A street light
hides what’s coming
on the wrong side
There is only democracy because we have no answer to the question of how we should govern ourselves. The people that govern us are following the whims of the constituent and hence steer the boat erratically across the sea of time, every now and then catching a wave from the side. The only thing that keeps order in this imaginary boat is the relative order in the steer house, not every sailor gets a swing at the big wheel, and even a drunken skipper can be sent to their quarters.
After 1945, most prosperous nations are democracies. Before the war there were also democracies, but the chosen leaders were often granted more power. Its often said that Hitler came to power by democratic means, but his takeover of the government and consequently becoming a dictator is for the most part due to the system behind their democracy. Their system let him strategically move around his opponents and even let him use a law that gave him basically dictatorial powers. In Germany the inconsistent behavior of the voters where not the biggest cause for the rise to power of Hitler, the long tentacles of their peculiar history provided a system of government that allowed the rise of authoritarian rulers. England has a better history in this regard and it’s not surprising that the voters over there kicked their war winning prime minister (Churchill) on the curbs without causing a problem when the power had to be handed over.
A definition of democracy is that the power lies with the people. Most of the times this power is given to a representative, of the people, and from there a whole system is built made out of ministers, prime ministers, senators, parliaments and more. This system works, more or less, as a mood stabilizer, dampening the worst decision of the constituency. The different representatives can decide not to work with a racist party, even if they get a sizable part of the votes. But the people that vote still contribute to the main direction the country is going despite of the stabilizing power of the legislative and executive power.
Even more important than the stabilizing effect of the legislative and executive power for our fortune is the separation of powers or simply said: the agreement amongst citizens that prevent their ruler from ignoring or making laws that are made by the citizens. This system is developed in the 18th century where a king could still make laws, and order the police and judges what to do with these laws. They slowly moved to a separate entity for law making (legislative Power), and even the king had to obey these laws. The judges became also independent (judicative Power), so they were free to interpret the laws and were no longer ordered on how to interpret them. Later these potentates became a symbolic head of state or were replaced by something less ancient and their power was more formally divided between the Legislative Power (parliament, normally in two chambers), executive Power (government and administration) and judicative Power (courts of justice)
This separation of power takes more direct influence away from the people in so far the main direction of the country is concerned. There are some fundamental laws in each country that cannot be change by a simple majority vote like for example the constitution in America. So, together with our governmental system they ensure a certain stability for the long term. But for the short term we still have these ridiculous elections where the direction of a country is often determent by a minority that cannot make up their mind, a majority of the voters stay with their side for a long time.
It is not easy to come up with a better system. I have never studied politics, the things I say about democracy and the separation of power should be common knowledge, and I don’t pretend to know all the nuances. My problem is not this system we’ve built but the question of how you resolve differences of opinion. Giving everybody a vote is one way to solve a dispute but there are some questions where this can be dangerous. In a debate there are a lot of questions that you can answer with your opinion, for example birth control. There are no hard facts for or against it, your subjective feeling should decide your answer and in a democratic society each individual can decide if they want to use birth control and no law should be made enforcing or withholding it. But debating about the health risks of smoking is another story, there are too many hard facts about the negative effects of it. Forbidding people from smoking in certain places is no problem because it affects other people and its accepted that it is harmful towards others. But a law that forbids people from smoking is not good because the negative effects of smoking only effects the smoker, and in a democracy, we should be allowed to be boss over your own body. We can agree on these two I hope but with the next example, climate change, it gets more difficult. With climate change we also have an overwhelming amount of evidence, like with smoking, but not allowing cigarettes in a bar takes away some freedom, most people understand the reasons why. It took more than 60 years before the risks of smoking were finally accepted to a point that lawmakers could make some laws prohibiting smoking in certain places and labeling cigarettes with warnings. Imagine if these laws were enacted, 60 years ago, because scientist recommended it and the voters believed them. Countless people would have been saved from unnecessary painful deaths. The same problem we have now with climate change where political motivated opinions prevent us from taking strong and necessary actions. People are easy persuaded by warnings that their gasoline will be more expensive, and their freedom taken away, things that touch people directly, so they think. You have a problem when you debate a climate change denier, they more or less deny the science that they also rely on when they go to the hospital or drive a car. It is not rational, and as long as their grandfather hasn’t died of climate change related illnesses they will probably not change their mind. Like with the birth control example, you cannot say that it is just a matter of opinion because there are facts.
With climate change you touch a sore point in our democracy. The people that know, the scientist, say: go there. But the people that are in power, the voters, don’t necessarily understand why, and are easily persuaded to choose a goal not so far away. Why would I pay for something I will not benefit from…I don’t care about the world my children have to live in. The voter and their representatives can debate a lot about birth control, and as long as no one forbids either birth control or the beliefs against it there is no problem but for the things that matter, like climate change, democracy is a bad system.
In my fantasy democratic system, in a galaxy far, far away, there are no elections. The people have to write an essay, starting when they are 15, and repeat it every 5 years. In that essay they have to tell about their dreams, likes, dislikes, point of view and whatever makes their stance in life clear. Everybody does that every 5 years of their life, this way you have a constant stream of opinions that the government can use to steer their decision making with. In an ideal world some kind of artificial intelligence would read all of these letters and come up with some kind of guideline. In this system everybody has an equal vote, there are good reasons for this, you’ll get in shady waters if you give a philosopher, who writes a 50 pages essay more say than someone who just manages to fill 1 page. The effort is important, even if your level of motivation might be determined by your genes, you have to draw the line somewhere. These essays follow some rules of course, like a minimum length, and it has to show an understanding of the arguments and not a summary of someone else’s ideas, something a A.I. can simply find out.
