Thursday, November 01, 2018

Making our decisions

The election of another internet troll in another of the world's big democracies prompts the thought, What's going wrong with democracy? Though, of course, it also prompts the thought that dictatorships would be worse. At least the trolls can be moved on, one day.

And if one sought for grains of hope, one might feel that these trolls are more virtual fascists than real ones. They talk big and they do harm but they don't, so far, do genocide.

The people deciding for the people... It sounds good. But the intrinsic weaknesses of democracy become exacerbated under pressures such as our century is feeling. No system is perfect; the majority can use democracy to oppress minorities; and sometimes minorities, holding the balance of power, can lead majorities by the nose. Voters are prone to being controlled by demagogues; equally, they are prone to alienation and apathy; voters may vote irresponsibly, to vent and avenge; voters who feel ignorant vote for a programme that justifies their ignorance, as trolls always do.

Suffrage is not universal, and this seems wrong in some respects; fourteen-year-olds would make better decisions than some of their elders.

Government doesn't only concern people, yet only people have a say. With increasing urgency, the decisions made by democracies concern the whole of nature. It's a little impractical to give votes to animals or plants. And if we did, maybe they would vote for Bolsonaro anyway. Turkeys vote for Christmas, as the saying goes, and ostriches bury their heads in the sand. Of course these fables are really talking about human behaviour.

One justification of limited suffrage has been that voters need knowledge. Democracy is predicated on education, an awareness of bigger pictures (including the environment). But we live in a time when education is suspected, when the unpalatable responsibilities promoted by educated people can be thrown off, as the trolls assure us. So between apathy and revenge, democracies become irrational. The ballot box becomes a proxy battlefield, a new conduit for the human instinct for war.


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