Saturday, August 30, 2008


This is an expression of skepticism and perhaps also contempt. For some years now I have grown a certain animosity against democracy. I think it easily proves to be counterproductive. I felt this for the 2000 elections in the US and Mexico, as well as 2006 in the latter. Now the ghost comes back. Americans are about to elect the next president of the world. Nobody seems to talk more about anything else but the elections. Not even the weather.

It seems clear to me that Barack Obama is, by far, the best option. I will not present any arguments for this claim as I take it to be obvious. Yet, I fear. As the days go by, and the non-arguments come and go, I begin to fear that John McCain will win. This is why I don’t often believe in democracies.

Democracy seems to make two important claims. On the one hand, as seems morally demanded, everyone should count. On the other hand, as seems rational, every counting vote should be knowledgeable. I think this last claim is very difficult, if not impossible, to meet. There might be fanatics that would cherish the relevance of ‘everyone’s’ vote even at the cost of self-deprecation. I don’t. I believe democracy can only work in certain contexts and that it makes no sense when it gets citizens to vote against themselves.

Democracy is perhaps the ideal form of government. But that is exactly the problem. It works better the closer we are to the ideal society. This is not news. Anti-democratic skepticism has been around, at least, since Plato. If democracy’s second claim, that the counting votes should be knowledgeable, is not met, then we can expect democracy to deliver the worst. Democracy can have fantastic results (e.g., name your democratic hero) but it can also have incredibly bad ones (e.g., Hitler).

What does it mean to have knowledgeable votes? Well, at the very least it means that the voters should know ‘enough’ in order to vote. What is enough? I’m unsure here. At the very least something like the ability to understand and give sensible arguments. Unfortunately, our species has not evolved enough to have this as a biological given. We need to be educated into thinking critically, as opposed to stupidly and narrow-mindedly.

Is this too much to ask for? Well, it depends. If your domain of voters is limited enough, say, Victor and his friends, the demand will be easily met. But if your domain is more than two hundred million individuals, most of which do not have even the slightest idea of what it is to think, understand, and argue, then yes, it is too much to ask for.

Western countries seem to have moved increasingly closer to this ideal form of government, but only half-heartedly. They have met the first demand by granting voting rights to everyone. But they have failed to meet the second demand by not granting everyone with the educational scaffolding they need to be cognitively capable for a democracy. This has been obvious in Mexico for over a decade now, in the US for the past eight years at least, and (I fear) will come up again in this election.

The US (Mexico, and perhaps any other country) seems to be two different countries. There’s the great elite of highly educated people, a humongous crowd of thoughtful, reflexive, and very democratic individuals, and there’s the group of intellectually undernourished individuals who are, not surprisingly, the majority. This will not do for democracy. When most of your counting votes come from intellectual misery, you should expect miserable results.

Barack Obama is clearly, almost painfully so, the best candidate for the intellectual elite of a real democracy. But he might just be too much for the undernourished. I fear, with all my heart, that he will not outstand in a field of misery where narrow-mindedness and near-sightedness rule over arguments.

Democracy might just be too much of an ideal for our real world.

I HOPE I'm wrong!