In defence of popular decisions

I argue that if you accept the premise of the equality of values, which effectively amounts to subjectivism, and a premise that values are weighed by the number of people having them, which is majoritarianism in the broad sense, then the only type of political decision you should accept is a so-called popular decision. Now, in our societies a popular decision is considered to be synonymous with an imprudent decision and is opposed to a thoughtful decision, or the right decision, that should have been made instead. Let’s break the political decision making process down and bring it closer to how our societies function today to see if this statement really holds.

In representative democracies, remember, we ought not give power to experts, we are supposed to give it to people with whom we share values. An expert in any field can only tell you what means should be taken to reach an end. This end is not the matter of experts. It is the matter of the decision makers that hold values, which are essentially those ends.

We tacitly assume certain values: sufficient food, safety, education etc. But as we get to assuming things, we easily fall to under-assumptions. We renounce our right to decide what food reaches us, how it reaches us, by what means we ensure our safety and so on. And then more and more issues fall into the hands of the executors of our will, or so-called experts. The only way to leave your will execution to experts is to give a perfect definition which you will never change. What you leave out of this definition of your value is then subject to the decisions of the expert - the executor.

Coming back to our Western representative regimes, the citizen values that ought to be executed are chained, most importantly, through the values of representatives by casting a vote, because the representative shared a particular set of values with the voter. This is where it gets interesting. If an unpopular decision is made it means essentially two things. First, and the most common, is that the representative did not state all the values to the voter and made a decision following those unstated values. This amounts to the voter not knowing what values the representative really holds and essentially being tricked into voting. Second, the representative may, of course, not follow the values stated, but since it is common to state very generic and abstract values such as “improve the quality of life” or “improve the educational system”, contradicting your value statements is often unnecessary. In any case, such contradiction is also a deception of the voter. Thus, any unpopular decision is a way of executing representative’s will by deceiving the voter.

Unpopular decisions are covered up by the fallacy of expertise, which states that the representative is an expert in executing your will and consequently you have no say over the actions it is taking. However, this is the same as only allowing the voters of having values regarding certain issues, and prohibiting the voters from having values about others: “you can only say you want food, what food you eat is out of your competence”. Once again, if the representative had stated before the election that she holds a certain set of values according to which she will make a particular unpopular decision - no one would have voted for her. As a result, this is an example of the first of the aforementioned deceptions - the concealment of values.

Such disregard of people’s values brings our societies to obscurity instead of raising awareness. People are motivated to think that more and more things are none of their business and the governing organs aim to keep it that way, as it allows to have a greater space of decision making based on their own will and even benefit from certain decisions they are free to make.

When we support democracy as an idea, we have this notion of people being capable enough to reason for themselves and make decisions that affect their society, but when we come to implement this idea, people suddenly become a mindless herd that needs to be governed or they will lead the society into destruction, as they are shortsighted and hoggish. However, what actually happens in representative systems, is that if the electorate is in favour of heavy drinking, they will vote for parties that promote alcohol consumption; if it thinks that problems need to be solved by the means of military intervention into foreign territory, then aggressive pro-war parties will get to the top. So representation, as such, does not solve any problem with the lack of intellect, neither it is solved by dictatorship or monarchy. And, in fact, there is no problem to be solved, because our initial premise was that values of all people are held equal.

The last question I would like to touch upon regards the pragmatics of change. If today a change would be made that, say, only allows for popular decisions, would the greater part of the society be satisfied or disappointed? I do indeed see people of not the brightest nature out there (although, as most of us, do not consider myself to be one) and it might be the case that popular decisions made by irrational beings might lead to an economic or cultural collapse. But first, let us not forget we have already seen quite a few major economic collapses, as well as social inequalities and brutal warfare, under the current regime. Second, only by having power to take an action you start caring about its consequences and become aware of the alternative options. Third, we have already seen transitional models and tools that seem to work more than well, such as half-direct democracy in Switzerland, or the recent crowdsourcing of constitution review in Iceland.

