10 July 2014

Debunking "Debunking Democracy"


The nearly unanimous condemnation of democracy in past history which Black (accurately) mentions was in all cases in contrast to elite rule, whether monarchy, oligarchy, or republic.

He then points out that democracy has been largely corrupted, that most societies that use it today are representative / republican, that not everyone who claims it actually practices it, and points out that there has rarely if ever been universal enfranchisement.
Again, all accurate points, but none of them is an actual criticism of direct democracy, its simply saying that not all of what people call “democracy” is the same thing.

He gives the lack of successful urban direct democracy as a reason it could not possibly happen.  That’s just silly.  Nothing exists prior to the first time it exists, that is certainly not proof that it couldn't possibly ever exist.  It may well be an “abstract ideal”, but no less so than anarchy, or any other ideological potential organization of society.  He acknowledges that direct democracy has in fact existed, but implies it ‘doesn't count’ because “Every known instance has involved a considerable admixture of representative democracy which has sooner or later usually subordinated [direct] democracy where it didn't eliminate it altogether”
But of course there is exactly zero cases of anarchy which did not “sooner or later” succumb to another form of social organization.

Black says that the objections to representative democracy apply to direct “pure majoritarian democracy”.  But nothing inherent in the ideal of democracy demands it must be majoritarian in nature.

On to the specific points:

1. the majority isn't always right.
This is the long standing argument for authoritarianism, monarchy, and oligarchy.  The masses are too dumb to know what’s good for them, so the educated elite should decide for them.
If the masses aren't always right, why would the masses acting as individuals be any more right?

2. Democracy does not, as is promised, give everyone the right to influence the decisions afflicting her, because a person who voted on the losing side had no influence on that decision
This is true only in a winner-take-all voting situation.  The concept of democracy does not inherently imply a winner-take-all system.  In fact, outside of America, winner-take-all is NOT the norm, even in representative democracies.

3. Democracy, especially in small constituencies, lends itself to the disempowerment of permanent minorities, who occupy the same position in the democracy as they would in a despotism.
True enough.  This is why in most systems (even in the most imperfect American one) there are substantial rights built in for the sake of minorities.  Hence the State protects minorities from the majority, even when, for example, the individuals representing the State may hold the same prejudices as the majority.  For example, the National Guardsmen who protected the first Black students to attend formerly all white public schools may have been racist themselves.  How would anarchy do any a better a job at, say, protecting LGBT people from Christian mobs?

4. Majority rule ignores the urgency of preferences.
Again, democracy does not inherently mean “majority rule”.  It most definitely does not mean “winner-take-all” or “first past the goal post”.  This is a criticism of a particular form of democracy, not of democracy itself.  There is no reason strength of preference couldn’t be factored into decision making – in fact it is!  Not only are there many different ways to prevent the described scenario, but many are actually implemented – notably close to home, Oakland has implemented rank-choice voting, for the exact reasons he is talking about.  If there were reason to think it would affect outcomes, the same could be applied to any other democratic decision.

5. There are no self-evident democratic voting rules.
Is this a criticism?  Are there self evident constitutional law rules?  Are there self-evident oligarchic structures?  Is there a self-evident application of anarchism? 

6. Collective, all-or-nothing balloting is irrational.
The argument seems to be that since each individual only has one vote, and there are many total votes, that each individual is insignificant.  This is faulty logic – its like saying “everyone else drives a car, so I might as well too”.  But it is only because everyone else is also saying the same thing that we end up with global warming, oil wars, and auto accidents as the number one cause of death before age 40.  There are 7 billion humans.  Of course each one has a tiny impact – no matter what political system you use.  All society is the accumulation of each tiny individual, just like the ocean is made of trillions of individual drops of water.  Each one is fungible, yet each has an impact. 
Voters are fungible as well, which means it makes absolutely no sense to talk about “the one vote that counts”.  A 50.01% to 49.99% split may come down to a single vote, but it doesn’t come down to any specific vote, as Black suggests.  Because votes are fungible, even in the 50.01 to 49.99 split, every single vote still counts.

