22 May 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The perversion of democracy + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The perversion of democracy

Given than many of us will be exercising our right to vote at the local
elections our topic on Sunday cannot be more relevant. In my essay I
look at the very fabric of democracy and what I discover is not that
healthy. But as I argue, healthy or not, this is what we have, and by
default we have to deal with it.

Ruel has kindly sent us the link to his essay (this week it is the right
link!!!), but first news about a Maths tertulia by Miguel:

Dear tertuliano,
You are cordially invited to the lecture (in English) and tertulia de
Matemáticas next Tuesday 26th May 19:00 at Centro Segoviano de Madrid:
Formal Logic: Thematizing the Rational Foundations of Mathematics,
(https://sites.google.com/site/tertuliadematematicas/26-5-2015) by Ruel
F. Pepa, PhD

Best regards,
Tertulia de Matemáticas

Estimado tertuliano,
Te invitamos a asistir a la conferencia (en inglés) y tertulia de
Matemáticas el próximo Martes 26 de Mayo a las 19:00h en El Centro
Segoviano de Madrid: Formal Logic: Thematizing the Rational Foundations
of Mathematics
(https://sites.google.com/site/tertuliadematematicas/26-5-2015), por el
Profesor Ruel F. Pepa

Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Matemáticas

Hello Lawrence,
The link to my essay on the perversion of democracy is:

Thanks and see you on Sunday.
All the best,


The perversion of democracy

It is a pity that Plato was wrong about the theory of forms and
Philosopher Kings. I grant you that democracy is not a substance, but
rather a social dynamic, still it would have been nice if there was an
ideal form for democracy. At least we could aspire that one day we have
access to the true form of what is democracy and ought to be. Likewise,
philosopher kings might teach us what makes a true democracy and how to
practice it.

In the meantime what we think is democracy is not what we have in
reality, and what we think is good for us might not be what we need. For
the purpose of this essay I will mean with democracy two basic
principles: The process of electing members of society to parliament and
hence government. In a more succinct way, electing people to power.
Secondly, the process of exercising power and holding those with power
accountable. This second idea would include the separations of powers
and the economic structure of the land.

In the meantime when we use the word to pervert we mean the corruption
or distortion of something. Hence, the perversion of democracy would in
normal language use be to distort or corrupt the true function of
democracy. Except, of course, that even by Plato's fanciful standards
democracy is not a thing, but as I have said a dynamic amongst people.
So in reality the perversion of democracy is indeed the perversion of
players who are engaged in the process of democracy. At the heart of
this democratic dynamic is cooperation, democracy is first and foremost
a dynamic in cooperation amongst members of a society.

Even without appealing to such principles as the Nash equilibrium we
still understand that cooperation is the best form of coexistence.
However, there is a very fatal flaw in this cooperation game which is
basically that although the win-win strategy guarantees a fair outcome,
there is nothing in this game to compel people to engage in it.
Especially those people who have an unfair advantage before the game
starts. Even people who are at the same advantage as there peers have no
real incentive to engage in a cooperation game on the grounds that by
definition if they have an unfair advantage they stand to lose something
in the game.

And it is this flaw in the win-win strategy that weakens the value of
democracy. Maybe the real value of democracy is not that it creates a
fair and just dynamic amongst people but that democracy has a semblance
of bestowing dignity on the people; at least those who hold power have
to pay lip service to the principles of democracy.

In other words, the perversion of democracy is not just the corruption
of politicians in some banana republic or a theocracy: the perversion of
democracy starts with the structural flaws of what we think democracy is
and what democracy is in reality. Hence, the first two flaws are that
democracy is about relationships amongst people and not about some
metaphysical entity that is based on the idea of what is "good" and
fair". Secondly, there is no compelling reason why those who already
hold power to engage in a cooperative strategy that forms the basis of
democracy. At the very least democracy is to be measured by deeds and
actions and not by poetic philosophical and political argument; show me
the colour of your money; where is the beef?

A third fatal flaw of democracy is our wrongly held belief that we act
in our interest about what we think is good for us. This is a big
question in philosophy so we shouldn't be surprised that the
subjective-objective issue is also found in democracy. We can start by
looking at classical economics that holds that people are rational agent
trying to maximise their satisfaction or happiness. We are asked to
assume that when someone acts in certain way (buys a sandwich, votes in
a certain way, hold a particular job) they do so because they honestly
believe it is good for them. This is translated into more common
language such as "look after number one" (i.e. oneself) or "charity
begins at home" and even "God helps those who help themselves."

The idea that we are somehow responsible for our fate is well ingrained
in our "democratic" society usually involving some Christian belief or
concepts such as the parable of the prodigal son. Economic choice in
particular but also an ability to choose one's affairs and movements in
general are closely linked with the free market principles that is also
linked to political democracy. The problem for us is that we believe
that we are well qualified to know what we want and by implication what
is good for us. There is no logical reason to suppose that what we want
is also what is good for us. But this does not mean that we should not
be allowed to choose or to decide for ourselves, but rather we should be
more careful what we want. And in some cases we really do not know what
we need; for example how can we know what is good for us when it comes
to medical treatment? In a nutshell, consent is not the same as informed
consent. When we vote do we just consent or are we genuinely giving our
informed consent?

But if subjective arrogance is not always good for us, so is objective
arrogance. Sometimes even professional people get it wrong. But just
because someone has moral or legal authority over others it does not
mean that they are also morally right or factually correct. Argument
from authority is not a reasonable philosophical argument or righteousness.

