Thursday, August 26, 2010

...And I Just Need To Rule It.

Also, since when was democracy, especially the sort we have in the West today, such a wonderful idea in the first place? Sure, it's less oppressive than most other systems that have been tried, but is it necessarily any better for us? Is it necessarily any more stable than the alternatives? Communism lasted less than a century, but stable monarchies have lasted for millennia. Ultimately Western democracy rests on many of the same fallacies as libertarianism, the main one being that if we all choose what we think is best for us as individuals, we'll end up with a system that more or less approximates to what is actually best for us as a group.

Problem 1. Most people don't know what's best for them. Even worse, most people would rather be told what's best for them than spend time and mental effort figuring it out for themselves. After all, if someone else has already figured out what's best, why should I bother repeating their effort when you can cut straight to the results? The problem is that different people have come up with very different results, and if you don't want to put in the effort to get your own results, you probably won't be inclined to put in the effort to figure out who else's results to trust.

Problem 2. What's best for individuals is not necessarily what's best for society as a whole. The Prisoner's Dilemma suffices to establish this. This is why organised societies exist in the first place; the whole point is that we make some sacrifices in the spirit of coöperation because this leads to a net gain. If it didn't, then organised societies would have been at an evolutionary disadvantage compared to lone opportunists.

Related to both of these points is the fact that people tend to find it a lot easier to sacrifice a long-term benefit for a short-term one, especially if the responsibility for that sacrifice is diffused. Politicians know this, and are subject to it themselves. When was the last time a politician planned more than an election ahead? Sure, there are long-term projects, but the only ones that go ahead are the ones that are perceived to have short-term tangible benefits.

Don't get me wrong. I like some aspects of democracy, and I like most political systems a lot less. But just because it may be the best we've got doesn't mean there isn't a whole lot of room for improvement.

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