Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Is That Democracy On The Horizon?

Is this the moment we've been waiting for?

According to the mouthpiece of the nation - the BBC - 85% of the UK population are no longer prepared to allow Parliament to police itself. They demand external independent scrutiny; one of the main purposes of what I call Trusted Surveillance which I've described elsewhere.

For those of us who've been banging on for decades about how we cannot and should not trust politicians this is not exactly a novel demand. But that does not reduce its historical importance by one iota. This is the first time in British History that We The People have collectively acknowledged the inevitable corruption which accompanies Political Leadership.

True, half of them are still thinking in pre 21st century terms and imagine that all we need is yet another election, to change a few of the faces of the elected dictators. More significantly, though, it looks like already at least one third of the population are waking up to the fallacy of that notion.

There is no point electing another bunch of corrupt politicians. There are NO potential politicians who can credibly guarantee that they will never yield to the temptations of power.

Once We The People dare to confront this blindingly obvious truth, we will have completed the first step in our transition to becoming an Adult Society. One, in which every citizen shares an approximately equal burden of responsibility for the way our society is run and, in return, shares an approximately equal measure of the benefits that accrue. (And, no that doesn't mean "property is theft" even though I'm a fully paid up Anarchist)

How then, if elections are not the answer, are we to proceed?

By demanding the abolition of Parliament and its replacement with Democracy. Easier, of course, said than done.

Regular readers of my ravings won't need me to rehearse the difference between the political systems we have and Democracy, but new readers might be confused. Many citizens still think that their Parliament, Congress, Knesset or whatever already is or was Democratic. [If you are new to this "paradox", you can read my bite-sized comments on dozens of related stories by grazing my "Democracy Stumbles" or you can dive in to my deeper analysis here]

About the one thing that all people - even the enemies of Democracy - agree about in defining Democracy is that it includes "the will of the people". Those of you who thought that Parliament or Congress (etc) was the triumph of Democracy simply need to consider the question: How much of what has been done by these bodies has ever truly reflected the will of the people?

Honest opponents of Democracy argue that the Political Leadership should never even attempt to reflect the will of the people and there is a very powerful line of argument to defend that position which we who advocate real Democracy must confront and resolve - even to the satisfaction of those honest opponents. As I've said elsewhere, a major problem for aspiring Democrats is the current general levels of ignorance and inability to distinguish rational from irrational arguments.

Those, for example, who deny the link between HIV and AIDS or dismiss the powerful support for the Theory of Evolution provided by the fossil record and modern genetics, or dispute the fact that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon all have one thing in common. They don't understand the science they're criticising. They do not understand how irrational they are being. And, unfortunately, on some issues, they are not in a minority.

However, while that is undoubtedly a problem for Democracy, it is just as serious a problem for the alternatives. Irrationality is certainly just as common among existing political elites as it is among the civil population. (You need look no further than the War on Drugs to confirm that proposition) That, in a sense, is precisely what the masses have been alerted to by the string of crimes and crises we've watched in the past few years and there is no good reason to argue that the population at large is significantly more or less rational than the political elites we have to suffer.

Dishonest opponents of Democracy achieve their goal (season tickets on the gravy train) by pretending that what we've got already is Democracy, so why would we need to consider change? Unfortunately, even these manipulative parasites need to be persuaded, rather than forced, to concede the changes we need to make. Why?

Because one of the most damaging distortions of the public concept of Democracy is that it equates to simple Majority Rule and that anything the "Majority" wants can legitimately be enforced. Even this dangerous delusion is diluted and perverted by so called "representative" politics such that Majority Representation is held to grant supreme authority to those parties who hold the majority of seats in the various Parliaments, even when based on "first past the post" elections which produce parliamentary majorities which "represent" minorities of the population.

Democracy was invented, over two and half thousand years ago, to eliminate Tyranny and Dictatorship - by anyone against anyone. This included preventing the dictatorship of the Majority against the Minority.

What that means is that a true Democracy attempts to get everyone on board. Not just "no child left behind" but "no citizen left behind".

It is, of course, impossible to achieve that ambition in every case. There are inevitably occasions when a decision must be made, in order to allow X, and true consensus (the genuine absence of ANY dissent) cannot be achieved. An uncontroversial example I frequently use is "which side of the road shall we drive on?" There are only three possible answers which do not result in mass casualties; Left, Right and One Way Roads (dual carriageways).

a) we MUST reach agreement or we couldn't (relatively) safely drive on the roads at all and
b) whatever that agreement is MUST be enforced, even if that occasionally requires coercion. We cannot afford to allow dissidents to speed the wrong way down the highway.

However, that does not mean we cannot reach sensible compromises with the dissidents. They might, for example, prefer one side to the other because they've already invested in a vehicle suited to driving on that side of the road. They would either need to have their vehicle converted to drive on the other side, or, if that is not feasible, they need a new car of similar value.

It would be unfair and unreasonable to impose that cost on the dissidents alone. It should be shared by the whole community who will benefit from the imposition of the new rule. If, for instance, 90% own vehicles adapted for driving on the right, while 10% are designed for the left, 90% of the cost of the conversions or replacements could (and, in my view should) be borne by the 90% majority while the remaining 10% is borne by the minority. In short, we all pay a fair share of the costs and can all then fairly share the benefits.

