Problems with Democracy

Re-posting from August 2011.

‎”The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” – Winston Churchill

Economic backbones of the western world are shaking. A second struggle for ‘freedom‘ is raging in India, attacking the basic democratic legislative process. We cannot find a better time to question and dissect the most popular concept that rose to prominence in the last two centuries. Are the recent developments good indicators of intrinsic flaws in democracy itself, as we know it?

Embedded within the democratic principles is the immense importance accorded to human equality and individual liberty. The power of the vote lies with the people. The importance accorded to these principles in the modern world together with extreme examples of non-democratic leaders in recent history have led to a unilateral perspective on things. Democracy has acquired a pseudo-sacred status. It is almost taboo to question it in today’s world. If not accepted by choice, it is often forced down upon by war. But is it really morally superior? Democracy has many ethical defects. Some are clearly evident in practice. Others can be easily illustrated using hypothetical examples. But what facets of democracy are good, and what are arguably questionable?

The precondition to a functional democracy is an informed electorate. However, most voters today are uninformed about the vast majority of political and economic issues. Most of them are strongly biased about a select few issues. Not all voters have access to information and even those who do are not educated enough to interpret and analyze it. There is no reason to believe they will choose the best alternative for the greatest good.

Plato illustrated this with the metaphor of a ship. For a ship to reach its destination, it needs a captain. The captain is an expert navigator who knows the intricacies of leading a crew. He is aware of the capacities of his vessel. He knows his way around the sea. He has experienced the fickle sea weather and waded through storms. A bad captain is a bane for passengers and the crew alike. Plato argues that people are unfit to choose their captains since they have themselves never learned how to commandeer the ship of the state. Everyone believes that they have a say in the right to steer but they have never learnt anything about navigation. The vast majority of the ship’s crew and passengers are not inclined to acquire the required knowledge – a task which takes persistent and dedicated effort.

Citizens are ignorant about the measures to be taken to reach certain goals, and the goals themselves. The democratic election of a leader who plans to replace democracy with a fascist warfare state is a good case in point. Hitler is a shining example of how a blindfolded electorate sways to the whims of an appealing but deadly idea. Yes, Hitler was elected – of the people, by the people, for the people.

Let us not confuse freedom and equality with democratic principles. Democracy in itself does not propagate equality, but majoritarianism. A purely democratic system can only exist until a majority of the electorate realizes that they can vote themselves into power and then abuse the minorities. On the other extreme end, the political parties focus to please the unified minorities ignoring the interests of the dispersed majority. Caste or religion based politics in India is a good example of this. It is the constitution which eventually safeguards the interests of the minorities by establishing the basic rules and guidelines for governance.

We’ve touched the tip of an iceberg. Questioning ideas that we have embraced for a lifetime is tough. But democracy is idealistic. The electorate is anything but aware. How can we improve it?

“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.” – W. Churchill.

Rat Races in Amusement Parks

Reflections from 31st December, 2011.

“The trouble with being in a rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” – Someone wise.

We are all rats. But not ordinary rats. We no more like cheese. We like to race. Life has become a rat race. We seldom know what we’re chasing. But we cannot afford to stop and think. There is no time to waste in thinking. Thinkers are mostly losers in rat races.

Continue reading “Rat Races in Amusement Parks”

Order and Chaos

Another musing from 2013.

Order arises from rules, written and foretold. Implicitly or explicitly followed with reckless abandonment of diligent thought.

Fortunately or otherwise, order is maintained by those in power. For themselves, disguised under the pretext of greater good – a delicate balancing act. Continue reading “Order and Chaos”

The Purple Envelope

“Keith, we never love people for what they are. We love their impressions in our minds.”
A short story from 2012.

Thanks to the encouragement from Saumya and the privilege to write something for her blog, here is my attempt at writing a short story from 2012. You can find her meticulous pieces of writing on this link.

“Two cups of cappuccino, please. Make it quick.”

“Would that be all, Sir?”, asked the waiter.

Keith nodded. He had been waiting for an hour now. His eyes were tired and dreamy. They drifted across the paintings on the restaurant wall and settled on a stream of starry light coming from a distant grand chandelier. It reminded him of her starry eyes. He had not seen Michelle over the past twelve months. They had broken up a year ago and had decided to part ways. But she texted him that very morning. “Keith, I want to meet you today. Meet me at Blueberry Truffle at seven. Please be there on time. From: Michelle.” Continue reading “The Purple Envelope”

In Retrospect

There is no past. There is no future. There is no time.

Thoughts about the greatest mystery ever, the arrow of time. Only in retrospect can you decide whether reading this article was worth the effort.

Majority of decisions we encounter in our lives can be reduced to optimization problems. But as frequently encountered in reality, the cost of setting up and solving an optimization problem exceeds the benefit from the solution itself – a situation referred to as ‘analysis paralysis’. And only in retrospect can we look back and confirm whether a problem could be solved. It is impossible to know in advance, whether trying to solve a problem is worthwhile. Continue reading “In Retrospect”

The Joy of Doing Nothing

“The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” – Blaise Pascal

I’ve been living through a terrible experiment for the past few months. And here is a summary of the results. Doing “nothing” is easier said than done. The idea of doing nothing after a while of doing everything is extremely appealing. But apparently, there is no joy in doing nothing.

Continue reading “The Joy of Doing Nothing”

I Think :. I Am

A passage from 2005.

Wrote this as a child in class X (2005) when I thought too much. It is interesting to share this after a decade. We are now closer to understanding this phenomenon, but its only the beginning.

If you’re reading this then you are certainly gifted. Gifted, not just literally, but also in a fundamental way common to all of ‘us’. We think. More than that, we are aware of our very own existence. We know we exist! I often pity those brains who have not yet realized this remarkable gift which differentiates us from others. The realization about the very basis of thought, that one exists. Continue reading “I Think :. I Am”