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'Democracy', Power to the People? What do you think of Democracy?

I have been thinking about Democracy:
What is it?- A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.
What was democracy like (In ancient Greek times)?- The random selection of ordinary citizens to fill the few existing government administrative and judicial offices, and a legislative assembly consisting of all Athenian citizens.All eligible citizens were allowed to speak and vote in the assembly, which set the laws of the city state.
After careful study, I conlcuded Democracy radically changed. Obvious examples are: Different parties excist now, increase of porpaganda, people's power in law-setting cut back to just voting on a party.
If you ask me, those aren't very positive changes. People lose right on the rule over their own nation.
Now my question is: What do you think about democracy? Could something be changed? What will be its future?

  • Apr 25 2014: In a democracy we discuss about any topic and you may have a way to think, and I would have mine.... No matter if we are not agree with the other's opinion, in a democracy we all have the freedom of speech.
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      Apr 26 2014: Thanks Jorge Sisco, so as I recall you state Democracy isn't really about HOW a country is governed but about the freedom of speech. Interesting thought, thanks for sharing.
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    Lejan .

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    Apr 24 2014: The main problem with democracy is, that it does not scale very well with increasing numbers of participants in terms of sufficient reaction times within the decision making process and that the compromise in reducing the voting numbers by legal representatives is weak against the usual forces of corruption.

    The former idea of democracy lives on today in the term 'direct democracy', which means nothing else but to re-include all people's voices at their will, while the general administration is also based on representative and elected individuals.

    To me and at the moment, direct democracy is the best system I can think of to run any society as it comes closest to the original ideals the term democracy once stood for.

    On this, Switzerland may serve as a good example where to start from, to make good intentions become a better reality.

    And it is only on us to make it happen! And yes, this is easier said, than done, so let's keep pushing! :o)
  • Apr 26 2014: Democracy is a wonderful idea and a great place to start but as Lejan so skillfully put it "it does not scale very well" but then again no other system does either. Our forefathers knew this from the beginning and put as many safe guards as possible into our constitution but the constitution has been amended out of existence by the very people who have sworn to uphold it. The real answer always come back to education and health of the individual and our society as a whole is very un-healthy and un-educated so that condition permeates throughout the system.
  • Apr 24 2014: Democracy is an end to a means. It doesn't promote individual rights but allows it to happen. It doesn't make individuals rich but allows trade and commerce to align, predictably. It allows social contracts to begin and end. It doesn't take on causes but allows the cause to bloom even at its own demise. Democracy is also an end for good dictatorships, socialism, communism, monarchies, theocracies. Democracy is corrosive like salt water on a steel hull. A necessary evil that is required if demanding it be used to resolve and organize our political, commercial and social structures. Democracy is an act, some would say of good faith, bad faith, indifferent faith or no faith. Humanity will always refer back to its destructive power to solve conflicts and implement new authority. That is its future.
  • Apr 24 2014: Democracy: Mob rule.
    Without constitutional limits, democracy means the majority can freely murder the minority.

    So, there are well over ONE HUNDRED MILLION adult citizens in the USA (very much over that number). Just HOW is this Athenian-style legislature going to work?
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      Apr 24 2014: With constitutional limits, minority can make life miserable for the majority.
      • Apr 25 2014: And without constitutional limits, majority can indulge in mass murder--in genocide, in institutionalized rape, in slavery. Why do you want slavery and genocide?
    • Apr 29 2014: 'Democracy: Mob rule' - very true, Bryan. That was OK when the population was homegenous, as a mob of similar people probably shared similar goals. But as soon as you have a multi-cultural or multi-race society then direct democracy can create tyranny. In today's world, the Swiss model may work quite well - For the Swiss, as almost everyone is the same race, religion, economic status, etc. As soon as you add in variables such as a minority population of a different culture, race or religion then direct democracy fails them miserably.

      Even America only allowed white males to vote, then counted Blacks as 3/5 of a person once freed. There was also an assumption that the voter was educated in the issues (hence the white male-only vote), which is unfortunately very untrue today. Today, direct democracy would mean that when you fell asleep during the Super Bowl you would awake to find that nipple rings and pop music were banned. (Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' at the Super Bowl)
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    Apr 23 2014: The first democracy was born in Greece to quell a peoples rebellion of control and domination by the haves over the have nots. Instead of addressing the fundamental inequities of thoes who had would continue to have and therefore control, Solon's answer was to give everyone an equal say. One person was selected by lottery from each greek state to vote on behalf of all the people in that state. It collased because the have nots voted to pursue a freign war that was not winnable for the hope of riches through control of that countries resources. It made Greece vunerable. It was conquered. End of the first democracy.

    Our own democracy did not address distribution of wealth or guarantee basic human rights.

