Is Democracy Really The Best Option?
Politics isn’t something I dwell on. Caught up in my own bubble of work, family, and excessive procrastination, I have scant surplus grey matter for politics. But with everything going on in the world — from the United States, where the President is more hell-bent on winning a second term in office than tackling Coronavirus (which as of this writing has claimed the lives of nearly 180,000 of his fellow Americans), to political turmoil everywhere from Belarus and Mali to Lebanon and Thailand — I have begun to wonder if the problem with politics is in the ineffective functioning of Democracy, or at the deeper root of Democracy itself.
For starters, let’s agree that you wouldn’t necessarily want anyone with zero medical training or experience to warrant an opinion on how to perform heart surgery. To want so would be foolish at best, and catastrophic if also acted upon. Why then, do we take for granted as being justified, the fact that millions of people sans any training or experience in government, economic policy, or public service, should have a say in who gets elected to power, to mend the laws that govern a country.
Democracy appeals to our most visceral desire for equality, and has been the most potent driving force behind its endurance for over 300 years. But is this level of equality justified? In the case of our Surgeon, we would rightly expect that she (or he) undergo years of assiduous study and meticulous training before being allowed near a human heart with a scalpel. We would generally demand no less of any other profession either, be they accounting, hairdressing, plumbing etc. But even countries that boast freely functioning democracies like the U.S, see scores of people elected to power, who are not only ignorant (oftentimes wilfully so), but actively work to destabilise the very institutions they are meant to protect, for little more than personal gain, fame, and a first-class ticket to ego-town. And they are elected by people who share the same level of ignorance.
“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter” — Winston Churchill
I have always maintained a certain irony in criticising leaders after electing them to power. One could claim no knowledge of their naiveté, or ineffectiveness, or corruption, but why would we assume any differently to begin with? Would you consult a Surgeon you weren’t absolutely convinced was up for the job? Wouldn’t you use her qualifications and track record of past surgeries to guide your decision to do so? If you wouldn’t take a punt on a Surgeon to save one life, why take punts on people who’s actions affect the lives of a million others?
Among the many lessons of Covid, key among them is how little we know what future holds. It is hubris to assume we can build utopia by pulling on the levers of Democracy. But just as scientists and medical professionals in front lines who are dedicated to finding a vaccine for Covid-19 (which they eventually will because their efforts are only stifled by time, and not intellectual will or capacity), wouldn’t it be good to have people dedicate their lives to honing a more perfect form or governance? — one that acknowledges our differences and lets us thrive; one that addresses our challenges and helps us overcome them; and one that understands what people value is not the mere right to vote, but the right to live with dignity, security, and hope for a better future.
“It would be absurd to think that the politics of the last hundred or so years is the way it’s meant to be forever” — David Runciman, Author; How Democracy Ends.”
This article would be incomplete if I droned on my misgivings with Democracy without offering an alternative (at least an alternative that makes sense to me). So here goes; voting and the right to vote is an overrated privilege, and little more than a concession given to appease a people who would otherwise rebel or feel they had no say in how their country is run. But why is this important? The power to elect people who govern is far too awesome to be in the hands of anyone who is not actively interested, invested, or involved in an ideal or idea of how the country should be run in the first place.
People who elect leaders therefore must themselves be seeped in the belief of a better and more equitable form of governance. How else to select candidates that are best suited to carry out their vision? Just as the cardinals in the Vatican who elect the Pope to head the nation of Christianity, the most effective amongst these more informed voters should contest and be allowed an opportunity to steer the ships of nations across the world.
Just as it is often better to get restaurant recommendations from people who know food, than to ask your entire neighbourhood to vote on where you should eat tonight, we should strive for a more refined form of “Democracy” where votes don’t just count; they matter.