Here’s the concept of civic parity as expressed in the vision of The Brights’ Network (emphasis added):
Persons who have a naturalistic worldview should be accepted as fellow citizens and be full participants in the cultural and political landscape of their society.
Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg and Christopher Karpowitz at Brigham Young University are concerned with a different egalitarian vision. In keeping with general research interest in political influence of minorities, some recent work has focused on factors in empowerment of women.
It wasn't about brights, but one wonders if their work on political parity for women in leadership might bear at least some degree of relevance to the challenges we face. The report drew interest at BC because it touched (albeit only tangentially) on one of the challenges we have in progressing to full civic participation.
The issue? -- the very low representation of brights in the decision-making bodies of so many of our democratic societies, despite a larger representation in the society at large.
Women’s Influence in Groups
The researchers in this case were studying women’s participation in political decision-making. They were thinking about what goes on in settings like committees and caucuses, where the issues of likely concern to women (e.g., vulnerable populations) could be addressed by advocacy and voting.
Their studies of gender dynamics in small groups (tolerance of rude interruptions, measures of time to speak, etc.) indicate that the gender ratios in a deciding body matter. As the researchers concluded: "Our research shows that female lawmakers significantly reshape policies only when they have true parity with men."
Small minority female representation is accompanied by reluctance to strongly advocate policy preferences within the group ("lawmaking body"). A shift in functional influence (toward women’s empowerment) takes place only when the representation becomes high enough.
In a study where female composition of a group was zero, 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100% of participants, it was not until women made up at least 60% of the lawmaking body that they began to be viewed (and perceive themselves) as other than quiescent and ineffective. Clearly diminished when in groups operating by majority rule, the women did somewhat better at addressing their concerns when voting was by consensus. (There, female minorities were able to achieve greater voice).
The researchers note that they weren’t examining the impact of female executives, but that of women in bodies much like legislatures, city councils and school boards. In those settings, when there are more women participants, the women speak more and men listen more to their matters of concern.
When it comes to civic empowerment, numbers count. The researchers saw the challenge as one of electing “vastly more women” for female influence to be felt and heeded.
Brights' Influence in Society
On that score, there’s a long way to go. How can we gain the civic influence to change matters (of general concern to brights) for the better? More specifically, how can we empower the many individuals who have a naturalistic worldview within the places where key societal choices and political decisions are made?
The settings of school boards and local councils, to say nothing of legislative bodies at higher levels, are settings highly relevant to our own needs as citizens who have a naturalistic worldview.
And from whence comes real policy influence for those who have a naturalistic worldview? How do Brights garner influence when living in the midst of supers?
It is in the legislatures, the city councils and county commissions, and on the school boards that so many key decisions affecting democratic societies are being made.
Greater representation by brights (all stripes) is crucial.
Although elective parity for citizens who have a naturalistic worldview may be a long way off in many nations, and impossible to achieve in others, there is a case to be made that a start can be made.
If there is ever to be the circumstance of effective advocacy and policy change, there must be vastly more physical presence in these bodies. What about you?