“Know your audience.” It’s the first rule of rhetoric, and no less relevant to IF’s Discussion Reports than to ad copy in a Google pop-up. So who is IF’s intended audience for its discussion Reports?
I think a reasonable beginning point in answering that question is where I left off in an earlier post, where in thinking of how justice affects our view of democratic discussion, I came down on the side of “equal discursive opportunity.” Although I didn’t say so in that post, it’s a conclusion that also follows from taking seriously the part of IF’s mission that would have us not only “enhance” but also “promote” democratic discussion. IF’s fundamental purpose lies not in one or another of these aims, but in their interactivity. That was the vision of IF founder Jay Stern, a vision reflected in all of IF’s constitutional documents, from its Articles of Incorporation on.
As applied to “the audience question,” this orientation would suggest aiming IF Reports at those who in the ordinary course of events have the least opportunity to engage in democratic discussion—not people in the upper five (or even ten) percent of the SES, not the intelligentsia, not professionals, not even “ordinary citizens.” Instead, it would mean aiming at the extraordinary majority who never have a chance to show anyone their stuff because life is harder on them, because no one thinks them capable, or because no one gives them the chance.
I can get more specific. Discussion requires two things of any given citizen: willingness and ability. (IF supplies the opportunity.) Imagine these arrayed along two axes. The closer to the upper right corner you come, the higher in both willingness and ability to discuss you are, and as a result, the less likely you are to need a boost from an organization like IF. (In other words, those who are both very good at and very willing to discuss public policy are more likely to find ways of doing it on their own than those who are not. And remember—everyone, even those who are bad at it or don’t see it’s immediate use, deserve an equal chance to do it.) Meanwhile, some few who are low on both axes are for practical reasons probably beyond us. So by process of elimination, it’s the pie slice that represents various blends of “middling interest” and “middling ability” that is the natural target for an organization truly committed to “democratic discussion”. Perhaps, to follow through on the darts analogy, we could get more precise and say we’re really aiming for the inner ring of that Northwest-Southeast pie slice. But that’s another post.