Conceptions of democracy

There are two conceptions of democracy. In one, it’s a product. You buy a governance product from a firm (called a party) and it lasts four years. People want to see shiny marketing for the product they buy and be reassured that it’s good. They care about isolated scandals the way they care about food scares, but otherwise they don’t want to be involved in the making of politics any more than they’d want to see the back offices of hotels or the workings of airlines. The parties, government agencies, and the administration guard their internals as any business would, and people who expose the works to the public are troublemakers.

Since everyone has to buy the same governance for a particular term, democracy as  product tends to be bland. Good marketing is to conform to broad and shallow expectations, and trail them slightly. It’s risky to overshoot. People who want special features feel neglected by the available offerings. Market discipline ought to curb self interest by the firms (parties) and their officers (politicians) but since a duopoly or oligopoly inevitably arises corruption and capture are problems. Democracy as product gradually leads to less government, as governance is one product among many and people buy more and more of their life from private firms instead of the state.

The other conception of democracy is collective management and we’re not used to it in most countries. Maybe the Swiss know a thing. Citizens are not customers of the state but owners-employees (partners). You have to decide what the sate including you will do, not what “The Government” will do for you. People have to care about the workings of the state and take time to understand them. For that kind of democracy, aside from extremely narrow military and banking operatons, full transparency is essential. The people who operate in secret are the traitors. In this relationship of people and the state, a bigger state is good because owning and controlling the major things in your life is better than buying them as a consumer.

Participating citizens will still want to delegate their democratic duties to people who are more expert, more engaged, and at times more passionate about causes. But there’s no need for broad constituencies or elections that make representation blunt. Each citizen can in theory pick their own ideal representative, and change their nomination at any time. This is well within reach of a digital society. Superstar representatives will have many followers, finge representatives whose program is marketable will have some followers, and “undecided” citizens will decide if only passively the way they’d pick insurance. The main issue with this democracy, if any, is that it might work and yield unsavoury results such as racism that lots of people want.

These conceptions of democracy are radically different. I think the participatory one is better. Current politicians won’t do it, but the technology is here to create it to the point that it’s an irresistible reality begging to be adopted.

On flawed heroes

At times like this it’s worth remembering that the point of heroic acts is to do good, and not to place people neatly in the categories of heroes and villains.

Heroes, such as there are from time to time, tend to be flawed. Many are violent. Others untrustworthy. Heroes may be jerks, or worse, in their personal lives. Heroes inspire fools and decent people unto their deaths. Well-adjusted people don’t become heroes. When you see heroism, selection bias says you’ll also see flaws.

Edward Snowden, like Assange, did a heroic act for the public good. The act is for the public good, not necessarily their motives. It is irrelevant (and petty) to deconstruct their motives and attack them ad-hominem. Those who cherish democracy will call the acts heroic and those who love authority will call them treacherous. The people are more tragic characters than protagonists.

I hear that Snowden has fled to China. Bad call. If I was the leader of China I’d press him for information, pay him handsomely if he cooperates, and promptly execute him. Empires despise rogues infinitely more than they antagonize each other.

Being a hero is like being held under the hammer. You tend to do rash things. Judge whether you want to see heroic acts, not what the hero does shortly after.