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Why Democracy?

February 4, 2015

Why use Western-style democracy, in which each adult gets to cast one vote in favor of one of at least two alternatives, as our way of governing ourselves? Oops, I gave it away.

With such a democracy we govern ourselves, rather than being governed by someone else.

But what difference does that make? Well I’m thinking that whoever governs in a system of unequal power uses the means of governance to serve their interests, at the expense of others’ interests, such as mine. Democracy puts us in a position to use our energies in service of our own interests.

But how do we know what are our best interests? The answer lies in who can best know where my interests lie. Recently, on The Thom Hartmann radio/tv talk show, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the guest and was taking questions. A caller asked what he can do to improve our national life. Senator Sanders asked the caller to please become politically active, in support of what the caller believes should be done. “Don’t just let the local television station tell you what the issues are,” said the senator. “You know what the important issues are.”

Bingo! Our democracy is based on the idea that each citizen is the person who can best judge what is in his or her best interest. Sometimes I will be mistaken about it; but I’ll be mistaken less often than anyone else will be. And I’ll care more than anybody else cares. Democracy gives me an opportunity to declare and support the alternative that I conclude is in my best interests. I feel empowered.

When that system is functioning well, good things follow. For instance, a candidate who wants my vote must become informed about what I consider to be in my best interests, and propose to represent me accordingly. My neighbors, candidates, their parties, and other organizations must inform me about what they propose to do for me, and must inform me about my interests if they think that I am mistaken, or that I do not understand what they propose to do for me. Especially if they disagree with me, they must persuade me to change my view. Democracy holds them accountable to me. They must take me into consideration.

Furthermore, in the complexities of life, I am motivated, by the urgenciy of my needs, and by the opportunity to serve them via my vote within representative governance, to prioritize my needs, and to see my own needs, and the needs of others, in larger perspective and in the light of the needs of the majority of my fellow citizens. I then have the opportunity, if the vote does not go my way, to acquiesce in the larger good, knowing that my individual needs are considered to be as real and meaningful as anybody else’s. It brings out the best in me.

Thus democracy tends to promote, support, and express community; and people are happier that way.

One person = one vote is a society’s best chance for effective self-governance.

From → democracy, vote

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