Monday, March 15, 2010

238: on Democracy

Not only the word 'politics' but also the word 'democracy' we inherited from the Greek. Democracy comes from 'demos' ( the people) and 'kratos' the power. An what we easily take for granted is, that we live in a democracy.

Even stronger, we are convinced that we OUGHT to organize our society in a democratic way. We even send other people, who have no experience with democracy at all to vote, like happens in Iraq, because voting is one of the cornerstones of democracy.

In fact we use a normative theory of democracy, which obliges us to explain when and why democracy is morally desirable as well as moral principles for guiding the design of democratic institutions.

We could define democracy as a method of group decision making characterized by a kind of equality among the participants at an essential stage of the collective decision making.

And then we can ask the question: Is this morally desirable? Some say ye only in a highly formal way in which citizens vote in an electoral process for the purpose of selecting competing elites.

Others, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1672) pleads for a robustly egalitarian democracy. There are also those, who claim, that democracy is not desirable at all. So, if we plead for democracy, how do we justify democracy?

in his " Considerations on Representative Government" (1861) John Stuart Mill has three arguments for democracy: strategically, epistemically and via the improvement of the characters of democratic citizens. The last one resembling the old Greek idea.

Strategically, democracy has an advantage because it forces decision-makers to take into account the interests, rights and opinions of most people in society.

Epistemologically, democracy is thought to be the best decision-making method on the grounds that it is generally more reliable in helping participants discover the right decisions.

Some have argued that democratic processes tend to enhance the autonomy, rationality and morality of participants. Since these beneficial effects are thought to be worthwhile in themselves, they count in favor of democracy and against other forms of rule.

Plato, however, wasn't such a supporter of this kind of democracy at all. To him was democracy inferior to various forms of monarchy or oligarchy. A society should be ruled by experts, not by people who are only smart enough to win an election.

Modern arguments against democracy are that citizens are not informed about politics and that they are often apathetic, which makes room for special interests to control the behavior of politicians and use the state for their own limited purposes all the while spreading the costs to everyone else.

Some say that we should vote for a nation healthcare system, others say that we shouldn't vote on that. Everybody should be free to choose. Leave society to the market. Such a system could produce serious economic inefficiencies.

However, from a utilitarian point of view you could point at the effects of democracy, the maximizing of general wellbeing. For instance, there never has been a famine in democratically governed countries and there is a relatively free press.

From a virtue ethical point of view you could argue that democracy is intrinsically fair and stimulates fairness, justice, rationality and equality in its citizens.

Is it all so clear and obvious? Then take this argument: What if people disagree on the democratic method or on the particular form democracy is to take? Are we to decide these latter questions by means of a higher order procedure?

And if there is disagreement on the higher order procedure, must we also democratically decide that question? The view seems to lead to an infinite regress.

Or if personal liberty is a value how does it get along with a democratic decision-making. Do we live under the dictatorship of the majority?

Plato (Republic, Book VI) argued that some people are more intelligent and more moral than others and that those persons ought to rule. What to do when a mediocre person succeeds in becoming president via democratic elections?

Isn't all this fascinating?! At least one thing democracy brings us: we are free to discuss all these issues.