That is an example of how a Democracy can yield a fair result, where the majority do indeed dictate the final decision but they recognise and protect the legitimate interests of the minority in the process. Think of it as a model for any other "split decision" and then compare it to what has actually been happening throughout our history, including recent history in which we have allowed the elected dictators to pretend they are democrats.

A genuine Democrat is not hell bent on getting things "his way". A genuine Democrat wants everybody to be content with the decision, not least because that provides the strongest guarantee possible that the decision will be implemented consistently, universally and fairly, with minimum dissent and, thus, minimum enforcement costs.

The question is, how the hell do we get there from here?

First and foremost by agreeing, as widely as possible, that we actually WANT to get there and that all our subsequent decisions will be designed to move us in that direction. Clearly if we cannot even reach that initial consensus, we will never have a chance of reaching the final goal.

The extraordinary opportunity we have now arises from the sudden mass awakening of We The People to their Leaders' feet of clay. For perhaps the first time since ancient Athens, a critical mass of the population is prepared to accept the possibility that we need a real revolution in Political arrangements which prevents the corruption and self serving incompetence we've suffered for several thousand years. Perhaps we've matured sufficiently to realise that it's not just a matter of choosing a bright sparkling new Leader and hoping that he or she can correct all the errors made by their predecessors.

In Britain today, the circumstances have created a perfect storm. The Financial meltdown which we're still undergoing (and is likely, in my view, to go much further still) demonstrated the astronomical incompetence of the ruling and monied elite. Not just, of course, in Britain, but around the World.

Prior to that, we were used to seeing governments of all colour demonstrate their own breathtaking stupidity over the decades, but to see the sheer scale of the global collapse and to appreciate the level of public and self deception required to manufacture it has been truly educational to those who used to have faith in Leaders.

But the straw which looks like it might break the camel's back took me by surprise. If you'd been taking bets on which events would provoke political rebellion over the past 10 years, my money would have been on a bent leadership taking us into an illegal war based on lies and distortions and in clear opposition to at least half the population. When the biggest ever street demonstrations took place in the run up to the Iraq War, that was the moment - when We The People were so pointedly ignored - that I thought the spark was going to hit the tinder box.

Hardly a whimper.

When they demolished the 800 year old protection against the arbitrary actions of a tyrant - the effective abolition of Habeas Corpus and the introduction of 28 day detention without trial, I imagined V type waves of popular insurgency.

Minor ripples among the chattering classes.

When they proposed an ID Card requiring the infrastructure coincidentally required for Totalitarianism, I remembered the Poll Tax riots and mass refusal to pay and thought "They'll never get away with that!"

Muted protest - somewhat less effective than the campaign against the 3rd runway at Heathrow.

And so on. All these major outrages against the civilised management of Society have been allowed to stand. We The People, for the most part, stayed dumb and dormant.

But on learning (for example) that an MP claimed £1500, from the public purse, to build a house for his ducks, the public shit hits the fan and the British Citizen is up in arms! Bombing foreigners, curbing liberties and spying on the citizens is one thing, but fiddling your expenses? That, apparently, takes the biscuit.

Don't ask me!

I can only speculate that it is a cumulative effect of all the above and that the issue of expenses is almost literally the final straw. Be that as it may...

For the first time, in my life, I'm hearing Mainstream discussion of the possibility of introducing a Recall Law into the British system. You know, like the one that put Arnie where he is today. I needed a new keyboard - and a new cup of coffee - after I first heard that on Radio 4.

Don't get me wrong, a Recall system isn't a fix for the system. But it's a bloody big step in the right direction. It puts a cap on their powers. Would Blair have dared to play Bush's fig leaf in Iraq if he had known that his constituents could recall him?

That's a very serious constraint and well worth having. As is Proportional Representation which is, again, being discussed in the Mainstream, though not, it is true, for the first time.

I used to campaign for PR before I learned about Democracy. If you must have representative politics, duly constrained by the Recall system, then at least ensure that the final body loosely (i.e. proportionally) represents the myriad opinions in the wider community. Such a condition should be no more than common sense but listen carefully to the Authoritarian arguments against it.

And all the arguments against PR ARE Authoritarian. Principally that PR prevents "clear" or "bold" or "unpopular" decision making. This is authoritarian code for an admission that PR prevents decisions which do not reflect the will of the people.

Pre 'king cisely.

Their second major objection is that PR over-represents the interests of the minority. This is partially true, particularly if you retain simple majoritarianism in the Parliaments - which allows tiny minority parties to tip a large minority party into absolute power for the price of a slice of that power.

The solution to that is to end simple majoritarianism. Require 75% majorities for legal force and now the coalition has to be much more widely representative. But, of course, that would mean that those who insist they know what is right for us - the Authoritarians - would rarely get their way.

