The Trouble With Democracy

Democracy has changed the world. But by no means is Democracy a finished product in democratic nations, but an incessant process. For instance, recently there is huge debate on Free Speech as saying what you want versus saying what is deemed appropriate or polite by the majority. The first wins out as democratic: In more democratic societies there is the freedom for bad and hurtful behaviour and saying bad things–so long as the words are legal or the subject(s) does not have money to file for libel. For example, it is very bad that people can be extremist in theory but only punishable in practice: but that is how it works. And so the argument goes, if you change that then you violate rights and become, while well intentioned, undemocratic and near-fascist.

Democracy, Rights, and Meritocracy are close to everyone’s hearts in the Liberal West, but by no means is it a system without flaws. Particularly, given the messes that democratic nations manage to get in because of marginal majorities and career politicians. Good and bad are too large a generalisation; there is plenty of good and bad in any way of organising people and institutions. Democracy is the better trade-off but still is bad in ways it would be good for everyone to be better aware of.

This is what is enlightening about viewing democracy in its infancy, from the eyes of its critics, Alexis De Tocqueville and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Alexis De Tocqueville amusingly travelled the early United States admiring and criticising in Democracy in America and Rousseau famously considered civil democratic society to be a corruption of a more fair-minded pre-industrial, pre-bureaucratic community as he outlines in His Discourses

There are six blaring flaws of democracy that we tend to overlook, to our peril.

 Freedom of mind obscured by ‘thinking-fashion’

We often think that comparably free speech and expression means the minds of people are freer. But the freedom of so many minds means there is a popular-makes-right mentality that can be blatantly wrong. For instance, the most visited media website is The Daily Mail, and voters make uninformed votes because they have heard it is the right decision, or they feel (as opposed to having thought it out) to be right.

Never ending object acquisition

When there are endless possibilities and available sensations we can acquire we never appreciate what we have–consumer ‘culture’ exacerbates our natural hedonic adaptation to the point it can hurt us: as in debt and life dissatisfaction.

Vanity and envy

We are led to believe that if we work hard enough we can have the lives or bodies we see: But we cannot and this can all too easily make us unhappy. In a society of theoretical equals, actual inequalities hurt all the more because they are unjust to what we are, in theory, promised.

Public Opinion & Common Sense

Common sense is just assumptions not questioned enough, addressed as down to earth anti-intellectualism that is for the people–and not elitist. But opinions of all are not equally valid, elite opinion is often best – the opinion of an expert is better than a not expert because it is more probable and coherent or factual. Global warming disbelief arguably stems from a harmful over-democratic idea of equal opinions ‘that’s just your opinion; I’ve got one too!’, that heeds no probability in opinions or distinguishes between facts.  

The polar of this is what credits public opinion or not. City aesthetics, for instance, is happily deemed elitist, outside of consensus opinions, yet the urban environment is shared by a huge citizenry that should have more of a role in deciding what the place they spend their lives in is like. While there are common sense and public opinion on ethics and education the thought is lost when it comes to aesthetics — with museums and galleries visited by a minority of the population. And the common sense idiom ‘Eye of The Beholder’ leads to badly designed and conflicting styles in cities and towns more ugly to the majority of eyes. This is obvious in UK Manchester, Birmingham and London where towers rise and obscure prettier and older buildings and ruin cityscapes; an empirical survey of opinions is never done because opinions of the majority are assumed to not matter. While, the classical rules of design that made Florence, Venice, and Vienna beautiful are ignored by company-sponsored towers and architects.

Mistaken Equality

Democracy is actually an aristocracy of intellects, unequally shrewd talents competing for unequally distributed property acquisition, and of course, a good deal of luck.

Freedom-to act sacrifices freedom-from actions – and their result

Studies of newly individualistic countries suggest it can be bad for well-being for many of the above reasons. Suicide rates have gone up in China, for example, as they did in newly industrial Europe.

It makes sense that it is quite a burden to be held responsible for everything connected to you, all of the time… On a scale beyond comprehension to our evolutionary, and ethnocentric, ancestors. Having the freedom to make decisions yourself sacrifices the freedom from making those decisions: you are free to make bad decisions because it’s your democratic ‘own call’ so long as it’s legal no one can save you from yourself and as you are responsible for wins you are in turn guilty of ‘losses’–even those out of your control, that don’t look like that from the judgmental outside.

Democracy is the best system for an inevitably somewhat bad society. Democracy, like almost everything on a large scale, has downsides. Those downsides should be carefully mitigated – through, if not class consciousness, then citizen consciousness –  to best make it work. And most importantly, accepted: by admitting and confronting the faults of democracy we actually best justify democracy against undemocratic forces in the world: it is not relative to – ‘just as good or bad as’ – other systems but better reasoned, with fewer – and far more manageable – downsides than the alternatives.  
Related Posts:

The Need For Bias
Why Politicians Have To Be Bad
How Economic Theory Hurts Us

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