Representative Democracy, Broken?

At some point in the past, this happened:

Hey, people are stupid. And they’re bad. In fact, people are so stupid and bad that they can’t rule over themselves. We can’t trust them to make their own decisions. They’d be dangerous in positions of power. Especially dangerous, in fact, as a group. A wild mob, they would be.

I have a solution. Because we can’t trust those people to be in power, let’s devise a scheme whereby a handful of those very same people are put in power. The people, despite the fact we all agree they are bad and stupid, will nominally select some of their own to rule.

These people, to be selected, will need more material resources – they will need to be more wealthy – than everyone else. And they should be more educated, too. Though that last part isn’t really required.

In fact, those people should probably be us.

And this system was called representative democracy.

And perhaps, hundreds of years ago, the premises were true. People were stupid. Most people could not read. There was little worth reading. Superstitions abounded. Demons caused disease, witches cursed your harvest. Ignorance made the people bad. Rule by an enlightened, educated elite was a breath of fresh air.

It was definitely an improvement over the status quo, which consisted of authoritarian rule by an aristocratic class which had no qualifications outside of being born to the right person.

Representative democracy was a technological breakthrough – hundreds of years ago. Along with slapping leeches on your body to cure fevers, and amputation to stop the spread of infection.

Today, people who have finished primary schooling literally have more education than most founders of Western nations did. That’s right, the 18-year-old who plays loud music while smoking marijuana in his car almost certainly has a greater historical, geographical, scientific – and almost certainly mathematical – knowledge than George Washington did.

I don’t think we fully grasp this. Americans, especially, have deified the founding geezers. Geezers who were intelligent, in context, only because they were surrounded by ignorance. Geezers who were pioneers, but only because inventions like the shoe lace were the height of applied sciences. Government was revolutionary, only because we should use our minds was a revolutionary concept alongside what was, literally, magic, sin, and Jesus.

And when the pony express represented a breakthrough in communications – when post offices were the domain of an elite that could afford luxuries such as paper, stamps and ink, and knew how to write – representative democracy was the shit.

Then the telegraph was invented. Newspapers became ubiquitous. Radio. Television. Internet. Post-secondary education was now more common than any formal education at all used to be. We abandoned leeches. We started performing full face transplants.

The population, not only of the Western world but globally, is now more informed than it ever has been. Yet, obsolete technology – the representative democracy – persists. People don’t like it. And when people get mad that congress literally does not care what you think, they propose mere reforms. They want to fix what is broken.

And despite the fact these people have good intentions, despite the fact that they almost certainly have higher intelligences than Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson did – generational IQ increase being what it is – despite more extensive formal education, and despite being more well-informed on current events, they are missing something.

It’s something inherent in representative democracy, a feature.

Representative democracy was designed with the explicit purpose of government not giving a fuck what you think. That was, partially, the point. Don’t forget a starting premise of republics: the masses are dumb, dangerous beasts, not able to rule themselves, hostage to their own biases and passions. They are the dangerous and superstitious mob, ready to pounce on the free-thinking and enlightened minority.

The elites, the representatives, were supposed to disregard the opinions of stupid farmers who – even assuming they were the elite among their peers – had to pay people to read to them because they never learned to read themselves.

Leeches worked, sometimes. Sometimes they did not. Many times, leeches were applied where they had no effect at all. Leeches could also make things worse. Eventually leeches were made obsolete. We rarely think of leeches now. The same is true for casual amputations.

And although leeches still have some valid medical uses, as does amputation, we don’t attempt to reform bloodletting or shoehorn amputation into every procedure. We’ve replaced old technology with new technology; new technology that, while still flawed, is eminently superior.

Time to replace the representative democracy.


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