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What Does/Should “democracy” Mean?


iNow
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Across the world right now, and perhaps always, there is a battle over how we the people… the orc hordes through the mothers of dragons… shall be governed. 

The debate is especially intense with shifting power and economic dynamics, shifting technological might, a rapidly warming cancerous climate full of droughts and floods, wars, starvation… migration… more fights not just for resources, but for lives and tribes.

Some find the strongmen and authoritarian gang leaders appealing. Others find anarchy and the chaos of every man for themselves appealing.

Most, however, say they want something more orderly in between. Something where we’re both free and connected with each other in the ways which matter most. Something like a democracy.

But what does that mean? 

Democracy is a bit of a Rorschach test, and “what it means” varies tremendously from one person to the other. Ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different answers, hence this thread. What does democracy mean to you??

So without pasting wiki quotes and google searches to us… 

What DOES and what SHOULD “democracy” mean?

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To me a democracy is a system of government that attempts to ensure that the people get to keep trying to ultimately get something that is at least in the ballpark of what they choose.

That doesn't mean it is necessarily a 'good' system, or that the people will get what they want or need or deserve. It also doesn't matter how the system is implemented.

It does mean that they are allowed to keep trying no matter how poorly things have turned out in the past.

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You can have too much democracy. You could have a public vote to decide every issue. It would be dangerous and poor performing, because the public just haven't got the time, or intelligence, to research and make the wisest decisions.

In the UK, we elect members of Parliament. Hopefully, they have a bit more time and intelligence than the average voter, so the final decisions are more considered and wise. And the members of Parliament elect a leader, hopefully someone with a bit more about them than the average MP. And the leader picks a team to govern, hopefully the cream of the crop, and they get huge help from the civil service.

All in all, a lot better and safer than full democracy on every issue.

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7 hours ago, iNow said:

What DOES and what SHOULD “democracy” mean?

There are different manifestations of democracy, and I think people lose sight of that. When they say "democracy" they are often looking at the form developed in the US and adopted (with certain tweaks) in most western countries: a republican government where everyone who is eligible gets to vote on their representation (i.e. they are all equal in the eyes of the law), with some form of majority rule but also reserving certain rights for the people.

One of the issues is that you say democracy meaning "American democracy" and those with poor understanding or an agenda will apply the equivocation fallacy and use a different manifestation/definition of democracy in their "argument"

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8 hours ago, iNow said:

What DOES and what SHOULD “democracy” mean?

I think this question is too wide / open ended to get very far because it has been posed in isolation.

So far there have been several references to 'govern' you can't divorce and isolate democracy from government.

Also fundamentally involved would be the legal system, and with it the aspects of rights and responsibilities of individuals.

I think pretty well everyone would agree that it makes sense to give someone or group the power to decide on 'the rules of the road' for highway purposes, although I have lived in a country (not a democracy) where this was not so.
We don't really need a democratic vote to decide which side of the road we drive on every time we go out.

But such considerations then lead on to methods of enforcement and the 'powers' granted to persons or groups.
And by whom and how these powers are endowed.

 

 

Edited by studiot
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22 minutes ago, studiot said:

I think this question is too wide / open ended to get very far because it has been posed in isolation.

I think that's the point of a democracy, the question is posed and we're all free to answer, in isolation...

27 minutes ago, studiot said:

So far there have been several references to 'govern' you can't divorce and isolate democracy from government.

Also fundamentally involved would be the legal system, and with it the aspects of rights and responsibilities of individuals.

The legal system should be there to maintain the right, to vote in isolation and not be coerced by "the government".

33 minutes ago, studiot said:

I think pretty well everyone would agree that it makes sense to give someone or group the power to decide on 'the rules of the road' for highway purposes, although I have lived in a country (not a democracy) where this was not so.
We don't really need a democratic vote to decide which side of the road we drive on every time we go out.

But such considerations then lead on to methods of enforcement and the 'powers' granted to persons or groups.
And by whom and how these powers are endowed.

If we can't all vote with equal validation, then it's nothing more than a pseudo-democracy.

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10 hours ago, iNow said:

What DOES and what SHOULD “democracy” mean?

What it does mean in each country is a product of that country's history. No nation-state, including the USA, which puff-prides itself on the pretense, invented itself from a clean slate on a principle. Modern nations are more like ancient houses, many times damaged by fire and war and flood, patched up, renovated, added-on, adapted over many generations. Their forms of government contain all of that history, as do their laws and cultures and social strata. It's fashionable in the 20th+ century to call one's form of government democratic, whether it actually involves the majority of the population or not: formulas are observed, speeches are made, assemblies are held, motions are gone-through. As long as the theory and form exist, there is a potential for reform in the direction of true democracy. 

