Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Down on Democracy

I would probably be described as a liberal by most who know me, and the more right wing propaganda I hear, the more liberal I seem to get. Therefore, it might come as a shock to hear me say that I’ve just about had it with Democracy, but hear me out.

The idea of Democracy, one person one vote, with everyone getting to participate, sounds great in theory. Here’s the problem: Most people are morons.

When I was 16, I made up my first statistic: I proudly announced in English class that 7 out of 10 people were idiots. I had no data, but I stand by that figure. If anything, it’s only grown. Think about the kind of people who get to vote in this country:

Everyone who believes that Evolution is a less valid theory for how we came to be than “God did it,” gets a vote.

Everyone who thinks homosexuals are less than people (just like they used to say about Native Americans, blacks, and so forth), gets a vote.

Everyone “Pro-Life” advocate who wants the death penalty gets a vote.

Everyone who sells heroin to children and doesn’t get caught gets a vote.

Everyone who knowingly manufactures a dangerous product gets a vote.

As far as I know, people with dementia can vote, as well as the mentally challenged, sociopaths and alcoholics.

“But that’s what’s great about America!” you exclaim! “No matter who you are, no matter what walk of life you come from, you get your say!” But is that really great? Is that really what’s best for all of us?

I can sense the alarm bells going up. “But without Democracy, there will be tyranny! Fascism! Nazism!”

No Democracy = No Civil Rights?

I disagree. I think people have a misconception that a democracy is required for equal, civil rights for citizens. Not so. Even if our leaders are not democratically elected, that does not mean they have absolute power. For those of you who think so, I’d like to point out that we don’t in fact, live in a Democracy right now. Actually, the founders created our government as a Republic specifically to guard against the “Excesses of Democracy.” Although our country may not now be a classic republic, we are, at the very least, a representative democracy, not a real one.

Even now, you don’t get to vote on whether this country should have the death penalty, or whether or not there should be limits on abortion, or how much to pay members of Congress. You can only vote for someone who you hope will vote your way on these issues. You can’t even vote for President. All you can do is vote for an Elector and hope he will vote the way he promised.

On the state level, you may have varying degrees of democracy. The state where I live, California, happens to be very democratic, mostly, I think, because legislators are lazy. Every Election Day, there are a ton of laws and propositions that we really get to vote on. This system has given us things like Proposition 8 and a host of Pro-Business, anti-environment legislation that I don’t really completely understand and neither do any of the other voters, except the ones who represent the corporations that spend billions steering the vote the way they want it (a popular tactic is to send out “Voter Guides” that tell you all the “good” (pro citizen) ways to vote, EXCEPT for their pet proposition, where they flip it to trick you into voting their way).

So clearly you can have civil rights without democracy, because we do right now. And if my state is any indication, more democracy is not always better. So why not make it a meritocracy? Why shouldn’t you have to be intelligent to help determine the course of our nation? Or at the very least, why shouldn’t you have to prove you understand the issues before you decide how everyone else will be affected by them?

My Proposal


In my mind, you should have to take a test to vote. Now, this immediately raises big flags among the liberal community, because it raises the specter of the old racist “literacy tests” that were used to block African Americans from getting to vote for years, and similar tactics (e.g. Voter ID requirements) are still being used today. But hear me out. I’m not talking about a test like the SAT. I’m talking about a test that specifically measures the issues you will be voting on. It doesn’t matter which way you vote, you just have to prove that you understand, at least in a rudimentary way, both sides. Is that really so much to ask?

Minority Rights


But what about minority rights? Wouldn’t such a test mean that those with limited access to education, i.e., minorities, won’t get to vote? In my fantasy, each district across the country would have an Education Center, where every citizen would have free access to all the education they needed to pass the test. Even if the individual could not read or had a learning disability going in, there would be an Educator at the center to make accommodations for them. Now, I know the idea of having the government pay to educate its citizens is anathema to Conservatives, but really, isn’t that part of the problem?

Abolishing Democracy


Do I really want to abolish democracy? Not quite yet. I’ll admit I may not have thought this all the way through, and this country has survived for…. (quick, it’ll be on the test!) 235 years under the current system, but it is food for thought, isn’t it? A society where we know all our elected officials were placed there by informed, educated voters, and not shepherded in by special interest groups taking advantage of the fearful or ignorant in order to grab wealth and power? I mean, it’s worth a shot, right?


Danyul said...

Seems more like a vicious cycle inside a beneficial structure. Misinformed/Under-informed populace determining policy makers who decide education (and all that other stuff). To use one of your examples against you in regards to the "education center": If I was pro-life and for the death penalty I could easily prove that I understand both sides of the issue(s) being voted on and still make my vote count. Meanwhile, someone who may have obtained very little education (a minority woman who has had an abortion, for instance) may understand voting Pro-Life/Pro-Choice but not the intricacies of the death penalty. Who they be able to vote? Who decided the necessary "understanding" of issues in order to vote on them?

Unfortunately, I think you may be suffering from one of the classic liberal biases: absolving the individual from a certain degree of responsibility and placing too much responsibility on the state.

Every governmental system has its flaws, we have accepted one that has its greatest flaw (and its greatest strength) as it is (supposed to be) a function of its people. The people need to realize the power they hold and stop being led around by ignorance and corruption.

James S. said...

Provocative essay, Craig. I've come over a little bit to the Mencken way of thinking: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

It seems like your proposal would just give people with clout another way to put their finger on the scale to make more money. Imagine those voting guides when they've been converted into a curriculum. Or the no-bid contracts to establish privatized education centers.

It's funny--in the "great minds think alike" bin, I hit on a lot of the same points for an old FLYMF humor piece: An Idiot's Guide to Excluding Idiots from Voting. http://www.flymf.com/IdiotsVotingHome.htm

Craig Berger said...

Wow, your piece does have some strikingly similar ideas. Nice to know I'm not alone. Maybe we should start our own country...