“If people were to accept the existence of a government, then they must be the ones choosing it”. This simple idea became the foundation of democracy. Everything that we have today in the form of democratic systems is, built on this idea.
It was the idea of democracy, though subject to criticism and doubt from the beginning, that became the dominant idea behind formation and continuation of many governments in the East and West. Even when democracies showed multiple failures and fracturing, it continued to be advertized as the ultimate solution, particularly by Western nations. By virtue of national prosperity and international influence, democracy came to be seen as the final word in government. The philosophical examination of democracy was altogether forgotten for a very long time because, the the exercise seemed entirely meaningless. Situations, governments, society and times have changed, but the idea of democracy continues despite challenges. Has the idea been flawless, or has it been an utter failure? Well, like most of human endeavors, the results are less than perfect – an ongoing pursuit for equilibrium. A deep look at what governments have done in secret is enough for most to lose all faith in the very idea of big government. At that point of faithlessness, concern for the idea needed to form government is simply pointless.
The aspirations that many of us have as inspired by myth, religion, and philosophy of a “perfect life” is simply not realized; human government seems an obstacle, rather than the means to realize that aspiration. Governments continue to engage in activities of war and territorial disputes, while also trying to engage in trade as a means to keep bargaining for peace. By choosing to have a government, the people themselves choose the agent that limits freedom. One honestly wonders why such an idea of the perfect life is unreachable, is it an aspiration we should have, and whether there yet is something that would bring that fundamental change to human living. It would be wrong to attribute the failure to flawed governance when, in reality human society itself is unable to come together and create such an existence without a government. We don’t have a collection of such quality individuals.
One is likely to suppose that, a democratic government is the means to keep a society even ones large as a nation united. From the very beginning it is understood, the diversity in large society will be reason for ongoing discontentment. There is bound to be friction as expectations, ways of doing things, and aspirations continue to come against each other. At the very least, people hope that a democratically elected government stands to represent and act for the will of the people. Once the will of the people is expressed through the election of leaders, the chosen leaders can become fully involved in fulfilling their duties toward the people who elected them to office. For the functioning of society, the government would act in its capacity to fulfill all the duties that would uphold society. The people can then focus on all other pursuits that would bring them personal fulfillment, and also contribute to the improvement of society in general. After the democratic elections, it would normally have been supposed, people would no longer have to think about what the government is doing and how it is doing it. This ideal scenario has ceased to exist!
The philosophical examination of democracy was altogether forgotten for a very long time because, the the exercise seemed entirely meaningless.
Human discontentment and its expression
Yes, much can be said of human discontentment. So much of our discontentment arises because of pre-existing expectations. Where do those expectations come from? Do those come from within, or are there external factors responsible? It has to be said that conditioning due to specific information used by advertizers with specific interests plays a very large role in creating desires. Those advertizers work on behalf of cultures, corporations, and nations. [It is absolutely the case that, personal conviction and evidence of improvement is the greatest advertizement.] Selectively information is presented to the recipient to create a follower. Before a person develops the abilities needed to understand what is truly important in life, these advertizing influences have already had a deciding effect.
The disappointment that arises upon realizing how untruthful certain information has been regarding a culture, corporation, or nation cannot be expressed merely in words. As far as a corporation is concerned, one can judge it by the products or services it offers. However, a culture or a nation is different. Those ideas shape the kind of people who are part of it. And the way our information is set up by means of the Internet, the very worst examples have as much prominence (or even greater) as the very best examples. And the information of those examples will not stay limited within the nation or culture. It is bound to spread as far as the whole world. And it is then, that the glory of a culture or a nation is immediately destroyed. For those who, held to these ideas as the highest among humans, the very source of inspiration is threatened. There is discontentment because expectations were aroused through unrealistic advertizing of the culture or nation, and then those expectations could never be fulfilled.
If a person has knowledge of the utterly miserable state that many other humans continue to live in, and that knowledge arouses an empathetic concern, it is really not difficult to find reason for contentment. One might even find reason for self-sacrifice. Even if one does not have inclination, desire, or ability to practically assist such unfortunate ones, the knowledge should be enough to cultivate contentment. These things may sound strange during the “culture of criticism”, but these are necessary to balance out the spirit that has developed everywhere.
