It is easier to answer the question, what is democracy as compared to why is democracy. Yes, why is democracy favored and touted as the ideal principle for governance, even though its failure was anticipated right from the time of Plato. As it is practically impossible for all the people to get together and make a decision on the subject of governance, the leaders at the time a nation has its beginning are the ones responsible for making the decision about what form of government will take the nation forward. The empowerment of individuals led to the natural consequence of growth and popularizing of the idea of democracy, but it also would be the very reason for the weakening of visible aspects of government. The society that is governed by democracy is itself a victim of the idea[1,2], and so is the government that has emerged out of that society.
Apart from the exceptional example of India in recent times in winning independence through the idea of nonviolence, other countries have had outright wars against foreign powers and internal revolutions. It is easy to see why, government was never looked upon then, as a friend or servant of the people. Government came to be seen as the agency of making war, and the power that rules over the people with authority. Once again, democracy sounds like an enlightened thought when self-rule and self-determination by the people is a possibility to the people. In its less glorious interpretation of reality, democracy has manifested itself as a mob-rule – a tyranny of the majority.
Human government is felt to be a displeasing idea, sometimes called a necessary evil. If not openly, then at least secretly, any person would resent the idea of having one or more humans have authority over himself. Even if the merit or right of the one in power is established beyond doubt, still government is felt as undesirable. The idea of government always seems to conflict with the idea of freedom, and human immaturity seldom allows for an inner drive to emphasize responsibilities. Even on the level of nations, there were countries that were under the oppressive rule of some foreign power, in the form of colonies of imperialist powers. In time they won their independence, and along with it, the right to form their own democratic government. Even with such establishment of national sovereignty and self-determination, the idea started to falter with time. Why? It is the inherent flaw of humans in a society, shown to be so through the exercise of democracy.
The idea of government always seems to conflict with the idea of freedom, and human immaturity seldom allows for an inner drive to emphasize responsibilities.
There is a fundamental change in understanding of the reason for human living. With the advancement of diverse information, the minds of men have not become broadened. Rather, ways of thinking have become narrower and extreme, for there is no human mind that can swallow the entire diversity of humanity. As an almost instinctive response, more and more are adopting the understanding that one’s personal comforts and survival take precedence over everything else, including the idea of government. We are also beginning to realize, there is a limit to sustainable social diversity. Beyond a point, if the same society has too much variance of ideas and pursuits, the social disintegration is only a matter of time.
The entry of politics in the life of the common people
An obvious effect of the Internet and interaction of the leadership with the common people is, politicization of thought. The politicization of thought has coincided with the idea of the democratization of knowledge. The development of politics is a simultaneous reality of democracy. In the linked article, the following observation was made:
Politics unfailingly emerges in democratic setups because, human beings compete for power and then they stoop to using unfair means for supremacy even if it corrupts the entire system. When that has happened, merit is no longer the consequential factor in who becomes leader.
The fact is, politics has entered in realms of human living where it should not have, and it should also not have been such a part of democratic governments. Politics makes it so that, people have to choose their words and actions to suit their intent to gain favor, because favor is the means to gain power in democracy. Democracy only gives the impression of neutrality, just like the Internet seemed to be a neutral platform. An understanding and appreciation of the link between the power of the Internet and present-day governments is a must. The reality has always been that, algorithms and clever design have served to facilitate certain kinds of thinking or certain news to gain precedence. This has not been due to merit of the ideas, but the underlying intent of the designers of Internet based platforms of sharing ideas. Despite such an opportunity as the Internet provided for all people to express their ideas, it became a competition to rank higher on search engines and to become more popular on social networks. For this reason, people have spent skill and time to acquire technical understanding of how to stand above the competition at the expense of paying attention to the actual quality of thought. Winning against the competition has become more important than standing for what one believes in.
The question arises, are there “algorithms” or software that are also manipulating society? The answer is, yes! These have been in place for a very long time. Religion, culture, education, and language – sets of information and tools of interpretation – are important software that control entire societies, or sections of societies. In this age of democratization of information and of government, we are confronted by the reality of co-existing, irreconcilable differences in society. The inherent flaw of democracy is, pushing forth power by numbers; but in the realm of ideas where freedom of will, belief, and expression are important factors, democracy crumbles even faster than it does in governance. Politics – the art of speaking and acting suitably – is only holding society together superficially!
