The faulty logic of working by consensus

| Senior Forum Editor

Spokesmen for the Occupy Wall Street movement reported Feb. 23 that the movement does not support the Occupy Conference. The Occupy Conference will take place in Philadelphia later this year with two representatives from each congressional district in order to create a list of grievances to send to Congress.

Han Shan, a member of the Occupy Wall Street PR team, reported to the Associated Press that they could not support the conference because “We think it’s critically important to truly build consensus; this was not something that was built around consensus.”

Now, I understand the prospect of not agreeing with the conference for various political reasons, but if the Occupy movement is going to continue, it will need to get off its high horse and consider the prospect of working by a system other than consensus.

Working by consensus holds a great appeal. You argue for your case and then work to find a course of action upon which everyone can agree, a middle ground that everyone will accept and feel energized about working toward.

But consensus is one of those impossible political ideals that will simply never occur. It cannot happen, because not everyone thinks the same way, and in every political decision, someone has to “lose.”

Have you ever been in an organization that tries to work solely by consensus? People still get shafted. If you can’t make the meeting to argue your case for a certain course of action, what are you supposed to do when a decision is made against your will? Does the entire group stop working because of that loner who was stuck in traffic?

Making decisions by consensus doesn’t even work for non-political interactions. I love the people with whom I currently live. We all get along incredibly well; I consider them to be a second family. Nevertheless, nobody can agree on where to eat dinner. It simply isn’t possible for 10 people at any given moment to decide where they all simultaneously want to eat dinner, and we aren’t even talking about a potentially divisive topic.

Now think about the Occupy movement, with its thousands of members, all from different backgrounds and different walks of life, trying to work toward a better America.

Can you picture how long it would take them to make any decision where if one person wasn’t at least somewhat happy, they had to start over? They didn’t approve of the Occupy Conference because when it was proposed to the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly it “generated more controversy than consensus.”

The thing is, every important issue generates controversy! You can’t have a political movement that isn’t at least somewhat controversial. That is what makes debating these things so important. You can’t simply avoid the important issues because building ideas by consensus is more important.

Think about the things that would never EVER happen if we worked in a consensus-based political system. Civil rights, gay marriage, women’s rights, could have never been a remote possibility in a consensus world, because some people are intractable on certain issues.

No, consensus systems don’t work. I don’t have a better system in mind than our current political system, but I am 100 percent confident that working things out by consensus will leave us with a slower, less progressive country than the Occupy movement is looking for.

In every important political decision someone has to lose. It is the way of the world. Someone isn’t going to get a military contract; someone is going to have her way of life disturbed. Someone might have his sensibilities assaulted. Those people will always oppose the consensus.

Some issues are too important for people to ignore because they “generate too much controversy.” I’m not saying Occupy Wall Street needed to approve of the Philadelphia Conference. But if they really want to continue as a movement and really want to try to make this country a better place, they need to understand that not everyone can always win out whenever more than one person needs to make a decision.

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