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03/08/2012

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Tony

Dave, you are correct. I read that article on Livescience.com yesterday, and thought two things: 1) This applies to the majority of people. They don't know, and they don't know that they don't know. That's the worst type of ignorance. 2) I don't think it applies to me, but wait, does that mean it does? Then I realized it was another mind-f*** article, because surely some people are intelligent enough to realize they don't know what they don't know, and are smart enough to be able to determine when someone else does, or is just full of shit.
What I didn't think of, and what you so clearly pointed out, is that it doesn't matter, because the article describes a theoretical situation, not the reality we are in today. Thanks for raising the bar on this topic.

Thomas

I know the US isn't a democracy. It does not take long before any analysis of the US government and the definitions of democracy before you hit a contradiction. I have argued this with a friend who is a PhD in PolySci and the best he can come back with is that the US is not a "perfect democracy." I have yet to get an answer for when an imperfect democracy stops being a democracy. From that definition, the old Soviet Union was an imperfect democracy as was Saddam's Iraq. I'm a little upset that all he can do is wave his hand and just say the contradictions don't exist. I think the reason why to say this is forbidden is because of 12 years of government indoctrination in our collective national myths. I disagree, though, Dave. The US was never a democracy it was just less odious in the past.

John D

All the more reason why we shouldn't go around lecturing other countries about their lack of democracy.

Dave Cohen

@John D

Viewed psychologically, our lack of democracy is the reason we are so assiduous in our efforts to lecture other countries about their lack of democracy.

In actual deed, the United States has undermined or helped overthrow democracies in our hemisphere and all over the world throughout its history. No surprise there.

-- Dave

sharonsj

I guess that article explains why so many Americans vote against their own self interest.

I also gave up trying to explain facts to people because facts don't matter to them. It was this realization (and the realization that the stock market is artificially propped up) that led me to start stocking up on all sorts of stuff. Not so much doomsday prepping but trying to be prepared for inflation and general chaos....

Scott

The U.S. was never intended to be a democracy; it was designed as a Republic.

The Rule of Law (the U.S. Constitution,) was crafted to "bind down from mischief" the Rule of Man. Nevertheless, two centuries later the Rule of Law has been subverted completely, the Constitution is now meaningless, and we find ourselves living in a Fascist dictatorship run chiefly (though not solely) by Wall Street. A quiet coup d'etat has taken place over the span of many years and decades, and ours is an occpied country now.

Even so, American fascism will ultimately fail and collapse. It is inevitable. Too much debt, too much misery, too many structural problems, and more Black Swans waiting in the wings than AmeriKa can possibly hope to survive.

It's hard to say what the next chapter will look like, but it will be Hell on wheels, I'm sure.

Brian M

You regularly see studies that indicate that something like 90% of people consider themselves to be above average [insert thing here] (e.g., drivers, athletes, businessmen, yada, yada, yada). Nuf said about that.

One of the reasons that ideal democracies don't exist is, as you point out, they can't. Given human nature, say you have a true democracy. Being humans, the majority, over time, will tend to systematically screw the minority(ies). Eventually, this will result in the minority picking up the pitchforks and torches, which, in turn, tends to lead to a messy transition to some different form of political organization (generally, with the same results over any given extended time frame, but that's not important right now ;-).

This is why all "democratic" governments are not. Instead you get the various republics, parliaments and other variations. In the end, these systems are as open to corruption due to human nature as is ideal democracy, although, given the more focused and controlled nature of the system, they are also more likely to evolve to an even more dogged level of corruption. Combine that with the realities of government control of modern society (e.g., media, weaponry, etc.) and you have a system that is just as unsustainable as pure democracy, but that probably has more staying power (and, thus, the ability to perhaps do even greater damage).

A Natural Mystic

I agree with most of the points made in this entry, Dave, but I disagree with the overall principle that human beings are too stupid for democracy to ever work.

Human beings have lived for most our existence on this planet in small groups or bands (typically 150 people or less), where decision making was collective and life was more or less egalitarian. There were "Big men" or "councils of elders" whose opinions may have been respected, but their opinions were non-binding and they did not wield any special power or have access to much in the way of additional wealth (Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel describes human societies operating at this level in more detail). This sounds to me like the closest we have come in practice to "pure democracy"; it was also the most common human arrangement until around 6,000 years ago (and in some parts of the world, it is still the norm). Our ancestors who lived like this did all right for themselves, all things considered. This sort of "original democracy" does appear to work quite well, and given that it was practiced for tens of thousands of years (if not longer), it appears to be as sustainable as any human social practice I can think of.

So I would suggest that it's only "democracy" in large, densely populated, industrial, digital media rich societies which doesn't work.

Mike Roberts

I'm sure I read or heard somewhere that the largest community that can actually run as a democracy is about 150 people. I wish I could find that reference.

cdresearch

I agree with A Natural Mystic. As long as the people accept steeply hierarchical, highly centralized institutions as the default societal arrangement, any form of government will be destined ultimately to periodic implosion, including so-called democracies.

In the U.S. there are four major systems/institutions that interact in ways that are fundamentally antithetical to the formation of a principally egalitarian culture, including political power structures. These institutions/systems are as follows: the military industrial complex, the corporate media, the monetary system, and capitalism.

These institutions would have to be fundamentally restructured, and substantially decentralized where possible, if a less than perfect democratic form of self-government is to sustain itself, and even potentially flourish during certain phases of its existence. Is this humanly possible? Yes. Is it likely? No, and in fact the chance is extremely remote, certainly in most of our lifetimes.

brett

Dave or any other commenters...

Century of the Self, a documentary by Adam Curtis, relates to this in a Freudian way. Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, according to the documentary, said that people had neither the time nor intelligence to fully participate in a democracy. Therefore, most of the decisions should be made for them. This was presented as if his intentions could have been neutral, not subversive. If your post and linked articles are anything to go by, he did have a point. And most people are none the wiser.

The documentary is freely available, btw, just google it.

step back

Dave,

Excellent & point-on post.

The first defense against an ignorant (and too incompetent to know it) public is to properly educate them in the first place.

However, even there, we have a never ending battle by special interest groups like the churches and the politico/economic interest clubs for the hearts and minds of our children.

If only more of our teachers knew how they were being used as shills for perpetuating the BAU system (and could do something to change it)... Sigh.

Brian M

step back:

You are well meaning,but you ignore the core message...people are not inherently or primarily rational.

Besides, "education" is not an all encompassing "solution". Who sets the curiculum? Unless one posits some kind of omniscient "philosopher king" class which can easily and clearly map out how "the people" "should" be "educated", education is a social and political process inevitably subject to corruption and cooptation.

Kevin S

This presumes that the purpose of elections in a democracy is to choose leaders. So corruption and dysfunction are inevitable because leaders amass and wield power, and concentration of power is antithetical to democracy. What if the purpose was to choose representatives?

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