Rechtslinks 7.3.2017: The Great Meme War, The Law of Narrative Gravity und Antifragilität am Beispiel von r/The_Donald

(Pic: Molly Crabapple, „Our country is in good hands“)

The Atlantic: The Clickbait Presidency – The Donald Trump conspiracy-theory feedback loop is only going to get worse.

This is a conspiracy-theory feedback loop, in which actors may see downstream value in promoting a story without evidence, not only because they think it will please conservative audiences, but also because it may eventually prompt an invaluable Trump endorsement. If you thought the incentives for “click bait” headlines were bad, imagine the incentives for “Trumpbait” news. […]

In the long run, this conspiracy machine may prove disastrous for both Trump and the media companies whose stories he shares. For now, the value of advertising space for the Fox News shows the president watches has soared, as shows like Hannity broadcast the president’s message, and he tweets their best lines. […]

Some people imagine political propaganda as a top-down operation, in which the government beats down critical journalism and builds a machine of sycophancy to take its place. But propaganda in the age of Trump can self-assemble from the bottom-up. There’s no need to build 21st century Pravda; left unaided, attention-driven economics and status-seeking individuals who’d get a kick out of seeing the president tweet their essay will gladly write outrageous stories, designed to appeal to Trump's conspiratorial worldview, for the clicks. The propaganda will self-propagate, and the president won't even have to request it. That is what you might call an efficient market—just not for the truth.

Politico: World War Meme – How a group of anonymous keyboard commandos conquered the internet for Donald Trump—and plans to deliver Europe to the far right. (Ich mag den Term „Meme-Krieg“ nicht, aber 1. er passt und 2. es gab interessanterweise kurz vor dem Wahlabend eine Videoreihe von und mit Van Jones, der Trump-Wähler zuhause besucht hatte und dort meinte: „Do we really want a new civil war? Maybe this is how we fight a civil war in the 21st century!“ An den zweiten Satz muss sehr oft denken, möglicherweise hat er Recht damit.)

the Great Meme War. That’s the grandiose name given—only half ironically—to the decentralized efforts of a swarm of anonymous internet nerds to harass Trump’s detractors and flood the Web with pro-Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton propaganda. Their weapons of choice were memes, bits of reproducible culture whose most recognizable form is shareable internet photos, like cats behaving adorably or Clinton sending a text message, with captions meant to be funny.

[Matt Braynard, former director of technology for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign] showed me a badge he ordered online to memorialize his service in the Great Meme War. It features Pepe the Frog—a cartoon symbol of mischievous fun or racist hatred, depending on whom you ask—and the name of his make-believe battalion, “The 1st Deplorables.” […]

There is no real evidence that memes won the election, but there is little question they changed its tone, especially in the fast-moving and influential currents of social media. The meme battalions created a mass of pro-Trump iconography as powerful as the Obama “Hope” poster and far more adaptable; they relentlessly drew attention to the tawdriest and most sensational accusations against Clinton, forcing mainstream media outlets to address topics—like conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health—that they would otherwise ignore. And they provoked a variety of real-world reactions, from Clinton’s August speech denouncing the alt-right to the Anti-Defamation League’s designation of Pepe as a hate symbol to—after the election—the armed assault on a Washington pizzeria wrongly believed to be hiding sex slaves.

Part of the power of memes has always been their organic, grass-roots quality: They bubble up from the fever swamps of the internet, shrouded in anonymity, as agents of chaos and mockery. But in this election, something seemed to change. They began colliding with a real campaign operation and doing useful work, seemingly always pushing in one direction. Curious about what happened, I tracked down and interviewed a number of veterans of the Great Meme War, along with others who hung out in the same dark corners of the internet and watched it all unfold. It turns out that, as anonymous online pranksters go, they’re surprisingly organized and motivated. It also turns out that the Trump campaign, which spent relatively little on messaging, paid rapt attention to meme culture from the start. It took it seriously, even pushing some memes out to the candidate’s millions of Twitter followers.

Trump’s campaign will not be the last to tap into this subculture. Internet troll Charles Johnson, a self-commissioned general in the Great Meme War with close ties to Trump’s political operation, claimed he has fielded about a dozen post-election phone calls from the Washington area about the political potential of memes. “If you’re trying to win an election and you have a million dollars to spend on political ads or $100,000 to spend on trolling,” he said, “I would advise everyone to spend the hundred thousand on the troll.”