The Discussion

[13:18] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:19] herman Bergson: So much on Democracy ㋡
[13:20] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks, plz feel free
[13:20] herman Bergson: We could vote on arguments ㋡
[13:20] Repose Lionheart: As Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others
[13:20] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:21] herman Bergson: Well what about the dictatorship of the majority?
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: well that is a problem too
[13:21] Esteban Cifuentes: what to do when the feeble-minded succeed in accessing to power? vote them out at the following election. If you do not, you have the leadership you deserve, which is Democracy at its purest
[13:21] Laila Schuman: i believe it has become the dictatorship of the rich..who manipulate the opinions of the masses
[13:22] herman Bergson: Why has the majority authority over others?
[13:22] Repose Lionheart: slowly, democracies have protected minority opinion more fully
[13:22] Esteban Cifuentes: that is, assuming the democratic process itself is pure and not flawed, ensuring free and fair elections
[13:22] Laila Schuman: freedom of the press has eroded enormously... and various monopolies own much of the media
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: that is so true
[13:23] herman Bergson: I dont know Laila...
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: here they do
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: oligarchy is the downside of any republic
[13:23] Esteban Cifuentes: where is here?
[13:23] herman Bergson: And you are right Esteban....
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: USA'
[13:23] herman Bergson: One thing the greek were extremely afraid of was factions in a city state
[13:24] herman Bergson: speical groups that go only for their own interests
[13:24] Laila Schuman: yes
[13:24] herman Bergson: which would lead to civil war
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: modern democracies channel factionist tedencies with political parties
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: think our democracies work better than the ancient versions
[13:25] herman Bergson: You could say so Repose...
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: still can produce virtue, but manage contending forces better
[13:25] herman Bergson: Now waht when someone refuses to obey a democratic decision?
[13:26] herman Bergson: A majority decision....why should he feel obliged?
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: because he conceeded to the social contract initially
[13:27] Esteban Cifuentes: then that person is in breach of civil government, and should be punished/restrained from doing so for the good of society as a whole, otherwise anarchy takes root
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: has a moral duty
[13:27] herman Bergson: ok two arguments... voting is joining a social contract and two: moral duty
[13:28] herman Bergson: I found another interesting argument...
[13:28] Willful Guardian: we don't necessarily say someone has a moral duty
[13:28] Willful Guardian: although there c an be consequences
[13:28] Willful Guardian: for not obeying a law
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes Willful
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: social ethical duty then
[13:28] herman Bergson: It is a matter of ethics
[13:29] Esteban Cifuentes: should voting be compulsory? and should not voting (in itself an expression of choice) be punished?
[13:29] herman Bergson: Do we have to obey duties
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: NO!
[13:29] herman Bergson: We had compulsory voting in the Netherlands Esteban, but it was dropped many years ago
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: good question
[13:30] Willful Guardian: perhaps there is some duty of respecting fair laws, but there's no duty to act according unfair laws,
[13:30] Esteban Cifuentes: some democratic countries have compulsory voting to ensure participation
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: true!
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: but...
[13:30] Willful Guardian: perhaps there some duty to respect some degree of social order
[13:30] herman Bergson: yes Willful...
[13:30] Abraxas Nagy: exactly
[13:30] herman Bergson: an argument is that a state has authority to the extend that its laws and actions are morally good
[13:31] herman Bergson: That is one of the motivations to accept the authority of the state
[13:31] herman Bergson: An other is a purely consequentialist point of view of course
[13:32] herman Bergson: But about ignoring a democratic decision....
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: I would like more people to vote but do not think is should be compulsory
[13:32] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: so... in the netherlands people voted to not vote? interesting, lol
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:32] herman Bergson: There is the Condorcet Jury theorem....
[13:33] Esteban Cifuentes: what if the society and government passing and enforcing those rules and laws are morally bankrupt? how do you defy the authority of the state withing the legal framework? Does that justify civil disobedience/rebellion?
[13:33] herman Bergson: Yes Bubble.. our parlement voted for the freedom not to vote ㋡
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: Yes, is justifies rebellion, I think, Esteban.
[13:34] herman Bergson: Well Esteban...good point... I think it leads to civil disobedience and protests and maybe even more when a governments actions are clearly immoral
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: And disobedience
[13:34] herman Bergson: For Aristotle politics and ethics were closely linked
[13:35] herman Bergson: Plato saw justice as the base of a good state
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: But finally it comes down to a combination of moral suasion and raw power, maybe
[13:35] herman Bergson: So democracy is in fact also a moral issue
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:35] herman Bergson: But...
[13:36] herman Bergson: refusing to obey the majority in fact creates inequality
[13:36] herman Bergson: where equality is one of the main issues of democracy
[13:36] herman Bergson: If you disobey the majority decision you in fact call them inferior to you
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: oh dear
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: true too
[13:37] herman Bergson: And you should have good arguments to proof your superiority