The crucial step to reversing the perpetual movement towards a bureaucratic Adornian totally administered world is to legitimize the equality of power based on intersubjective consensus promoted in parallel with criticality and participation
, among other things, to understand when a question should be left to an expert.

On the depreciation of power

One profound problem in modern societies that we partly owe to neoliberalism is the depreciation of power. One does not have to look far to observe that the concept of power is very pervasive in the current political discourse. Not least due to the overused term democracy, which implies power (κράτος) of people (δῆμος) and on which we rely too much as given. I argue, however, that the misconception of the term ‘power’ leads to the depreciation of actual power in many spheres. I also try to elucidate this term in social and political context, suggesting that we do not have that much power under more thorough consideration.

First of all, we should start by analysing the meaning of power. This concept is intimately related to the notion of liberty. However, as we speak of liberty, we care mostly about whether an agent can implement its determinations to do one or the other, while as we speak of power we emphasize the magnitude of impact of agent’s willful action on the external world and the realities of other agents. Thus, we can have effectively powerless liberty in case of an honestly ascetic agent.
Regarding the equal distribution of power, it is mostly governed by both our implicit (moral) and explicit (legal) rights. These constructs, however, usually draw exceptionally the lower boundary of individual powers, while the upper remains undefined leaving a gap for stupendous inequalities. Take, for example, the four rights made famous by Franklin Roosevelt and included in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and compare them to situations that are still in accord with the proposal, but where much greater power is exerted:

  • the right to freedom of speech compared to the power to be heard by millions;

  • the right to worship compared to the power of building a temple;

  • the right to an adequate standard of living compared to the power of choosing the architecture of your house;

  • the right to freedom from fear compared to the power of having a bodyguard.

As we see, these and similar statements embodied as rights lead only to minimal-power equality, which is saying that subjects of the right should have at least the defined power, but leaving out what is the most power one could have.

Another important aspect of power when contrasted to rights is that while a right to perform a certain action is debatable and is often a post facto interpretation (e.g. subject to trial processes, or financial auditing), a power to perform an action is a real immediate affordance, an opportunity that can be unused, but that is there independently from any interpretation. A right has an impact on power essentially in two ways: psychological (it is hard to think of acting in a manner that contradicts the norm) and physical design (the physical world is arranged in such a way that it is hard to perform actions deviating from the norm). That is to say that rights, whether in a form of laws or moral norms, do not imply power, rather they have an effect on power depending on how they are accepted and enforced.

Furthermore, it also needs to be stressed that a powerful action (or, in fact, any free action) can not happen without internalisation, without accepting an action as your own, rationalised in context of one’s self pragmatics. In other words, positive liberty, to use Berlin’s terms, is a precondition for a powerful action. To have power, I must not only have the ability to act from some external observer’s perspective (e.g. a human rights observer noticing that my hands are not tied), but also have an internal understanding and realisation of the particular potential capabilities under consideration. That is why the power that I am considering here is precisely the power that people internalise, the power that they consider as rightfully and inherently belonging to them.

In modern Western societies the limits of inherent internalised power are deeply rooted in the attractive, but tenacious and ambiguous concept of democracy, which to a large extent legitimises and creates conditions for the vast inequalities in power distributions that we face today. It is quite intriguing to ask, how a framework, which has seemingly pledged to give equal power to the people, can lead to such an imbalance. Well, to be precise, historically it has never entailed equal power (that is, isocracy) — only some power in the form of minimal rights to take part in a narrow range of decisions.

