Trouble in paradise
When one sweeps their mind clean of many of the concepts that have been instilled in one's pattern of thought over the years by a globalized society possessing a set of fundamental assumptions, taking great care to address, to the greatest degree humanly possible, the bare facts of experience in their raw essence, it becomes startling to observe the degree to which the idea of Democracy is worshipped today. It is asserted as though it is some sort of universal moral/political law, naturally existing as such, and so it is very rarely itself dissected and justified.
"But that is anti-democratic", or the like, can be heard prematurely killing numerous debates. 'Real' universals, such as the laws identified by physics, are those forces or happenings, embedded in nature, which just are, and which cannot themselves be questioned. The force of gravity and the force which binds atoms together (known as the 'strong force'), for instance, are all universal happenings, meaning they apply, for all practical purposes, anywhere and everywhere and cannot be questioned. They are by their nature necessary and immutable. However, there are no equivalents in the realms of morality or politics – because all such notions are completely subjective and man made. No universal moral or political laws 'exist', and therefore no theories in those realms should be taken for granted. Today, one is usually dismissed out of hand, and often slandered, for questioning the suitability of democracy. I think this is profoundly wrong. Democracy is taken as a given, when in fact it has no objective basis what so ever. Furthermore, its subjective basis seems, to this writer, to be seriously misguided.
The democratic theory has been parroted in the modern western world since the Enlightenment period. That period of European thought was all about discovering the universal traits that exist throughout the cosmos (in the human being, the physical universe etc). The thing identified as existing, universally, in all people, was their faculty of reason. The concept of 'reason' is a slippery one, but it has something to do with grasping effects and their causes, or, with grasping the design of reality (reality seemingly operating in line with cause & effect, for the most part). Thus, people were encouraged to break from traditional sources of 'top-down' authority such as the church and monarchy, and to work reality out for themselves.
Apparently the –potential- ability of all people to grasp effects and their causes vindicated the notion that they should lead society themselves, all of them, 'equally'. No one person's vote would be worth more than another's. This might sound nice at first, but it ignores two vital points. Firstly, the fact that one person is almost always more developed in their faculties than another, and secondly, that some people, due to selfishness and laziness, do not care to verse themselves in the background to the dynamic and holistic issues that concern them as would-be voters/leaders. For the resulting situation effectively sees one reasonable and well versed vote being cancelled out and ruled obsolete by one moronic vote.
To take up the second point further, in today's highly individualistic and self orientated world (compared with the Enlightenment period, and even ancient Greece, the place where democracy began), how can those championing universal suffrage (unrestricted democracy) really think that all would-be voters care about the sorts of extra-individual issues that typically face the decision makers of a society, as they should to all have an equal say in dictating them? Alarm bells should be raised considering that the popular current affairs shows on television are clogged with light weight segments like 'the worst neighbors in the country', while our most popular newspapers often struggle to raise themselves above the depth level of a tabloid magazine. Who knows how many 'citizens' do not involve themselves in political and social issues in any way whatsoever, let along through the filters of a narrowed corporate media, being more inclined to watch Big Brother, to go to the sports game, or to spend all their free time doing up their car, for instance? Moreover, in our time of highly specialized labor and long working hours, can the champions of democracy realistically expect, as they effectively do, that all people have the time, energy and breadth needed to devote themselves to reason and to political/leadership issues to any meaningful degree?
In contrast to Ancient Athens, the era and place that spawned state democracy, the average decision maker in our modern state democracy has their brain engaged with some form of narrowly specialized job all day. Further, in comparison with previous decades we are now spending more and more time in the narrow fields of our paid employment, and this era of paid employment is typically preceded by time spent in narrow fields of education in preparation for our narrow fields of employment. Consider the citizen in Ancient Greece who spent much less time at work for himself and whose education was not nearly as specific and individualistic as in modern times. It was concerned, not with entry into some specific and narrow field of employment, but with developing the whole man in his full social 'αρετη' or virtue. This reflects the preoccupation in Ancient Greece with life beyond the individual. For the Greek citizen was essentially "social." Religion, art, games, and discussion of things – all these were needs of life that could be fully satisfied only through the polis (city-state). Moreover, he wanted to play his own part in running the affairs of his community" 1. I do not think it is a coincidence that a political theory like democracy (however utopian it may be) sprang up in Ancient Greece. For the would-be voters were exclusively the men of the polis. These men kept slaves and their wives managed all their domestic affairs, leaving each of them with time and energy to devote themselves to the society which they seemed, in contrast to today, to care about so much.
At the end of the day, however, it comes down to this: Rather than getting lost in idealistic notions that coincide with how we would like reality to be, we need to address reality as it is. The reality of life is much different to the utopian idea that everyone is equal in their reasoning abilities. Similarly, the reality of the current social climate is much different from the utopian notion that all modern 'citizens' care about the realm of life beyond individual self interest, as leaders must in a sustainable community where people live together. Besides the blatant fact that not all men are equal in their abilities but that paradoxically all votes are considered equal, democracy is crazy, because, due to the increased importance of a 'private life' and on 'the individual' in modern times, there exist no cultural obligations or measures ensuring that the decision makers of today - the masses - are versed in the fundamentally social and extra-individual issues they must ultimately decide.
1 Kitto, H.D.F. (1951) 'The Greeks', Penguin Books, Middlesex, pp. 141
March 12, 2007
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