Decent Democracy
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First published June-2010
last update 27-July-2010

To preserve life and humanity will require an organized effort, to one degree or another, between those that share this intention.

Our broad choice of organization is between democracy, where everyone is encouraged to participate in the decision making, and dictatorship, where a small group attempt to make the decisions for everyone.

Defence of Democracy

Though there are plenty of theories about how some form of dictatorship would be very efficient, these theories can only ever work in the imagination.

In practice all “social control” theories must propose that A. the majority of people cannot be trusted to make decisions, B. therefore they must be controlled and C. by a theory about how to manipulate them (for their own good). Without these propositions it is impossible to argue in favour of dictatorship.

But, any such theory, no matter how it is construed, must always hinge on a selection of a minority of “trustable” people, call them the "guardians", who understand ABC and can be entrusted to carry out the theory. However, can this ever be achieved?

It is crucial to ask this question before even considering the details of the theory, i.e. what responsibilities the guardians would have, how they would maintain control, and what other jobs would exist to maintain society. For, if no trustworthy guardians could ever be selected, what they, and everyone else, are supposed to do is completely irrelevant.

In order to choose our guardians we can either select at random or with some criteria and process.

Given that in order to justify the need for guardians we must presume the majority of people are untrustworthy, we cannot select at random, as the likely result would be more untrustworthy people than trustworthy ones. [1]

So, if we cannot select at random, we must select based on some criteria and process designed to identify the trustworthy minority among the untrustworthy majority. However, with little elaboration we must conclude that this is impossible. For, whatever the criteria and process might be, its success must invariably depend on the selection of still yet another group of trustworthy people to carry out the selection, and decide who the deciders will be. But for this “deciding the deciders group” we arrive at the same impasse as for the guardians to begin with, requiring yet another group to decide who these deciders of the deciders will be, but we encounter yet again the same problem for this group, and so on indefinitely.

We are obliged to conclude that a society that is on the whole untrustworthy can never select from among itself a cast of trustworthy people to govern it. And so any society that chooses to invest the majority of power in a few, must always find itself ruled by corrupt and/or incompetent people, until either this ruling cast destroys society or the majority decide upon and achieved another organizational structure, regardless of the opinions of the present rulers. [2].



The only way out of this impasse is to assume that society is in general trustworthy.

Now, this does not prove society is in fact trustworthy. However, just as I, likewise, cannot prove to myself that my own senses and reasoning is trustworthy — since if my reasoning and senses are flawed they are as likely to conclude they are sound as not, and so I simply must trust myself on the whole to make any decision at all — to live within society and strive for any coherent social action at all requires a basic trust in society as a whole. [5]

Though again, this does not mean every single person, institution, or proposal can be trusted, or even usually trustworthy people trusted all the time in everything, [6], it means decisions can be made without impasse, from the everyday risk of walking past someone without assuming they wills attack me, to participating in discussions and spreading ideas under the assumption that the best will be retained and used more often than not for good rather than evil, to the idea that everyone should be able to participate in the decisions concerning society.

However, though there is no functional alternative to corrupt despotism, practising democracy is far from simple, made all the more difficult by centralization. For, with the centralization of power, the decision process is far easier to manipulate and far harder for the average person to participate in; since people are far from the decision making process, they can at best be represented by a few representatives; but, when so few are selected to make decisions and their decisions so difficult to observe, we must be in constant vigilance for either the infiltration of untrustworthy people, whom we may assume will be drawn to centralized power as flies to a light, as well as the corruption of previously trustworthy people – and in either case they can often easily modify the centralized political process to remove democracy. [7]

But, regardless of whether centralized democracy could work and whether existing centralized democracies actually are democratic (or to what degree), if democracy were to be decentralized it would likely function far better, as people would be in more immediate contact with who they are deciding with and what they are deciding upon. Considering also that centralization is at the heart of most if not all of our environmental and social problems, as discussed in Vol 1, decentralizing economically would allow a significant reduction in environmental destruction as well as allow a decentralized democracy to flourish.

But to decentralize politically would be difficult to achieve through a centralized government and economic system. Though centralized structures should not be ignored and should be encouraged to support good decisions, and though the idea of centralized government may be at odds with decentralization, we should not presume everyone within centralized government values the power of their institution over the survival of humanity and life as we know it. Nor should these structures be simply eliminated as even in a decentralized society, where the great majority of goods and decisions are made locally, there will still exist some issues that can only be solved through a centralized body – such as watching over nuclear waste and like matters. The important ingredient in a decentralized democracy is that any centralized institution is not more powerful than the local communities that constitute it and allow it to exist in the first place (that any centralized institution can be dissolved at any moment by the communities that support it, without any difficulty or practical means of resistance from the centralized institution in question). And though in some situations physically modifying the centralized economic structures out of decentralized consent may be necessary, every effort should be made to avoid conflict, and if regime change is necessary to depose a tyranny then only the social and material structures of tyranny be destroyed without the intent to kill anyone. For a tyrant, without a social fabric conditioned to carry out their wishes, is only a fool.