If the soldiers in the Great Meme War are even partly right about their capabilities, then their efforts have profound implications for the future of politics.

Sehr interessantes Interview mit Wissenschaftshistorikerin Lorraine Daston über Post-Truth bei der SZ: „Bauchgefühl ist nicht Wahrheit“: „die Wogen werden sich wieder glätten“.

In Zeiten, da keiner Quelle mehr vertraut werden konnte, kam die Idee auf, gewisse 'Nuggets' der Erfahrung möglichst ohne Interpretation darzustellen, damit alle über dasselbe sprechen. Das sind Fakten. Sobald ein Nugget für eine politische Sache oder wissenschaftliche Theorie eingespannt wird, verliert er seinen neutralen Charakter. Es ist kein Zufall, dass dies erstmals im 17. Jahrhundert artikuliert wurde, als die Propaganda blühte.

Könnte die heutige Fakten-Anarchie eine Chance für neue Standards sein?

Ja. Wir müssen unsere Ideale bestätigen und vielleicht neu schreiben. Es gibt keinen Grund, weshalb unser Nachdenken über Fakten und Wahrheit im 17. Jahrhundert hätte aufhören sollen. Wir brauchen neue Theorien für die Herausforderungen, die uns neue Medien bescheren.

Ist die Postmoderne Ursache der vielen Zweifel? Manche Gelehrte sagen, es gebe nicht eine Vergangenheit, sondern nur subjektive Erzählungen davon.

Das wäre akademischer Größenwahn. Wir sollten einen Ausweg finden aus der binären Opposition von objektiv/subjektiv - und einen Raum dazwischen auftun. Wenn alles subjektiv sein soll, was nicht von Maschinen gemessen und registriert werden kann, wie eine Ballposition im Fußballspiel, dann haben wir keinen Platz mehr für Urteilsvermögen. Wenn man die wahre Aussage macht, dass jede Aussage über die Vergangenheit eine Erzählung ist, dann heißt das nicht, dass alles bloß erfunden ist. Dazwischen ist ein weiter Raum.

Wie sieht dieser Raum aus?

Wir kennen ihn bereits. Nehmen Sie einen Termin vor Gericht: Wir erwarten von einem Richter, dass er seinen Handlungsrahmen den vorliegenden Beweisen anpasst, aber dennoch ein eigenes Urteil fällt und seine Entscheidung mit einer nachvollziehbaren Erzählung rechtfertigt. Ein Richter ist keine Maschine, und soll keine sein. Wir sollten so ein Konzept der Unparteilichkeit auch jenseits der Gerichte wiederbeleben. Ein Richter ist eine Autorität.

Der Artikel handelt eigentlich von Tech-Narrativen, aber ich mag den Begriff der Narrativen Gravitation, den man problemlos auf Memetik oder den Themenkomplex „Fake-News“ anwenden kann: Backchannel: The Invisible Force That Warps What You Read in the News.

The Law of Narrative Gravity posits that the public and press are drawn to narratives, and the more widely accepted (or massive) a narrative, the more it attracts and shapes the perception of facts. […]

Narrative gravity is like confirmation bias, “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs.” But with narratives, it’s less about personal beliefs and more of a bandwagon effect, where everyone processes and interprets information through a framework that is both easily digestible and broadly accepted.

Michael Seemann arbeitet sich grade an einem neuen Wahrheitsbegriff ab und führt eine „demokratische Wahrheit“ ein. Ich weiß noch nicht, ob ich mit der Phrase einverstanden bin, aber bis ich das weiß, hier der bislang dritte (und meines Erachtens [bis jetzt] schlüssigste) Teil. Es geht um Antifragilität und euphorische Ironisierung.

An keinem Ort ist der Mechanismus der Antifragilität klarer zu beobachten, als in r/The_Donald. r/The_Donald kann als inoffizielle Online-Wahlkampf-Zentrale der Trumpkampagne gelten. Ihr Einfluss ist kaum zu unterschätzen. Dennoch soll es uns hier nur als ein Fallbeispiel dienen, um Antifragilität in Aktion zu analysieren. […]

Die wichtigste initiale Wachstumsphase erlebte r/The_Donald allerdings durch den Einfall von externen Trollhorden. Die /pol/ Sektionen der berüchtigten ImageBoards 4Chan und 8Chan wurden auf The_Donald aufmerksam und verabredeten „Raids“, also Angriffe, wo es wiederum darum ging, Verwirrung zu stiften und zu trollen. Viele der Angreifer aber blieben, übernahmen das Subreddit quasi und brachten ihre Trollstrategien in ein. Im Verlauf des Februars 2016 vervierfachte r/The_Donald seine Subscriberzahlen.

