the participants live in the area, are they taxpayers or just nosey outsiders who have been recruited to bias the results. Challenge the right of people to be present who have obvious vested interests, especially if they will receive significant benefits from the proposed policies or projects.
Fifthly, always ask for a show of hands to determine whether or not consensus exists. Voting is assumed to be an inherent right in our culture. Anyone who is afraid to put an issue to a vote will be perceived as trying to manipulate the outcome. Be careful what you vote on because the facilitator may ask for a vote on several statements and then report the results of only those, which appear to support their case.
The presence of a person to record the proceedings will intimidate the facilitator to be more accurate in terms of the conclusions they draw. Taping the session will not likely be permitted but should be attempted. If you find yourself totally isolated because the group session was packed, you should consider walking out in protest. This is a last desperate gesture to be taken only when all else fails.
In our culture, the ultimate insult is to refuse to communicate. Unfortunately, the prime goals of a consensus building facilitator is also to minimize all communication. Silence is perceived to indicate consensus. In reality it only means none of the participants were uncomfortable enough to verbalize their concerns. The shy and insecure do not object out of fear of drawing attention to themselves. Those who are frustrated may not object because they are too polite or realize their objections will not lead to any change in the report prepared by the facilitator.
Consensus Building, in the hands of dishonest people is a manipulative and fraudulent means of perverting personal freedoms and individual rights. Beware those who seek consensus by the suppression of discussion.