Despite this, when we use the concept of democracy we mean a certain aspect of equality, a certain share of my voice in what is imposed on me otherwise externally. We feel as if we were the joint owners of the greater power that controls us. And since all citizens perform the same regulated act of vote casting, most of them are tricked into thinking that it is enough to imply an equal share in the control of the external power, whose acts upon us we legitimise internally. Furthermore, since in most contemporary allegedly democratic systems the democratic rituals are embodied in an opportunity to vote for some representatives, such thinking deprives us of power in many other aspects of our lives, because we easily internalise the order and decisions made by others in the name of a state or a law thinking “that is in an equal part my fault” or “we together expressed our will for this” and thus giving up a potential action that we would have carried out otherwise. Thinking that you have an equal share of power creates sincere obedience. Take a moment to notice how this is different from more totalitarian regimes, where the regime is never internalised as a part of self — it is the Other. The obedience there must be enforced by propaganda and physical power, but the possibility of efficacious resistance always remains.

I see two greatest misconceptions about power in contemporary democracies. First, that power is somehow equally distributed among the citizens. Second, that this equally distributed power covers all spheres of public life. The falsity of these claims is well exemplified by the neoliberalist movement, which tries (and in a sense has already succeeded) to liberate private enterprises from public regulations and effectively from the already poor power of vote, allowing the formation of units that have even more power than the governments themselves, and that are driven solely by self-interest, leaving us with no other option than to pray for noblesse oblige. The two misconceptions are also valid for the representative government itself. Compare the influence of a prime minister or a city mayor to that of a regular voter running a flower shop. And the question is not whether the power distribution is different (which is obvious), but how much it is different and whether the magnitude of the difference is justified. Consider how much the ability to implement powerful plans, that one comes up with, differs. Think how much the actions of the representative are constrained by the actual will of the voter, and how much space is left for improvisation justified by a naïve expectation that position implies obligation.

After these observations it would seem that developed societies should aim for equal power distribution with no games of hierarchy. This, however, is not entirely true. Total equality is not possible nor desirable due to pragmatics: when you go to a market to buy some carrots, you are already in a vulnerable position — the merchant could either please you by exchanging carrots for something else, or let you down by not doing so, thus he is in power to change your future. As long as people have different bodies situated in different environments — there will be no complete equality of power. What we may wish instead, is to reduce inequalities up to a certain point, which still allows a satisfactory variety of actions. And we can not have both equality and freedom, because what is the use of freedom when people are clones of each other performing synchronous actions? It is the right definition and bounding of equality that gives the freedom itself.

The desirable equality must be achieved by creating a framework for actions, which is embodied in laws, discussions, education, and physical environment through thoughtful design. And one should not be blinded by assuming a mysterious omnipotence of laws. The power does not come from ink appearing on paper, it comes from knowing that a law exists, knowing how to use it, and being able to apply it. Also, as I have mentioned, rights in general, and laws in particular are often post facto tools: “you should not do something, because you might get punished (but I just did that something)”. That is why we must think of the equality design in all social spheres, without restricting ourselves to laws.

To summarise, in the most general sense by power I mean the ability to have impact on the world and other people. The bigger is the impact and the more people it affects, the more power you have. I would like to emphasize several particular aspects of topical importance where power equality is tacitly disregarded:

  • ability to access people’s attention (e.g. popular news sources, being a famous figure);

  • ability to control people’s actions (e.g. employers, declaring war);

  • ability to control weapons (e.g. arms export, access to nuclear weapons);

  • ability to control wealth (because in the current world it can buy the other three, exchange of wealth is an agreement to allow certain actions).

Now think how much real power you have over these issues, where by real power I mean something that you could not only do tomorrow morning, but also something that you would feel is a normal thing to you, legitimate socially and morally. Well, some people have these powers and chances are that you are not amongst them.

The time has come to embrace power, liberate ourselves from the historical manacles of the widespread notion of democracy, and shift towards a rethought isocracy.

Ten distortions in representative democracies

The main issue with most present self-proclaimed democracies is the distortion of power distribution. Most of the countries that sympathise with democratic values have adopted a so-called representative democracy. A common misconception about this form of government is that it proposes the following idea: administrating a country takes a lot of time, so let us turn politics into a full-time profession, train experts, and let them make decisions for us. This would sound quite reasonable except for the fact that there can be no experts in politics per se (to which I will come back later). To respect this subjectivity of outcomes, most current representative democracies actually propose a different scenario. Instead of training experts in politics (for there can be no such thing), allow political pluralism and let the citizens decide who represents their values and opinions on public issues best.