In derselben Zeit kam „Cis“ zu r/The_Donald, der bereits eine einschlägige Vorgeschichte in r/TheRedPill hatte, ein ideologiegeladenes Forum für PickUp-Artists. Als er die Moderation von r/The_Donald übernahm, änderte er die Moderationsstandards so, dass offener Rassismus, Sexismus und sonstige Menschenfeindlichkeit geduldet wurde. Zwar wurde gegen bekennende Nazis und White-Supremacists durchgegriffen, aber ansonsten wurde jede verbale Entgleisung gegen jede Minderheiten gerne hingenommen.

Dafür wurde eine andere Regel eingeführt und strikt durchgesetzt: Man durfte von nun an nur und ausschließlich in Support für Donald Trump posten. Jede Kritik und jede Ablehnung wurde mit Verbannung bestraft. Was zunächst eine Art Anti-Trollmaßnahme gegen Raids und Brigades war, stieß einen interessanten gruppenpsychologischen Effekt der freiwilligen Gleichschaltung an.

Man hätte davon ausgehen können, dass eine solche direkte Einschränkung der Redefreiheit einen Aufschrei und ein Abwandern bewirkt haben könnte, gerade weil vor allem diese Zielgruppe Redefreiheit so gerne vor sich her trägt. Aber stattdessen passierte etwas ganz anderes: Trump wurde nicht nur gelobt, sondern grotesk in den Himmel gefeiert. Er war jetzt der „God Emperor“, der die Welt vom Bösen befreien wird. In der Meme-Welt von r/The_Donald war Trump der Superheld mit göttlichen Eigenschaften. Ab einem bestimmten Punkt schlug die ironische und reale Verehrung ineinander über, so dass niemand diese Grenze noch wirklich ziehen konnte.

Dies erlaubte eine sehr spezielle Stimmung zu erzeugen: eine ironische Euphorie oder besser: euphorische Ironisierung. Eine Euphorie, die sich bald ins grotesk-hysterische steigerte und allen Bezug zur Realität verlor, aber gleichzeitig mit einer eingebauten “plausible Deniability” daherkam: denn, es war ja alles nur Spaß. Oder?

Der Verwischung dieser Grenze sei Dank begannen Mechanismen zu greifen, die Elias Canetti in Masse und Macht beschreibt. Völlige Entgrenzung, der Verlust von Individualität und Vernunft durch das Aufgehen des Einzelnen in der Masse, die damit einhergehenden Großmachtsphantasien. […]

Es ist kein Zufall, dass aus dem Subreddit so haarsträubend realitätsfremde Theorien kamen. In der aufgeheizten Stimmung, die jeglichen Widerspruch und jede rationale Intervention ins leere laufen ließ, kreierten diese Menschen ihr ganz eigenes Realitätsfeld. Durch einen kollektiven Akt rationaler Selbstaufgabe hatte der Trump-Zug tatsächlich keine Bremsen mehr. Wenn der Wahnsinn des Regimes der demokratischen Wahrheit ein heißes Zentrum hatte, dann war es r/The_Donald.

Guter Podcast mit Simon Hurtz von der SZ: piqd025 Social Media: Es muss knallen (MP3, Info): „Simon Hurtz, Journalist bei der Süddeutschen Zeitung, recherchiert in rechten Facebook-Gruppen. Er findet es elitär, wenn die 'Netz-Avantgarde' sich über den 'Pöbel' ärgert, der ihre Filterblasen zerstört. So einfach ist das nicht, sagt er.“

Ihr habt vielleicht am WE das Video von Sascha Lobos Konfrontation mit den Anti-Flüchtlings-Demonstranten gesehen und den Artikel in der Welt dazu gelesen. Der Artikel gibt die Situation (sehr) verfälschend wieder, hilfreicher ist Lobos Ergänzung dazu auf FB und ich halte seinen Ansatz für enorm wichtig.

