Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Why Democracy Doesn't Work

Standing on the train station as a train pulled in, I watched everyone clustered round the door, everyone jostling for position, not even leaving enough room for anyone to get off. And I suddenly thought “that’s why the world’s in such a financial mess.” It’s every man for himself!

A human’s natural state is to be led, to be controlled. We need to follow a leader, to be told what to do. But we also have an inbuilt need to strive for freedom, a desire to be the leader ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we need freedom. That way lies anarchy, and anarchy doesn’t work, because as individuals we also have a drive for self-preservation, and a self-serving attitude gets in the way when you’re trying to do what’s best for your social group.

You can have too much freedom.

We may be human, but we’re not as unique as we would like to think we are. We’re still simians, and there are lots of other examples of simian society that give us a very good insight into our own natural drives. Look at Mountain Gorillas. Alpha male keeping a family group stable through a kind of benign dictatorship. Do gorillas have an individual drive for freedom? Of course they do. All the males are constantly working towards the time when they can challenge the silverback for leadership. Gorilla society works, as does Chimpanzee or Monkey society. But if you gave them the freedom that a lot of human social groups have, their society would very quickly fall apart.

Our problem is that we’ve mistaken a Desire for Freedom for a Right to Freedom, and that mistake has permeated the whole of Western Civilisation, to the extent that although we still appoint leaders, we no longer allow them to do anything we don’t want them to. Effectively we have removed the decision-making process from the Silverback and placed it in the hands of the rest of the troop. The power now resides with those lower down the pecking order, individuals who would not normally have such power, are unprepared for it, and ill-equipped to deal with it.

On a human level, why invest decision-making power in the hands of people who may have no understanding of the situation that requires the decision? Calling for a Referendum on some political issue for example, when the majority of people who will be voting in the referendum do not understand the issue they’re voting on. Look at the Iraq issue. Remember the Gulf War, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Western military waded in? Iraq surrendered, and everyone pulled out. What did everyone in the West say? “They had him on the ropes, they should have finished him off!” Fast forward a decade to the fall of Saddam Hussain, and now everyone’s saying we should never have invaded. And Western leaders are now bowing to public pressure and (in the case of Barack Obama) using a pledge to pull out of Iraq as part of their election manifesto.

How many times in the past 40 years have strong political leaders in this country been forced out by a combination of public opinion and the machinations of their peers? We’ve got to a state now where our political leaders govern not through what they think is right, but by what public opinion dictates. Major political decisions are taken based on what the public thinks and wants, not on what may well be good for the public as a whole.

But of course, when our leaders are not elected because they are strong and have proved their ability to lead, but because we like the look and the sound of them, what criteria is that for running a country, or even a Civilisation?

No wonder we’re fucked.