All the countries I lived in had something in common: they were all called “… democracy” at some point. Whether it was a “developing democracy” or “developed democracy”. Democracy is the word we use a lot and with the imminent election musings about democracy become inevitable. So inevitable it spills into my conversations all the time. After all we are about to elect “democratic government” through the process of “democratic elections”. Naturally, I started looking for definitions. There are plenty options (opinions?) to chose from – all have the same theme though. It’s really interesting that the word “democracy” is used so often and it’s standard definition allows for giant loopholes: “rule of the people” (Greek). Of course people are going to be ruling pretty much everywhere except for the 12 colonies where Cylons are taking over…!
One definition caught my eye as it was the most concise and obvious yet had enough details to be able to analyze it:
We can think of democracy as a system of government with four key elements:
- A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
- The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
- Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
- A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
“Free and fair election” is a very good starting point for a philosophical debate. What exactly Free means here? More importantly what is Fair? Canadian election show all the signs of unfairness. Government of the country currently is elected by a mere majority of 22% (58% turnout with only 38% of those voting for governing party) of voting populace which has translated into 46% seats. How is it fair to the 78% of voting populace that did not vote for them? How about the rest of population that is non-voting? In other words we should either accept this new norm that “22%” means – “majority” or redefine Fair or better yet – stop calling countries like Canada “Democracy”. We are far from democracy, real far. How is electoral process Fair to small communities like ours when we are “bundled” in the same riding with “monster” communities with 10 times the population. In other words – there is no way in hell our views will be represented on the highest level even if the entire community voted for the same candidate!
Which brings me to the second point – “active participation of people”. Now here’s a twist and a wrinkle – remember those 78% that aren’t really represented? Are they actively participating? So can we still call ourselves “Democracy”? How about candidates? Assume some of those 78% residing in the riding of an MP they didn’t vote for still want some representation and ask candidate to represent their views? Is he obligated to respond to their requests? No. Will he respond to their requests – typically no. Why? They are not voting for him so he doesn’t really need them until the next election. So how are we encouraging people to “actively participate” under those conditions?
Which was a nice preamble for the next point “protection of human rights of all citizens”. Well if you re-read previous paragraph you’ll realize that that is simply not the case if we carefully examine definition of Human Rights employed by UN. Article 1 anyone? You must have some mean brother that wouldn’t listen or reply to you. Well that is your MP that you did not elect. Maybe some Article 12 on the side? Interference with my privacy is happening all the time from all private entities that government does not protect me from: telemarketers, banks, random companies, recording industry – you name it. Article 16 for gay people maybe? Article 17 is something you should think about next time you buy music at iTunes or over some other DRM-riddled channel. Oh, you thought that when you purchased music you own it? Wrong! Ask Orwell fans who bought his books through Amazon for their Kindles, or people who bought music from Wal*Mart. So how does my government ensures my freedoms? By signing treaties that undermine it, and pushing through Bills that annihilate my rights. For a parent combination of Article 22 and 26 is another source of frustration – schools are half-run by corporations trying to “hook” kids on their products from “get-go” (Microsoft, Kraft, Pepsico, etc.) and government does everything to promote it by decreasing school’s budget and forcing schools to look for external sources of funding. I feel like my human rights were violated (as well as my family’s) do you?
So after showing how corporations enjoy better freedoms than people of the country lets take a look at the heads of those corporations. Have we ever heard of a case convicting corporate head vs “less wealthy opponent” ? In “democratic” societies it’s quite clear that the quality of democracy is proportional to your income. I enjoy fairly good pay myself so I know my freedoms extend way further than person’s next door with income half of mine, does that seem right? Does that sound democratic?
All of that brings up a dilemma: should I vote or should I not? If I do should I vote “for” or “against”? Every single party in my riding is “tainted” for me so I have no desire to vote for any single one of them. However Not voting gives more power to the minority that already elected the government I hate. If I vote – I just fed another monster that will do essentially the same just under a different guise. So to defeat present monster I should vote against but by doing so I get nothing in return except for delayed replay of the same tragic scenario. I do not see how my views and opinions will be represented in the newly elected government no matter how I vote. On top of that, as I mentioned before my community is dwarfed by another community in our riding that will essentially make my vote void because I’m pretty sure of the way they’ll vote. I’ll take my chances and vote my preference (out of all evils chose the smallest) knowing full well that it’s all futile, but there’s that off-chance that maybe my vote is the one that’ll count and other people like me will come out and vote and express their opinions in a slightly blurred fashion.
Electorate reform may be able to fix it but none of the existing parties brought up this issue an certainly none of them made it their priority. Until then our only screwed up way of voting is to vote “against” in most cases.
One may say – “Well, other definitions of democracy can not be as easily dismantled” and would be plain wrong – all definitions I looked at have the same problem – they are inapplicable in so-called “democratic countries”. Take the “ultimate authority” on everything – Wikipedia:
Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. The term comes from the Greek: δημοκρατία – (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”, which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (Kratos) “power”, in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC
Does it make much difference? Not so much. Rinse-and-repeat.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Democracy definition
- Political freedom
- Greek language
- Political systems
- Classical Athens
- 508 BC