“Democracy is the worst form of government we have ever had, except for all the others.” – Winston Churchill
For decades now this statement has been the best defense of democracy. But Churchill is probably rolling in his grave knowing that he had the unintended effect of making us complacent. We constantly complain about the problems of our flawed system but throw up our hands and say ‘well, it’s better than tyranny so carry on’. He probably wishes people would focus more on something else he said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
Democracy is based on the idea that the people know what is best for them, but who can claim to know enough anymore to actually know what is best for them? We have become subservient to the needs of society as the modern world has forced us to become hyper-specialists. Individuals know a lot about the very narrow branch of knowledge needed to get and keep their job, yet next to nothing about things outside of that domain because there simply isn’t enough time to inform ourselves on everything that matters. We have also become trapped in media bubbles so thick we can’t even see passed them. Add to this that the world has become staggeringly complex and the amount of information needed to make sense of it all has grown astronomically. All of which has made it nearly impossible for any of us to develop a wide enough perspective to make informed political decisions.
So what do we do when presented with a ballot box to fill in? We vote based on a handful of issues that we each think are important without taking into consideration the hundreds of other issues at stake in every election. As Hunter Maats said, “You can’t get the wisdom of crowds if the crowd isn’t wise.”
Too often when faced with political turmoil we point to elected officials and accuse them of being the problem. No more so than today, with disapproval of leaders around the world at seemingly an all time high. But whether it is Trump or Duterte, they are just a product of the system, a symptom of the underlying disease.
Our representative democracy enables those with the most money to tilt the system in their favor while also enabling the rise of a populist movement that has made celebrity and demagoguery more powerful political tools than good ideas. This system had its time and served us well for long stretches, but it needs to be rethought. Not only are individuals going to have to adapt to survive, but our institutions also need to be updated.
In the past we were forced to choose others to represent us because it was not feasible for everyone to have their say, so power inevitably concentrated in the hands of a few. The good news is we now have the tools in place to reform democracy. Automation will force many of us out of the job market, but this should be seen as an incredible opportunity to re-educate the public and raise awareness about the exciting changes happening in the world while giving people the ability to make informed decisions about the future we are building. And eventually we will be able to leverage new technologies that replace the need for centralized authority with a system that is incorruptible and inherently trustworthy…