The course democracy has taken is, it has shifted from individuals to institutions and now the focus is once again shifting back to individuals. This has been largely due to the growth in size of governments as the communities they served and ruled over grew, later affected by the developments in social media on the Internet platform.
The idea of democracy today, cannot continue to function without its institutions. Democratic institutions divide the responsibilities and powers of a government among functioning branches. If it is the most important goal of a democratic government to function in the interest of those who have given it power, then those individuals who work in institutions will continue to show loyalty to them. Disloyalty to the institution would mean, obstructing the functioning of the institution, thereby weakening that particular branch of government. If different branches of government compete maliciously rather than cooperate, the failure of government is only a matter of time. At the same time, a healthy competition among the various branches of government in upholding vital principles like freedom, law, liberty, and equality is essential. This balance of cooperation and competition is simply a reality of human society, and hence it is so of democratic institutions and individuals. It also happens to be the very thing that gives democracy its peculiar nature.
As it happens, various institutions connect with each-other during the life of a democratic government. When one institution starts to falter, the others are pulled into the malfunction. A clear demarcation of responsibilities might have to be blurred during times of difficulty. An institution or the branch it is part of, might have to exceed its responsibilities during times of crisis. The “heavier” a faltering institution, the greater its impact on other surrounding, connected “bodies of duty”.
Democratic institutions divide the responsibilities and powers of a government among functioning bodies.
The trend started at some point during the rise of political extremism and each such occasion when, speed of decision-making in the interest of national movement became the most significant consideration. Democracy transformed into an ugly monster, as powerful leaders took control, and power quickly was concentrated into an individual rather than institutions of democracy. The nature of democracy was altered by the rise of popular movements. Yes, the competition among nations as during times of war made it seem necessary that, an individual would have the ability to make a quicker decision. Those quicker decisions taken over by single-mindedness and ambition of the leader, led to inevitable damage at a faster pace. The foolishness of such thinking has been demonstrated over and over, but when it happens on the scale of nations with millions or billions of people, it is utterly insulting to human intelligence.
Governments today have grown more powerful than at any other time in human history. The physical territory of a nation is not the measure anymore. There obviously are many other spheres of influence and alliances, especially technologically and in trade that cross national borders many times over. Disruptions in government function of even a small country can affect the global power structure; and the power distribution is by no means balanced. The news travels fast. Cultural sympathies also transcend national borders. The result is, societies are more fragmented than ever before, but there is the framework in place to overcome those differences. Cultural integration is the greatest challenge of our time, and perhaps this is the last great goal of governments around the world. If governments try to quash cultural longings, it will meet with violent discontentment and retaliation. This is happening everyday, and it is showing no signs of stopping in the immediate future!
Cultural integration is the greatest challenge of our time, and perhaps this is the last great goal of governments around the world.
Social networks and independent media channels have become platforms for voicing discontentment of a personal and public nature. In the massive volume of frivolity and less-than-deep thought, there are also expressions that are heartfelt and poignant. It is not necessarily by public support one can judge this, but the avenue remains open. The permanent nature of the Internet could allow the pickup of even an old expression and make it rise to be noticed at a later time! Therefore, timing is very important. The timing though, would be meaningless if there is no expression.
A sense of personal responsibility is so desirable with the great freedom of expression. Ones who have the power and the realization of their power, would show wisdom is personally recognizing the responsibility. When times of difficulty should come, yes, freedom is the very thing that is endangered. In the eyes of justice, the one who honored his responsibility in expressing would be most worthy of the freedom to express, even in times when that freedom is endangered at a social level.
The slowness of institutions, and their impersonal nature
In the era of speedy communication, it is somehow imagined that decisions, actions, and results must also come forth at great speed. This can only be partially good in the realm of human activity. Even a person at the individual level is to be admired more for taking the time to make a stable decision, rather than making a number of decisions in a short period of time that leave confusion and malfunction at the end of it! This happens more routinely now, as the focus has shifted from institutions to individuals; it is perceived of as a protection.
People finally know who is the wizard of Oz, the one who sits behind the curtain of institutions. People want to be and have opportunity to be very familiar with the President, the Chancellor, or the Prime Minister. They know the ones making decisions on finance and on defense. The glory and grandeur of Oz disappeared, at least from the minds, once the wizard was discovered by Dorothy and friends. Oz was still beautiful and grand, but the wizard seemed out of place! The disappointment can make one forget the journey, the city, and where one seeks to be; but the disappointment should not linger. When focus is regained, work can resume.