The idea sounds compelling: I do not waste my precious time on all these tiring political discussions, and can concentrate more on gardening, finding a cure for cancer, or creating the next big web application. But the idea is worth nothing if it can not be implemented. So let us have a look at how the brilliant minds of fellow homo sapiens turned the idea of representative democracy into reality.

The following analysis applies to all modern Western civilisations that adopted such political tools as parliaments, political parties, and elections. Let us start by breaking down the political process into cycles. The most important cycle starts by elections and ends by decision making. Here I am concentrating particularly on the legislative process.

Getting into elections. Since parliaments have a finite number of seats, the elections are organised to assign some citizens to those seats. However, the electorate does not choose from all other citizens. They only choose from a handful of people who, for some reason, do not want to grow their gardens, find a cure for cancer, or create the next big web application. The first prerequisite for entering a parliament is that you are ready to devote several years mostly just for voting on legislation. For many bright and educated people this is already a too big price to pay. The leading thinkers will most often choose an academic career or establish an enterprise rather than just vote for laws, which is first, intellectually less satisfying if you are an expert in some area, second, less prestigious than being an acclaimed researcher, third, requires restructurisation in ones activities and social connections, which is especially annoying if a career was successful. This is the first distortion that I would call the obscurant filter, which prevents the brightest people in our society from seriously considering being our representatives.

If, despite this, one decides to pursue a political career (say, because political injustice seems more important than history studies or medical research), it is commonly accepted that if you are a good representative, you must belong to a certain political party. Sure, one could say that there are exceptions, but be realistic - in the present situation these are exactly that - just exceptions. In this situation you have essentially two options: join an already existing party, or start your own party. The majority will choose the former becoming a non-essential screw in an inert mechanism with a hope of becoming the leader. You do not have to look too far to admit, that this is currently a very pervasive situation. This is the second distortion - the herd factor, which drives us to assimilation in groups of people and which can be easily manipulated by a stronger leader. It is not the case that each member of a party has his own political programme, because it makes sense to coordinate the actions of a unit if it was elected as a unit.

But let us be a bit more optimistic for a minute. Say, one finds a political party that seems to support values one admires, and that does not have a leader who will sway votes. The main problem still remains. That is, understanding your own ideology in the context of your party and explaining this to the electorate preferably along with particular decisions that should be expected in the upcoming political season. In current representative democracies ideologies are not explicit value lists that electorate can check - they are an implicit layer of interpretation networks in representative heads, often with higher weights assigned to some leader of the political movement. And even if they were made into explicit lists, each list item would still be subject to individual interpretations (unless, of course, the lists would contain exact wordings of laws that will be initiated by the party and for which the party will vote unanimously). This is the third distortion - the fallacy of ideologies. It means that the electorate is tricked into thinking that they know what they should expect from their representative.

Campaigning. It is even worse when parties start using mental tricks by deliberately avoiding political awareness. One example is giving populistic names: We Ourselves (Ireland), Swiss People’s Party (Switzerland), Really (Slovenia), Right Cause (Russia), Order and Justice (Lithuania) - just a few examples of prominent parties. I must stress that here I criticise not their political programmes, but, in particular, the way of presenting themselves and the potentially unrighteous symbolism that is generated in the minds of the electorate. Another example of mental manipulation is as simple as political campaign. Public spaces, television airing time, and internet websites are conquered by gigantic faces of party leaders and vague slogans that communicate nothing about the party programmes: “Yes we can”, “Change”, “Bold and determined”, “Serving people”, “Vote For Change”. These are just a few examples of actual political slogans that lead to effective campaigns. For those who think that political campaigns are harmless (or even beneficial) for the electorate I have a few counter arguments. First, and most importantly, humans are not rational machines that extract facts - we are affected by many subconscious and emotional processes that we can not easily control. Advertisements work by affecting our irrational thinking (as opposed to providing us with facts in collaboration with competitors). Second, it is a basic fact that advertisements, even without slogans and subliminal messages, increase awareness of the brand (in this case, a political party). Thus it follows that a party can greatly increase its chances of being elected simply by dedicating more finances to the campaign instead of increasing electorate awareness. It is much simpler and effective than argumentation and clear statements. Political campaigns effectively transform the elections from a battle of ideologies into a battle of public relations and finance. This defines the fourth distortion - the false image.

