24 November 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Partyless democracies

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Partyless democracies.
Needless to say that this is a topic that is very much on the agenda today. In my short essay I try
to argue that partyless democracies are not really possible, but this does not mean that we cannot
find a system that would keep everyone happy.
What is for sure is that this Sunday we'll have a really head start in discussing democracy,
certainly before the professionals.

Take care and see you Sunday,
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
PS don't forget that Ignacio and friends are now meeting at Triskel Tavern (San Vicente Ferrer 3) on
Thursday at 7:30pm.
Partyless democracies
For the past few decades there has been an erosion in popularity for political parties. As long as I
can remember the outcry every after election has been one of failure of parties to protect the
interests of the people and an even much louder voice against the inequity of electoral systems.
That these voices have a legitimate complaint is in not in doubt, but not necessarily for the
reasons they espouse.
For all intents and purposes, political parties today are as potent in the arena of politics that
matters as eunuch in a harem. They have the custody of power when in government but every day we see
their influence being eroded on the international arena of politics. And today what matters is only
the international arena of politics.
And as for democracy, since when have political parties done anything useful for the people? Most of
the major reforms in our society have always been the result of public revolt or public outrage, be
it the right to vote, health care, labour safety, bank charges on debit cards etc.
Of course, like eunuch political parties do wield some power. But this power is only useful for
petty politics or ingratiating favours.
By nature political parties represent special interest groups. In modern politics the main interest
groups are those who advocate social engineering for the benefit of low income earners or groups
that want to protect money generating institutions. Such a duality is not new in history nor nature,
what is new for modern politics is that once in power a party is expected to be the champion for the
whole nation. No doubt, this ought to be the mission statement for all governments but very
difficult to accomplish with blinkered eyes of partisanship.
Today, we are in the paradoxical situation where socialist parties preside/ed over social inequities
or unemployment records of over 20 percent. Even those conservative parties who advocate promiscuous
-never mind liberal- economies are, and some have presided, over the complete bankruptcy of their
financial systems.
The lesson from this is not that party A is better than party B, but that all parties today have no
clout in things that matter. That is the running of their country.
Maybe the problem is not necessarily one of incompetence or evil intentions, but maybe a sign of the
times. The nation state is today a concept of very little consequence when most people have to
function at the continental or even global level to survive. A large part of today's wealth is
generated by multi nationals whose seat of power is most probably in another country or an other
continent. Never mind, that some countries they only survive from handouts give away the powers that
be in other capital cities of Europe.
Basically, the status of a political party these days is probably somewhere between the status of a
bridge club -a sense of collective purpose- and the idealised status of a language exchange meeting
-admirable intentions but way too difficult to implement.
In my estimation, democracies do not fair better than parties. The paradox of democracy is that we
use our freedom and liberty to tie ourselves with a minority interest group. As I have just said,
parties are but a minority group with similar interests or vested interests.
Take for example gender discrimination (25 November being International Day for the Elimination of
Violence Against Women: please not that in English this is not the same as Domestic Violence, which
also includes children and men. And the real victims of DV are children by far.) Just under a
century ago women got their right to vote. Today we also have legislation and ministries, with all
the trappings of authority and pomp, to promote equality for women. But you ask any woman who goes
to a job interview what question she dreads most. No, it is not, How is your English? but rather, do
you plan having children? In many countries this question is illegal, but in most countries most
employers find a way to ask it.
Today, all parties profess that they fight for gender equality. But as I have said in the past, men
do not fair much better than women. When it comes to discrimination, men are not asked whether they
plan to have children. The idea that men would bother themselves with such issues of their life does
not even occur to most employers. But isn't this attitude as unacceptable, as a woman being asked
whether she is planning to have children?
And yet gender discrimination ought to be quite a straight forward affair to control. The starting
point is to ban institutions that are based on gender discrimination, whatever lofty ideas they
might have of themselves in society. If there are any exclusions they ought to be based on proven
medical or scientific grounds. So gender issues are issues that, at the very least, affect 50% of
the population if not more, and yet we still venerate institutions that actively promote gender
If parties are the eunuch in the harem, democracies are the concubines of some dark emperor. Today,
many democracies seem to be more concerned at protecting the interests of institutions that want to
ransack the wealth of a nation, than in the interests of wealth creation and those that help create
such wealth. It is no wonder, therefore, if I am anywhere near the truth, that we question the
validity of party politics and electoral systems. However, we still value democracy above all else.
I guess that the pampered life of a concubine is always much better than the harsh life of a slave.
The real question for us is how to select a group of people to lead us, and basically do the dirty
work for us, and yet have the real interest of the whole society. Maybe democracies are like knowing
a second language, we can be very good at it but we'll never be perfect. And being good at something
might be good enough for some.
But like a second language we can always cheat our way to the right outcome. Hence, I cannot think
of a way to elect the perfect objective government without the need for parties, so I'll have no
choice but to employ one of philosophy's dirty tricks. I want to show that the problem with
democracies is not that we don't have a way of electing an objective government - or Partyless
government - but that the problem is a philosophical issue with the electoral systems per se.
The objectives of an electoral system are to find a transparent way to account for our choices, an
efficient way to select between different candidates, and that the whole process is a fair and true
reflection of our wishes.
The biggest flaw of any electoral system is that it uses mathematics to determine the value of our
