Monday, August 25, 2008

Jumping Right In

I was going to have a whole post devoted to why I felt I should set up this blog, and it was all about how I felt "obligated to explain" etc. etc. Then, I suddenly realized, "wow, that's stupid." So I'm not going to do that. Instead, what I'm going to do is write a post on a discussion I had today at lunch on democracy's validity under certain circumstances.

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." - Winston Churchill

I love the quote above because it exactly captures my point in this post: uninformed voters invalidate the democratic process simply by virtue of making uninformed choices. Let me explain. Democracy is based on the simple concept of "by the people, for the people."

There is a thin line between "doing what is good for the people" and "doing what is good for the government." Sure, the two may be the same sometimes, but what is in the best interests of a government, even a democratically elected republic like the United States, is not necessarily in the best interests of its people.

In order to create and maintain a functioning government that is committed to doing right by its people, as much as is possible within the inherent constraints of a particular flavor of rule, those very people being governed, the ones referenced in the first three words of the United States Constitution, must be informed and up-to-date on current issues.

Even when there is not an imminent election, the citizenry must exist as a balancing force to the government. They must be aware of what is happening in the world, and not just by listening to what their government tells them. They must actively pursue knowledge of the world around them in order to ensure that the government they have entrusted with the reigns to the country is not mucking it up. This is their responsibility.

Without an informed and knowledgeable people, a democracy becomes nothing more than an oligarchy controlled by the elected. Yes, perhaps that is a bit of an oxymoron, but a true democracy requires active participation by the citizens, even if that participation is nothing more that watching out and making sure the government doesn't dig itself a hole to fall into or start turning into a global bully.

In essence, without an informed populace, a democracy is invalid because without that essential heavyweight of the people balancing the power of the government, the power all shifts to the government and the people forfeit all right they had to rule themselves and to overrule the government when it makes a decision that is not in keeping with its creed: by the people, for the people.