Elections. When the parties and candidates are prepared, citizens have to decide who represents them. First, let us clear things up, why you choose representatives rather than experts (although many people fall for the illusion of expertise). Cornelius Castoriadis in “The Problem of Democracy Today” cites a dialogue of Plato:

When Zeus dealt with men, he gave each man a certain speciality, but political knowledge was equally distributed to everyone. That’s why, Protagoras says, you see that when Athenians want to decide in the Assembly of People (ecclesia) how to build a ship or a temple, they call the specialists and listen to them. <…> But when they are discussing the general political matters of the city, every citizen can speak and everybody listens to him with attention. Behind this myth lies this profound political and philosophical notion of the ancients that there is no science, no systematic knowledge with proof and technical instructions for political matters, but there is people’s opinion, which must certainly be educated and improved from experience, but which is not a science.

If a renowned scientist comes to you and reports an observation, for example, that last year there were 18 alcohol-related deaths per 100 000 population. What is the right political decision that should be made, if any? In democracy it seems rightful to ask what people want. One likely answer would be that people want less deaths, but would also like to enjoy a glass of whisky in the evening or add some wine to their favourite sauce. One question that could be raised is whether the citizens comprehend the consequences of their decisions. Several things are important with relation to this. First, the consequences should be judged by the citizens, because they are the ones who experience the outcomes directly in their realities. Second, parliament members can not have a better understanding of what outcomes mean to the citizens than citizens themselves. Third, if our purpose is not to create a herd of mindless election visitors, people must be educated towards comprehension of their actions in all levels (personal, interpersonal, political) instead of concentrating on how to put an “x” on a ballot.

Here it becomes more evident that if in our politics we respect the opinions of citizens, there is no such thing as policy-making science. There can be sciences which gather the opinions of the people, implement the will of the people, or which inform people about relevant observations. This is why, I argue, for making laws we should elect the ones with whom we share the most common values, and not the ones who seem to have more policy-making competence, for there is no such thing. People who vote for representatives just because they have a good university degree or because they are good orators create the fifth distortion, whose name is inspired by Castoriadis - it is the myth of political expertise. One explanation for this distortion is that there is no better way of checking what the representative actually values.

To make matters worse, many representative democracies suffer from low turnout - the sixth distortion. In 2010 general elections in the U.K., only 65% of eligible voters wished to practice their political power (the number was as low as 59% in 2001). In 2008 U.S. presidential elections the turnout was as low as 62% and since 1948 has never reached 65% (one also needs to keep in mind that in U.S. voters do not directly elect president, but vote for Electoral College). In the most recent parliamentary elections voter turnout has not reached 60% in Croatia, France, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, and was comparably low in many other countries that consider themselves democratic. However, we must realise that this problem of political ignorance can not be solved by compulsory voting. First, because threatening with a penalty is not the best way to create enthusiasm and honest involvement. Second, because there is something totally wrong in a democratic system where citizens see spending an hour or even less annually to use their main political power as a complete waste of time.

Coalitions. After the elections we often see the forming of coalitions. They are formed to create more powerful political units than parties that would make parliament members vote unanimously. However, this creates one of the most obvious distortions - the fusion of ideologies. In addition to the ideologies of political parties and their members being inherently ambiguous and implicit, coalitions create trans-ideological units that have no clear ideological base, since they are often formed just for a few years and simply to have more power in the parliament and not to create a new and more insightful way of thinking.

