The First World nations enjoy a distillate of all the systems of government tried over the years which we call Democracy. It’s not everyone’s preferred choice: many of the famous, and many more of the influential, have passed less than flattering remarks about democracy. Some are funny, most are pithy, and nearly all are accurate to some degree but the ones to which I most closely identify are those of Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to chose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy therefore, is education,’ and Karl Marx’s observation that, ‘Democracy is the road to socialism,’ – wow. Had many of the United States Republican Conservatives read Marx they’d be all in a quandary unless, unless they turn to Plato, who was not at all keen on democracy, for his, ‘Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy.’ Aristotle and Socrates too, were none too enthusiastic about this system of government: The most notable drawback, they observed, being its tendency to generate sophism.
A word here about sophistry: originally from the Greek sophizesthai, to make wise – to teach. Once a respected profession in Ancient Greece sophism fell into disrepute because the teachers quickly saw they could earn more money teaching the sons of the rich than those of the poor – no education for daughters. In order to engender a comfortable life for their families the educators tended to pander to the wealthy: i.e. teach the rich man’s son what his father longed to hear. Imagine if that was the case today: we’d have elite schools, available only to rich kids, preaching the word their parents dictate in order to ensure future administrators are all of a mind. We’d have the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer – how awful.
So back to democracy: is it the best for us today?
The answer is: it could be.
It could be if we pushed all the hucksters and bully pulpit orators, the sophists, into the backroom where they belong and let the proletariat express their opinions on topics various. This we can do. Through our wonderful Internet we can, and are, doing it. We have data processing on a massive scale. We have analytic algorithms writing their own scripts to further analyse our analyses. We just have to stop the blah, blah, poppycock of the sophists from filling our TV screens and bending our thought processes with their images of the cool, and the free, and the oh, so, happy. We just have to stop that silly spending to elect people who care not for we the people, but for themselves and what they can do to further their own agenda. If we don’t, if we don’t insist on integrity and honesty we’d best throw out the democratic process: didn’t FDR say that? Didn’t he say, ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to chose wisely?’
The current system is far too cumbersome anyway with the arcane paper and physical transport process. I mean really, pieces of paper marked with ticks and crosses to be folded into a slot then removed for a physical reading and selection. Dear me. It is before that process starts though, before all the hucksters go about ‘Getting Out the Vote,’ that the real damage is done. The real damage is done behind locked doors where the electoral candidates are trained and scripted before setting out on voyages of deceit and deception in which they lie about their commitment to family and religion and promise a fair and competent administration not hitherto seen.
The truth is the necessity for elections is no longer there. That is not to say we no longer need them: we probably do, at least for a period of adjustment. We no longer need to actually vote formally because we already vote informally. We already tell those who care to listen our preferences, prejudices, and ambitions through our blogs, reading habits, search criteria and purchases. Why, then, do we need go to rallies and queue for the privilege of voting? It makes no sense.
Before you dive for the keyboard to plead the case for the computer illiterate recall Winston Churchill’s observation: ‘The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.’ So when the argument is raised about the inability of those who are not computer literate to vote you have to wonder if they should. It doesn’t take away their right to vote any more than the inability to write. The requirement for a driving test doesn’t take away the right to be a motorist, but it does insure you know what you’re doing. If help is needed, be it physical, logistic, financial . . . voters have only to ask and a volunteer will bring a notepad to the door within a few million nanoseconds.
The introduction of online voting will be the first, radical, step into the world of the modern democratic process and will of course raise many questions and uncertainties. Will it reveal your vote and thus alienate your right to secrecy at the ballot box? Yes and no. No to those unable to hack and crack the encryption – say 98% of the populace. Yes to all those clever folks who can, and to the data miners that normally come in the form of interrogative algorithms. I don’t see the problem with that anymore than with electronic filing of taxes or online banking and brokering. If we are to have open government then surely open voting cannot be a handicap.
Within a short space of time the need for voting will fade as the majority view on many issues becomes readily available dynamically, as our shopping and reading habits are already. As I write social media, which has long since graduated from a ‘bit-of-fun’ for the less serious to an important monitor of current interests and values, is galloping ahead and is soon to be as integral an element of our lives as walking, talking and drinking tea . Twitter, facebook, Linkedin, Google . . . have all taken up their position and will, in all probability, coalesce into one or two global institutions fed by a plethora of specialist sites. National administrations have only to take up the mining tools developed by commercial interests to have ready access to current opinion and the needs of citizens. In this way democracy can graduate to socialism beloved of Karl Marx, and the voter choose as wisely as FDR would have wished.