Better democracy should shape the future
Better democracy should shape the future
In all my years on this planet I don’t think I have heard the word democracy so misused and abused as in the last twelve months. The UK Prime Minister quoted it to justify doing something she had said she thought was wrong. The Leader of the Opposition quoted it to justify not having an opinion. The Leader of the Balance of Power Party (aka Democratic Unionist) used it to justify fence-sitting. Members of Parliament of all persuasions used it to change sides when it looked as though the opposite of what they believed would give them more power. The Speaker of the House used it to attract some headlines – perhaps the most amusing use of all.
Democracy is not of course an idée fixe. It is something humans invented and justifiably can develop as they wish. It is rooted in belief in the inalienable right of a human being to have a say in how they live, what laws they are governed by, what they can be compelled to do for the common good and what they should be prevented from doing for the common ill. Its development has led to a complexity of control any ancient emperor would be proud of. Its price has so far been longer life, higher standards of living and insoluble questions of wealth ownership.
If brains are randomly distributed assets how do the clever justify privilege?
You do not have to be cynical about democracy to agree that it falls far short of the ideal. Sadly, the ideal seems always to be beyond the grasp of human culture with its inherent demand for NOW and an almost total abdication of THEN. This is manifest in its vivid reflection of feeling but pallid depiction of thought. Brexit is one current version of this but there are many more.
Western democracy was developed to suit a horse and cart age. Communications were slow and relationships took a long time to establish. Authority had power in a different way from today. Most people were less educated and wisdom was regarded as a premium requirement for both rich and poor. The speed with which we can now express our feelings has developed faster than our ability to handle the necessary facts to inform them.
‘I hate you’ is obviously a faster draw than ‘I understand our differences’.
What we have failed to do is to teach the wisdom that derives from a view of the future extending beyond our own life-spans to support the world and lives of future generations. (Why when people lived shorter lives did they think more of the future beyond their own mortality?) This results in very short-term decision making which extends from job to relationships. A lack of continuity brings short-life politicians, short-life bosses, short-life jobs.
The best example of the consequences of this thinking is the planet. The resources now being devoted to the generation of power from the sun could have been deployed seventy years ago, giving us a much greater chance to save our planet. Whether we can do so now is problematic but at least we are beginning to try. A longer view would have made us do so earlier. What can precipitate that longer view and how can it be used to shape our political thinking better?
How can the randomly distributed brains be harnessed to work more effectively for us?
Leaving aside the earlier question I posed about how to reward randomly-distributed brains, let’s look at the power we give such brains to enable them to contribute better. Take the example of Tommy Koh whom I mentioned in a recent Daily Paradox. Why does he have only one vote just like the rest of us? He is obviously someone of great mind and skill. Over his 80 years he has demonstrated his devotion to his country.
But democracy, as we know it today, allows only one vote per person. Is it reasonable that someone of Tommy Koh’s experience and wisdom should have no greater say in the future of the country than someone who contributes very little to society? I don’t think so. That everyone is entitled to vote is beyond question but shouldn’t we reward the efforts of the exceptional to make a better society with more than one vote?
How can democracy work while avoiding creating an elitist cabal? It’s a conundrum.
With all our measuring techniques today we should be able to solve it.