7. Majority rule is not even what it purports to be: it rarely means literally the majority of the people.
First, as I said, “democracy” doesn't inherently mean “majority rule”.  As Black himself pointed out earlier in the same essay, it could just as easily mean “plurality” or “supermajority”.  It could also mean “consensus”. 

Second, this is not remotely a critics of the concept of democracy, it is a critics of its practice. The solution would be universal enfranchisement.
How would eliminating democracy in favor of either oligarchy or anarchy give children or lunatics any more power than they have under democracy?
Also the claim that those people listed (including foreigners, transients, and felons) are “everywhere denied the right to vote” is simply false.  For example, many countries of the EU allow a resident who is a citizen of other EU countries to vote in their elections.  Several US court cases have established that the homeless have the right to vote.  There are only 2 US states the impose lifelong bans on voting to ex-convicts.  In 37 states it is automatically restored either after release, after parole, or after probation.

The fact that not every eligible voter chooses to vote is not really relevant.  It’s a choice.  (Although, incidentally, some societies make it an infraction to NOT vote.  Voter turn out in those places is up to 90%, which invalidates the rest of the argument.  For “leaders to wield decisive power” necessitates a representative system, which has already been established as not the only possible way to organize democracy.

8. Whether voting is by electoral districts or in popular assemblies, decisions are arbitrary because the boundaries of the districts determine the composition of their electorates, which determines the decisions.
Relevance?  The point is people are involved in decisions which affect them.  As long as you keep the process as small scale and local as possible, “districts” is irrelevant.  As long as you stick with direct democracy even on large scales boundaries aren’t relevant.  Gerrymandering is only an issue when using local districts to determine representatives for large scale decision making (i.e. congress)

9. Then there is the Voters Paradox
Easily overcome by replacing the primary system with ranked choice voting.

10. Another well-known method for thwarting majority rule with voting is logrolling.
 Wait, I thought he didn’t want majority rule!  Now he is criticizing that it can be undermined?  He posits that it can accommodate the urgency of preferences, something which he suggested needing accommodation earlier.
 In practice, outside of a extremely small group in which all individuals know each other personally, this would be close to impossible to pull off.  If voting is done in secret, game theory would tell us it would be completely impossible, in any size group.  But even if it were to happen – so what?  Individual can choose to compromise if they want to.  Why shouldn't they be allowed to?

11. In the unlikely event a legislative body eschews logrolling, it may succumb to gridlock.
Yup.  That would be the reason almost no one advocates for consensus based democracy.  Also the reason some argue for republics, aristocracies, and monarchies.
His example (everyone wants a road, but no one wants it in their back yard) gets worse and worse the further from monarchy you get.  That problem would be so much worse as to be completely unsolvable under anarchy.

12. Democracy, especially direct democracy, promotes disharmonious, antisocial feelings.
Its hard to even get started on this one…
Capitalism and democracy did not develop at the same time, they aren’t equivalent, and in fact – despite everything America propaganda has said for the past century, they aren’t even compatible.  Further, psychology says that Mr Smith ISN’T the same person in his consumer role as his voter role, just like he isn’t the same person in his father role as his employee role. 
A lack of concession in order to benefit society as a whole is the best possible example of selfish individualism.  Agreeing to concede when most of the group wants something different is the opposite of selfish individualism.  Claiming the two are equivalent makes no sense!  On the spectrum of political autonomy, moving toward authoritarianism decreases selfish individualism, and moving toward anarchy increases it. 
Granted, “In a winner-take-all system there is no incentive to compensate or conciliate defeated minorities”, which is why few if any advocates for democracy advocate a winner-take-all system. The US seems stuck with it because our size makes us slow to adapt and change, but most of the world – which adopted democracy a bit later – does not use a winner-take-all system.

“Deliberation "can bring differences to the surface, widening rather than narrowing them.”
True enough.  If everyone kept their mouths shut and never talked about politics or race or religion, no one would know that other people disagreed with them.  So then this is an argument for each individual to live as a hermit, never collaborating with any one else.
 “but nowhere would they be more destructive of community than in face-to-face assemblies and neighborhoods.” This theory does not hold up to observed practice.  See SummerHill.

