“Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” – George Bernard Shaw
Today is the big day here in the US. Newsrooms are buzzing with excitement, workplaces are half-empty as people take a trip to the polls. Everyone is waiting for the outcome of this momentous democratic event. McCain symbolizes tradition, social stability, a comfortable devil-you-know in the guise of an honourable war veteran. Obama represents change and potential economic recovery, but is in many ways an unknown quantity. Yes, finally tonight we find out what truly motivates the American public, greed or racism. Personally my money is on greed.
Describe it how you will, democracy boils down to majority rule. In a society of one million people, if 500,001 are for something, and 499,999 are against, then the vote passes. That is if the ballots are counted properly, none are mysteriously lost, and no-one’s brother is the governor of Florida.
But if the majority of people are ignorant, foolish, thoughtless sheep, then why should the majority rule? Do 999,999 other people have the right to decide what rules I should obey? The decisions of the multitude, whatever reasons they may have for making them, become the law. The person who most closely reflects the mindset of the masses becomes the ruler. Which I guess indicates that for the past 8 years the American people have been unable to find their own arses with both hands.and an atlas.
People are so apathetic about democracy these days that many believe their individual votes don’t actually matter. Bill Vaughan once wrote that a citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election. He would doubtless have been delighted to hear that this is not true. The words “unless there is a black guy running for President” should clearly have been added.
One could possibly be forgiven in the states for claiming their vote does not count, because technically this is true. The electoral college and the super-delegates make it possible for the popular vote not to reflect the actual vote. However this is something of a unique situation. To hear someone in a European country claim that their vote doesn’t matter because it will not be the deciding one boggles the mind. At best that’s a rationalisation of laziness, but mainly its just utter nonsense.
The reality is that democracy sucks, because people continue to be fools. Sometimes they get lucky, and vote for a JFK, or an Abraham Lincoln. But most of the time their reasons aren’t logical, the candidate just has superior charisma or a good spin. Sometimes they get unlucky, and end up accidentally endorsing dictatorships. The only thing worse than not casting a vote at all, is casting a vote randomly just because you have one. Abstaining from voting can be a valid decision, but being too lazy to go to the polls on your lunchbreak isn’t abstaining, it’s copping out.
There is no right that exists without a corresponding responsibility. The right to life comes with the obligation to respect the life of others, the right to a fair trial comes with the responsibility to judge fairly in the trial of another should you ever be called upon to do so, and the right to vote comes with the responsibility of understanding what your vote means. Democracy is designed with a world of intelligent, unbiased and benevolent individuals in mind. Currently we make do with occasionally enlightened self-interest.
Because what’s the alternative? I have heard “benevolent dictatorship” mentioned, usually as a joke, but it appeals in some ways. A modern day King Solomon to arbitrate the “McDonalds coffee is too hot and it burned me” lawsuits, to tell the media to cover things that happen outside of the damn country, to force out biased laws. To say “people are stupid, but let’s make them act smart anyway, and maybe eventually they’ll figure out that its better”.
But a well-intentioned dictator is still a dictator, and I am a firm believer in the idea that human choices are important. At least I know that when people vote for a law to be put in place, that they are also voting for that law to be applied to _them_. They are voting for their own president as well as mine, their own restriction as well mine. And there is always the possibility, the outside chance that they will be right.
The truth is that people must be allowed to be fools. Because otherwise it will mean nothing when some of them choose not to be.