But for local political bodies to take on more responsibility, such as for food, energy, and living arrangement, requires autonomy in these areas. For, if a community depends on a centralized economic process for vital needs, then the community must abdicate political responsibility to an equally centralized political body that can manage these processes, and forthwith be at the mercy of them insofar as this is the case.


[1Even if we were lucky and randomly selected a few trustworthy people, these people will at some moment die and so eventually they will either make a mistake in selecting trustworthy people to replace them or somewhere along the line a replacement will die before being able to select a trustworthy replacement in-turn — Not to mention that a trustworthy person may at any time spontaneously turn to unstrustiness or that we can’t trust anyone to carry out a random selection in the first place, encountering the same problem as any other selection method, dealt with below (if we decide upon a die, we can’t trust the makers of and casters of the die, if we decide upon a computer we can’t trust the builders or the operators of the computer, etc..).

[2Though we must note that any ounce of tyranny inherent in a new government will eventually lead to the same result, if nothing is done to remove it, as corruption begets corruption.

[3And indeed, though this conclusion need no further support, we can note that it is abundantly confirmed by history, wherein every tyranny has been characterized by corrupt and incompetent, if not insane, leaders and bureaucrats, and have tended to collapse, both in terms of the duration of the political system and the degree of social disorder caused thereby, proportional to the degree of tyranny inherent in the organizational system (e.i. a political system that has some democratic components within an overall despotic structure, can more easily maintain a certain level or organization and more quickly reorganize itself, than a political system with a despotic organization on every level of society, wherein the work to reorganize is total rather than partial, for wisdom begets wisdom.).

[4Now, though society as a whole could not select the precious trustworthy members, it may be that a specific person might simply have an innate sense that they are trustworthy and competent while the great many are not. Though we might first observe that such a person could never actually be sure whether they can trust themselves or that they are in fact among the untrustworthy and as such it is their faulty reasoning that has led them to conclude otherwise; indeed, if the great majority are untrustworthy the latter case is far more likely. But nevertheless such a person could simply cling to their innate sense that they are trustworthy and competent while most others are not; indeed, we could not trust them to do otherwise. So, for the sake of argument, let us suppose they really are superior and have this innate knowledge. We might at first think we are fortunate that at least one person knows who can be trusted, themselves rather than nobody, but in the end it is of little use as allowing anyone to simply declare themselves ruler based on an innate sense of superiority is likely to solicit a many untrustworthy people seeking to take advantage of the position; so we arrive at the same situation as the previous argument that society could not distinguish between the two groups, if people on a whole are untrustworthy.

[5However, just as I can doubt whether any specific reasoning or observation is true without needing to doubt that the whole of my reasoning and observation is sound, and so this basic faith in my mind and senses cannot directly be transferred to a faith in any particular sense or thought, my basic faith in society does not translate directly into a trust in every single person or proposition all of the time. But, just as despite being able to doubt any specific thought, I can nevertheless make decisions based an a general faith in my thinking and senses, such as that I am alive surrounded by objects and people and I must drink and eat to survive (rather than assume all this is an allusion and anything I might conclude about this allusion is false), a basic faith in society allows me to interact with society. I have no proof society can be trusted, other than that if I grant myself a basic trust in reasoning it would be hypocritical to not grant this same basic trust for others, but I do know there would be no hope for society if it could not be trusted and so if humanity should not be destroyed, and I cannot wish this without wishing my own annihilation, then a basic trust in society is the only hope.

[6Nor even must we assume that the whole society may not error on the whole some of the time and the difficult decision made to attempt to stop the madness for those that can see it. Though we should note that no propaganda has ever succeeded in convincing people that they are full when they are hungry.

[7Though representative democracy is fragile, it is not logically impossible to function as we saw with a tyrranical system, since we are not assuming the majority of people are corrupt we not need conclude the democratic process will inherently be corrupt; i.e. if the people that count the votes are selected at random the odds are more trustworthy people will be selected than not. Though over time random selection may be approximated in such a system, it is far from incorruptible, and we shall see in Vol 2. that community based democracy far less corruptible than centralized representative democracy.

Written by Eerik Wissenz.

2 Forum posts

  • Democracy 12 April 2011 12:55

    (rather than assume all this is an illusion and anything I might conclude about this illusion is false)

    repondre message

  • Democracy 5 September 2011 11:19, by Michael FIG

    Can decentralized democracy support anonymity? How do we count "votes" without knowing for certain that somebody may pretend to be multiple?

    repondre message

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