We've even heard serious discussion about taking a step down the Swiss path and introducing a primary element of Real Democracy - the ability of We The People to trigger government policy on any issue subject only to the gathering of sufficient signatures on a petition. The Tory proponents of this idea don't actually dare to propose direct referenda but they're moving in that direction.

This is truly revolutionary stuff and all represent major steps on the road to Democracy.

So it may be that bumbling British bureaucracy, petty deception and political incompetence has finally created the conditions for that Revolution we never quite managed to have. And who knows, perhaps once we in Britain have ironed out the bugs and created a workable system, Europe, the United States and, eventually, most of the rest of the planet might join us in creating the first global Democracy...


Satsui said...

I love it, like any other post you have. The only issue I have is at the end when you mentioned a global democracy. I hope you don't mean the entire world under one ruler (or parliament, etc). We need countries and conflict in order to advance. Competition causes "survival of the fittest".

This posting kind of relates to my posting on Monoligarchy here:

Brandon said...

Excellent post.

You clearly see a large portion of the problem. But I think you've fallen into the same family of intellectual trap that all grass roots types fall into, the same family of trap you've pointed out when you mention the suggested solution of a new round of elections.

Cindy Torrey said...

Excellent observations and solutions- something I've come to expect from this blog :o)

Kristen said...

Interesting post, Harry. Are you familiar with California's system of ballot initiatives? Some people are calling it too much democracy.

Harry Stottle said...

Satsui greetings.
you say:

"when you mentioned a global democracy. I hope you don't mean the entire world under one ruler (or parliament, etc)."

the point about REAL Democracy is that there are NO rulers. And the decisions you take are only valid within the appropriate constituency. For example, if we're discussing what colour to paint the bedroom ceiling, only those who share that bedroom have any valid part in the discussion. If it's the colour of the street lighting, it's those who live in the street (although they may decide to pool resources with the wider community, in which case it becomes a community discussion) and so on.

Global democracy would deal only with global issues, like global warming. But it wouldn't be a hierarchichal power structure (like some seek for the UN) which could impose global decisions on lower parts of the system. That is an example of precisely the Tyranny we aim to prevent. Its aim - as in all matters genuinely democratic - is to achieve the "3 Cs": Consensus, Co-operation, Compensation.

Neither need we fear or oppose healthy competition, particularly in the economic fields. The key to that is what economists have long called - but never defined - Perfect Information. Follow that link for my take on that.

Innomen: I'm not sure what you're alluding too. If it's a basic objection to elections, you'll find many instances if you follow the embedded links where I make it very clear - as I said explicitly in my "Authoritarians" blog - that "Democracy has NOTHING to do with elections".

However, we should have no objections to improving the electoral systems as a major step on the road to Democracy. Providing we don't kid ourselves or others that "representation" = democracy, we haven't compromised or sacrificed any important principle.

Cindy: Thankyou

Kristen: Yes I am aware of California's "ballot initiatives" and I would argue that - like better electoral systems - they're a useful step on the road to Democracy. They're still too little rather than too much.

One of the problems Democrats must face is that a serious political debate is NEVER settled by a Yes or No answer; nor - except on trivial issues - by simple Majority voting. At the very least it will require several yes or no answers, discussions on mitigation of any negative effects a proposal might lead to and consensus on the degree of compliance necessary and what measures are justified to ensure that compliance.

In my discussion with "The Prof" following his assertion that "We're not all equal" I include a loose summary of the structure of any intelligent democratic debate:

1 There is a problem which needs a solution (evidence)
2 There is a potential solution (detail)
3 There are potential risks with the solution and ways to mitigate them (detail)
4 There are potential costs and ways to fund them (details)
5 There are interim and final outcomes we can measure to ensure that the benefits are being achieved and the risks avoided. (detail)
6 A level of compliance is required (detail)
7 Measures to ensure compliance are required (detail)

Each of the above essentially represents a number of "sub debates" which would be necessary and require separate decisions prior to making the final decision on the initial proposition.

If you want to get into that level of analysis check out my response to the prof.

Unfortunately, one of the obstacles we face is that we need a "critical mass" of people of understand these issues and the complexity of the solutions in order to have any chance of promoting them successfully. We don't, perhaps, need universal understanding, providing that the models we build ARE simple enough to be used and understood by everyone, but we haven't even reached the first milestone yet. So we're looking for volunteers to become part of that critical mass...

性感的我 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harry Stottle said...

hmmm, thanks 性感的我


and who can argue with that. Certainly not me. Anyone got a clue what it means? Please don't tell me it's a chinese plug for Viagra or something of that ilk...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harry Stottle said...

in case anyone notices and gives a shit, I've deleted the Chinese comments (for being in Chinese).

Essentially, I take some responsibility for ensuring that whatever appears on my own blog is something I would permit or even endorse myself (even if that meant a prison sentence in a police state) but when I can't read the comment, I can't exercise that accountability.

So anyone who wishes to comment should either submit their comment in English or the language of their choice with a link to a competent translation service so we can validate it's content.

Satsui said...

It was spam anyways.

Harry Stottle said...

ah, thanks for the analysis Satsui. I take it you read Chinese?

Anonymous said...

Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose. ........................................