Thoughts on why people need to earn their vote. This sounds oppressive and intolerant, but seriously…there should be a minimal level of competence before wielding a pen at the voting booth.
Troubling spike in Google searches related to the consequences of Brexit – after the polls closed.
We know that democracy is the worst system – apart from all others. But we should try harder – shouldn’t we?
I mentioned Fukuyama’s End of History in my last post – I am still reading it so there will be more. The thesis is that History ends with liberal democracy as the system most able to deliver everything the heart desires. History ending does not mean history stops – just as finding the perfect diet does not mean life ends. It means, we can stop struggling to find the perfect diet and instead just exercise the will to stay with it.
Similarly with liberal democracy. It works. We just have to keep it intact. Why does it work? It works because it provides the optimum environment for the expression of our productive capabilities as human beings. And so, it allows us to create economic growth and wealth – the currency that allows us to sustain the other key ingredient that sustains our life as humans: recognition. Fukuyama draws on Hegel here to tell us something that seems obvious when we hear it: we seek recognition of our humanity, our equality, the worth of what we say and do, what we achieve. Everybody wants to feel heard.
Our Episcopelian baptismal covenant urges us to respect the dignity of every human being. So simple and self-evident.
And yet, recognition contains a little tension. We strive for recognition and that involves status. Status is relative and abilities are not equally distributed (life isn’t fair). So striving may end up with competition for recognition. Only one Steve Jobs, Elon Musk. We may have to live with a little inequality in our equilibrium. Multiculturalism celebrates the identity of a specific group and allows recognition to group members who previously have been ignored or suffered some form of social or political oppression. It may, however, erode the bonds of an integrated society. Tension.
The identity and group aspirations of EU members obviously contain tension. The means of resolving those tensions has apparently become too much for one of its members – hence Brexit.
Rejecting the broader goals of the EU group – or any group larger than an individual group member with a sub-group identity – is complex and dangerous. Groups such as the EU come together slowly, with consensus and mutuality. Independence is historically associated with independence from a previous oppression or conquest (think Commonwealth or Roman Empire, or Yugoslavia) – not as idiot, Nigel Farage, claimed, independence from the EU (freely entered into).
So, we have representative democracy, designed to provide a more deliberative process for making laws and policies, to avoid the process whereby direct democracies may succumb to passions and short-term considerations, ill-considered and manipulated by voices and influences motivated by unworthy goals.
Changing the US constitution requires a two thirds majority in House and Senate and ratification by three quarters of State Legislatures. Brexit required a simple majority. It didn’t have to be that way. Hence my sadness at the failure of leadership – a self-inflicted wound.
Participation of 100% all voting entities and individuals in a constitutional change would be virtually assured, so the super-majority provisions were designed to make it a very high bar. In the Brexit referendum, 72% of the population voted. So, 52% majority means that 37% of the population is causing the UK to withdraw. Democratic, as defined, but ill-conceived.
The continued success of liberal democracies requires considerable effort. Progress is not assured. The 19th century was an optimistic century full of promise for the advancement of mankind through science, technology and education. The 20th and 21st so far were and are less optimistic and contained many setbacks: wars, conflicts, Nazism, Communism, Totalitarianism, terrorism. How could Providence and a benevolent God survive the Holocaust (see earlier post on The New Atheism and one to come shortly, specifically on Providence)?
There is wisdom in crowds but danger in mobs. We live not so far from a very dark version of ourselves (imagine three days without electricity). People ‘get’ to vote when they reach the age of majority. (In the US, by the way, we seem to consider this something less momentous than acquiring the right to buy and consume alcohol…). Sometimes, though, we can become ‘drunk’ on democracy and suffer something similar to a hangover. As Kingsley Amis put it in Everyday Drinking, there is the physical hangover and also the metaphysical hangover – “that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future”.
So, having needlessly handed a decision to an electorate that would probably have been happier without it, received an unexpected result, experienced ensuing trauma, one is left with the impression that we need some adults in the room to do what elected representative are supposed to do: calmly and deliberatively figure a way out of this mess.
It might be better if the men stepped aside for a while and stopped playing their university power games. Could we maybe have Angela Merkel and Theresa May work something out?