[13:38] herman Bergson: The idea of majority vote is described by the Condorcet Jury Theorem
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: Well, the moral complexity of democracy reflects the complexity of our moral lives more fully than any other form of governance
[13:38] herman Bergson: not without critic s but interesting
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: this is an argument for it
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: truest to our lived experience and our hearts
[13:39] herman Bergson: It states that when we know an answer to a question, have arguments for an opinion where people disagree
[13:39] herman Bergson: it is more probable that the majority votes for the right answer
[13:39] herman Bergson: The larger the number of voters the higher the probability that we choose the right answer
[13:40] herman Bergson: BUt I have my doubts about this....
[13:40] Laila Schuman: the electoral system and frequent local redistricting of voting districts... calls into question... what does that mean...majority
[13:40] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: they published a few books on that idea a couple years ago about web 2.0... the wisdom of the markets and things like that
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: the problem Professor is that there can be exceptions to the rule and you can't tell in advance which are the excpections
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: Hitler was elected by a plurality of voters
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: not a wise decision
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes Repose, and the rule applies only when no one has special interests in the possible answers
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:42] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: oh, well if that's how hitler rose to power then democracy must be an evil nazi plot... down with democracy! :)
[13:42] Laila Schuman: who forms popular opinion... all too often, it is clever propaganda... as a journalist i am trained in propaganda
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes..That is why I had my doubts Repose..that crossed my mind
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: no, democracy is just not perfect ㋡
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes Laila, that is another problem in our information age...
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:42] herman Bergson: The greek only had their city....difficult to lie about events there
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:43] herman Bergson: Now we have the whole world as a source
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: but media bring us ever closer together, too
[13:43] herman Bergson: and all kinds of special interests groups
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: and so quicklly too
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: look at us now ㋡
[13:44] Laila Schuman: and those who can afford the "air time" ...often in very unobserved ways
[13:44] herman Bergson: I think information and manipulate disinformation(propaganda) balances each other out perhaps
[13:45] Laila Schuman: if both sides have equal intelligence and equal access
[13:45] herman Bergson: I think that is the case, Laila
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: :(
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: here is the US, the disinformation has had a bigger impact on the electorate than the information for some time now
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: seems that way
[13:45] Laila Schuman: i agree Repose
[13:46] herman Bergson: But in the end...where does it lead to?
[13:46] Laila Schuman: when prejudices are preyed upon...for example
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: maybe a smarter electorate
[13:46] herman Bergson: If a small group seizes power they will make laws that only favor that group
[13:46] Esteban Cifuentes: and the simplest way in which Hitler's rise can be explained is a mixture of fear and resentment monguering, and abuse of the democratic process through intimidation, violence and underestimating the possible outcome... in essence, it was a progressive and peaceful coup d'etat endorsed and supported by part of the voting population and indifference
[13:47] Laila Schuman: yes
[13:47] Laila Schuman: and creating scapegoats
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: yes, Estaban
[13:47] Willful Guardian: but plato's argument that experts can make better decisions still has some weight
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:47] Willful Guardian: it depends a great deal on the intentions of the small group
[13:47] herman Bergson: Yes Wellful
[13:48] Laila Schuman: what do you call a lawyer run amuck................................ senator
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: oh dear
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:48] Willful Guardian: all I can say, Laila is that no one likes lawyers, until t hey need one
[13:48] herman Bergson: but it shows that you cant really handle political affairs with an educational level as kindergarten
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:49] herman Bergson: In fact we have departments stuffed with experts to support a minister/secretary in office
[13:49] herman Bergson: So maybe we have a mix of oligarchy and democracy
[13:49] Willful Guardian: probably assistants, aides and clerks do much of the actual work of governing
[13:50] herman Bergson: like Aristotle prefered
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: and experts are as vulnerable to the corruption of power as anyone else
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: they do yes
[13:50] Laila Schuman: yes
[13:50] herman Bergson: Well... I think we have seen a lot of interesting thoughts about democracy....
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: yes!
[13:51] herman Bergson: we'll see how the Middle Ages will deal with those ideas
[13:51] herman Bergson: May I thank you for this good discussion and your participation ㋡
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: Thanks, Profesor. Very thought-provoking!
[13:51] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^
[13:51] Abraxas Nagy: thank you professor
[13:51] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: great lecture!
[13:51] Willful Guardian: yes, thanks herman
[13:52] herman Bergson: Thank you all
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: remember to check sl time on tuesday
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: every time change is a riot

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