Why would I want to write about Democracy? Democracy is a good thing, right? What’s to discuss?
Well, I always thought democracy was a good thing but perhaps now I think it’s just the best we have whilst in itself being as fundamentally flawed as any other system.
Most things don’t work in their extremes but do work in some kind of moderation.
e.g. drinking a fine wine.
Extreme Capitalism doesn’t work (too unfair on poorer in society) – nor does extreme Socialism/Communism (not enough meritocratic incentives for innovation/success).
Extreme Democracy though?
What do I mean by ‘Extreme’ Democracy
Well, let me first explain what I mean by extreme Democracy and where me writing any of this comes from.
Democracy, for me, is OK (best of a bunch of flawed choices) if it comes with appropriate checks and balances.
For example: in the UK we have a Democratic system whereby the public (or those who can be bothered) get to vote for a government to run the country in terms of our political decisions – i.e. making them a democratically elected government.
Furthermore they get to take a look at how they’ve done in office and kick them out in favour of a different bunch of
losers politicians every four years (in today’s fast paced world I’d argue that frequency is not often enough but we’ll get back to that).
So the checks and balances here would be that the politicians in question would have to put themselves forward in the first place (a bit like an application process) with all kinds of promises and proposals and manifestos.
The public get to scrutinise this little lot, also, importantly, this is almost always in the context of that parties track record and knowing something about their ideology and normally also something about key individuals in that party. Call all of this bit due diligence, if you like. Then the government is voted for, every four years (too long), and if they get a majority given certain weightings and thresholds (more checks and balances) then they assume office.
This democratically elected bunch of politicians get to make political decisions on behalf of the public that voted for them. They get to research those decisions fully (more due diligence) and take responsibility for them – this, in essence, is what the public elect them for, their jobs if you like.
Phew. Got all of that? Just remember due diligence & checks & balances.
So a more extreme version of this Democracy would be something without checks and balances. Let’s say ‘the people’ (again, those that can be bothered) vote on something, but this time it is not on who takes office but a direct political decision, with immediate impact. Let’s imagine that this decision is taken on something fairly complex that no-one really understands, not even politicians.
Everyone can vote (well, actually not everyone – lets omit the people this decision is likely to affect the most, say, the young, because that’s what we’ve always done) – so everyone (except the young and those who couldn’t be bothered or otherwise couldn’t – like if they couldn’t make it to vote because of adverse weather conditions or something) – so everyone (with exceptions) votes – on a major political issue that they don’t understand, with no due diligence … now that would be what one might call a rather extreme version of Democracy.
In this kind of scenario, in terms of the Democratic decision being made (the vote) one persons ignorance is directly equivalent to another persons knowledge (i.e. they both count for one vote).
Just for fun, let’s take it one little step further. Let’s screw with the due diligence bit of it too…
Rather than leaving our ‘voters’ clueless as to what they are voting for, rather than leave them simply uninformed, let’s actually feed them with misinformation slowly drip-fed to them over years. Throw in some exaggerated statistics that play on their worst fears, throw reality out of the window and feel free to make stuff up. Use completely unrelated imagery if it hammers home any particular point and ramp the whole lot up as the day of the actual vote approaches.
That will shake things up a bit…
…then we have a really extreme version of Democracy. Some might say that would be dangerous. If we took this major political decision with all of it’s underlying complexities, something that could affect not just this country but the whole world and our standing in it – and boiled the whole thing down to a simple Yes/No vote, promising that it would be a one-off.
A kind of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey if you like…
…then I’m sure that could be very dangerous.
But we wouldn’t do that, would we?
So Democracy, not everything it’s cracked up to be in my view when you take it to that kind of extreme.
What are the alternatives?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
At first glance, there are not any easy alternatives, but I think there are improvements that can be made.
Aside from replacing our corrupt politicians with honest politicians and our crazy political parties with more sensible ones (I realise that would not be easy), we could make incremental improvements to the system.
For a start, if my main argument is that the general public are ill-equipped to make major political decisions (fed by our wonderful tabloid press and all of the biases and drip-fed nonsense that entails) then the only way Democracy would work well (whether an extreme version or with sophisticated (more sophisticated) checks and balances) is by better equipping the people making the decisions. This means better equipping the voting public, with better information rather than the drivel they currently get via our press and also better equipping politicians to make sound decisions.
One way of doing this which may seem counter to everything I have said above (but isn’t) is actually by having a more direct relationship between ‘the people’ and our politicians. Yes, it is dangerous but I would propose that even more direct (no longer extreme, let’s now use the word direct, bear with me) Democracy where people get to take part in political decisions (notice the difference, I said take part, not make) could work well if we have a faster feedback mechanism.
Failure – even political failure, is not always a bad thing. Look at startup culture, sports performance at the top level, in fact anything. Successful people and organisations fail. They fail fast and they recover. They learn from those failures. If they didn’t fail at all chances are they miss those opportunities to fail and learn.
So we don’t need to avoid failure or fix the side where the decision is made, we need to streamline the ability to react to that decision. To admit this didn’t work and choose a different path. To adapt and evolve into something better.
We also need more due-diligence (including more integrity in how we disseminate that information = less lies and spin) so that the failures are smaller and amount to fine-tuning rather than catastophe.
We need quicker turnaround cycles in our political system, more suited to today’s fast changing world. If our politicians are going to try and be dishonest, then let’s make them more honest with a more progressive, more reactive, more informed system where we can afford to make mistakes because we can learn and react to them quickly.
i.e. if we can’t fix it with better political people, then we can fix it with a better political system.
We can then also strengthen the relationship between ‘the people’ and the bunch or politicians in office, because we can afford to.