LET’S FINALLY BUILD A REAL DEMOCRACY

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For some 200 years now, the electoral system has been presented to us as the pinnacle of democracy, so much so that in our minds we are no longer able to imagine that another system could work better for the benefit of the population as a whole.
However, when one takes the trouble to reflect on the question, one comes to realize that we are indeed in an elective system, but that it is not democratic. Our regime is an oligarchy (ruled by a ruling class). It is even a plutocracy. The wealthy dictate their laws at the highest level, through the lobbies they finance.

By observing the functioning of our regimes, one can only come to the conclusion that the multiparty elective model cannot structurally be democratic. This is not a new fact. As David Van Reybouck points out in AgainstElections, this regime was chosen because of its aristocratic character, which made it possible to safeguard a certain number of privileges of the old regime. Today, it protects the financial oligarchy.

Many politicians have undeniable moral qualities and a real desire to serve the community. It is the very structure of the elective system that does not allow it to function for the benefit of all citizens. I have identified ten factors that cause this situation.

(1) The electoral calendar determines the priorities. In all circumstances, the primary objective of parties, candidates and elected officials is power. This is perfectly legitimate. Without being elected, it is impossible to defend and implement a political program. All the opposition can do is talk. Cameron’s promise of a referendum on EU membership is just one example of the aberrations to which this electoral imperative can lead.

Whatever his intellectual capacities, his training, and even his political commitment, the voter has no possibility to vote rationally. Most voters will say that they are voting in an informed, independent and fully vetted manner. This is a perfectly presumptuous statement, and I’ve come to believe that only those who refuse to vote are right. The second act of the Brexit, the referendum, masterfully illustrates this second prohibitive flaw of our governance model. Voters did not choose to leave the Union on the basis of established facts, but on the basis of rumours or sometimes misleading propaganda. One could imagine that this vote is justified by a simple and objective statement such as: « the EU is too big to function properly », an opinion I share. In fact, it resulted, for both the « yes » and the « no » sides, from a total subjectivity at most linked to the vague impression that it would be possible to live better either by voting white or by voting black.

The skills needed to win elections are not the same as those needed to govern effectively. Winning elections requires charisma and the ability to communicate. Governing requires the ability to analyze issues with a maximum of critical thinking, an imagination to anticipate the consequences of decisions and the ability to lead a team. Some people combine these abilities, but this type of profile is rare.

Far from being a bulwark against dictatorships, history has shown that the electoral system can bring to power monstrosities such as Nazism or individuals without any morality, even psychopaths.(1)

According to a study of the Academy of Sciences (USA), winning a competition in which one has invested oneself leads to a greater propensity to adopt dishonest behaviors later on. The study also shows that this blurring of social norms is not observed when it comes to the outcome of a lottery.

In the 1980s, the authority over monetary policy, which is one of the essential levers of any government, was taken away from the elected powers. It was entrusted to the central banks, to separate it almost completely from other policies. What appears to be an absurdity is justified in order to avoid the economic stop-and-go movements punctuated by the electoral calendar.

The fear of displeasing a part of the electorate prevents elected officials from passing laws that are indispensable. I am thinking, for example, of the company cars that continue to be encouraged, while we are obliged to reduce our CO2 emissions to give a chance of well-being to future generations, and even a chance of survival to many living species, including humans.

Election campaigns, even in countries where such expenditures are more or less controlled or partially financed by the state, create particularly unhealthy dependencies on the providers of funds. The interests that the elected beneficiaries will defend will consequently be those of the most affluent people who made their election possible and who will finance their next election campaign. These unhealthy links open the door to further corrupt actions, which can sometimes take the form of professional engagements in highly paid positions in private companies, as a thank you for services rendered.

The implementation of most policies extends over periods of time that are incompatible with the electoral periodicity. As a result, relatively incidental expenditures, but likely to ensure visibility in electoral time, are privileged over choices whose effects are socially much more important, but will only become apparent decades later.

10° A confrontational mode of government such as ours does not allow us to take advantage of the mechanisms of collective intelligence. The conditions necessary for their development do not exist: first, there is no community of interest because each individual and each party rows first in its own interest; second, there is no adhesion based on common goals; third, there is no mutual trust between members. On the contrary, the existing conditions are exactly those that prevent the emergence of these mechanisms.

THE MODERNITY OF THE OLD REGIME

These different factors lead to the fact that our political system is a fairly faithful reproduction of the old regime, with two exceptions.

  • The real plutocrat leaders, those who seem to pull the strings of the system, not the political representatives, are at the global level rather than the country level. Their capacity to cause trouble is increased tenfold and their disconnection from the realities of the average population is almost total.
  • In the old regime, there was a self-proclaimed claim to be the « best » rulers. This is the meaning of the word aristocracy. Often, at least at the local level, this pretension was translated into a protective paternalism of the people that obviously did not prevent personal enrichment. In the globalized elective model, only the maximum profit guides the decisions. When I write that the plutocrats seem to be pulling the strings, it is because in reality they do nothing politically but seek to maximize their profit, without any other consideration. They can therefore be replaced by algorithms and this is what is happening through the exploitation of Big Data. This exploitation is increasingly done by artificial intelligence algorithms called « deep neural » whose internal workings are totally opaque, even for their designers. Even if these processes integrate geopolitical and even environmental parameters to avoid provoking revolts harmful to profit, they ensure the highest possible pressure on the average population. They operate on the premise that if the rich earn more, everyone benefits. This thesis of the Chicago School of Economics is increasingly decried, despite the many pseudo-nobelizations of its members.

