Democratic doubts

Most people have serious difficulty paying attention to the detail and putting bits of information together into one coherent, meaningful train of thought. Rather, they fill the gaps with imaginary data that will lead to frustration and failure.

One of my most recent, simple examples:

– When can I meet you?
– On Fridays at 4 p.m. in the office. (detail)
– If I can’t make it, would the weekend work?
– On Sundays at noon in the office. (another detail)
– What about next week?
– Friday, same place, same time. (many more details)
– OK, so I’ll see you next Friday at 1. (filling blank with imagination)

In this case, the inquirer could have looked back to what same place and time meant, and, in case of being confused, they should have asked for clarification. But instead, they simply chose the most comfortable way: they made up information that best suited their own needs.

Even though the example is trivial, it perfectly represents a widespread problem: Most people cannot think of, internally organize, and communicate information in a clear, consistent, coherent fashion.

The importance of thinking and communication is socially and culturally still underestimated just as it was in earlier historical times. Despite improvements through mandatory general education, the average citizen is still unable to organize and formulate their thoughts and appears to live in a state of continuous haze and confusion.

While this fact has far-reaching consequences, one of them is undoubtedly the average person’s intellectual ability to make decisions in crucial social questions. Democratic political voting irrefutably requires a minimum capability of strategic, critical thinking, a quality that is clearly missing from the average citizen in every country and in every culture.

My question, therefore, is whether automatically endowing every citizen with a right to vote is indeed an intelligent and virtuous decision.

The value of the vote of a person who proves their inability to think critically is equal to that of someone who won the Nobel Prize. The value of the vote of a person under certain intellectual levels is equal to that of a university professor. And the value of the vote of a person with an obvious intellectual confusion is equal to that of someone who wrote dozens of excellent political, sociological, and philosophical works.

The first, mostly instinctual, reaction to such observations may be a false sense of justice and social sensitivity. Many would call me an anti-democratic tyrant for entertaining such thoughts. But by excluding underage people from voting we already consider them to be unprepared for the task. The simple biological fact of reaching age 18 does not make them more prepared in of itself. What makes a person mature for voting is their intellectual and emotional development which may or may not reach sufficient levels by age 18. On the day when I reached age 18, I did not suddenly become more competent and responsible than I had been the day before, at age 17 years and 364 days.

The real question here is whether people truly know what is best for them. Whether people can make responsible, meaningful decisions for themselves and others if they cannot think in a clear, coherent fashion even in the smallest things. Do they really know what direction they want to take if they daily prove how incompetent, how inconsiderate, how limited, how self-absorbed, how uneducated, how impolite, how low and mean they are? How can someone whose life is a chaotic mess contribute to my future by their democratic vote? How will someone who cannot meaningfully process three days and two times in a short conversation be able to meaningfully analyze an intricate web of voting options? Are people able to responsibly vote so that the voting outcome will be the best for all of us? Are people selfless enough to vote considering others’ interests as well, or will they vote thinking of their own individual petty interests only? Will they envision a brilliant society while voting? Will they see beyond the paltry promises of a 0.001% tax decrease? Will they vote thinking of anything at all?

Clearly, democracy, in its current form, is a pathetic institutional and human failure. But there are many more similar failures in our societies. Obtaining a driving license under certain intellectual levels is an excellent example of them.

Driving is more than simply transferring myself from one place to the other. Driving is a serious social interaction where many other citizens’ lives depend on my personal decisions, faculties, and capabilities. As I am not the only one on the roads, my inaptitude can dramatically impact others. My impatience can kill others, my slowness can kill others, my dedication to my cell phone screen can kill others, and my distractions can kill others.

Interestingly, the requirements to drive are as underset as those to vote. To drive, anyone can pass an “exam,” and to vote, anyone can reach age 18.

While we deprived many of their due rights for centuries and millennia in history, today we try to compensate by thoughtlessly giving all sorts of “basic rights” to everybody. We clearly made a mistake in the past, but we are clearly making another mistake in the present. In vane did we fight long and hard for civil rights if we now live in a world where civil rights are synonymous with a thoughtless social system of chaos, nonsense, and paradox. Obviously, the requirements for partaking in public social life should be more than reaching age 18, or passing tests that even idiots can pass. Issuing a driving license without testing one’s courtesy level, reaction time, distractibility, and emotional maturity is a contribution to public killing. Similarly, letting everybody vote over age 18 without testing their basic understanding of society is a shameful underestimation of the importance of society itself.

Rather than being an anti-democratic tyrant, I am simply questioning whether our current, falsely called “democratic,” institutions truly serve democratic ideals. Because to me it seems that we continually underestimate society, and, at the same time, we unconditionally overestimate the capability of the individual. Now, if my argumentation has not convinced you that my intentions are harmless, consider that, in a democratic setting, I have a right to my democratic doubts.

1 Comment

  1. David Cashman

    While the last U.S. presidential election shook my faith in demmocracy somewhat, I still maintain a basic faith in democracy’s superiority as the best way of running a society for the good of the majority of its citizens. My belief is rooted in a positive view of the inherent dignity and goodness of the human being. While an individual, at a given moment in his/her life, may be wrong-headed, or even immersed in evil acts, that individual–I believe–may not stay lost or be forever outside the possibility of salvation. Thus, while societies may at times express their unclear thinking or their misguided impulses in democratic elections, these errors are not forever. The historical process, painful as it can be for extended periods of time, will eventually cause human beings to see their self-interest in positive, collective ways and vote for those outcomes. Any other way of determining an “elite” caste solely capable of leadership, it seems to me, leads only to oppression of one sort or another.

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