Politics – the art of speaking and acting suitably – is only holding society together superficially!
The ability to express convictions in opposites
The way society has transformed along with the evolution of the Internet, we today find ourselves in a time when we are confronted every day by opposite sets of information. These opposites could be representative of entire systems of thought, or they could be addressing specific ideas. How dear those ideas or systems of thought are to us is challenged by the information on the Internet, but it is also determined by how one reacts to this information.
We have come to see certain predictable outcomes brought on by this phenomenon of the coming together of polarized sets of contradictory information:
- Development of an attitude of not caring at all. This is possibly out of tiredness, or simply having reached the conclusion that there is simply no end to the efforts of one who seeks to establish the final argument to end all discussion on a subject of importance. There is a presence of wisdom in admitting this eventuality because, some people are bound to realize that arguments and debates are rarely sustained by a pure pursuit of truth. Rather, as it is often on social networks, there are underlying objectives and motivations of utterly ignoble kinds. Since, there are people who have understood that nothing of lasting worth is to be achieved through these discussions and debates, their personal conclusion – sad to say – is, one shouldn’t care at all. The defeat of the human spirit through development of apathy and hopelessness, seen most in the youngest generations is giving rise to self-destructive behaviors and actions.
- Development of the fighting attitude. A combative frame of mind too can develop out of frustration. Not everyone is willing to give into apathy; some are disposed to fight the information. The reasons can be deeply personal, but fear of loss of identity can be a strong reason. A sense of insecurity is very much a reason why, a person decides to take up the fight against certain sets of information, systems of thought, or against a specific idea. It is understandable that, not only cultures and communities but also individuals identify with specific information. Any connection with the Internet, directly or indirectly will bring that information with what contradicts it. The Internet is the tool of challenging beliefs.
- The attitude of supporting different things at different times, while keeping personal objectives out of the purview of discussion or debate. This is possible only when, a person is in a real or imagined place of security. It might possibly be someone who, is in a position of leadership. Such a person is not threatened, because he or she has found themselves in a place where the opinions of others will not have an effect on their personal aspirations. It could also apply to a person who has understood the power of politicization. In the human realm of engagement, a person could continue pretending to support one idea while working for something entirely different. Isn’t this deception? Isn’t this hypocrisy? Isn’t this duplicity? Yes, it is. The Internet is also a powerful tool against such, but so often this powerful tool is misused by comparing specific ideas from different times, conditions, and contexts. What ends up happening is, the tool that can serve to expose dishonesty is itself used dishonestly to create diversions, and entrapping those who are obsessed with details!
The Internet is the tool of challenging beliefs.
We are therefore seeing the emergence of the kind of people who, at a given time are able to express conviction in a particular thought and then also express conviction in the thought opposite to their earlier stand. They are shifty in speech, but firm in objective. The compartmentalization of the human mind is seen most evidently when, the human capability to separate the following of an idea or resisting of an idea comes to the fore on the basis of what one knows to be advantageous or disadvantageous. The very man who is cold-blooded in killing others could be deeply loving toward he considers his own, and the entire distinction exists based on certain beliefs.
In these times, the relationship between a person’s objectives and his beliefs is also significantly noticeable. It would typically be assumed that, a person seeks those objectives which coincide with his or her own beliefs. If a person believes in peace, why would he be seeking knowledge on how to build and use weapons? If a person believes in making the earth green, why would he be seeking knowledge about mining and excavation? However, we do see all kinds of knowledge available to people, and the very accessing of certain kinds of information with ease has an effect on individuals and society. With greater frequency, the issue of such open availability of information is being considered for its detrimental effect on society. Despite so much opportunity, the tendency of humans to go toward what is harmful repeatedly comes to the fore. It was perhaps never considered seriously enough. While the tendency for bad is getting nurtured, many have learnt to pretend to be virtuous while others no longer see any sense in pretending.
Preserving the humanity and personality of a democracy by focusing on individual leaders, rather than on institutions
In an earlier consideration, the point was made about how democracy is sustained not by individuals but by its offices and institutions. Individuals of different caliber and personalities would come and go, but those offices and institutions must remain in order for democracy itself to continue. Of course, there is a flipside to this truth. The way it is possible by means of the Internet to have personal and direct access to the individual office-holders, people under a democratic form of government stay in closer touch to the election process and how the early campaign promises are carried out.
