What wait? Wasn’t this blog about Linux/Audio stuff? Why this politics based topic? And how an earth the emblem of democracy, the act of voting, can be in any way not-democratic?
Well, for the first questions, as previously in the past, I feel sometimes that I want to write about something else.
As for the last question…
Again, when I touch topics I am not an expert on, I like to do it as I was an expert instead. This for two reasons. First, I feel like it makes easier for me to express my points. Second, if my points are actually clearer this way, it will be easier for eventual people being actually expert to give some good feedback on this. As such, I welcome everybody to give feedback in the comments, if you feel like to. I know that this topic can offend people, maybe also for the language I used (a little bit confrontational) but that is not my goal. My goal is to elaborate on this and get smarter in the process. Any eventual comment will fulfill this goal even better!
As long as it is respectful.
What actually is democracy? In the purest sense, democracy is a particular kind of government, that kind of government in which the people is the sovereign. Which means that every decision is taken by the people as a whole, not by a King or a noble class. But wait, that’s not how most of the democracies in which we are proud of living actually work. We don’t go, all of us, all of the citizens, in the chambers to make administrative decisions, new laws, negotiate with other governments or whatever. In fact, we have politicians, agents, people that do the actual governing instead of us. Isn’t that against the very definition of democracy? How that differs from oligarchy, the kind of government in which only few people, the ones considered most fit for the task (historically because noble), exercise the power?
Direct democracy, the kind of democracy described above, is mostly unpractical. Countries are big, with many citizens, how all of us could possibly take part to the government?
There is a number of people that think that modern day technology, like internet, can make direct democracy possible also for large countries. Other strongly disagree. This is not the topic of this post, however. In fact, when our democracies were implemented this was completely out of question: there was no possible way to implement direct democracy for big communities. Democracy was made then representative.
Representative democracy is that kind of democracy in which, instead of exercise our sovereign power directly, we delegate agents to do that. The idea is to maintain a small core of agents, so that the community can be governed efficiently, while selecting these agents so that they represent the actual sovereign of the country, the people. How?
The idea is to allow the sovereign people to elect the agents with free elections.
So, let’s get this straight: we cannot practically govern the country, so we elect other people to represent us. Not to govern on our behalf! The difference is subtle, but important.
We are actually doing democratic election when we designate, with our vote, the agent(s) that better can represent us, not the agent(s) we think best fit for government. What we aim to, as actual sovereign of the country, is to have an elected government that somewhat mirrors the various points of views, ideologies and positions of the entirety of the citizens, so that when the government makes a decision it’s like the whole people made it. In other words, the elected government should ideally be a sort of “sample” of the whole people, so to represent it on a smaller scale, allowing the instances of every citizen to be properly represented in the chambers.
Democracy is not “we do what the most of people want”
As expressed above, democracy aims to give to every citizen the means, directly or through elected representatives, to exercise their own sovereign power. It is not about what “the majority” decides to do. It is worth to stress that this is one of the most important aspects of democracy, as democracy gives voice to everybody, also those belonging to minorities.
Democracy is not “we should vote for the best-fit-to-govern agent(s)”
This would be “elective oligarchy”: you consider someone or some party better fit to govern according to some particular criteria (whatever that is) and then invest them with power. This has nothing to do with you being the actual sovereign. A government to be democratic has to invest the people with sovereignty, not just a few considered “better than others”, even if by a majority of people. This is what happened at the beginning of many totalitarian states: totalitarian dictators where supported and invested with sovereignty by the people. Of course, totalitarianism is clearly not democracy. If you just designate, election by election, who you think is gonna be the “perfect leader” for your community you actually don’t like democracy essence and prefer other kinds of government. You prefer to invest someone else with the duty of govern, and you don’t want to deal just more directly with that duty yourself, by seeking representation. There is nothing wrong with it, as long as you are aware of it (and don’t commit crimes and offenses in order to support your own clearly not democratic idea of government).
Democracy is not “look how many rights we have”
Democracy is a particular kind of government, not a particular set of people rights. You can’t have democracy without granting many essential rights, for example the right to vote or express freely opinions. But you can have not-democratic governments granting most of the rights that most people associate with democracy. The so called Enlightened Kingdoms of the 18th century are an example of that. Most of them granted freedom of speech, free circulation, the right to own private property, the right to have education, the right to believe in whatever religion and so on and so forth. Few to even surprisingly modern degrees. However, the sovereign was a King, and people did not elected any chamber. It was not democracy.
How to vote
To correctly vote you need:
- A view of your community, the world, and all the related issues and problems related to those. This must be gathered on top of objective evidence. For example, you need to know how the energy gets produced and delivered to consider yourself entitled to any decision on how this should be changed and improved. You need to know what amount of resource it entails to keep an healthcare system running to consider yourself entitled to make any decision about reducing them or boost them. To what degree? Are we supposed to be all experts about everything? That’s impossible, but what is possible is to critically gather sources, reports, information and critically assimilate them. You are supposed to form your “snapshot” of your community and its relationship with the rest of the world, but you are also supposed to be adult enough to be able to understand which sources deserves credit, what is reliable information an what is not.