Ich war fast drei Stunden vor Ort, die meiste Zeit davon auf der Seite der Rechten, und ich habe dort mit ungefähr 20 Leuten Gespräche geführt, und zwar durchaus sehr interessante Gespräche. […] Ich habe die Situation nicht als bedrohlich empfunden, und ich kann durchaus nachvollziehen, dass sich Leute dort provoziert gefühlt haben. Ich stehe schließlich für eine politische Haltung, die sich gegenüber Rechten und Rechtsextremen (dort gab es beides) klar und hart positioniert in der Öffentlichkeit. Wenn ich in einen Trupp mit erkennbar Rechten hineingehe, kann ich mich über ein paar Beleidigungen und Lügenpresse-Geschrei nicht beschweren, und das tue ich auch nicht. […]

Es ist mein Ziel, für eine freie, offene, sichere und auch wirtschaftlich funktionierende Gesellschaft zu kämpfen, in der man sich als Angehörige/r einer Minderheit nicht fürchten muss. Um das zu erreichen, gibt es nicht nur eine einzige, richtige Strategie. Ich bin zum Beispiel sehr dankbar, dass es immer wieder Gegendemonstranten gibt, die sich entgegenstellen. Das ist ein enorm wichtiges Symbol, denn fehlender oder zu leiser Widerspruch kann großen Schaden anrichten. Aber wie in einer Art Zangenbewegung – wo die offene, klare Kante eine Seite ist – möchte ich eine andere, ergänzende Herangehensweise wählen.

Nämlich zunächst das Verstehen und dann das Diskutieren. Man kann mit "denen" nicht reden? Auf die im Video mag das zutreffen, mit vielen anderen konnte ich sprechen. Einige, die im Video noch "Lügenpresse" brüllten, kamen später sogar dazu und diskutierten mit. […] Ich habe dort live versucht, die Reaktionen derjenigen zu verstehen, die sonst auf Facebook bei den einschlägigen Postings "Like" klicken […]

Seit der Wahl von Trump möchte ich mich nicht zu sicher fühlen, nur weil die AfD in Umfragen unter 10% gefallen sein mag oder alle möglichen Leute erklären, Marine Le Pen habe keine Chance im zweiten Wahlgang in Frankreich. Deshalb ist mir wichtig, Strategien zu entwickeln, um den Rechtsextremen Kräften etwas Neues, noch besser funktionierendes entgegenzusetzen. Auf der Demo gab es einen harten Kern, mit dem keine Diskussion möglich war – es gab aber auch Leute, die, naja – etwas zu großzügig Nazi-Parolen toleriert haben, im Gespräch danach aber ihr Unwohlsein darüber ausgedrückt haben. Diese Leute halte ich für eine wichtige Gruppe, denn ihr Engagement wird darüber entscheiden, wie machtvoll Rechte und Rechtsextremisten nach der Bundestagswahl sein werden.

Very long read but worth every second: Kenan Malik: Grasping Diversity, embracing Democracy.

What is different today is not that European societies are more diverse but that we see diversity in a different, and much narrower, way. The centrality of ‘class’ has eroded in European politics, both as a political category and as a marker of social identity. At the same time ‘culture’ has become increasingly important as the medium through which people perceive social differences.

The shift from ‘class’ to ‘culture’ is part of a much wider set of changes. The old distinction between ‘left’ and ‘right’ has become less meaningful. The working class has lost much of its economic and political power. The weakening of labour organizations, the decline of collectivist ideologies, the expansion of the market into almost every nook and cranny of social life, the erosion of civil society, the fading of institutions, from trade unions to the Church, that traditionally helped socialize individuals – all have helped create a more socially, fragmented society.

Partly as a result of such social atomization, people have begun to view themselves and their social affiliations in a different way. Social solidarity has become defined increasingly not in political terms, but rather in terms of ethnicity, culture or faith. The question people ask themselves is not so much ‘In what kind of society do I want to live?’ as ‘Who are we?’.

The two questions are, of course, intimately related, and any sense of social identity must embed an answer to both. But as the political sphere has narrowed, and as mechanisms for political change have eroded, so the answer to the question ‘In what kind of society do I want to live?’ has become shaped less by the kinds of values or institutions people want to struggle to establish, than by the kind of people that they imagine they are; and the answer to ‘Who are we?’ has become defined less by the kind of society they want to create than by the history and heritage to which supposedly they belong. The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity. The frameworks through which we make sense of the world are defined less as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘socialist’ than as ‘Muslim’ or ‘white’ or ‘English’ or ‘European’. It is against this background that Europeans have come to view their nations as particularly, even impossibly, diverse.

The narrowing of politics, and the fragmentation of society, has also shaped perceptions of democracy. Democracy is about allowing a collective of people to make decisions where there is more than one viewpoint. Democracy, in other words, pre-supposes a diversity of views. If everyone thought the same, there would be no need for a democratic process.