This society offers, of course, free lessons on every level and in every field of science necessary to make a good essay, filled with well thought out arguments, to ensure a good functioning democracy…maybe we should start with this last part.
“Those who wish to seek out the cause of miracles and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adores as the interpreters of nature and the gods. For these men know that, once ignorance is put aside, that wonderment would be taken away, which is the only means by which their authority is preserved.” Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
I have not done the research on how often politicians break their promises after elections, but it’s looks like it is part of the trade. Promises are often not lined up with reality out of fear that the truth will not be believed, wanted, or wished. These same politicians are in the spirit of the quote from Spinoza, the “interpreters of nature and the gods” and looked upon by the “mob”. All these lofty promises are thus dressed up in certainties, and proclaimed to be rules of nature or the will of god. The product they sell is not that what’s thought to be true but what ought to be true. Because of the nature of their promises it must be sold with deception and trickery.
If a candidate can win with a strong mandate, the people that voted for this person will forgive, if reality shows its face and leaves all the promises forgotten in the corner. If the candidate wins narrowly or must work with others, reality will be blamed on the other or the chest get pumped up one more time to make sure the “wonderment would” not “be taken away” and there will be a stalemate between this “wonderment” and reality.
This is one way you can interpret part of this quote but there is even a more sinister interpretation in it. In today’s (2017) politics we see a tendency to ridicule the opponent and deny excepted science. This practice is off coarse as old as that there are governments formed, but in a modern democracy it is normally done with a bit more class.
“Those who wish to seek out the cause of miracles and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adores as the interpreters of nature”
Times change, but we don’t, as individuals we can be great but as a group we’re still dumb as hell.
“There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers” Plato
This is a quote from the Republic, a famous book/dialog between Plato and Socrates. I let this quote speak for itself and don’t go into the details.
What is a modern definition of a philosopher: “a person who offers views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields.” Or “a person who is rationally or sensibly calm, especially under trying circumstances.” According to dictionary.com I like this one from the Urban dictionary: “The kind of person that looks at the world in a way that very few people can. This person looks at all the angles of any given situation and judges dispassionately. This person is never understood, mainly because they think about things that could potentially break the spirit of those around them. Many people do not like the philosopher.” Read more
Philosophers like to think about problems that most people don’t want to think about or just don’t have the time or ability for. The world that Plato lived in was different. In his time the supposed king ruled over relative view people, if you look at the communication lines between the ruler, the people and adversaries, it could take days for the news to reach you and days to respond. There was probably more time to contemplate and les to manage on an hourly basis.
A philosopher could probably be a king or leader of some sort in the modern world, but there would be no time to contemplate, study, read 6 books, discuss and theorize over every decision that must be made. A ruler can be a philosophers but he cannot rule as a philosopher.
Luckily, we have now (2017) someone as president of the USA who says about himself the following: “I don’t even consider myself ambitious.” — “60 Minutes”, 1985 and “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault” — Twitter and this one “I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world. It is a dangerous world out there — it’s scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.” — on sleeping with women who could have STDs, “The Howard Stern Show”
Obviously, he comes close to a philosopher king, he doesn’t do it because he’s ambitious, he is really smart and brave. Let’s see how some of his idea’s stack up to his fellow philosophers from the past.
Trump about making money, “I made a lot of money and I made it too easily, to the point of boredom.” — Vanity Fair, 1990 It’s not much of a philosophy but he might say that the capitalistic system is easily misused, like other philosophers also did.
Other philosophers: “Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate”. Bertrand Russell
“The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.” Helen Keller,
“There is often talk of human rights, but it is also necessary to talk of the rights of humanity. Why should some people walk barefoot, so that others can travel in luxurious cars? Why should some live for thirty-five years, so that others can live for seventy years? Why should some be miserably poor, so that others can be hugely rich? I speak on behalf of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak on the behalf of the sick who have no medicine, of those whose rights to life and human dignity have been denied.” Fidel Castro
“The decadent international but individualistic capitalism in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war is not a success. It is not intelligent. It is not beautiful. It is not just. It is not virtuous. And it doesn’t deliver the goods.” John Maynard Keynes
In this next quote Trump obviously points out that a lack of education is bad for democracy. “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.” –Donald Trump on his performance with poorly educated voters who helped him win the Nevada Caucus, Feb. 23, 2016
Franklin D. Roosevelt is so honored with his new colleague that he turned around in his grave, to have a better look, or something. He also had something to say about education, something a lot of poor people have problems getting enough off. “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Nelson Mandela
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. Benjamin Franklin
The stereotypical philosopher would probably be a bad “King” but some critical thinking would not be bad. Sadly we live in a world where everybody is telling the emperor that he has no cloth on and it doesn’t matter.
If the truth is a circle and I can only see one part of it, and I realize that, I than cannot proclaim to know the truth. I can proclaim my side of the truth, my part of what I can see but not much more. I think this is self-evident but if I look at myself I know that I have enough opinions without knowing all or at least more of the circle or truth.
If two people both stand on opposite sides of a statue and describe the side they see then they are off course both right as far as describing their side, but if a third person walks around the statue and describes it there is a bigger chance that that description tells you more about the statue as a whole, it’s more truthful despite all three were telling the truth.
Off course you can argue that the two-people standing on one side and not took the effort to walk around where purposely not telling the whole truth. If than again they were bound to their place you could argue that they were telling the(ir) truth.
Can we expect in any form of discourse that all people that take part try to “walk around the statue” so that we at least can collect all description of that statue and democratically come to a consensus as to its form.
Is it ok if one or more stay on one side and thus give more weight to that side, skewing the results Is that democratic?
What about the people that cannot see, or touch the statue and still form an opinion. That is a problem, and it can lead to a miss representation of the statue if the teachers that inform the blind and senseless are given to much power in their description of the different sides.