Oz was still beautiful, but the wizard seemed out of place!
The simple fact that needs to be admitted is this: no grand institution will show personal attention or feeling to an individual or the collective. Institutions are ideas, and they are often the embodiment of rules and principles for purpose of execution. They are meant to be impersonal, so that the persons who work within them can maintain power. That power of office is maintained by keeping a distance from the governed. What has happened is, the distance is finished by the Internet. While the institutions still remain, the persons in power can no longer maintain distance. With the end of distance, their power (as preserved in anonymity or in image) is reduced to nothing.
The desirable thing is, the permanence of institutions because, people occupying positions of power are bound to change. The determination to bring down institutions out of a sense of frustration impels many short-sighted ones to criticize with a relentlessness, the one in power. If they should succeed, the nature of democracy itself threatens its institutions in the modern times. As soon as a person occupying a position is replaced, fresh criticism is bound to arise for the new person. The end result is, a new wave of opposition will start. When wave after wave of opposition will attack an institution, the institution will start to falter. Also, very few people will have the courage remaining to aspire for power or responsibility.
When wave after wave of opposition will attack an institution, the institution will start to falter.
The very force that makes democracy possible – the people – is now the test of democracy. The discontented, unhappy, apprehensive state of the public as expressed through social media presents now unending challenges to the democratic institutions. The institutions themselves are now irreversibly given the personality of the person (or persons) occupying the office. It is no wonder then, the power of such person(s) is now seen as the greatest test of worthiness, and other character qualities are relegated to less important places.
Despite of all this, institutions can maintain their existence by slowing down the speed at which changes are taking place. They would be accused of inefficiency, but democracy would continue. Yes, the institution itself may legitimately need reform, and that cannot be purely a reaction to the public opinion. At the same time, with understanding of prevailing trends of public opinion, those in positions of power, where it may be suitable, can take those into consideration. It couldn’t realistically define day-to-day institutional operations, but it could be employed to have a meaningful effect when bringing needed, long-term reform to the institutions of democracy.
The speed of individuals, and their corruption by power
It would seem understandable at the level of common sense that, power and speed is not a good combination. At the same time, the reality of their coexistence cannot be denied. Power has once again become concentrated in the hands of a few leaders. In governments around the world, the rise of individuals to power and their brief existence in the favorable light of democracy is a repeated phenomenon. Where governments have already transformed into authoritarian, public favor has become nearly irrelevant or meaningless; the concentration of power and its abuse is a repeat of what history has proven over and over again.
Criticism of those same leaders has also escalated to levels that exceed any person’s ability for rational response. In the present scenario, it is clear to see that much criticism is not motivated by seriousness, reason, or a motive to seek improvement in that particular leader. It is simply being offered because there is the opportunity and freedom to do so! Due to this ongoing situation, no leader could seriously consider the feedback he receives. It does however show the failure of the idea of democracy. The same people who express their opinions without a corresponding sense of responsibility also have the democratic power to elect leaders. Yes, those same people are entirely capable of ruining the future of a democratic government by their inability to consider the implications of their actions.
No human leader is capable of processing the floods of information, identify what is meaningful, and then use that information acquired through selectivity to make a good decision in a short period of time. Yet, if there isn’t the immediate satisfaction of the demands of the people, it is quickly seen as a failure of the leader! Once again, it is prudent to remember that the expectations of people have undergone tremendous changes due to the information available on the Internet. The same Internet, instead of becoming the means to educate people towards improvement has become the basis for voicing constant complaints. No government action meets with acceptance, and people are far quicker to condemn than they are to commend. Yes, understanding continues to be lacking.
The balance through responsibility of individual toward institution
It is bound to happen that, when individuals rise to a disproportionate prominence and overshadow the institution they work for, any misdeed on the part of the individual will be seen as an institutional failure. This is coming to the notice of the public more often not. There simply isn’t an individual who is above flaws. The problem surely arises when, people forget that an individual is only a representative of the institution; that too, only part of the time. The rest of the time he or she is simply a person with different roles like everyone else!