The making of decisions, implementation of decisions, but most importantly the evaluation of the performance of the government have been altered by the Internet. While the Internet is obviously a useful tool for keeping a line of contact between the masses and the governing leaders, it is not always advantageous. Yes, it lowers the dignity of the elected leaders and their office after the exposure they receive endlessly. So much care and effort was invested in maintaining the image of leaders and in preserving the dignity of the office they held, but that is simply lost now. That glory cannot be regained, regardless of effort. This has affected democracy is an unforeseen way.
A lot of the common people showed great confidence in the messages coming from the democratic institutions because, seldom did they have opportunity to have even a glimpse of the leaders. It was carefully presented to the people through select means of television or the radio. The government understood very early on, the need to control media and use it for propaganda. The growth and evolution of the Internet changed that. Not only did it change the leadership’s nature, it also changed what government stood for in the minds of the people. For those who saw government as an expression of the divine arrangement, or saw government as the highest form of institution made by humans (especially, as in the case of democracy) the disillusionment that comes from seeing the failings of leaders is a very serious blow. The great disillusionment is when, a person realizes that those who are right before our eyes are capable of so much blatant lying even to the ones who chose them! This collective social disappointment and the blowback from that is, the existential crisis of democracy.
It has to be admitted that, those seeing a government as expression of the divine arrangement are fast turning into the minority. The intent behind forming a democratic government is, to keep as much of the human element as possible into the institution that is regarded widely as a “necessary evil”. There is a fundamental difference in character of an individual and of a government. Even if, the entire power of government is vested in one individual, the power itself and the ability to punish wrongdoing by virtue of the vested authority will change the nature of that individual. Should the power of government be spread among many leaders, the empowerment will change the character of the individual leaders. It is simply not possible to have government, and it not affect the nature of individual leaders and the people over whom it is given power. The question has to be asked: Is the empowerment of an individual always the way to corruption?
A symbol of, and an actual manifestation of the empowerment of an individual in the man-made world is, when a person is given a leadership position of an institution. Institutions are impersonal. The people in those institutions must also become impersonal. If they do not, then it would become almost impossible to carry out the functions of leadership. The combination of superhuman powers and a very human bonding with the people is the most rare trait, and a very desirable trait. When kindness and humility exists in powerful leaders, this becomes possible. It will however seem very misplaced, very quickly. Once again, it is the Internet and in particular the role of social networking that is responsible.
The two-way interaction between the common people and the leaders brings a crisis of traditional democracy. It has to be admitted that, such ongoing interaction is more easily possible during peaceful times. However, as soon as there is a threat to the security, the nature of government can change. It happens on a very personal, individual level, and it most certainly happens on an institutional level. There is an existing danger of being deceived where, neither the people understand the true nature of their leaders and nor do the leaders understand the true nature of their people. In this, we see the greatest evidence of humanity’s true nature. The role of a person will change their thinking and their nature. The clear definition and scope of roles are changing, government is changing, society is changing, and with it all of humanity is changing. With the passage of time, these interactions will not mean what people assume them to mean. Governments will act to keep their own power. If they do not, and societies where democratic governments exist are able to take power back, it will unleash lawlessness. To keep their legitimate position, governments will resort to doing what they must to show that they are still valid, needed, and as permanent as the nation – a show of power in war and crushing revolt!
It is simply not possible to have government, and it not affect the nature of individual leaders and the people over whom it is given power.
When leaders themselves question the ability of the people to make democratic judgments on governance
The overall polarization of society is most easily seen even in the opinions expressed on social networking. What percentage of those are serious expressions is impossible to say. However, if social media (considered an expression of democracy) is an accurate expression and measure of where society actually stands today, then it is easy for those in leadership positions to see how fragmented the human society has become even in small, local communities. The polarized society shows how individuals and small groups could be set in their minds, but the overall society continues acting as one under a government; this despite the fact that, it is deeply fragmented and not uniform in its decisions. During such a time, if a leader were to base his or her decisions by getting a feel of what a society wants, it would simply not be possible. Therefore, it seems all the more plausible that leaders do engage with the general public but make decisions with a definite set of beliefs and objectives.
