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Thread: Democracy goes against human nature, and so cannot ever work properly

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Democracy goes against human nature, and so cannot ever work properly

    "... it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" - Winston Churchill

    In principle, democracy is quite straightforward. The most commonly employed form in the developed world is party political representative democracy, and the idea is that two or more political parties present to the voters a platform of policies that they intend to enshrine in law; The voters consider these platforms, select the one that they feel best represents their interests, views, opinions and desires, and they then vote accordingly. The votes are counted, and the most popular platform is then implemented.

    Of course, reality diverges from this ideal in a number of ways; Many vote counting systems allow for sub-optimal allocation of voter preference (the First Past The post system is common, and its flaws, particularly with regards to electorates with more than two candidates, are well known).

    However it seems to me that, even if we had a vote counting system that produced the optimal result, there is a deeper flaw in this ideal - Tribalism.

    If voters really did consider the parties' platforms, and weigh up which was best (in their opinion) before casting their ballots, then we would expect that most people would be 'swing' voters, changing their support from one party to another at least several times in their lives. This year, party A has the best platform; Next year, party B has some better ideas. People, when asked about their voting intentions and the reasoning behind them, would immediately start talking about specific policies in the various party (or candidate) platforms.

    But what we actually get is "I have been a Party A voter all my life, man and boy. I would never vote for the other lot". In fact, people's attitudes towards political parties is almost indistinguishable from their attitudes towards sports teams. Never mind that your team has finished bottom of the league table three years in a row; They remain (in your opinion) the BEST team, and you would never dream of supporting their opponents - particularly not if they are playing against a traditional rival.

    Humans love to form tribes, and to establish loyalties that transcend actual performance. No matter how poorly a team performs on the field, there will always be a sizable pool of fans who will not hear a bad word said about them, and who will continue to claim that they are the best team (if temporarily embarrassed).

    When people say "I am a lifelong Party A voter, but this time, I am going to vote for Party E", they are (correctly) expecting that their audience will be slightly shocked by their disloyalty to a team they have supported for so long - and they usually say this as though their disloyalty is a punishment for Party A failing to be loyal to them as a voter, usually because the Party A government introduced legislation that the voter dislikes, but that was in their platform at the last election. Which is crazy - Party A owes its voters nothing other than compliance with their published policy platform.

    The upshot of this is that a disaffected electorate, unhappy with the government's policies, will never transfer their support to the opposition - Party B - who are their team's traditional rivals. Instead they tend to vote for new or marginal parties - Party E or F - that stand on a platform of 'we are not one of the traditional political parties' - regardless of how crazy (or how scant) that new party's policy platform might be. Even in a strongly 'two party' biased system like the US Presidential race, we see people shifting to third party candidates if they are upset with the party they traditionally support. In systems that are more friendly to multiple parties, this tendency is even more pronounced.

    The system cannot ever work well, as a method for electing a government that reflects the desires of the voters. Far too many people just don't vote for what is in their best interests, and any political theories that assume rational voter choices will founder on this simple reality - there's not really any such thing as democracy; what we really get is tribalism. So 30% of people support Donald Trump as President - not because they like his policy platform (I am not sure that it is even possible to divine what his policy platform even is, other than to make Donald Trump feel good); But because he wears their team's jersey; and even after the worst losing streak in history, fans just will not abandon their team.

    The team with the best actual performance will, very slowly, become more widely supported; and teams that consistently perform badly will, very slowly, lose their fan base. But it's an incredibly slow process, and is generally driven by attrition - old fans die off, and new fans tend to adopt teams that are performing well at the time that they first take an interest. But reality moves faster than loyalty, and so the system is always way behind the times.

    Loyalty and tribalism are central to the human condition; And these things render democracy impractical. Of course, it remains less awful than the alternatives, but "At least we are not living in Stalin's Russia" isn't a particularly high bar by which to measure success.

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    Content Thief Elixir's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    "... it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" - Winston Churchill

    In principle, democracy is quite straightforward. The most commonly employed form in the developed world is party political representative democracy, and the idea is that two or more political parties present to the voters a platform of policies that they intend to enshrine in law; The voters consider these platforms, select the one that they feel best represents their interests, views, opinions and desires, and they then vote accordingly. The votes are counted, and the most popular platform is then implemented.