This is why those who see in the rise of populism the failure democracy are wrong. Democracy does not require that the ‘right’ result be delivered every time. Indeed, were the ‘right’ always to delivered, it would indicate not the success, but a failure of democracy. The whole point of the democratic process is that it is unpredictable. The reason we need democracy is that the question of what are ‘right’ policies or who is the ‘right’ candidate is often fiercely contested. Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen may be reactionary, and their policies may help unpick the threads of liberal democracy. But their success reveals a problem not with democracy but with politics.

But while democracy requires, and necessarily engages with, a diversity of views, the mode in which differences are expressed is important. The shift from the politics of ideology to the politics of identity, from a largely political to a primarily cultural view of social relations, has transformed the texture of democracy.

Political struggles divide society across ideological lines, but they unite across ethnic or cultural divisions; cultural and ethnic struggles inevitably fragment. Political differences are often negotiable; cultural and ethnic ones often aren’t. What matters in political struggles is not who you are, but what you believe; the reverse is true in cultural or ethnic struggles. Political conflicts are often useful because they repose social problems in a way that asks: ‘How can we change society to overcome that problem?’ We might disagree on the answer, but the debate itself is a useful one. Another way of putting this is that political conflicts are the kinds of conflicts necessary for social transformation.

Cultural or ethnic struggles are less about transforming society than about defending or strengthening particular groups or identities, often by deprecating those who belong to other groups or belong to other identities.

In the past, minority groups would have fought for equal rights and treatment, now demand recognition for one’s particular identity, public affirmation of one’s cultural difference and respect and tolerance for one’s cultural and faith beliefs. The very meaning of equality has transformed. Once it meant the right to be treated equally despite differences of race, ethnicity, culture or faith. Today it means the right to be treated differently because of them.

Public policy towards minority communities in many countries has only helped exacerbate this trend. Politicians and policy-makers have often treated minority communities as if each was a distinct, homogenous, whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. Of course, no community is like this. Every minority community, like society itself, is deeply divided. But rather than appealing to individuals from minority communities, particularly Muslim communities, as British or as German citizens, they are often seen primarily as members of those groups.

The authorities relate to such communities primarily through the medium of so-called community leaders. Such leaders rarely possess a democratic mandate, indeed rarely possess any mandate at all. Rather their power comes primarily from their relationship with the state – a deeply undemocratic process. It is a process through which, in the name of diversity, the authorities ignore the actual diversity within minority communities. The way that many European nations manage diversity ensures that diversity has become a means not of embracing but of disabling democracy.

If minority communities have come to stress their identities and difference, so too have many sections of majority communities. They, too, insist on defending their communities, their culture, their history.

The reasons lie largely in the transformation of politics over recent decades. The shift of social democratic parties away from their traditional constituencies, the erosion of the power of labour movement organizations, the dissolution of bonds of solidarity, have left many sections of the working class feeling politically voiceless at the very time their lives have become more precarious, as jobs have declined, public services savaged, and austerity imposed. But far from helping create new mechanisms through which the working class could challenge economic marginalization and political voicelessness, many liberals, and many on the left, have come to see the working class as part of the problem. Especially In the wake of the Brexit vote and of the election of Trump, many have dismissed the working class as too uneducated and bigoted, part of the old world now being left behind.

David Rothkopf, professor of international relations, CEO of Foreign Policy magazine, and a member of Bill Clinton’s administration, recently described Trump supporters as people who ‘are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything’:

They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy. Such contempt was visible in many descriptions of the ‘ignorant’ Brexit voters, too.

Having lost their traditional means through which to vent disaffection, and finding them despised by liberals and the left, many working class voters have themselves turned to the language of identity politics. Not the identity politics of the left, but that of the right, the politics of nationalism and xenophobia, the identity politics that provides the fuel for many populist movements.

A century ago the working class was, in the eyes of many, an expression of unacceptable diversity. Today, the breakdown of working class culture and solidarity is seen, in the eyes of many, as the consequence of unacceptable diversity.

In recent decades ‘identity politics’ has been associated with the left, and with struggles against racism and women’s oppression and homophobia. But its roots are long and reactionary, stretching back to the counter-Enlightenment of the late eighteenth century. These early critics of the Enlightenment opposed the idea of universal human values by stressing particularist values embodied in group identities – nationalism and racism in particular. Today, the populist and the far right is reclaiming that heritage, refashioning the original reactionary politics of identity for a new age.