    So democracy is whatever a nation chooses to make of it. The principle of one man one vote and majority rules doesn't guarantee a better status for its citizens.

    It is though the constitution that the "character" of any given democracy is declared . See our earlier TED Conversation "Is Democracy Synonymous With Capitalism"
    • Apr 24 2014: It is not the place of government to "address the distribution of wealth"--unless you want to live in a totalitarian dictatorship that will destroy all rights. Then again, that is what liberals all ultimately want.
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        Apr 24 2014: Bryan, That's what our constitutional framers decided. That's why our constitution doesn't follow frrom Jeffersons eloquent and humanitarian values and aspirations expressed in the declaration of independence.The present distribution of wealth and its increasing disparity is a result of a democracy that facilitates exploitation. Many new constitutions of old countries are making that course correction in their democracies.
        • Apr 25 2014: And they always descend into rioting or dictatorships. Why do liberals adore rioting and dictatorships?
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      Lejan .

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      Apr 24 2014: Why would 'majority rules' not guarantee for a 'better status for its citizens.'? Because 'majority' can be in error? Sure it can, yet it can also learn from failure and adjust accordingly. What better 'guarantee' than that there is for the iterative process of dynamic improvements? I don't no of any, do you?
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        Apr 24 2014: Lejan, I think democracies would work better and the tyranny of the majority be less apparent if we had multi party systems. Society has become two complex for two party systems. It is impossible for the plurality and diversity of modern society to be expressed in two more and more people are disenfranchised in a two party modern democracy and the majority of that process leaves too many out. So again, democracy is only as good as its structure and constitutional underpinnings.
        • Apr 25 2014: The law does not mandate a two-party system. The law does not mandate ANY political parties have to exist. Let me guess, you're going to insist that the law meddle and DICTATE the existence of multiple parties.
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          Apr 26 2014: Thank you for your explanation as I understand now what you had in mind.

          I am not certain if a multi party system is guarantee to reflect the 'plurality and diversity of modern society', yet it certainly has a larger potential to do so than a two party system.

          Germany has a multi party system which usually makes it necessary for coalitions to form because most of the time no single party alone gets the majority of all votes.

          Also we do not have 'the winner gets it all' principle in a voting district, or for a single state, and by this all votes count and the only hurdle for a party to participate is to have a minimum of votes of 5% of all votes given. Less than that, a party is not allowed to send representatives into Parliament. Beyond 5% they can send as many representatives as their vote percentages represents in the given seats in Parliament which has 631 seats.

          And although this multi party system may look good at first glance, the problems and voters alienation happens later and by the way individual parties and coalitions operate in practice.

          One of the biggest problems is the 'Fraktionszwang' which my dictionary translate into 'caucus discipline' of which I don't exactly know it the translation makes sense or not.

          What 'Fraktionszwang' does, is to eliminate different views and opinions within a single party or within a coalition of two or more parties by command of 'conformity', which neither need to be based on internal consent nor on internal 'majorities' and is ordered by internal hierarchy structures alone. This is death for any plurality, as it does not allow any representative to vote for 'the best solution' because he has to vote what the party or coalition dictates.

          There are only a view exceptions where a representative can vote on its 'representative' conscience alone and therefore probably closer to his/her voting district. Anything else is drowned in ordered conformity.

          So if you go for a multi party system, make sure it keeps diversity!
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          Apr 26 2014: My personal favorite so far is a semi-direct democracy, by which the Swiss confederation is governed.

          It is a 'representative democracy with instruments of direct democracy' and enables citizens to partake more easily if they feel the need to correct the decisions of their elected representatives.


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        Apr 26 2014: Lejan. , thanks for your thoughts on nulti party systems and direct democracy. You have obviously given this issue a great deal of thought.

        I agree that direct democracy is superior . Backaways here at TED Conversations we were doing a lot of work on this .Is it the Swiss Confederacy you reference that accomplishes this through a vetting system either law makers or citizens can advance proposed legislation and it s "vetted" by a direct vote of all citizens. That seems doable in our modern technological world

        I am huge believer in the collective crowdsourced solutions..

        Majority rules in a two party system doesn't allow much room for wisdom to emerge. What emerges is a barter system for votes t secure the needed majority. A many party system , poor second cousin to "direct democracy", forces collaboration and therefore is theoretically more likely to result in a solution that is "the common wisdom" that a "poltical solution" .