The case of Brexit and its implications for the UK and the EU is a significant example of what democracy can become if, a decision is opened up to the public. Even societies can be unpredictable, are subject to certain sets of information, and cannot be relied upon to take the place of elected leaders for decisions of long-term consequences. The entire exercise is affected by and connected with a number of factors. One lesson that can be learnt is: Democracies over large populations of diverse people cannot be as specific in decisions as, what the Internet makes possible for people in terms of expressing their opinions. The distance between ability to express and expect compared with the reality of decisions and implementations is widening all the time. At some point, freedoms and rights will have to be curtailed for the government to do its work. The alternative is, to lessen the role of the government and reduce its powers thereby letting societies manage their affairs as they see fit.
We find ourselves in a situation where, people most certainly do not trust their governments and governments can see the people gaining power against the establishments. Every once in awhile, a voice arises out of the general population that threatens a specific leader or even the very basic idea of leadership. This happens when the incompetence of the leaders – elected or otherwise – is made plainly manifest before all. It is quite natural for people to keep comparing the ideas, policies, decisions, words, and actions too of the common people with those who have become leaders. Against the common voice, any leader could appear small. The right idea is to become a representative of the common voice, but that too is unusually fragmented after a point. People agree, for example, on the general concepts of a clean, corruption-free, honest society. However, when the execution of specific plans starts to happen, resistance and discontent immediately surfaces. Also, when an individual is personally affected by the changes, that is when the true meaning of a change made by the government starts to become clear. Seeing how fickle society can be in the face of changes and also showing resistance to changes that require sacrifice asked by the government, it becomes clear to any leader after the passage of time that, people cannot be empowered to have a constant say of interference in the workings of a government. Especially is this true of a democracy.
Democracies over large populations of diverse people cannot be as specific in decisions as, what the Internet makes possible for people in terms of expressing their opinions.
How the insistence on rights and freedoms will weaken government and critically endanger democracy
The self-admission of the people to have oversight and a body of leaders to ensure law and order in society is, the very basis of a democratic government. Having a democratic government is like making the admission that, humans are incapable of living together in society without oversight. It is an admission that humans are not naturally inclined to honor the rights and freedoms of others, and nor will they be inclined to carry out their own responsibilities. So there needs to be a government which will look after these aspects of the collective human living. By the time democracy has become the basic idea for government, humans have made the admission that human society cannot exist successfully without government.
After the formation of a democratic government, the greatest concern of such a government should be to prevent social degradation because, democracy is a reflection of the quality of a society. Social degradation will reflect through society, and a time would necessarily come when it will reflect in the chosen leaders of that society. The very failure of the shaping power of the Internet lies in the fact that, it is all-inclusive. The inclusive nature of creation, sharing, and responding to information on the Internet makes it affect society in a way that degradation is inevitable. Why? It is so because, the nature of humans has collectively proven to insist toward decline. It is the few that stand apart in society and especially reach for moral excellence, but those few are always outnumbered. Nothing shows this more painfully than the democratic setup, be it in governance or in information.
Once distrust for the government and realization of the hidden agendas of government simultaneously take hold in the psyche of the common people, they would naturally want to assert their own rights and freedoms. This insistence in the modern times has become extremely self-centered. For this reason, the idea of rights and freedoms is also perverted. An excessively egocentric thinking that then, does not translate into social good has become very common. It is exhibited by those who have the power to do good, but choose not to. What is more, such ones appear to be happier while those who try to bring about social good and improvement are burdened by problems and issues that seem to have no remedy. So the wiser conclusion drawn by most people is: “One should have rights and freedoms, while not being burdened by responsibility toward society.” This self-centered pursuit for happiness then reflects in democratic decline because, social fragmentation at such a deeper level will deteriorate and then decimate society.
A special mention is worth making about the existing economic disparity. Human society has been very arbitrary in determining the worth of goods and services. Yes, one of the basic deterministic factors has been supply and demand, but the penetration of this idea too has not been pure and free from pre-existing social prejudices. While it is understood that, an economic value cannot be attached to so many aspects of human life – especially those connected with services – the shift in human thinking toward materialism is obvious. Another development of modern times along with materialism is, looking for utility of items and not just aesthetics, as though aesthetics have less of a value and place. While the subjectivity of aesthetics can be ascribed to the coming and going of trends, materialism is far deeper social change. The ability to acquire materials in greatly varied in society and this affects democracy in less than obvious, but very powerful ways. The most basic fact we are able to see is, individuals with material prosperity have a much more powerful voice in democratic setups, despite the aspiration for equality and social justice.