    Of course, reality diverges from this ideal in a number of ways; Many vote counting systems allow for sub-optimal allocation of voter preference (the First Past The post system is common, and its flaws, particularly with regards to electorates with more than two candidates, are well known).

    However it seems to me that, even if we had a vote counting system that produced the optimal result, there is a deeper flaw in this ideal - Tribalism.

    If voters really did consider the parties' platforms, and weigh up which was best (in their opinion) before casting their ballots, then we would expect that most people would be 'swing' voters, changing their support from one party to another at least several times in their lives. This year, party A has the best platform; Next year, party B has some better ideas. People, when asked about their voting intentions and the reasoning behind them, would immediately start talking about specific policies in the various party (or candidate) platforms.

    But what we actually get is "I have been a Party A voter all my life, man and boy. I would never vote for the other lot". In fact, people's attitudes towards political parties is almost indistinguishable from their attitudes towards sports teams. Never mind that your team has finished bottom of the league table three years in a row; They remain (in your opinion) the BEST team, and you would never dream of supporting their opponents - particularly not if they are playing against a traditional rival.

    Humans love to form tribes, and to establish loyalties that transcend actual performance. No matter how poorly a team performs on the field, there will always be a sizable pool of fans who will not hear a bad word said about them, and who will continue to claim that they are the best team (if temporarily embarrassed).

    When people say "I am a lifelong Party A voter, but this time, I am going to vote for Party E", they are (correctly) expecting that their audience will be slightly shocked by their disloyalty to a team they have supported for so long - and they usually say this as though their disloyalty is a punishment for Party A failing to be loyal to them as a voter, usually because the Party A government introduced legislation that the voter dislikes, but that was in their platform at the last election. Which is crazy - Party A owes its voters nothing other than compliance with their published policy platform.

    The upshot of this is that a disaffected electorate, unhappy with the government's policies, will never transfer their support to the opposition - Party B - who are their team's traditional rivals. Instead they tend to vote for new or marginal parties - Party E or F - that stand on a platform of 'we are not one of the traditional political parties' - regardless of how crazy (or how scant) that new party's policy platform might be. Even in a strongly 'two party' biased system like the US Presidential race, we see people shifting to third party candidates if they are upset with the party they traditionally support. In systems that are more friendly to multiple parties, this tendency is even more pronounced.

    The system cannot ever work well, as a method for electing a government that reflects the desires of the voters. Far too many people just don't vote for what is in their best interests, and any political theories that assume rational voter choices will founder on this simple reality - there's not really any such thing as democracy; what we really get is tribalism. So 30% of people support Donald Trump as President - not because they like his policy platform (I am not sure that it is even possible to divine what his policy platform even is, other than to make Donald Trump feel good); But because he wears their team's jersey; and even after the worst losing streak in history, fans just will not abandon their team.

    The team with the best actual performance will, very slowly, become more widely supported; and teams that consistently perform badly will, very slowly, lose their fan base. But it's an incredibly slow process, and is generally driven by attrition - old fans die off, and new fans tend to adopt teams that are performing well at the time that they first take an interest. But reality moves faster than loyalty, and so the system is always way behind the times.

    Loyalty and tribalism are central to the human condition; And these things render democracy impractical. Of course, it remains less awful than the alternatives, but "At least we are not living in Stalin's Russia" isn't a particularly high bar by which to measure success.
    Good post. I've had that thought before too. In the simplest of terms, I'd posit that our evolution conditioned us to tribal responses, and those responses are counter to the interests of a "tribe" numbering in the hundreds of millions. Parties? Fuggetit.
    Those evolved response sets only work within a tribe that is unified, not split by party. Prob'ly a few hundred individuals, max.

  3. Top | #3
    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elixir View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    "... it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" - Winston Churchill

    In principle, democracy is quite straightforward. The most commonly employed form in the developed world is party political representative democracy, and the idea is that two or more political parties present to the voters a platform of policies that they intend to enshrine in law; The voters consider these platforms, select the one that they feel best represents their interests, views, opinions and desires, and they then vote accordingly. The votes are counted, and the most popular platform is then implemented.

