The shortcomings of democracy.

One of my friends read my previous post. The discussion that ensued lasted well into the night. We are not from the same country and so our views tend to be quite different about a number of things though sometimes they magically converge allowing us to discover the utility of debate. This was not a Bill Nye vs Ken Ham confrontation.

While this was going on, one of the people who have stumbled upon this blog mentioned something very important in the one comment to my last post. “The Athenians didn’t have it so great either (…)” they said. And I agree. I had mentioned them because ancient Greek democracy serves as the template to our own systems. We do not share all of the details of theirs but the concept is the same.

The one pervasive complaint everyone shares about the way government works is that the people who make it up are incompetent for the most part. Sometimes you can get lucky and have someone in charge who knows what they are doing, like Bismark. Now Prussia would hardly live up to the standards of a democracy nowadays. The most important point being that they did not have universal suffrage, and it was really democracy by the elite or, if you want to get technical, an aristocracy.

Make no mistake, Bismark was a dictator, but what sets him apart from Stalin or Hitler or others is the fact that he was not a madman. He was a nation builder however. Germany would not be what it is today had it not been for this man. Not a perfect leader, but one who could find compromise and who managed to unite the many Holy Roman states under one rule (Prussian rule) – a sum greater than its’ parts. In fact he did such a great job the nation he built was annihilated twice and within fifty years came back to the forefront of Europe.

Speaking of Europe. Why is Europe so sluggish? Why does it feel so far removed from the electorate? And why are Europeans so skeptical about it?

The answer is that it is obscure. Europe is run by a modern day elite who is not directly accountable for what it is doing. People feel that Europe meddles in their country’s internal affairs far too much. Additionally there are several layers of bureaucracy between the government and the governed. It is highly decentralized when compared to say China or the USA in terms of decision making.

That is to say even though rules come from Brussels and signatory states have to abide by them, there is no unitary foreign policy, domestic policy, immigration policy and this list can go on but it should end with “there is no head of state”.

I am making it harder and harder to believe that I am a proponent of a united Europe but since you have come this far I feel I should redeem myself.

I have so far described some of the issues the electorate has with Europe. There are those who also have a problem with the electorate however. It too is distant and out of touch. Take the Ukraine crysis for example. Mark Mardel (the BBC’s North America editor) wrote this piece today. It is remarkably alarmed for a Brit. In it he deplores the failure of the west to recognize the importance of the events.

Speaking from a rather more humble position of a citizen of Romania who does not work for an international news corporation I share this feeling. The people around me are far more concerned with what online clothing stores have on offer and where to get one’s nails / hair done, or how attractive the new girl is than they are with events that are likely to shape the future of us all. In fact, the only meaningful conversation I am able to have on the topic is with two of my closest friends and a Frenchman (a white Caucasian Frenchman immigrant to Romania, welcome to the Twilight Zone).

While personal experience alone does little to serve in the pursuit of truth, save for an indication of possible fact I submit that this is a widespread phenomenon in Europe, and much of the western world. This is our democracy, built on universal suffrage.

Universal suffrage is based on the assumption of universal education. It is in theory a system whereby an educated citizenry is able to make informed decisions about the issues being put before them for a vote. It sounds great on paper and it would be in practice if we could be confident people are actually educated. Note that I used the term educated rather than intelligent. Education is a formative process involving assimilation of factual knowledge as well as the reasoning skills to interpret this knowledge in ways that make sense. I again submit to the reader’s consideration that a non zero percentile of the electorate does not conform to this definition. In fact, an important part of the electorate does not conform to this definition.

Many of us see voting as a chore that we choose to humor the government in performing when in fact it should be a duty. A duty to ourselves and our children to vote responsibly and to consider carefully the choices we make.

Our politicians are mediocre because they are chosen from among the mediocre while the capable shy away from public service for fear of being embroiled in inconsequential power play that a mind concerned with real issues cannot stomach.

My my Kirk, you are angry… and you are patronizing, what do you propose we do?

Every country in the European Union organizes a national testing session once a year. Here it is called the Bacalaureat. Other places have different names for it but essentially it is a series of tests which gauge a high school graduate’s knowledge and reasoning. Sound familiar? I believe that people who are unable to pass this test should forfeit their right to vote until such time when they are able to resit the examinations and receive at least passing grades.

I do not believe people who have no grasp of mathematics, Europe’s geography or history should be allowed to participate in the decision making process as their vote is equivalent to casting dice at best and highly susceptible to very directly targeted manipulation at worst. Additionally, one should not be allowed to hold public office without having received a high mark in this examination for the same reasons. Those who thus become ineligible can always resit the tests just like they can now and become fully recognized citizens at any point in their lives.

Culling the electorate in this fashion will not only improve the quality of the votes but also reduce the need to have the number of representatives that we currently have from the ridiculous current total of 766 to a number that allows for less anonymity and much more relevant scrutiny by a voter base who is more informed than the one in our current model.

Should such a proposal ever be considered? Would you vote for it? Why? Leave a comment in the comment box below and let me know your thoughts.

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