Democracy à la Carte

I’ve been pondering the notion of democracy. This is not new for me. I’ve looked around and asked myself, ‘If democracy is so great, why is it not more widely adopted’. I don’t mean why don’t other countries try it? And I don’t mean to confound the issue by arguing that a republic is not a democracy, the last refuge of the desperate.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. 

H. L. Mencken

Mencken offers more critique in his Notes on Democracy.

What I wonder is why, if it’s so good, why don’t companies structure democratically? Why not the military? I’ve always found this particularly humorous: An autocratic, socialised structure defending democracy. Some of the biggest democratic flag-wavers are military and ex-military.

I know that most military members in the US would be lucky to work flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Some speak of the mental illness and homelessness of military veterans, but this misses the direction of the arrow of causation. These people had a free ride, room, and board on Uncle Sam’s dime in the States—some other denomination elsewhere. It’s really no wonder that one wouldn’t want to give these people a voice in military affairs, and yet they do get a voice in civilian affairs. It’s a good thing almost half of Americans eligible to vote don’t.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Winston Churchill

I’ve already mentioned that democracy is a sham and its best feature is the illusion of control. I suppose if I come up with something better, I might write about it. Until then, it’s just one of many mediocre options.

Interestingly, some people’s options are asinine. Frank Karsten hawking his book and ideology on Beyond Democracy thinks that downsizing is the answer. Hans-Hermann Hoppe agrees, as he posits in several essays in Democracy: The God that Failed. I don’t disagree, but his basic point seems to be that 300MM people deciding is too much, so perhaps 10MM or 20MM might work better. What’s the limit? Why not 150? How is conflict among this smaller political units adjudicated? With this downsizing, how does the system control the urge for upsizing? In the end, this feels like more Libertarian, anarcho-capitalistic mental masturbation, which as I type this feels redundant. Unfortunately, the common denominator is people, and that’s Achilles’ heel.

Democracy Now

Let’s face it and be honest: Democracy is not a great system of governance. In fact, it’s as mediocre as the outcomes it generates.

Plato hated it. He preferred a Republic, but all that does is kick the can down the proverbial kerb. A mob of demos voting for self-interested politicos with the gift of gab and self-promotion.

Alexis de Tocqueville noted that Democracy requires an education populace, but that’s the least of its shortcomings, and, man, was he spot on.

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

— Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Except he didn’t get out much and probably hadn’t survey all the others he demeaned. I don’t reckon he was very imaginative at the start.

Kenneth Arrow demonstrated with his Impossibility Theorem that no voting system would work even if the concept was otherwise solid, so that’s just adding insult to injury.

to what extent is democracy simply playing on the cognitive illusion of control?

Democracy sounds good on paper, but to what extent is democracy simply playing on the cognitive illusion of control? I’d imagine that the more one feels able to control outcomes (or happen to be in sync with the decided outcomes), the more favourable one feels towards it. But as much one might assume the disenfranchised to be disillusioned by it—and against all logic—, many still defend it.

The problem, is course, is people, so what are the alternatives? Besides Democracy, some people are easily enamoured by the Beneficent Dictator, but the shortcomings of that have been debated for centuries. For the most part, monarchies have run their historical course—at least as far as to demonstrate that they are not a solution either.

Some have raised Artificial Intelligence as a solution, but unless AI can unlearn the human elements, it’s not much of an improvement. It’s just faster and more efficient within a sub-optimal system. And humans are fearful of how another superior entity might treat them—especially given how poorly humans treat encountered ‘inferior’ entities.

To be fair, I don’t have an answer, but any system that outputs Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, or Donald Trump is in serious need of an overhaul—especially simultaneously.

* I included the Democracy Now!’s logo in this post. Democracy Now! is neither affiliated with this blog or this post. Still, I suggest you check it out.