- On the top of step 1, form your opinion on things. Individually. You have a brain, use it. Even though most of the problems are objective, the way to approach a solution can be subjective. Think about this: renewable power plants cost, depending on the technology, usually more money with respect fossil fuel and gas plants. Then, they could be judged counterproductive by people putting financial efficiency as a priority. However, for many countries lacking fossil fuels reserves (or uranium) they might represent the only way to get real energetic independence, a move that would have a huge strategic impact as it would lower the diplomatic leverage of powers detaining fossil fuel and gas reserves. For people thinking strategically then investing in renewable energy sources might be totally worth it, even if passing through some kind of eventual financial struggle. This to say that even for problems that are objective in nature, like energy production, the choice of the solution might depend on more subjective principles, like what has to be considered a priority, in this example strategy or financial costs. Even when dealing with subjective things, it is imperative that you conduct your thinking with the required amount of rationality or appropriate though process: why something is a priority for you? Emotional panicking choices are as bad in real life as in politics.
- Associate, if you want, to like minded people to discuss and explore topics further. Confrontation with also people with other mentality and views will help better understand yours and it is only healthy, as long as everybody is respectful.
- Finally, select among the candidates for whatever election the ones that better align with the views you have developed after points 1 to 3. Actually, by this time you will be very accustomed to both your views and the ones pertaining to parties, movements or whatever, so when the elections comes you will actually know well in advance what to do.
As an example, the last election I took part was a referendum to change the Constitution of my country. I first:
- Bough a book which explains to the not specialist the constitution and the principles behind it, which also includes the original constitution (which I read). Of course, I checked the background of the writer and satisfied myself it was a good source, together with critically assessing it by myself while reading the original unprocessed Constitution too.
- Developed an idea of how I agree with the actual constitution principles and implementation, and what I would change if I was one of the agents in charge.
- Read the proposed modifications, critically, to understand if they made sense to me, if I agreed with them.
- Balanced things out and made an overall decision.
I don’t claim to be perfect, not at all. But this should be the natural flow of things. And no, I have not a lot of spare time. The above took weeks, working on it an hour a day. But it can be done if one actually wants to exercise the right to vote to the fullest. Actually, it must be done if one actually wants to exercise the right to vote to the fullest.
Most people don’t do any of the above
Most people actually don’t even think about anything their existence and their community depend upon until some electoral campaign of some kind kicks in. Hence, most people fail to create their own individual rational opinion (based upon objective facts) and instead rely on passively being exposed to partial propagandist and/or digested information. So, when the vote day arrives, people do not actually end up electing their representative, to mirror their point of view, but instead they end up being driven by whatever propaganda was most effective in shaking them. In other words: most people are passive pieces of a chess game rather then actual sovereigns of a democratic country.
But why then to say they are back-stabbing democracy?
You could object that, even if the process of though most people go through when deciding what to vote for is not the most correct, it is still an expression of the people and should deserve credit for that. 100% true. I say though, and it is not in contradiction with the above, that this is extremely dangerous for actual democracy.
I have seen people pointing the finger to the most disparate and nonsensical “dangers for democracy” while I think this very real one remains overlooked.
If people have an individual opinion on things and vote to seek representation then democracy in theory works.
If people are driven by propaganda it just doesn’t. Instead of voting due to an ideal, people end up giving credit to politician’s promises. This is dangerous because it educates politicians that with appropriate propaganda it is possible to literally steer elections. A vote outcome of this kind is not democratic, as people did not populated the chambers with their representative, but instead invested someone to deal with the issues he/she propagandized he/she was able to solve better then the others.
Again, even when voting, if it is not for your instances to reach the chambers but to designate someone else to govern, you are not doing a democratic thing, as you are stripping your sovereignty from yourself and investing someone else with it. You might just call it “Elective Kingdom” or “Elective Oligarchy”.
To wrap this up
Just be aware of what you do. I am not condemning anybody for their choices. There isn’t any reference to actual elections outcomes here, I am just thinking principles.
I am just tired of reading and listening to people pretending they know what democracy is about and failing completely at exercising it.
Democracy encompasses many rights, but also duties. Most important is the duty to have an own formed objective culture on things and, on top of that, own formed opinions for all those things that are not objective. Failing to have those will make the people not a sovereign, but loose pieces of a chess game politicians can move around with propaganda, for an interest that might be much out of alignment with the interests of the collectivity. If that’s is OK for you, fine. And I actually mean it, I am not here to judge anybody. But don’t pretend to call it democracy. Because it isn’t.