Decision making. Since there is a limited number of seats in the parliaments, each member of parliament is supposed to represent views of many people. Often a single member represents as many as 20 000 to 100 000 people. How do they manage to respect so many different opinions on all issues? They do not. Imagine if each member would receive 50 000 letters about each law and had to find some sort of compromise. This is the eighth distortion - the shallow representation. Even if the representative tries to understand what people think about some issue he can only have a very vague picture, because tens of thousands of ideas and lives is just too much to grasp for a human mind. And do not forget that this is not that simple, because each member is in a party which pushes everyone to vote unanimously.

The shallow representation issue is only valid when there is accountability. That is, a mechanism which allows the electorate to evaluate particular decisions made by each member of parliament and impose sanctions otherwise. When there is no accountability, political power of the citizens ends with the elections, but the decisions of the representatives is restricted only by their good will and imagination and not directly by the opinions of people (we should also not forget corruption, but this is a separate issue). The question we should raise here is: what sanctions are applied in our political systems when representatives do not respect the values of the represented. In most cases the worst thing that can happen is that you will simply not get elected in the next round. But, in practice, even this does not have to be the case. Due to short political memory and lack of political awareness people vote for the same politicians that failed them. And even if the same people will not vote for you - you can find new citizens that you will convince by your new campaign. To sum up, there is no real punishment. This creates the ninth distortion - the lack of accountability.

Another obvious issue is corruption. It is easier to bribe or to “give a friendly advice” to a few important politicians that to convince the whole nation. The same applies for lobbying. I vote for a politician to represent my views, not to listen to a few influential bankers. And, be realistic, regular citizens do not lobby, and if they would - their voice in current society would be less influential than that of renowned figures or representatives of corporations which are allegedly important for your country. This is the subject of the tenth distortion - the susceptibility to corruption in its many forms from “friendly” chats to bribery and threats.

To conclude, let us not be mislead by terminology. In most Western so-called representative democracies representation gets lost while going a long way from elections to decision making. The main use of elections becomes to calm citizens down and create an illusion that they are in charge.

On the pitfalls of political ideologies

In politics we often rely on ideologies. They supposedly represent our world view and values. In representative democracies they are thought to say what decisions one should expect from political parties. I am arguing that ideologies are overrated and often do more harm than good if not used wisely. In this post I mainly concentrate on the aspects, that many people fail to see and consequently misuse ideologies. At the end I will also provide some scenarios where the use of ideologies would be valid.

I see essentially two kinds of ideologies: prospective ideologies that try to define the ways in which we should act so that the future becomes in some terms better, and objective ideologies which try to define the current state of affairs. This distinction is more relevant to the way ideologies are used in political realm rather than to individual works of philosophy, which often encompass both types. Objective ideologies do not have to be, in fact, pure objectivism. It is enough that several agents subjectively agree on the premises and in this sense make them objective between themselves. Below I will discuss the properties of prospective political ideologies that we should be more aware of. It is important to realise that improper use of ideological terms is a source of much miscommunication and manipulation in the political realm.

Ambiguity. Ideologies are broad and complex concepts and, as a result, they are open to interpretations. For example, each time you hear a word ‘democracy’ try to ask yourself what the user of such term meant. Is it Athenian democracy, where any citizen could vote for laws in ecclesia? Is it representative democracy, where citizens only use their political power once every few years and only to give their remaining political power to someone else? Even representative democracy itself has many variations: how many representatives are in the parliament, what are their duties, are they actually accountable to the electorate? Even Aristotle in his ‘Treatise of Government’ uses word democracy in several senses. On one hand, he is wary of a state degeneration into democracy (in this case the rule of the poor). On the other hand, he later admits that there are many kinds of democracy (in this case the rule of the citizens):

<…> some persons think that there is only one species both of democracy and oligarchy; but this is not true: so that every one should be acquainted with the difference of these governments, how great they are, and whence they arise; and should have equal knowledge to perceive what laws are best, and what are most suitable to each particular government: for all laws are, and ought to be, framed agreeable to the state that is to be governed by them, and not the state to the laws <…> for it is impossible that the same laws should be calculated for all sorts of oligarchies and all sorts of democracies, for of both these governments there are many species, not one only.