What it should mean, everywhere, is that the interest of every citizen, regardless of their station in life or the esteem in which their society holds them, is represented in the administration of the government, in the application of its laws, in the rendering of social services, in access to resources and infrastructure, in rights and responsibilities and contribution. The means and methods and mechanisms may vary, but the principle shouldn't.

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2 hours ago, studiot said:

I think this question is too wide / open ended

I’m just dropping a rock into the lake to see where the ripples radiate. 

35 minutes ago, iNow said:

I’m just dropping a rock into the lake to see where the ripples radiate. 

And just to add: Asking bc these conversations are happening everywhere across the globe right now as humans figure out who we want to be… whether we want authoritarian strongmen or governance based on the voice of the masses. 

Why should people prefer democracy? What is it that they are preferring, and what are the appropriate guardrails once this path of democracy is chosen?

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2 hours ago, iNow said:

Why should people prefer democracy? 

If democracy allows an individual's stances to be represented in their own governance, then people should prefer democracy to ensure as much diversity and strength in their society as possible. The lessons of nature's biodiversity tell us we need everybody doing what they do best, and democracy is one of the best ways to support individual endeavors with a high level of public support.

I'd like to see less of a focus on populism. Politicians on a pedestal aren't held to the same standards as those who are trying to advance an agenda favored by the vast majority of citizens. Populists make us more vulnerable to abuse by either a majority or a minority stance.

I think a democracy is the best way to blend private, public, and state ownership into an effective economy. One of our big problems in the US is that we don't keep our capitalism and our socialism separate. Public funding should focus on helping the public, private funding should focus on profit, and we should mix the two as little as possible, imo. Treat public funding like the white load of laundry, and keep those bright colors separate.

We do seem to constantly be vulnerable to wealth extremity. Revolt against a monarchy where a handful of people own everything, set up a democracy for the People that's wary of entitling corporations, and a few hundred years later a handful of people own everything again. Can the citizens of a democracy change that part, permanently?

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4 hours ago, iNow said:

Why should people prefer democracy? What is it that they are preferring, and what are the appropriate guardrails once this path of democracy is chosen?

I don't know that they should prefer democracy. If they do prefer it to whatever form of government they have, I know what I think it should be, but I can't tell what people of another culture would think it should be; they may have a quite different attitude, different priorities.

Any form of government works, as long as its rules are both known and adhered to by a solid majority of the participants, both in leadership positions and the polity. No form of government works equally well for all of those participants. Why I prefer democracy is that - according my criteria - it works better for a larger portion of the population than any other system that I know of from recorded history, and further contains the mechanism of its adjustment and improvement.

Appropriate guardrails... Now, that really is a tall order! I know some of the safeguards I would like installed:

1. Actual, rather than nominal division of powers. The judiciary should not be political, either through election or appointment. The house of direct representatives (parliament or congress or bundesteg or national assembly) should be independent of the party affiliation of any other tier of government, both national and regional - preferably free of all party affiliation, period. It should elect from among its own ranks, the chief administrator, who should command the armed forces to act only at the (duly advised, debated and decided by open vote) behest of the representatives.  The senate or its equivalent, which represents regional/vested/group interests should be elected independently from the lower house.   

2. Real, rather than nominal, separation of church and state: an entirely secular state.

3. The barring of all monetary interest from the selection and election of candidates for offices, and from all official government decisions, including the appointment of government agency directors. 

4. Independent public broadcast media to inform the people of the activities of their representatives, and during elections, the policy platforms, programs, schedules, speeches and voting records of all candidates. 

1 hour ago, Phi for All said:

Treat public funding like the white load of laundry, and keep those bright colors separate.

And also that, Yes!

Edited by Peterkin
always leaving out key words
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10 hours ago, Phi for All said:

If democracy allows an individual's stances to be represented in their own governance, then people should prefer democracy to ensure as much diversity and strength in their society as possible.

I think people would prefer to have total control all by themselves, and if that can’t happen then they want the person they personally prefer to have total control and phenomenal power. 

Is THAT democracy? Anyone feel free to opine. 

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A very interesting question, but I do think you need to provide some 'direction' as to what you are really asking us to answer.

I prefer any system that gives me, and any others who may wish it, a considered voice and a choice.
If you want to call that democracy, then I'm all for it.
But, like all other systems of governance, it does have drawbacks that we have to put up with.

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18 minutes ago, MigL said:

If you want to call that democracy, then I'm all for it.