        My work here in Maine through my non profit is an experiment in "many voices" solutions. applied to environmental issues with a potential for catastrophic non remediable loss.. It is a form of direct democracy in that by engaging all parties with the "best knowledge" "best science" analysis of the present legal structure applicable to the issue, the shared experience of other communities who have confronted this same issue,

        Through this all stakeholders, all voices process the conversation about the issue changes and that in turn changes what is politically tenable. Once the conversation changes the 'politics" of an issue changes. It's not "direct democracy" but more an intervention strategy based on engagement and networking that is a "direct democracy" equivalent.. My model is a leaderless doesn't start with trying to sell a position or solution, it starts with trying to understand the issue or problem and from there the solution that works best becomes clear.
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          Apr 28 2014: '... it doesn't start with trying to sell a position or solution, it starts with trying to understand the issue or problem and from there the solution that works best becomes clear.'

          I am still smiling while I am writing this, because you perfectly describe my assumption, why no sales department I came across so far ever formed a positive relationship towards the engineering department they had to work with and in the same company ... :o)

          For open discussions I very much like your leaderless approach, although I am certain that without an impartial moderator, discussions can easily blur out or end in confusion or worse.

          I also have no problems to listen to someones position or solution, as long as I get a multitude of others + all verifiable facts for me to make up my mind. I very much like discussions as they are exercised on 'intelligence^2' ( as it can deepen once own understanding when so called 'experts' are in dispute.

          In fact it helps me more in understanding than any TED talk, in which usually just one side of just one coin gets shown.

          Different from you, I am a huge skeptic at the moment about the latest hypes in 'collective wisdom', 'crowd-sourced solutions' or 'swarm intelligence', by the simple fact, that none of those group-dynamics were able to prevent racism, fascism or other forms of extremism.

          On the contrary, as resistance towards those group extremes seem to rise mainly from independent thinking individuals, may those be intellectuals, specially empathic people or notorious outsiders. The history of my country, Germany, may serve as a very sad example here, that there is no such thing as 'collective wisdom' if 'wisdom' was to understood as a positive feature of group behavior.

          Before the term 'swarm intelligence' got coined, I learned and experienced, that the IQ of a group is lower than the average IQ of all individuals which form it, that is why my personal approach aims on the 'average IQ'.
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          Apr 28 2014: Yet IQ alone is not enough, as I can only be as smart as the information I have. Therefore the quality as well as accessibility of information is in my view one of the most important elements for any democracy to earn the right and to ensure to be named as such.

          People can only govern themselves and in their own interest if they have ALL informations.

          With great interest I am following events around Wikileaks, whistleblowers, the latest NSA scandals and general censorship, as it shows us more about all so called 'democracies' worldwide, than we were able to see before.

          I am also a bit in doubt that there is a 'best knowledge' or a 'best science', or to have sufficient means to identify them as such and among others, as I think we can find on any topic scientists, experts or experienced people who oppose one another, as at the moment there is no study, expert, scientist or experienced person money can't buy.

          In situations like this, my best guess often is 'quantity' paired with 'gut feeling' when a topic itself is not in the field of my own expertise or experience.

          My last comment I will spend on 'EDD ( electronic direct democracy)', because all hair in my neck is still up since I read your blurb from wikipedia concerning direct democracy.

          No electronic system, software or network will ever be save against manipulation!

          And although this may sound strange to some, please hear what the hacker community has to say about this topic if you are interested to get the whole picture on this.

          And no, hackers are not those pale people who live on coke and pizza behind their screens, they are highly skilled, very intelligent people who care more about freedom, about democracy than I ever expected.

          Those interested can find many English talks about many different yet related topics of the latest Chaos Computer Club Conference on youtube by the search-query '30c3'.

          For instance:
          J. Assange: Sysadmins of the world, unite!

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        Apr 26 2014: Lehan & Ted Friends here is a blurb from the wikiedia decsriptions of the swiss direct democracy.

        "By calling a federal referendum, a group of citizens may challenge a law passed by Parliament, if they gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Any 8 cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.[57]

        Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if 100,000 voters sign the proposed amendment within 18 months.[note 6] Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, and then voters must indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of the national popular vote and the cantonal popular votes.[note 7][62][63]

        we have referendum to initiate or oppose a law here in Maine ( and the results have been mixed..depends on the knowledge & skill level of the person drafting the petion)

        EDD ( electronic direct democracy) should make it possible for citizens to give a white ball or black ball to any piece of legsilation under consideration and/or to post a proposed citizen initiative for a similar vetting.
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        Apr 28 2014: Lejan,

        Enjoying this exchange very much..nothing like TED as I remember when I bring something back here or check in.

        "For open discussions I very much like your leaderless approach, although I am certain that without an impartial moderator, discussions can easily blur out or end in confusion or worse"

        By leaderless I mean not starting with one fixed proposal and debating that..I mean all voices, all stakeholders speaking to and trying to define the issue, the problem. Depending on how the "conversation" is taking place I agree it may require a moderator/facilitator. The main thing is that each voice have a way to hear all other voices. ( Also, I used the phrase to describe the "public voices" experiment my work is about not as model of government. but even there I think the important thing is not just "I spoke my piece" but hearing and seeing what all other voices had to say.