    Of course, reality diverges from this ideal in a number of ways; Many vote counting systems allow for sub-optimal allocation of voter preference (the First Past The post system is common, and its flaws, particularly with regards to electorates with more than two candidates, are well known).

    However it seems to me that, even if we had a vote counting system that produced the optimal result, there is a deeper flaw in this ideal - Tribalism.

    If voters really did consider the parties' platforms, and weigh up which was best (in their opinion) before casting their ballots, then we would expect that most people would be 'swing' voters, changing their support from one party to another at least several times in their lives. This year, party A has the best platform; Next year, party B has some better ideas. People, when asked about their voting intentions and the reasoning behind them, would immediately start talking about specific policies in the various party (or candidate) platforms.

    But what we actually get is "I have been a Party A voter all my life, man and boy. I would never vote for the other lot". In fact, people's attitudes towards political parties is almost indistinguishable from their attitudes towards sports teams. Never mind that your team has finished bottom of the league table three years in a row; They remain (in your opinion) the BEST team, and you would never dream of supporting their opponents - particularly not if they are playing against a traditional rival.

    Humans love to form tribes, and to establish loyalties that transcend actual performance. No matter how poorly a team performs on the field, there will always be a sizable pool of fans who will not hear a bad word said about them, and who will continue to claim that they are the best team (if temporarily embarrassed).

    When people say "I am a lifelong Party A voter, but this time, I am going to vote for Party E", they are (correctly) expecting that their audience will be slightly shocked by their disloyalty to a team they have supported for so long - and they usually say this as though their disloyalty is a punishment for Party A failing to be loyal to them as a voter, usually because the Party A government introduced legislation that the voter dislikes, but that was in their platform at the last election. Which is crazy - Party A owes its voters nothing other than compliance with their published policy platform.

    The upshot of this is that a disaffected electorate, unhappy with the government's policies, will never transfer their support to the opposition - Party B - who are their team's traditional rivals. Instead they tend to vote for new or marginal parties - Party E or F - that stand on a platform of 'we are not one of the traditional political parties' - regardless of how crazy (or how scant) that new party's policy platform might be. Even in a strongly 'two party' biased system like the US Presidential race, we see people shifting to third party candidates if they are upset with the party they traditionally support. In systems that are more friendly to multiple parties, this tendency is even more pronounced.

    The system cannot ever work well, as a method for electing a government that reflects the desires of the voters. Far too many people just don't vote for what is in their best interests, and any political theories that assume rational voter choices will founder on this simple reality - there's not really any such thing as democracy; what we really get is tribalism. So 30% of people support Donald Trump as President - not because they like his policy platform (I am not sure that it is even possible to divine what his policy platform even is, other than to make Donald Trump feel good); But because he wears their team's jersey; and even after the worst losing streak in history, fans just will not abandon their team.

    The team with the best actual performance will, very slowly, become more widely supported; and teams that consistently perform badly will, very slowly, lose their fan base. But it's an incredibly slow process, and is generally driven by attrition - old fans die off, and new fans tend to adopt teams that are performing well at the time that they first take an interest. But reality moves faster than loyalty, and so the system is always way behind the times.

    Loyalty and tribalism are central to the human condition; And these things render democracy impractical. Of course, it remains less awful than the alternatives, but "At least we are not living in Stalin's Russia" isn't a particularly high bar by which to measure success.
    Good post. I've had that thought before too. In the simplest of terms, I'd posit that our evolution conditioned us to tribal responses, and those responses are counter to the interests of a "tribe" numbering in the hundreds of millions. Parties? Fuggetit.
    Those evolved response sets only work within a tribe that is unified, not split by party. Prob'ly a few hundred individuals, max.
    Pretty much. Once the leaders are sufficiently remote from the led as to be immune to being shamed for their failures, it all falls apart.

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    This is a clear failing of democracy in it's current form, or put another way, a major constraint on effective government.