What we call it is less important to me than how it looks and functions, especially as pertains to the choices we’re given and how those are chosen. 
 

20 minutes ago, MigL said:

like all other systems of governance, it does have drawbacks

We should seek to minimize those. 

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59 minutes ago, iNow said:

I think people would prefer to have total control all by themselves, and if that can’t happen then they want total control all by themselves and if that can’t happen then they want the person they personally prefer to have total control and phenomenal power. 

Is THAT democracy? Anyone feel free to opine. 

No, it certainly doesn't sound like any definition of democracy I ever heard.

"total control all by themselves" - of what - everything? Law, commerce, health & welfare, employment, civil rights, environment, natural resources, national security, policing, jurisprudence and corrections, public safety, infrastructure, education, agriculture, energy....   I don't think most people would want to be in sole control of all that. It's way too much work that we're not qualified for, and way too much responsibility, even if we were.

I have a lot of trouble with the alternative, as well, but I'm more inclined to believe that many people (probably not the majority, though) are willing to place their faith in some heroic individual they've chose to follow. Many people are that gullible. And that ready to shove their fellow citizens out of the decision-making process.

 

 

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8 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

total control all by themselves" - of what - everything? Law, commerce, health & welfare, employment, civil rights, environment, natural resources, national security, policing, jurisprudence and corrections, public safety, infrastructure, education, agriculture, energy...

All of the above, and then some. We’re speaking of human wants and desires, not practical realizable aims. 

9 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

I don't think most people would want to be in sole control of all that

I said total, not sole. 

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Just now, iNow said:

All of the above, and then some. We’re speaking of human wants and desires, not practical realizable aims. 

Is that what you really desire? Because you're definitely not speaking for me. 

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12 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

I'm more inclined to believe that many people (probably not the majority, though) are willing to place their faith in some heroic individual they've chose to follow

I’ll put you down as more technocrat than democrat, then. You’d prefer control be given to the capable competent cool “other,” so long as that definitely would not be you. 

Edited by iNow
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Some people are more or less  considerate twds others and I imagine that  they carry that approach  into their dealings with the community  at large .

 

How do groups of people who have committed crimes of self interest feel about an idea like democracy?(it could be -maybe is, a social study)

Criminals are often used in battles against the common enemy as in the Sicilian mafia against the Nazis and now Putin releasing prison inmates and other crazies against Ukraine.

 

Anyway, my idea for democracy  is that everyone's existence merits some consideration (if welcomed).We are all members of the club  and should not be ignored.

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1 hour ago, geordief said:

Some people are more or less  considerate twds others and I imagine that  they carry that approach  into their dealings with the community  at large .

 

How do groups of people who have committed crimes of self interest feel about an idea like democracy?(it could be -maybe is, a social study)

Criminals are often used in battles against the common enemy as in the Sicilian mafia against the Nazis and now Putin releasing prison inmates and other crazies against Ukraine.

 

Anyway, my idea for democracy  is that everyone's existence merits some consideration (if welcomed).We are all members of the club  and should not be ignored.

I largely agree, but we have to be careful with the langauge we use (bolded) as it can be used to separate the population into, entitled to vote and not entitled to have a view;  there's few people better placed to recognise/critique a self serving/greedy politician, than a criminal.

I'm reminded of this, as a demonstration of the fine line a true democracy needs to tread.

 

 

OrHux.jpg

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10 hours ago, iNow said:

I think people would prefer to have total control all by themselves, and if that can’t happen then they want the person they personally prefer to have total control and phenomenal power. 

I think we could actually deliver the former (because the latter works only intermittently) in this computer age. So much of our society (US at least) is based on over-complication of process, requiring specialty skills to deal with them. People with undue influence and power make our processes unnecessarily intricate so they have more profit opportunities. Lawyers add a language you need other lawyers to decipher. Our taxes, Medicare, even voting has been purposely made difficult so we need professional help. 

I think, if we removed so many of the unnecessary obstacles invented by wealth extremists, citizens could have more input into a less opaque and more representative system. With security that's actually concerned with protecting rights, is there any reason why we couldn't be voting on a LOT more important issues via our own computers, quickly, easily, and safely? There's such a cloud over our processes in the US, and it's hard to think about a life where the average citizen is valued highly and treated like our limited resources are valuable too. Where else do people pay into a retirement system that's labeled an "entitlement" by the wealthy? I don't think a democracy should be focused so heavily on taking resources from its people.

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9 hours ago, iNow said:

’ll put you down as more technocrat than democrat, then. You’d prefer control be given to the capable competent cool “other,” so long as that definitely would not be you. 