wishes. However, by its very nature a mathematical value based on addition must always add up to a
unique and determined value. If we take the simple sum 1+1+1=3 the value 3 is always greater than
the individual numbers i.e. 1. So given that electoral systems always try to establish those
candidates with the highest number of votes it will always be the case that the winning candidates
will individually have a lower value than the collective sum of votes. The alternative system tried
so far have been even worse than this: a dictatorship or a feudal system.
This discrepancy arises from the fact that our choice, in a sum of different choices, will always be
a minority. The only way our choice can be said to have equal value as others is when everyone
totally disagrees or when everyone totally agrees, anything in between the individual choice will
always be in a minority.
In other words elected parties or elected candidates will never, by definition, represent the whole
of society. And this cannot happen because we employ mathematical criteria based on number values
and not on some other criteria, for example freedom or liberty values which are the basis of a
democracy. And secondly because the meaning of "to be free" is precisely to have the possibility to
But we can approach the issue from another philosophical point of view. So far we have a system of a
collective body of voters (forget those who cannot or do not vote for now), who choose individuals,
who in reality do not represent themselves but a minority interest group, and these elected
individuals/group lead the nation. Put in another way, we have a unit (all voters) and from this
unit some members (party) are selected to lead the whole unit (all voters). Another approach might
be instead of selecting the party, we select what the party intends to do: so instead of electing Mr
A or Ms B, we electing Policy A or Policy B.
Maybe governments in democracies shouldn't be elected on what we wish but on what freedoms and
liberties political parties are prepared to offer society as a whole. No matter how insane this idea
might seem I am sure that no party will ever propose policies based on discrimination against women,
or some such policy. However, under this approach we can actually measure whether the policy has
been implemented by applying the falsifiable test. If an institution discriminates against women,
then we know that the policy has not been implemented correctly. Today we only need to pass
legislation to pass the verification test of equal opportunities, we don't need to confirm that the
opportunities are actually applied or really exist. Legislation of equal opportunities is evidence
that confirms that a policy of equal opportunity has been implemented.
The second philosophical issue we have with parties, democracies, and electoral systems is this. The
original models of electoral systems were to select individuals to parliament. And these individuals
where for all intents and purposes members of the landed gentry (i.e. the same interest group).
Maybe the original partyless democracy. It is not until the mid 19th century, and really the 20th
century that individuals got together to form parties to represent specific interest groups. But the
first past the post system (FPTP = simple majority; similar to what we use to choose a topic, but
our system is more sophisticated) was still kept as a reference model. And, when the candidates in
an election morphed into representatives of parties then it became necessary to find an electoral
system that represented party interests and not person preference. Proportional voting (PR) was
supposed to achieve this all just electoral system.
It should be clear by now that if we choose to elect individuals we are discriminating against
parties, and if we choose parties we discriminate against born leaders. In other words if we are
counting sheep we cannot complain that we have no wolves in our flock of sheep. Indeed, PR can
easily lead to prime ministers who are bland party creatures, such as some recent PM's in certain
European countries I dare not mention. And the FPTP system can easily result in exotic political
animals at the head of government, for example Bush junior and Mrs Thatcher.
The philosophical defect we voters suffer from is that we engage in a system that is has
discrimination as part of it's DNA and expect the progeny to be all fair and just. At least harem
concubines who produced a male progeny for the emperor had real authority, respect and wealth. The
question that we still have not answered is what are the chances of the present political system
creating a fair and just progeny when justice and fairness are not found in the DNA of the system?
So the first problem we have with parties is that parties exist because not everyone has the same
values and the same choices. Thus, parties are members (call them members y1, y2 ..) of a set (call
it set X), but it is the set (X) itself that makes up the population (voters and all). So as long as
a set (X) is made up of unique members (y1, y2..) no individual member (y1 or y2....) can itself
also be the set (X). This is because a democracy (X) has more than one member (y) and each member is
unique (Miguel might give us the technical language for all this).
So a party can never represent the population perfectly, because there is a very high probability
that someone will disagree with that party and therefore create an other member to the set. Thus as
long as we all have different values for whatever reason we'll always be unable to have a fair
partyless society. A partyless democracy means that we all agree; if we disagree it will be chaos.
And for the same reasons I used against electoral systems we can use for democracies. Along as these
are individual unique democracies on this Planet, an individual democracy will always be in a
minority. Thus the values of one democracy might not necessarily equate to the same values of
another democracy: somewhat like a translation, something is always lost in a translation. An since
democracies are more or less an open system there will always be positive and negative influences.
Meaning that some democracies might be strong and other might be weak, some might be rich and others
might be poor, the same as voters.
Maybe, as I have argued, a more equitable system would be one that offered us more opportunities of
personal freedoms, and the protection thereof, and then we chose amongst these options rather than a
choice based on minority interests.
So, instead of voting for individuals or parties, we vote for policies and then find a method to
employ the people capable of implementing these policies. Indeed, the policies might even come from
some sort of Political Turing Machine! If we cannot distinguish whether a proposed human right was
created by a machine or a human, then that right must be objective and universal.
This system might not be partyless, nor perfectly democratic, but at least we know in advance what
the parties are going to be working on: today we have to wait days, weeks and even months to have an
idea of what an elected party is all about.
In other words, we tell the parties what policies we want implement, and they, the parties, make us
an offer, to implement those policies, we cannot refuse.
Take care
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Partyless democracies

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