    Historically, I like to take the long view. Liberal democracy is only a few hundred years old, and not even firmly established in most of the world. Relative to the rest of human history, and the future of human society, this isn't even half a blink. And so what seems like a significant problem to us now will be rectified with enough time. You're right, probably not fast enough, but that's out of our control for the most part.

    Also, to me tribalism isn't the only major problem with democracy, the other is self-interest. It's great when we can finagle a society into having a government with checks and balances, but that government is only helpful when the incentives of it's members produce good outcomes. Currently, the incentives given to politicians do not always produce optimal outcomes.

    Unfortunately, the only people with the means to change this are politicians themselves. And we know how that usually turns out.

    As long-haired hippie stoners would say: .. who will police the police mann?

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    This is a clear failing of democracy in it's current form, or put another way, a major constraint on effective government.

    Historically, I like to take the long view. Liberal democracy is only a few hundred years old, and not even firmly established in most of the world. Relative to the rest of human history, and the future of human society, this isn't even half a blink. And so what seems like a significant problem to us now will be rectified with enough time. You're right, probably not fast enough, but that's out of our control for the most part.

    Also, to me tribalism isn't the only major problem with democracy, the other is self-interest. It's great when we can finagle a society into having a government with checks and balances, but that government is only helpful when the incentives of it's members produce good outcomes. Currently, the incentives given to politicians do not always produce optimal outcomes.

    Unfortunately, the only people with the means to change this are politicians themselves. And we know how that usually turns out.

    As long-haired hippie stoners would say: .. who will police the police mann?
    Good post. I've always felt that gradually the rest of the world would adopt western style democracy and it's liberal values. However, I think that we are losing to "authoritarian democracy" as defined by Russia and China. I hope that I'm wrong, but I see democracy as losing. I am not hopeful for the future...

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    The question is, are liberal democracies going to continue to outcompete authoritarian faux-democracies? They say that happy people are productive people, but that's an oversimplification and if that were the case, iPhones wouldn't be manufactured in Asia in sweatshops. The key advantages of liberal democracies are relative lack of corruption which ensures effective markets, and that people tend to be more educated and they attract educated people from other countries.

    I don't know how well those will hold, or if that's enough to offset the disadvantages.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayjay View Post
    The question is, are liberal democracies going to continue to outcompete authoritarian faux-democracies? They say that happy people are productive people, but that's an oversimplification and if that were the case, iPhones wouldn't be manufactured in Asia in sweatshops. The key advantages of liberal democracies are relative lack of corruption which ensures effective markets, and that people tend to be more educated and they attract educated people from other countries.

    I don't know how well those will hold, or if that's enough to offset the disadvantages.
    Well, I've always thought that liberal democracies are filled with people who want to be there. They tend to be creative and invest. We do see substantial capital flight and intellect flight from dictatorship countries. However, maybe happy creative people don't drive an economy anymore? Certainly China is booming....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayjay View Post
    The question is, are liberal democracies going to continue to outcompete authoritarian faux-democracies? They say that happy people are productive people, but that's an oversimplification and if that were the case, iPhones wouldn't be manufactured in Asia in sweatshops. The key advantages of liberal democracies are relative lack of corruption which ensures effective markets, and that people tend to be more educated and they attract educated people from other countries.

    I don't know how well those will hold, or if that's enough to offset the disadvantages.
    In the long-run, history usually errs on the side of (transient) justice.

    What's missing in this equation is biology and chemistry. I suspect the major factor in history we're seeing now is the social reaction to opposable thumbs, bipedal motion, and a larger brain. Modernity is the exponentiation of this biological adaptation.

    That is only to say that framing the problem as liberal vs authoritarian democracy is too small of a view, and probably confined to 20/21st century concepts. If you take the slightly longer view there may be much larger issues, and grey areas outside of our view in the next millennium.

    Problem there is that science is extremely limited and predicting the future is pretty much an exercise in futility, so all we can do now is focus on the former problem.

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    I think it's fair to assign a good deal of responsibility to politicians for exploiting our predispositions, giving to this tribalism.
    If just and fair people ran for office, tribalism would remain on the fringes and the majority of us would better respect each other's opinion.
    Dwight

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    I really don't agree.

    But it seems as though the Russians have won your heart and mind.

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