Democratic Empiricism is the Proper Way to Approach Civic Engagement


Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

We are all familiar with the politically-charged rhetoric on both sides that has found a new place in American society. In many ways, the presence rhetoric in our society is fueling hatred between different groups that has led to several hate crimes over the past few months. As an active citizen, I am very concerned with these prevailing attitudes that are fueling nationwide discord, and how we can stabilize this tension.

One plausible approach, albeit to the displeasure of many people, would be to adopt a more objective, fact-based approach to civic engagement and public policy to normalize but how can we sift through these emotions and feelings and come to a consensus? We can do this by agreeing to facts and logic-driven thought, treating all people fairly and equally, and constructing policies that best fit the needs for most Americans without hurting others in the process.

Thinking vs. Feeling

How can we normalize civic engagement so that people aren’t focused on attacking each other, but rather working with each other? The only way is through adopting objectivity as the primary approach to civic engagement, and more specifically, public policy.

The Myers Briggs Personality Inventory, a well-known personality test, assesses one’s personality, then assigns the test taker a 4-letter code to indicate their personality. These letters signify one’s personality tendencies, such as thinking or feeling for decision-making. Thinkers tend to base their decisions on facts and logic, and can be apathetic towards emotions in the decision-making process. On the other hand, feelers tend to be sensitive to others’ feelings or concerns, and often strive to maintain peace in their environment. Some people, including myself, are thinkers, but there are others who instead operate on feeling. In terms of general decision-making scenarios, neither personality type is better than the other because both can result in pleasant outcomes.

However, we have seen how feelers have operated in the political realm. Look at the feelers in our society: violent, criminal activists; populists and xenophobes, radicalized terrorists, individuals that don’t identify as male or female; bureaucrats; white-collar workers; blue-collar workers; professors; students; normal people– you get the gist. Indeed, it does not take a lot of finger pointing to realize that so many people (not everyone) operate with the tendency to feel emotionally rather than think logically, and we have seen how this has impacted the stability of our social climate.

Fundamentally, both decision-making styles would approach civic engagement in fundamentally-different ways. Feelers would approach public policy in a qualitative way, most likely concerning themselves with every case out there (others might be worried about specific groups of people or ideas). Whereas, thinkers would take all the concerns into account and determine the logical, course action to serve the needs of the people while upholding fairness by treating everyone equally.

But to cater to the needs of all these people, and everyone else out there, we ought to standardize our laws to meet the needs of as many people. This is because approaching public policy by addressing everyone’s feelings and concerns would be exhausting and unproductive, especially when there are over 324 million needs in our nation.

As a society, we have been acting democratically and empirically for many parts in our history. But lately, many people have been using their feelings and concerns to operate as feelers rather thinkers, resulting in widespread disagreements and conflicts between various groups. I describe thinking in the civic sense as democratic empiricism, the mode of decision-making by which one objectively makes decisions based on: the most common concerns of citizens; information driven by evidence and facts; and Constitutional law. In my opinion, approaching civic engagement and public policy in this manner is the most feasible, because it is not skewed by opinions or feelings that could potentially benefit some groups and not others. For instance, some feelers—who might staunch supporters of income equality because they feel this is best for society– may argue that taxing the rich heavily could bring benefit to many Americans; but that would come at a great cost in multiple ways that would not only harm the rich but also harm the economy, thereby being an improper course of action.

On the other hand, Civilians and bureaucrats would benefit from the thinkers’ approach to public policy because they would use concrete evidence (data compiled over the years by researchers and the government) to bring forth conclusions about society, such as drug use, the failures of public education in many rural and urban communities, crowded prisons, etc. With all that is happening in our country, we ought to speak about the facts, and set aside feelings because they don’t provide an accurate picture of our nation. At least facts provide concrete information that can be translated to public policy.

Restructuring Expectations for the Sake of Civic Progress

With the recent surge feeling-oriented bureaucratic and civic, we are at a crossroads in terms of how we want to approach governance in our nation. You can disagree with me with the notion that facts ought to take priority over feelings, but to avoid inconsistencies and flaws in public policy, we ought to support facts and logic more often than feelings. And if we all want to live in a society that’s fair for all Americans, then we all should consider approaching our issues in an objective manner that can be fit everyone’s needs. In other words, adopting democratic empiricism is how we would avoid the civic discord that we are dealing with in society.