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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Democracy

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Democracy

Added material 4:30 pm 4/13/18

By Dennis Loo (4/13/18)

My students and I have previously written about how democracies are run by bureaucracies – especially modern societies must have lots of bureaucracies to run - but the two make unfortunate bedmates because they are driven by an opposite spirit: Democracies are leveling in their behavior, whereas in a bureaucracy, lower bodies are subject to higher bodies, chairmen or chairwomen exercise far more control over the committees they lead than their few numbers would indicate, and only ideas from upper echelons tend to be taken seriously and implemented.

The clash between democracies and bureaucracies is, however, NEVER discussed in the public arena because to do so would reveal a problem that is far too fundamental; such a discussion of that clash would reveal a significant lie that animates this system. When a scandal erupts, then a few people are made scapegoats rather than the problem being seen as a root problem; system-wide issues are buried by blaming individuals.

I would like, however, to devote this article to discuss a different problem (and an advantage) of democracies.

As a practical issue, one that is and will always be with us to some extent, a conflict can arise between where a majority of people are at, and what the right thing is. An example that is often invoked is that at one time a majority thought the earth was flat, or that women should never vote. The fact that so many people believed it did not, of course, make what they believed true. It did, nonetheless, affect what many did nonetheless and what they thought was possible.

This is why the scientific method is so important and the scientific method’s development is so momentous and why we do not want to abandon it in the face of challenges to it, Trump and his famous base notwithstanding, or from postmodernists for that matter. Trump, after all, reached his actual peak as a reali-TV star of The Apprentice and he should go back to that, if the ignominy that he will eventually face as a bald-faced liar and incompetent POTUS will allow it, which is doubtful.

Sometimes truth can be as few as one person’s views, but if that one person is right, the truth (e.g., that the earth is not flat) usually wins out eventually. Humanity has always depended on these few disproportionately for progress and its historic mission of deciphering truth from falsehood. What if the person who first found a way to make a fire where to have kept that invention from being popularized? What if Galileo’s, Newton’s, and Einstein’s inventions and breakthroughs were kept to themselves alone? Where would we be then?

For truth matters and can be determined. It is not “everyone has their truth,” because the bottom line is that a physical world exists outside of anyone’s consciousness. If I were to disappear this instant, the world would still be there without me. Even those who profess the belief that we make up everything act in the world as if the world is real and relatively stable.

That is why truth exists and matters: because my interpretation of that world outside of my consciousness of it either corresponds to it or it does not. Whether you pray for someone to get well from pneumonia or you give them penicillin. The latter will work, but the former matters little or not at all.

That doesn’t mean that the truth will set you “free,” or make you materially rich. Absent its dominance as the leading criteria in the public arena, people such as Trump substitute material wealth as the criteria: does it make you rich or more popular? is their criteria.

Here is what Jeb Bush when he was Florida’s governor had to say:

Jeb Bush, speaking to retired Naval Intelligence Officer Al Martin: 

“The truth is useless. You have to understand this right now. You can't deposit the truth in a bank. You can't buy groceries with the truth. You can't pay rent with the truth. The truth is a useless commodity that will hang around your neck like an albatross -- all the way to the homeless shelter. And if you think that the million or so people in this country that are really interested in the truth about their government can support people who would tell them the truth, you got another think coming. Because the million or so people in this country that are truly interested in the truth don't have any money.” - (cited by Uri Dowbenko in Bushwhacked, Sept. 2002). 

The equation Bush makes with truth and money and popularity is what Trump makes all the time: witness his deriding The New York Times as “the failing New York Times” or his lying about the size of his inaugural crowds.

Yet despite democracy’s most notable shortcoming – a majority can be wrong and it matters – it is worthwhile and indispensable as a means to an end: the end being figuring out what is true. I have written extensively about that. A person who is expert at something (e.g., starting a fire) can do that which they are known for but if they don’t teach others how to do that, those others will struggle to and probably fail to duplicate the feat. So in the famous parable, I can give you fish to eat but if I teach you how to fish, you can catch your own.

I don't mean by democracy = voting.

To Be Continued

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Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12