Pure, direct democracy is an unfeasible and unattainable aim.
The people have proved they simply cannot be trusted with it.
Like a big fat baby gurgling lumpy phlegm they throw the right across the room like a rattle in a fit of tantrum, not realising that the vote actually means something, that the rattle is made of titanium and can crack the wall.
Of course, the people could be trusted with direct democracy if they were properly informed. Perhaps they could make educated and tempered decisions en masse; perhaps national conversations would be possible without resorting to slogans and clumsy statistics recited into oblivion until the breath that gives utterance to them forms a giant swirling vortex and all forms of intelligence and knowledge are sucked down into it and we forget what thinking even is. Perhaps we could have a population all on the same page as to the best path for humanity to take.
But who has the time to get properly informed, to gain a comprehensive and explorative understanding of any given issue, let alone all of them? You do not have the time. And nor should you be expected to make the time. The majority of us were not put on this earth to contemplate philosophical, ideological or pragmatic ramifications of policy. We elect representatives because they do have the time; it is literally their job to be properly informed, to cut behind the media’s bullshit, behind misinformation and misunderstanding; to gain a broad and overarching view.
People want to enjoy their lives. They want to finish work and be allowed to zone out, to relish in their leisure time. They do not and, if the system was well, would not, be obligated to be as informed on matters of complex policy as politicians are so as to become de facto captains of our collective ship.
Of course, it could be that we enact ample media regulation, for instance, or campaign regulation, so that the people are well enough informed (because those informing them are prohibited under pain of penalty from misinforming them) so that they are theoretically capable of making the decisions required of them in a pure democracy – their personal prejudices notwithstanding (or made irrelevant through enlightenment).
The print media in the UK, for instance, is – you may be surprised to know (or not, having seen the bottom feeding content of the tabloids) – entirely self-regulating. It has established Independent Press Standards Commission of its own volition. The only sanction if a consumer complaint is deemed valid? That the paper publish the PCC’s finding, and/or a fine.
But of course, regulation of the media is a slippery slope. Even when proposals seem wholly for good, one must always question the loopholes they may give rise to for the regulators and the regulators’ influencers, and the motivations of those drawing up the laws. Perhaps statutory regulation would give rise to a maelstrom of complications.
So then, media regulation is without doubt a dire necessity. The abhorrent, despicable, retrograde, embarrassing, childish, stupid front-page reactions to the High Court Brexit litigation by the Daily Mail et al shows this. And so too is campaign regulation a necessity. The abomination of the £350 million lie, and how it went unchallenged until recently when a complaint was made to the Crown Prosecution Service under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (now it is too late) proves this. Although both are necessary, neither can be as comprehensive as each of us in our personal inclinations would perhaps wish them to be. Since thereafter bias has the potential to follow.
One may say the internet means that a universe of information has been opened up to us. We can draw one story from Breitbart, another from the Guardian, and yet another from Buzzfeed and we can be ensured that we are chewing on all sides of the fat. But unfortunately that just does not happen. The people cannot be trusted. They plop themselves in their echo chambers and scream and delight in hearing their intonations crash back to them a million times louder.
We must entrust policy and major decisions to representatives. But this comes with the crucial caveat that those representatives be accountable more so than they are now. To us. As it is meant to be. We decide the ideology we want our species to represent and we ensure that the policies of our governments are dictated within the boundaries of said ideology through the use and utilisation of proper laws, checks, balances and regulation.
Our representatives cannot, as a prerequisite, be allowed to be influenced by self-interested lobbyists or bloated financial or corporate interests.
MPs expenses, lobbying transparency and limitation, backroom trade deals like TTIP, MPs’ employment before and after Parliament, and campaign funding are all particular flashpoints of the battle over this dearth of regulation. But there are many others, all in need of tightening and reforming as part of a bolstering of the girders of our great political and legal system.
A representative democracy – as would a pure democracy – also necessitates fostering a culture of intellectualism. It means bridging the gap between the academy and the builder, between scholars and scaffolders; thinks tanks and warehouse workers. I call bullshit on the claim that the British people are tired of experts. What the British people are tired of is condescension. What people everywhere are tired of is condescension. And if 2016 has taught us anything, it is that condescension breeds populism, which rises like the perennial serpent to bite us all in the ass.
So no, the people cannot be trusted with pure, direct democracy.
But this is not to despair. This is not to render you an impotent observer watching in conscious paralysis as your betters carve up your beating cadaver. For a representative democracy comes with a crucial benefit. It means that you may holler and scream in favour of the cause you promote through whatever medium you choose in the hope people flock to you and the government hears, and when they do, you are absolved of the responsibility of making it work. It is up to them. They are your representatives; they must represent your interests.
So, if you reject being detached from democracy like this, then there are routes in to the fray for those so inclined. You need not run for Parliament.
You could write, for instance. Write and disseminate your views.
That is how policy should and usually is made. First the people stir; then the intellectuals write about the opinions and examine them, validate them if they are deserved of validation; then the active sea change occurs within the ranks of the population and opinion shifts and then, finally, the politicians enact the people’s will if it is sensible and has passed through the various filters and, fundamentally, they are pressured enough.
Take gay marriage for instance. The LGBTQ community owes no debt of gratitude to Cameron’s government for legalising it. Nor are any of the companies now cynically promoting LGBTQ rights as if they did all along deserved of congratulation. All they did was rubberstamp something the people had already decided amongst themselves. That is one of the government’s jobs. They are the final filter, the final legitimating force – legitimate themselves only because we trust that they will act as such.
Life is about balance. Populism belies that balance. Populism is a reaction to a detached political class and to gross inequality. But, though understandable – we are human after all – it is the wrong reaction. What is required is considered, informed, unified pressure on our representatives. This itself is dependent on a reformed system, which we can only achieve through revolution. A system built so that checks and balances are better placed. We cannot rid ourselves of representatives; they are what ensure our civilization.
Representative democracy also comes with a duty, because no checks and no balances are without corners around which psychopathic politicians can peer to find the boundless freedom of corruption beyond. This duty is eternal vigilance. It was said that every generation must have its revolution. This is the price we pay.
The necessity for representative democracy, as oppose to populism or direct rule by the many, is that if done properly, it makes ignorant reactionism impossible. Because policy is dictated by ideology arrived at by the process above mentioned, rather than ideology being an unfortunate concomitant of policies arrived at as knee jerk reactions by the majority, it means that a solid foundation is built from which to construct policy and sensible, informed decisions in response to contemporary issues.
Plato, after all, said that “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”. Looking at the blonde-haired demagogue who got so popular so recently, and the state of discourse on our Emerald Isle after a vote, essentially, for isolationism, I would be inclined to agree with him.
Balance must be restored through understanding and being informed. Not despite being human, but exactly because we are human – the most intelligent and adaptable species we know of.
I urge you to get involved in one aspect or another, whether activism or contribution to the intellectual ether. And if you do not want to, then that is exactly why you cannot be trusted with direct democracy, and that is fine.