Libya’s Gaddafi is widely known as a murderous nutter. In 1976 he collected some of his hackneyed wisdom in a tome called The Green Book. It is rambling, illogical but short, so I gave it a read. Like communism, there is some broader sense to the ideals he writes about, but the implementation is just dumb. His solution for the ills of representative democracy, for example, is local councils which elect representatives to higher councils. Not exactly a solution. Underneath the madness and lies, however, is a splinter of a bigger point. Representative democracy has problems. We might be entering the era of change.
I am obviously not using Gaddafi’s book as a major reference here. The most accurate passage he writes is:
In summary, the era of the masses, which follows the age of the republics, excites the feelings and dazzles the eyes. But even though the vision of this era denotes genuine freedom of the masses and their happy emancipation from the bonds of external authoritarian structures, it warns also of the dangers of a period of chaos and demagoguery, and the threat of a return to the authority of the individual, the sect and party, instead of the authority of the people.
Theoretically, this is genuine democracy but, realistically, the strong always rules, i.e., the stronger party in the society is the one that rules.
This is what happened to Libya, and the demagogue using force is him. He is using aircraft and mercenaries in ambulances to kill his own people. I only hope that he falls sooner rather than later.
My point is that representative democracy does have problems. JC Weliamuna of Transparency International once described the current system as an agency model of governance. We appoint representatives as our agents, like you’d appoint a driver to go process your vehicle registration. The problem is that the agents begin thinking that they’re free agents, and then that you work for them. This is what happens to many Parliamentarians. They get the perks, they get the power, and suddenly they forget who they work for.
So, why do we appoint agents? Why don’t we just govern ourselves? One reason was technological. In America, for example, it simply wasn’t possible for everyone to go to Philadelphia or Washington to discuss and vote and directly participate in democracy. You had to appoint someone to go to the capital on your behalf. Another reason was attention. People couldn’t and can’t be asked to pay that much attention to the nitty gritty of governing. Another reason was intelligence. That voters would presumably elect someone more educated who could make decisions they wouldn’t understand. Those circumstance have changed. Our concept of democracy has not.
Today, with technology, it is actually possible for many more people to have direct input to their democracy. From SMS voting or Facebook groups, all of these ‘civil society’ activities could actually have a place in governing. Politicians say they’re not poll driven or they follow their gut, which is just dumb. Of course they’re poll driven and, as representatives, they probably should be. That could also be brought within the official fold. The idea that you have votes every four or six years is in part a relic from when voting was technically hard. Now it isn’t, so that should be re-evaluated.
The remaining issues are attention and intelligence. Most people won’t pay attention to the details of governing and many people are frankly ignorant. If you have any system where citizens can participate, the ones that do will often be zealous nutters that don’t represent the majority or reason. These are obvious issues.
Personally, I think the ideal solution is governance by Artificial Intelligence, a computer intelligence that factors in all the economic and social data along with strict moral, constitutional inputs and runs government as a program. Another option is to make government a giant multi-player videogame (like SimCity) that everyone can transparently look into and participate in without being lawyers or wonks. The current option is to use new citizen powers in traditional ways (lobbying and street protests), which is also OK I guess. I just think that the whole idea of representative democracy may just be one phase in the evolution of democracy, and perhaps we should begin looking at what’s next.