Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Democracy

A brief exchange on an article posted on 3 Quarks Daily started me thinking about democracy again.  It is an interesting phenomenon how people cling to the idea that democracy is an essential element of government when that is not necessarily the case.  As Winston Churchill sensibly said, "Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

I find faith in the democratic system followed in the U.S. somewhat irrational.  Not to sound cynical, but people will support any system that seems to support their best interests, and like every government the system here does not serve everyone's interests equally.  A case can be made that the system of government in the U.S. is at odds with equality, which leads me to believe that if you value equality more than democracy, you ought to support changes to the current democratic system.  


One of the problems that has developed in every system of government is the acquisition of power by an individual or group that does not serve the best interests of other groups or the whole population.  The founding fathers in the U.S. were well aware of this and went to great pains to spread power around in the hope that it would be more difficult to abuse. Thus we have two houses of Congress, an executive branch and a judicial branch at the federal level.  I am confident that if they were still around, they would be advancing broad legal changes to limit the encroachment on government by corporations and other special interest groups, which obviously have tilted the balance of power.


Furthermore, the founding fathers did not believe in full democracy, and George Washington was elected the first president with voting rights extended to only 6% of the population, consisting of white male landowners. It was widely recognized at that time, correctly I think, that every adult is not capable of voting competently. Since then, with the gradual extension of voting rights to other constituencies, the problems associated with voter competency have been largely overlooked because the extension of voting rights has been associated with greater equality.  In theory that is correct, but, while the founding fathers could be fairly confident in the overall competency of voters then, there is little doubt that they would not feel the same today.  They would see modern campaigns as corporate-controlled spectacles in which the latest marketing techniques are skillfully applied to lull a gullible public into voting for their agents. 


The idea of democracy is especially appealing to those who have lived under oppressive regimes, but not many seem to recognize that human nature is present in both dictatorships and democracies.  There is already enough evidence to say that the pursuit of personal gain infiltrates and corrupts democracies just as much as totalitarian regimes, only more slowly and less obviously.  For this reason, I am an advocate of an option that was not available when Churchill made his statement in 1947.  Democratic principles could be encoded into a set of algorithms and placed beyond the reach of pernicious influences.  Artificial intelligence is nearing a point when it will be possible to replace politicians with computers and software.  It may make sense to retain some traditional politics at the local level, but I don't see a need for it at higher levels of government if the technology is available.  Frankly it would be fine with me if there were no national politics: then I would never have to worry about government shutdowns, unnecessary wars, corruption, incompetent leadership, etc. Although this may sound far-fetched, it may soon be technologically feasible and is certainly worth some thought.

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