Another series of more or less connected thoughts - bits and pieces of questions I've been driven to ask myself in response to diaries and comments I've read on Daily Kos. (And thank you all, realists and fanatics and armchair philosophers and activists who've pushed me to think about it, whether I've replied to you or not at the time.)
What is a democracy anyway, apart from the almost useless definition that it is "government by the people"? If it is to be by all the people, how do you constrain, or reward, or otherwise enhance the experience of the vast majority of those people so that they actually participate in the system? If participation is by less than a majority, or even a bare majority, can a system truly be said to be a democracy?
Without needing to divide society into us and them, there are a couple of things that are true for everybody. Everybody wants some degree of power, although what constitutes power depends very much on an individual's perception. Or, from the reverse angle, nobody wants to feel helpless, powerless. Especially people who have experienced and internalized the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. To automatically correlate power with corruption may have been good enough for Lord Acton, but it's not enough to measure the strength of a governmental system, or its capacity to do good or ill.
Voltaire, no matter how great a philosopher, only gave half of the equation. "With great power comes great responsibility" is a great wish for how affairs might be run, but he, like most people who quote the phrase now, have ignored how it might be enforced in reality. It's not a given.
To wish for a government that does not attract and enable power seekers is to wish for a government that is not run by mere human beings. I do not know whether it is inevitable that a certain percentage of the population will rise to power no matter what the cultural institutions are, but I suspect it.
The largest problems we face today, climate change being primary from my viewpoint, require long term planning to solve. Long term planning, and short term actions, because all real action must be current, and more long term planning to take advantage of the changes that current actions bring about. And some, or many, of those actions will not bring short term rewards. Very few of them will end up producing long term rewards. At best they will mitigate potential disasters, which are, for most people, much more abstract and less compelling than any current situation. Yet they need to be taken in any case for the long term good.
A major question that arises is how to set incentives that will give short term rewards for long term thinking, that will provide sufficient rewards for the people who must cooperate in changes that are either not directly to their benefit or in fact are detrimental to them in the short term. Coercion by threatened punishment does not produce the kind of internal changes needed to implement real, creative solutions. Create such rewards, and some of the people who most abuse their power will be at the forefront of positive change, because their main delight (and talent) is in gaming the system better than anyone else.
People play games. Always. They play them for perceived rewards, and some of the most focused play is for what seems to be the smallest of rewards. Rather than decrying that part of human nature, we need to create setups for games that will focus the best of that very real talent on real future solutions.
9:09 AM PT: Thanks again, Rescue Rangers. I'm deeper and deeper in your debt.