Therefore, since democracy is founded on the personal choice of who to
elect into power democracy is by de facto tainted with this subjective
uncertainty; who we want in power might not be who we need in power. Our
choice might be wrong.

Indeed the subjective uncertainty principle coupled with the paradox of
choice (strictly speaking the more we have to choose from the less we
are satisfied) is a problem about knowledge and knowing the facts and
about knowing what we really want. Basically the majority of the
electorate have no idea about what the facts are about how the
government are exercising their power or the implications of economic
policies. Let's face it, even constitutional lawyers have difficulty
keeping up to date. But as recent election results in some European
countries have show (e.g.the UK), some people are still none the wiser
even after the evidence is available. Indeed, we have this capacity of
still pursuing what is not good for us despite the fact that we know
that it is not good for us: drink and drive, smoking, eating an
unbalanced diet, etc.

To put it crudely, we pervert democracy by continuing to vote for people
into power knowing they are corrupt, inefficient or useless. Or on a
good day we elect people because they are tall or short, thin or fat,
nice or ugly or whatever, but never about what they can really do.

In a way we do not need to pervert democracy through corruption or
immoral acts. The democratic process is quite flawed in itself that we
have many opportunities to unintentionally pervert democracy. We can now
go a step further and identify some opportunities that people can use to
pervert democracy intentionally without resorting to crude corruption.

In the election process part of the democracy formula we come across
electoral systems that can pervert democracy. I have chosen to mention
the electoral system as a man made opportunity to pervert democracy
because these systems are there because someone or some people once
decided to adopt a certain system for the country instead of alternatives.

Without going into great detail or a sophisticated discussion, for our
purpose it is enough to mention the two broad types of electoral
systems: the first past the post (FPTP) and proportional representation
(PR). And because of our special situation I will also include the Party
List PR system and you can find the arguments pros and cons at this
link: Party List PR - Electoral Reform Society -

Indeed the pros and cons of these systems are a balance between what is
fair and what is democratically safe. And by safe I mean preventing
another Hitler being elected for life, that sort of thing. In a modern
society the first past the post system (simple majority for a candidate
to win) tends to play against parties and especially small parties.
However, this system makes the individual more accountable to the voters
since the candidate represents all the people in the constituency. On
the other hand, Proportional Representation distributes votes and seats
more fairly amongst parties and groups. But the down side is that this
might create unstable governments; too many weak parties in parliament.
The closed list system is even more extreme of PR since voters just
choose a list drawn up by a party and those that are elected own their
allegiance to the party and not the voter. The benefit of List-PR is
that parties are strong and hence guarantee plurality in a country that
might be susceptible to undemocratic rule. The negative side is that the
voters tend to be seen as only relevant to elect the parties otherwise
they have no other access to the function of democracy; what matters are
the parties and not individuals. In contrast, the first past the post
system tends to create very powerful governments and as John Dlberg
Acton pointed out "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts

Hence the more unstable a government is or the less influence the voters
have in the democratic dynamic, apart from the election process, the
more susceptible is the democratic system to undemocratic influences.
Take the state of political corruption for example in India, Italy,
Spain, Venezuela, the UK and USA.

A more direct form of perversion in the electoral system is
gerrymandering: the practice of arranging constituency boundaries in
such a way that the votes might be balanced towards one party instead of
another thus giving the winning party an electoral advantage.

Another form of deprivation of democracy is to disfranchise a section of
the population from the electoral system thus not giving them a voice in
the exercise of power. One way of doing this is by forcing people to
regularly having to change accommodation and therefore they constantly
have to reregister on the elector roll. This can be disheartening and
the stress might make people unmotivated and therefore not register. For
example, the present high property and renting costs in the UK might
have put some people in this situation because they constantly depend on
social housing or moving from town to town. It is claimed that the so
called Poll Tax in the UK in the 1980s resulted in millions of people
being lost (drop out) from the electoral roll because they could not or
would not pay this tax and people liable for the tax were identified
from the electoral roll. Today, the so called Bedroom Tax (taxing unused
rooms in a home) is creating a similar exclusion of people in the lower
social classes because they have to constantly move residence.

If we accept democracy as a two pronged political philosophy
institution, 1) the electoral system and process and 2) the exercise of
power and authority, then as I have argued, there are many flaws that
could lead to the perversion of democracy. And given that democracy is
usually associated with the separation of powers (legislative, judiciary
and administrative powers) a perversion in one of these powers will no
doubt affect the other two powers.

There are two issues here:

The first is what aspects of democracy are necessary and sufficient
conditions to safe guard the integrity of democracy? And which of these
conditions can we universalise? For example, open and transparent
government and a guaranteed freedom to gather and publish information
(not only freedom of the press) can go a long way to protect democracy.
I call this the Philosopher Kings argument since knowledge is what
changes an ordinary person into a Philosopher King.

The second issue is what I call the Churchill argument, "Democracy is
the worst form of government, except for all the others." We have no
choice but democracy, so much we agree upon, the devil is how to protect
democracy and how to eliminate any perversion. That democracy is the
best form of government, until a better system is discovered, is a
universalizable truth; disagreeing amongst each other is just being human.

In the meantime, the perversion of democracy in the UK, and by suspicion
and association in many other countries, has reached such a level that
newspapers have had to invent a new word for it; this word is so new
that it is still not found in all the main reference dictionaries. And
that word is: chumocracy!!

Chumocracy: a derogatory term for a ruling elite that is made up of
people from the same social background who went to the same schools and
universities and know each other socially (Macmillan Publishers Limited
- http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/chumocracy).

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The perversion of
democracy + News

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