For the purpose of example, it is possible to see the errors that routinely show up of those in public office as on Twitter. It is so easily a subject of poor journalism and a reason for public ridicule. In the flow of ridicule, opinions, and poor journalism everything gets mixed in together and nothing stands out as powerful and dignified. Thus far, the unmistakable conclusion seen from the reaction of the public is: “all matters lose dignity when thrown into the realm of social media.” It could be directly attributable to the fact that, there is an utter lack of accountability for what people are allowed to say. But even where there is a possible accountability, there is no penalty. There has been an emboldening and a lack of respect, for the individuals and the institutions. It appears irreversible!
Thus far, the unmistakable conclusion seen from the reaction of the public is: “all matters lose dignity when thrown into the realm of social media.”
Even though public education and reform is desired, it is simply not within the realm of possibility. And who will take the lead? Who will be a role model? The patience and balance required to understand matters in their context is simply missing. Even where there is the willingness, the ever-increasing volume of unfiltered, disorganized information is too much for the average human mind. It is simply not possible for billions of working people to take time to analyze and understand matters of great significance. For that, people always trusted professional in various fields. As far as a democratic government is concerned, people had to rely on those in political office. What is happening now after great frustration and revealing of hidden information is, people don’t want to look to institutions. They want to have direct access to the powerful people – those who have been given their power – and then they misuse power against the very ones who empower them!
If the very purpose for the existence of an institution can be legitimately questioned, then no individual could rightly support it in good conscience. Such a black-and-white, clear view of the illegitimacy of an institution does come about, but the perversion of it usually develops over a long period of time. If there is an institution that clearly stands to bring destruction and ruin, it is hard to even get started. There must be some extraordinary reasons for such an institution to start, to continue, and to gain support. Again, this is where it gets murky. Still, it is easier to scrutinize what an institution stands for than it is, to go by every statement of an individual and try to make a definite judgment or prediction. This too, is happening at an alarming level in the age of social media. The people in power, who would have remained hidden from the public eyes, are regularly expressing on matters that have nothing to do with the institution they work for.
Still, it is easier to scrutinize what an institution stands for than it is, to go by every statement of an individual and try to make a definite judgment or prediction.
Can a few individuals determine the future of mankind?
This is the question that democracy is seeking to answer. Through the chosen leaders of nations, can it be expected that they would prove capable of answering the calls of billions upon billions of people. This has always been the danger of shifting away from institutions to individuals. People can still believe that an institution where, many people work together can work as a whole to answer the questions of communities and nations. However, it is simply impossible for individuals to be given power over nations, the responsibilities of which they cannot carry even if they wanted. The question over the legitimacy of a President, a Prime Minister, or a Chancellor might rightly be raised in the future. The amount of power concentrated in these individuals is far out of proportion to what they can actually control and do good with.
In every case, be it a nation or a corporation or a religion, when the focus singularly falls upon the individual in leadership capacity, it threatens the functioning of the entire institution. No single human is seen as worthy enough to be the leader over such large groups of people. When that realization enters the mind of the people and takes abode, the demise of democracy has already started! By discrediting the individual who holds position of power, the entire institution of democracy is discredited. This will continue to happen as long people have the power to do so. Traditional democracy will not survive in its ancient form, because there is no actual, lasting transfer of power. People will keep taking account of the individuals who are empowered, keep showing discontentment, keep challenging the leader. This way religions and corporations continue to survive because those are not based on democratic ideas, but governments based on the idea of democracy will be weakened. Once again, the reason is: Transfer of power has changed into ongoing process instead of having a finality.
Unless institutions themselves do not serve to protect the individuals who hold positions of leadership, and leaders do not have the vested power to perform duties as they used to, the crisis of democracy will continue until no individual would remain to even wish having the powers of a leader. Also, the desire to serve the people will die away as the constant dissatisfaction of some people continue to find a voice that reaches directly to the heads of institutions. Democracy today is under threat of rotting from the head, from the very top, and the collapse will reach down. This is the crisis, that democracy foresaw, but never in the way it is happening now in the age of Internet connectivity.
- Individualism and the challenges to democracy: uncertainties in the hands of men
- Crisis of democracy – the simultaneous rise of individualism and populism through the agency of the Internet
- Crisis of democracy – social decline through politicization, and insistence on freedoms and rights