13. Another source of majority irresponsibility and minority indignity is the felt frivolity of voting, its element of chance and arbitrariness.
What?  What element of chance?  Just because there is a large number of variables and can’t be accurately predicted doesn’t make it “arbitrary”.  The comments on delegates are irrelevant to direct democracy.

14. Under representative democracy with electoral districts, malapportionment - the creation of districts with unequal populations - is possible and, even if they are equal, gerrymandering is almost inevitable.
Obviously a criticism of representative democracy.

15. Direct democracy, trying to avert this evil embraces federalism, which increases inequality.
Federalism is the opposite of direct democracy.  The “evil” of gerrymandering doesn’t even come up in direct democracy (as Black himself states in 14), so why would it need to avert it?

16. Direct democracy, to an even greater degree than representative democracy, encourages emotional, irrational decision making.
Its true; humans have a lot of cognitive biases and logical fallacies built in.  Some more than others, and all in some situations more than others.
Again, this is an argument towards authoritarianism.
When you, for example, move from socialism to capitalism, there is no trend of consumers to become less emotional and more rational because of their new found freedom.  If anything, quite the opposite occurs.  Why would we assume that greater autonomy and greater individualization, less socialization and group dynamics would result in less emotional impulse and more correct reasoning?

17. A specific, experimentally validated emotional influence vitiating democracy is group pressure to conform.
Dude!  I know!  Scary, ain’t it?  And kind of screwed up.  Well, what can we do – humans are naturally social animals.  At least its only 58% of the population that are conformists.  Sometimes it feels like 98%.
But, wait, what are we talking about?  Oh right, democracy.  What does this have to do with it exactly?  How is it an argument for any other form of government?  Its basically pointing out that humans naturally develop homogenous culture, and tend to trust large enough groups over even their own senses.  This phenomenon is known to increase in minimally permissive cultures, and decrease under liberal democracy.  For example, the effect is far more pronounced in China than in the US.
As far as it’s relation to voting, a secret ballot makes the experiment referenced irrelevant.

18. Another inherent flaw in direct democracy, partly (not entirely) a consequence of the previous one, is the inconstancy of policy
That will always be equally true under any possible system of social organization other than strict and detailed constitionalism.  What, if you remove democracy, all people’s opinions and desires would become fixed?
Points from Conclusion:
 “Majority rule is as arbitrary as random decision”
As in point 6, this belief stems from not understanding large complex systems, the collected impact of small influences, and the fungbility of votes.   All processes of all kinds are made up of microscopic components.

“A celebrant of Swiss direct democracy at its height admits: "Corruption, factionalization, arbitrariness, violence, disregard for law, and an obdurate conservatism that opposed all social and economic progress were pathologies to some extent endemic to the pure democratic life form."”
Yet again, an argument for authoritarianism.  Are we to believe that “disregard for law” would be less a problem if there were no laws?  Social conservatism is a personality trait, with multiple sources, which is based fundamentally on an individuals approach to morality, not politics.

 “The believers claim that democracy promotes dialogue, but where is the dialogue about democracy itself”
Well, here’s some right here.
There is also “The Irony of Democracy” by Dye Ziegler, “The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy” by Richard Swift, and Freedom-vs-Democracy Anarchy-vs-Capitalism Anarchy = Capitalism and Free Market VS Democracy: (1-0) by Bakari Kafele, along with about 30,000 others. That Black isn’t aware of the dialogue that is and has long been going on about democracy perhaps explains why he makes so many mistakes in his analyses of it, being based (apparently) mainly on observation of the American implementation of it.

“That's why you didn't learn it in school”
The Irony of Democracy (Ziegler) was one of my textbooks in school.

I propose that in order to condemn democracy on any of the points above, it is not enough merely to suggest a problem, but one must also explain how any possible alternative would solve that same problem.
The majority of the issues described would be as bad or worse under anarchy, (and many solved by a benevolent dictator) and yet Black comes to the conclusion that government itself must be the problem.

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