Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Wisdom of the People

 Posted in response to this question on Quora:

Democracy: Are Americans too stupid for Democracy?

Sadly, this question perpetuates a faulty assumption that goes back at least as far as Plato:  the notion that the people (American, or otherwise) are an amorphous mass that can be categorized as a single unit rather than, as is so obviously the case, a multitude of highly differentiated individuals: some good, some bad; some skilled, some unskilled; some with integrity, some deceitful; some leaders, some followers; some sociable, some unfriendly; some brilliant, some dull.

In fact, the people constitute a vast pool of talent containing individuals with the ability to resolve public issues in the public interest.  The problem we face is finding those individuals and raising them to leadership positions.  As with any complex problem, the key to solving it is to break it down.  Politics is no different.  The challenge of democracy is to sift through the many types of individuals among us, select those those best suited to serve as advocates of the common interest, and raise them to public office.

The tragedy of thinking the people "too stupid for Democracy" is that it leads to the fallacious notion that the people are a formless throng whose only political right is to vote their approval or disapproval of choices made by the vested interests that control the nation's political infrastructure.

In the same way that we gradually came to acknowledge the earth is not flat, we will someday see the people, not as a formless bunch of dullards, but as a pool of individuals, some with the leadership qualities that benefit society.  Devising a means of selecting them and elevating them to leadership positions is a challenge we have so far failed to meet.

We can not wait for a champion to arise and ordain such a process for us because true democracy offers no rewards for individuals or interests. Instead, the concept must find fertile soil among the people, take root, be cultivated, and grow in a process of gradual evolution.  The seeding and cultivation of this vital crop falls to those who envision a better future for society.

Can we venture outside our shell of unreason to conceive a means by which all the people participate in the political process to the full extent of their desire and ability, while prizing factions without ceding the control of government to them?  Can we devise a plan that provides a proper cure for the sick political system we presently endure?

Not only do I believe we can, I don't even think it's difficult, but it does require seeing the potential that's all around us.

Fred Gohlke

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