        By definition every issue that rises to a level possibly requiring law and regulation is complex and gets to the attention of legislators because there are competing or conflicting benefits and impacts among stakeholders. A structure that hears all of these conflicts and allows each interest to hear all others is more likely to draw a careful and well informed line between private and public interests in law and regulation.

        Also with the internet citizens can answer their own concerns through research and investigation and be instruments of bringing more and better quality information to the process than might otherwise have been available. I am very much against move on petitions and interest group canned letters and don't feel they add to any meaningful expression of "the public interest".

        That is what I mean when I say I am a great believer in "the common wisdom" and "crowdsourced solutions"
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  • Apr 29 2014: The necessary evil of freedom, made evil by ignorance. For democracy to succeed knowledge must be free. Thus freedom is knowledge.
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    Apr 28 2014: Human nature and the potential it has for democracy, gets distorted 'out of frame' when viewed through the lens of capitalism.

    Democracy is more likely to follow the smaller group dynamics of the "Commons", which will ultimately run in parallel with the replacement of out-of-control centralised institutions.

    A good read by author Jeremy Rifkin, who is Adviser to the European Union and to heads of state around the world and President of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC: "The Zero Marginal Cost Society - The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Commons and The Eclipse of Capitalism"
  • Apr 27 2014: Instability comes with inequality. Voting - universal suffrage - allows us to increase or decrease redistribution when there's too little or too much.
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    Apr 27 2014: democracy is a great idea but strangled to death by administration and bureaucracy. too many layers of system between voters and government these days and too much media getting in the way to skew facts, manipulate opinion and back their own political interests.
  • Apr 26 2014: It looks like there are a couple of discussions here about democracy. One about the United States, another about the origins of democracy, others about various implementations of democracy.

    Some thoughts:
    1. Modern democratic elections are a popularity contest more then anything else. You make better advertisement, a nicer webpage, get more volunteers to do propaganda for you, you win.
    2. Democracy does not work in a very heterogeneous population. Certain population groups grow much faster then others (most religions encourage large families, people living in poverty often have more children then middle and upper classes do). This results in religious groups and uneducated groups having a stronger pull at elections. These groups have their own interests in mind more then the interests of the whole population and will vote accordingly.
    3. In a 2 party system like the US, you are always forced to choose one of the 2 sides. A big portion of each side does not agree with the parties policy, but they were forced to choose the lesser of 2 evils. Is gun control more important to me than abortion rights? Is privacy more important than safety? Because of this division, it's rare to see any radical changes happen in US policy on anything, most people are 40% Republican and 60% Democrat, or 40% Democrat and 60% Republican, all in all quite balanced out.
    4. Most democratically elected officials do not need to have any credentials in their field. A minister of finance is not required to have studied economics and excelled in his field before being "crowned" minister of finance. Likewise for other fields (education, foreign ministry etc.)
    5. People often are not smart/ educated enough to know what is good for them. Saving on the short term tempts many people without realizing that it will cost them or their children much more in the long run.

    I think democracy is done. I have higher hopes for some form of implementation of Technocracy.

  • Apr 23 2014: I don't know which democracy you are referring to. Which country? If you are referring to the U.S. then the fact is the U.S government is Republican Government. This means that a citizens vote through a representative.
    • Apr 24 2014: The USA is Republican.

      Who keeps spreading that old lie?

      A Republic (American style) is a constitutionally limited government in which the sovereign cannot override the law merely by being the sovereign. We are a democratic republic. That means that "the sovereign" is the people as a whole and the power of that sovereignty is limited and constrained by the highest law in the land in ways that cannot be trivially superceded. We are, furthermore, an indirect democratic republic. The sovereign exercises power through representatives, but those representatives are constitutionally constrained.

      This is different from the European definition of "republic" which is merely "any country that is not a monarchy".

      I do not know where the completely bone-headed lie that "republic = indirect democracy" came from, though. The Founders made it quite plain that the key to being a Republic was the RESTRAINT placed on the power of government and the sovereign people by the highest law of the land, not the indirectness of the exercise of sovereignty.

      It's really not that hard to understand.

      So, are we "a democracy"? Of a sort.
      Are we a "republic"? Yes, also of a sort.
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        Apr 24 2014: As I learned it, the USA is a constitutional republic. No democracy here. However, individual states within the United States can select the people's representatives by a direct vote of the people. No democracy there. However, some states and cities do hold democratic referendums for new ordinances or laws. Finally, there is democracy in the USA..

        So, how many Americans understand how their nation works? Almost none under the age of 44, they stopped teaching civics with the advent of the Department of Education... it may have been a coincidence... who knows