I came to this realization after several years of real political involvement, but without an elective mandate or income. The conclusion that emerged was that the current « great upheaval » should be used to abolish the multiparty elective system and replace it with something else. This is the only way to reduce the risk of establishing dictatorships around the world. In troubled times, this type of government appears almost spontaneously. In turmoil, people feel the need to find charismatic leaders, often against their own interests. It is the triumph of groupings on irrational themes that can generate conflicts and wars. I first thought that sociocracy could offer an alternative to the electoral system. It is based on circles practicing non-violent communication (NVC) with members sitting on a strict equality basis. Decisions are made by consent. Consensus requires everyone to agree (everyone must say « yes »). This quickly leads to blockages. In sociocracy, the search for compromise allows to overcome objections. Not everyone has to say « yes », it is enough that no one says « no » anymore. This is an attractive approach, but it seems difficult to apply beyond human groups of a few tens of thousands of people. A stack of interdependent sociocratic circles from the neighborhoods or villages to the top of the state seemed to me, at our stage of social evolution, a difficult dream to apply.

In order to develop a truly democratic approach that addresses both the need for competent leaders and the imperatives of different segments of society, I was inspired by the mechanisms of evolution. So I imagined a political approach based on the engines of life: chance, cooperation and selection. It should be noted that these three mechanisms are almost unused in the elective model. The arrival of a personality in an elective position owes very little to chance and much to membership in a caste or family. We have seen that cooperation is almost impossible in this model of permanent confrontation; as for selection, the elected officials are almost indestructible. The model that I recommend in my book, to be published in a few months, is based on a draw among volunteers, i.e. people who think, rightly or wrongly, that they can contribute something to their fellow citizens. This lottery will designate an equal number of men and women in each district, thus a perfect gender parity. Their total number will correspond to 50% of the assembly to be constituted. For half a term, they will be deputies and will benefit from training facilities in sociocracy (compulsory), languages and any subject corresponding to their political interests. Attendance fees may be paid for participation in these training sessions. Those who have not been called upon to replace a defaulting effective representative of their gender and district shall wait for the renewal by half of the assembly to become effective representatives until the end of their term. To seek an ideal democratic system is to square the circle. On the one hand, power must emanate from all social strata and from the various regions of a country, so that the concerns related to the imperatives of different lifestyles are best represented. On the other hand, the exercise of power requires multiple skills and an ability to adapt to changing situations.

In theory, an ephemeral and revocable aristocracy would be an ideal model. To be led by « the best » seems indeed a desirable goal, except that the criteria for identifying the most qualified rulers are indefinable. The twofold process I propose seeks to approach this ideal. The random selection of volunteers with no criminal record and whose income does not exceed a « probable dishonesty » limit represents a first quality filter. It is certainly imperfect but real. Even if the income of the representatives of the people will be enviable, those who volunteer will know that the sociocratic process could lead to their ouster if their commitment or efficiency is too low. This is a second filter. It should be noted that at all levels of society there are skills that remain underutilized because they have not melted into the standard social mold. Neither diplomas nor wealth nor birth are a guarantee of the ability to govern for the benefit of all. On the other hand, a mechanism of drawing lots among volunteers can bring out personalities with life experience or a form of intelligence that can contribute to « good government » that is effective for all. Bright profiles with electoral disabilities can emerge and contribute effectively to public affairs. I am thinking, for example, of disabled people, disfigured people, people with ideas who have difficulty expressing themselves in public, or even high potentials whom education has not been able to develop and whom society has relegated to tasks that do not exploit their abilities.

I will not elaborate on the mechanisms I develop in my book, which are likely to lead the most competent people to the highest positions of power: you would not bother to read it anymore!

So this is a perfect democratic system that I am proposing? Of course not! Nothing that is alive is perfect and it is fortunate that it is so. But, as I write in my upcoming book, « Between the worst of political regimes (ours) and the utopia of a perfect political organization there is an enormous field where many flowers of happiness, knowledge and good living can grow. A field of possibilities that it is totally unworthy not to sow ».

But I sense that despite all the evidence that has been accumulating daily for some 200 years, you are still not convinced that we are in the worst political regime. This is normal. I myself took more than fifty years to be convinced of this, so much we were filled with the oxymoron « electoral democracy ».

Jean-Pierre Wauters

Notes et références
  1. Selon Andew M. Lobaczewski (La ponérologie politique éd. Pilule Rouge), ces individus totalement incapables de ressentir la moindre compassion, semblent avoir des capacités de manipulation qui facilitent leur accession au pouvoir.
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