You can put me down any way you like. What I am in theory is anarcho-communist - in the original sense of communal, or tribal governance, with wide latitude for individual freedom. In modern practice, I'm a liberal socialist; I vote for the platform closest to my favoured agenda, within the confines of a very imperfect party system in a very imperfect first-past-the-post election format.

Of course I would prefer to participate in consensus decision-making, rather than dictate to others how they should live or have anyone in authority dictate to me. 

Yes, a rational form of government would put the competent and cool team leaders in charge of energy production, vaccine distribution, school-building and disaster relief, because the Brownies and Betsies have not been doing a heckuva job. The very few people I know well just want to be left alone to do their art or science or fixing cars or growing blueberries, while somebody else makes sure the showers are hot and the beer is cold and there's corn flakes on the grocery store shelf. They don't want to spend their life pulling administrative strings or ordering anybody around. 

It seems reasonable to me to share labour and responsibility, as well as assets and knowledge.    

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So many incisive posts!  Will just add that, per Peterkin's mention of the negative effects of political parties especially on national assemblies, that the founders were much opposed to parties.  Time has certainly buttressed their objections in many ways.  Thomas Jefferson on the matter:

Quote

“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.  If I could not go to heaven but with a political party, I would decline to go.” 

George Washington also weighed in, in his Farewell Address, and held nothing back...

Quote

“[Political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests. . . .Let me now . . . warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party .

. . . . It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeebles the public administration.  It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; foments occasionally riot and insurrection.  It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption . . . A fire not to quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into flame . . .”

I almost want a phrase stronger than "nailed it!" for President George.  A crystal ball, that man had!

 

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1 hour ago, Phi for All said:

With security that's actually concerned with protecting rights, is there any reason why we couldn't be voting on a LOT more important issues via our own computers, quickly, easily, and safely?

Yes. The safety and privacy of your communications, health records and bank transactions cannot be guaranteed: somebody even more clever, at this very moment, is working out how to hack the safeguards that were installed two hours ago. Voting, in particular, is vulnerable to abuses.

https://alumni.umich.edu/michigan-alum/hacking-the-vote/

So is your personal PC, phone or tablet. It sounds like a good idea, but as long somebody has great wealth or power to gain, there is abuse, and thechno-minions to facilitate it. 

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10 hours ago, TheVat said:

I almost want a phrase stronger than "nailed it!" for President George.  A crystal ball, that man had!

Prescient 

9 hours ago, Peterkin said:

somebody even more clever, at this very moment, is working out how to hack the safeguards that were installed two hours ago.

Some people know them as Amazon (kidding, not kidding)

13 hours ago, geordief said:

my idea for democracy  is that everyone's existence merits some consideration (if welcomed).We are all members of the club  and should not be ignored.

A bit like ensuring every ion is accounted for when determining the overall positive or negative charge of a system. If only Maxwell had written about proper governance of great hordes. 
 

10 hours ago, Phi for All said:

is there any reason why we couldn't be voting on a LOT more important issues via our own computers, quickly, easily, and safely?

The need here IMO centers around user authentication. What is the confidence interval we have that this one vote is coming from the this one person and is not being spoofed by a 3rd party. 

10 hours ago, Phi for All said:

I don't think a democracy should be focused so heavily on taking resources from its people.

I’m envisioning the scales of justice. Invariably the scales will tip one way or the other as items get added and removed from each side… the weights will adjust and the height will change.

I posit there will always be displacement of resources in any system of governance. The objective on which we must recurrently return our collective focus IMO is balance.

Maybe democracy is the framework by which we’re most likely to achieve balanced outcomes? Whatever that means… 

Edited by iNow
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34 minutes ago, iNow said:

’m envisioning the scales of justice. Invariably the scales will tip one way or the other as items get added and removed from each side… the weights will adjust and the height will change.

At what points in time, in which civilization, and for length of time, did those scale tip in favour of the peasantry? The subject peoples in an empire? An ethnic or religious minority trapped inside the newly-drawn borders of a newly-enlarged nation? How do those weights "adjust'?  

38 minutes ago, iNow said:

Maybe democracy is the framework by which we’re most likely to achieve balanced outcomes?

It might have been. It should have been. But it hasn't. In fact:  https://apps.urban.org/features/wealth-inequality-charts/

And as wealth goes, so goes political power, most especially in capitalist countries where all politics are intensely money-powered. Also, incidentally, in purpose-built nations where capitalist/military patronage buys elections for its pet democracies.

 

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