How deep is the fragmentation we are seeing today? Even to the level of the individual mind. Any mind exposed to limitlessly fragmented information without having the benefit of establishing credibility will be put in a state of confusion. To safeguard against such confusion, a deliberate and powerful exercise of personal rights and freedoms becomes necessary. This is in the interest of self-preservation. However, being in a society where all are disposed to such powerful exercise of personal rights and freedoms, coinciding with an utter lack of personal or social sense of responsibility will bring troublesome disunity. Yes, it brings individual and social disunity.
The social need of a philosophical renaissance and creation of a desirable society
It seems like there is a philosophical renaissance needing to happen, one that alters the relationship between government and the people. There never have been so many people together on this earth together at the same time as there are now. The great existing sense of hopelessness that people are experiencing today, especially the younger ones is, because of the perceived imminent failure of democratic governments. The relation between people and the government was always a difficult one; democracy, despite its limitations held out the greatest promise of peace between the people and the government. The distrust between both has grown tremendously in recent times. That is why, all this effort toward transparency. The politicization of thought has degraded society, as the degraded hypocrisy of those in leadership has transferred to the general population through revelation of hidden government actions, even where it did not need to be so.
When the general populations will show an awareness for the arts and creative pursuits – also having the freedom and opportunity for such – that is when, it will be lesser of a concern as to what the government is planning to do next. The opposite seems to be happening right now, as people constantly hear of the possibilities of the next war or the next atrocity coming their way. Governments are showing lesser interest in the arts of their people and more in the crafts of war. This is what the spending trends of governments – democratic and others – is showing around the world. What is more, the people are also showing a greater fascination with war and the possibility of war than a fascination with peace!
The true awakening of the people is in understanding what the real cost of war is and that, governments are the ones that start and engage in wars. The other part of awakening is understanding that, while masquerading as agents of peace and order, a government can simultaneously be preparing to assume a beast-like form and cause disruptions of the greatest magnitude possible to humans. This awakening has happened, but it is so far pushing people in the opposite direction. People, especially under democratic governments have become more engaged in politics, and less in using their freedoms and rights to pursue those things that lead to improvement of society. The improvement in society and the collective achievements of the people are the great deterrent for government to seek war because this is how the common people would have proved themselves to the leaders of the government.
As common people of society prove their collective worth, it would be the decisive inspiration for leadership to give single-minded priority to peace and social development.
It might seem like an obvious that, government leaders should see the people who gave them power to be worthy of benevolence and service. However, this is not so. Governments in democracies too have proven that, they are suspicious of their own people. This is why surveillance of one’s own citizens by governments AND corporations is such a contentious subject, especially when one remembers that the interpretation of whatever information is found on any citizen rests with the government. People accepted democracy with less than sufficient thought, but the underlying reason was a fundamental trust in one’s own government. People had to believe that the ones they elected to the institutions of government had reason for benevolence and a spirit of service. What people started to find in both these regards was, even democratic governments are very different in nature from what was originally perceived. For a leader to stand out as different was possible, but difficult in the entire setup that emphasized gaining, maintaining, and even abusing power.
A very simple conclusion that requires no scholarly research or analysis is, power changes individuals. This becomes particularly problematic in democracy because, the it is a system and ideology that survives on mutual trust. The breakdown of trust from the side of the common people or from the side of the leadership breaks down democracy, and then all subsequent actions are through power struggles. The Internet is the open playground of these power struggles, and it gets quite dirty. If it’s dirty in secret, it doesn’t remain so for long due to the Internet; and then, there is always the possibility of unwitting human error. The crisis of democracy is happening due to a convergence of several factors coming together from different directions, most of which exhibits failure at the human level of society. We are compelled to see the efficient, accelerated, mechanical dismantling of democracy while there is simply a less than enough struggle to keep things from falling apart.
- Individualism and the challenges to democracy: uncertainties in the hands of men
- How the Internet has changed leadership, its place, and its functioning
- Crisis of democracy – the simultaneous rise of individualism and populism through the agency of the Internet