The so-called ‘identitatrian movement’ – far-right groups openly espousing the politics of identity – now has roots in many European nations. Their equivalent on the other side of the Atlantic is the ‘alt-right’ which, in the words of its leading figure Richard Spencer, ‘is all about identity’. The Trump campaign, according to Spencer, ‘was the first time in my lifetime that an identity politics for white people was on the scene’.

One of the key arguments against diversity, and in defence of a more homogenous nationalist identity, is that too much diversity and immigration undermines a sense of community and belongingness. It is an argument made most forcefully by far-right opponents of immigration, but has become increasingly voiced by liberals, too.

It is true that humans are social beings whose individuality emerges only through the bonds they create with each other. It is true, too, that a sense of shared ownership of, and obligation to, the public space is crucial to a properly functioning democracy. Without such a sense of community and belongingness, democracy becomes hollow. We have no real sense of obligation or duty to each other, but exist as isolated individuals with few social bonds tying us together.

There is, however, more than one way of imagining the community or collective, and of thinking about the relationship between the individual and society. Critics of immigration and diversity adopt primarily what one might call a Burkean view of belongingness, a notion of community that derives to a large degree from Edmund Burke, the late eighteenth-century founder of modern conservatism. A Burkean imagines a community as constituted through history and bound primarily by its past, ‘an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space’, as Burke himself put it.

Values, in the Burkean tradition, are defined as much by place and tradition as by reason and necessity. The Burkean argument for community is a species of what we now call ‘identity politics’ – stressing common attachment to a particular given identity, in this case, an identity given by place, history and tradition.

We can, however, think about communities in a different way, drawing people into a collective not because of a given identity but in order to further a political or social goal; a collective defined not so by the question ‘Who are we?’ but by ‘What kind of society do we want?’; movements for social transformation defined less by a sense of a shared past (though most draw upon historical traditions) than by hopes of a common future; the embodiment of the politics of solidarity rather than of identity.

These two ways of thinking of communities and collectives usually co-exist and are often in tension with each other. The idea of a community or of a nation inevitably draws upon a past that has shaped its present. But the existence of movements for social change transforms the meaning of the past, and of the ways in which one thinks of national identity.

The political and social changes of the past few decades have, however, made it more difficult to view collectives in terms of social transformation, and led many to retreat to Burkean notions of nation and community. It is a retreat that is corrosive of democracy. Once values become defined by history, tradition and place, as much as by politics and reason, they become less contested, more simply given, and it becomes easier to exclude those not deemed not to belong to that history, tradition and place. One only has to look at current debates about Muslims to recognize that.

When we talk about diversity, what we mean is that the world is a messy place, full of clashes and conflicts. That is all for the good, for such clashes and conflicts are the raw material of political and cultural engagement. The importance of diversity is that it allows us to expand our horizons, bringing different values, beliefs and lifestyles face-to-face , and forcing is to think about those differences. Only this can create the political dialogue and debate necessary, paradoxically, to help forge a more universal language of citizenship.

But the very thing that is valuable about diversity – the cultural and ideological clashes that it brings about – is precisely what many fear. That fear can take two forms. On the one hand there is the nativist sentiment that immigration undermines social cohesion and erodes our sense of national identity. And on the other there is the multicultural argument, that respect for others requires us to accept their ways of being, and not criticize or challenge their values or practices, but instead to police the boundaries between groups to minimize clashes and conflicts. The one approach encourages fear, the other indifference. And both are corrosive of democracy.

What neither begins to address is the question of engagement. Engagement requires us neither to shun certain people as the Other, with values and practices inevitably inimical to ours, nor to be indifferent to such values and practices in the name of ‘respect’, but rather to recognize that respect requires us to challenge that values and beliefs of others. It requires us to have an robust, open public debate about the values, to which we aspire, accepting that such a debate will be difficult, and often confrontational, but also that such difficult confrontational debate is a necessity in any society that seeks to be open and liberal. And democratic.

For diversity to embrace democracy, we must see diversity not as a means of managing differences, but as the raw material for dialogue, debate and challenge. For democracy to embrace diversity, we must see democracy not as a guarantee of arriving at the ‘right’ answer, but as a collective process of evaluating those differences, however unpredictable the outcome, and that the only way of arriving at the right answer is by persuading others that it is right. Whether either is possible at a time when the tendency is more to hunker down than to open up is the key question that we have answer.