For most individuals, to live in democratic society is not only just but a human right, the people in a community should be integral in selecting its governance. In theory, opposing ideologies competing to find a middle ground for society’s benefit sounds extremely attractive, however, in practice it is not always so appealing. Fanatical loyalty has produced a cavernous divide between community members with opposing views. Politicians, seeing their chance to boost status, latch onto their base by disseminating questionable information and promoting the “Us vs. Them” mentality.
There is an essence of irony in people with limited to no understanding of a topic being able to cast their opinions on it. With knowledge scarce and ears filled with rhetoric, many citizens vote emotionally opposed to rationally; when who’s winning supersedes what’s right, a vote’s legitimacy is jeopardized. Democracy was a precious gem of ancient Athenian society; yet, it seems counterintuitive for a contemporary democracy to rely on a system engendered thousands of years ago without revamping into the 21st century.
What Are The Issues?
Upon accepting a stance at the party line it’s not uncommon for politicians begin a slope towards deceit. Operating under the guise of truth, partial facts can be distributed to the public regardless of whether or not it’s comprehensive of an issue.
Politicians also have a knack for criticising their rivals. Seeking to undermine their adversaries some tend to slander rather than promote their own policies, drawing an opponent’s legitimacy into question and shifting focus away from their own competence.
One of the most hypocritical aspects of politics is that politicians seemingly stand for morality, but are allowed to convey falsehoods as fact without a requirement to expiate inaccuracy. In any other profession employees would be held accountable for making a false remark, however, at the highest-level, people are allowed to engender fallacies, portray them as truth and sell to the public for acquisition of power.
Why is it auspicious for politicians to act deviously? If they are able to exploit the desires and fears of the masses, or instigate speculation about their adversaries, they have the potential to gain favouritism from the majority and harbour power.
Politicians don’t only represent their parties but more discreetly those who are funding their campaigns. These funders don’t expect “donations” to be a one sided affair, the acceptance of funds means positive repercussions for those providing capital. When lobbying is prevalent, the aim of the campaign becomes less about what the people want and more about the desires of benefactors.
The public is often kept in the dark about who is backing certain politicians, in turn they are blind sided by particular polices benefiting business entities at the sake of the community.
Marcus Aurelius wrote “The opinions of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject”. On the surface the idea of everyone being able to vote for their community’s governing sounds propitious, yet, allowing individuals to place opinions on matters they have little to no understanding of highlights incompetence in the system.
A contemporary example of this is Brexit; UK citizens understood they were voting to either stay or leave the EU, however, the true ramifications for the vote were unknown. Complications arising from import and export, limiting British citizens ability to live and work throughout Europe and the implications for Northern Ireland were all ill examined, creating persistent quagmires for the nation in the near future.
When everyone is allowed to vote irrespective of their knowledge, more often than not the person granted control will be the best orator. Rhetoric is a powerful weapon, with the right selection of words those inadequate can be considered capable. Most voters in democratic elections have already chosen their side and tend to stick with the party the have always voted for. By constructing a sense of team amongst supporters parties can dig deeper into their followers mentality, inducing rivalry by discrediting the opposition.
An unwillingness to hear opposing arguments or to do so with rancour has direct repercussions for a community’s harmony. A balance benefitting society cannot be acquired when politics becomes more about supporting one’s team than the issues at hand.
What Improvements Can Be Made?
A democracy has many benefits yet it only stands as strong as the education provided within it. To enhance the existing structure voters need objective information in easily palatable formats. A neutral organization should be granted the responsibility of producing material for voters, such as short videos, slideshows or diagrams, outlining core beliefs of parties and the policies they intend to introduce and defend.
A legitimacy ranking system could also be introduced for candidates; aggregated from their previous statements and behaviour, a contender’s trustworthiness can be displayed on a numeric scale (e.g. 1 to 5/10/20). Parties should also have to disclose private funders of their campaigns. Highlighting benefactors can provide the public with a better understanding of who is influencing party agendas.
Potentially slight regulations should be placed on voters, perhaps in order to vote they must attend or watch a seminar outlining the above information, administered by an impartial source. Installing these types of strategies means voters will have every opportunity to understand what their vote actually means, and how the outcome can affect their community.
Another alternative is Quadratic voting. In this system citizens are allocated a particular number of vote tokens, used to express the extent of their feelings on issues. These tokens go up in a non-linear way; individuals may be given 20 tokens, to vote on an issue it may only cost 1 token but to cast 2 votes on the same issue it may cost 4. This enables people to voice their opinion in a more personal fashion, not just voting for a party but to actively put forward their stance on issues important to them.
Whether these approaches be advantageous or not, they at least provide templates of how the democratic system can be altered for improvement, educating citizens and providing advantages to cast an informed vote.
Democracy is hailed as the best political structure, but this does not mean it should be immune to criticism. There are many issues with our current voting process and the system needs portions of rejuvenation to draw it into the technologically inclined 21st century. Currently, control lies with those funding and representing parties, however, by improving voter education more knowledgeable opinions can develop and power can shift back to the people. Everyone may feel entitled to their vote but, if one is not informed, how willfully do they follow the rhetorical choir?
Image source: Bambi, street artist