The same is true about all other ideologies. If you are a Marxist, do you follow each and every word of The Communist Manifesto and not add your own interpretation? If so, you will likely be surprised that Marx himself criticised ideologies that are not grounded in status quo:

Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. <…> Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

That is to say that a prospective ideology is a template that is parametrised by the present state of things (or other particulars) and is otherwise ambiguous.

Implicitness. Many promoters of ideologies make tacit assumptions about what the terms mean. This is closely related to the ambiguity of terms, but this principle stresses the false assumption of unique interpretation. In representative democracy you are often expected to know what, say, social democracy or republicanism is supposed to encompass and produce as if there was a bible of each ideology not subject to discussion. For discussion could lead to change of the ideology. And although this change might often be beneficial for the society, the changed ideology is no longer the same as it used to be before the changes took place in peoples’ heads or on paper. And it does not make much sense to insist on using the same word as you used yesterday, before the change, for now the word means a different thing.

If, on the other hand, the ideologies were explicit, you would need no discussion. You would need a checklist (with which all promoters of the same ideology agree) to go through a list of laws and decisions that you, your queen, or your representatives make to check if they comply. Try asking for such checklist from each member of parliament that represents you, make sure you agree with everything and nothing is omitted, and then try revoking him from parliament if at least one point in the checklist remains unchecked. This is how things should work if ideologies were explicit. But they are not. They require deep inquiry and discussion.

Plurality. There are more than 250 widely known political ideologies. How many of these ideologies each of us consider as real options during our lifetimes? Not just read the name of ideology mentioned in some article, but actually read in-depth about it and imagine the world if all people were following it. And imagining is not what ideologies are about - they are about implementation.

Atomicity. Ideologies are often presented or at least interpreted as if they were atomic lists of statements - i.e. you can not remove or add statements from a well known ideology. And it is rightfully so. If it was not the case, we would have real problems communicating ideas. In fact, what people consider their ideology is always a mixture of several ideologies. You agree with some statements, but have doubts about or disagree with others. Our thoughts are not atomic. We get new thoughts that we try to test empirically or by mental simulations, and we also reject old ideas that we find no longer valid or relevant. We do not have to invent a new word for each state of mind that we are in.

Since we still have to communicate with others through speech, one way to avoid the misuse of terms is to make them more specific - minimise the atoms. In fact, we see this happening already - ideologies branch out. But this seems not enough, because these collections of ideas still intersect, which means they could still be divided into more units. But we should not forget that the use of words and their meanings is limited by pragmatics. Sometimes it is more useful to have words that have richer meanings, because it takes less time to communicate more thoughts. But to avoid problems of concept use we need to think carefully what the concepts actually represent and how they are interpreted.

Contextuality. Most ideologies were created or started by thinkers observing the society that they lived in, sometimes referring to interpretations of history up to the time of their lives. As a result, most ideologies are unwittingly tailored to a particular context. For example, Marxism sprung out partly from the critique of German idealism and capitalism, which Marx and others considered important questions in 1840s Germany while observing social relations and working conditions. What is the use of capitalism (i.e. pure optimisation of financial gain) if its byproducts and externalities cause global health and environmental problems, lead to near-slavery conditions in sweatshops, creates social inequalities and corporate oligarchies? Sure, it makes sense to decentralise enterprises, but only as long as it does not go against other ideas people value.

Ideologies can only be validated in a certain context. An economic-political system that works in post-war Japan might not work in 12th century Greece although both of them were relatively prosperous at the time. The search for common factors is likely to lead to abstraction, which yields no practical solutions.

Abstractness. The capacity of an ideology depends on its abstractness. The more abstract the idea, the more chances it could be applied in a certain context. On the other hand, if the idea is too vague it is hard to deduce the outcomes of its application. Ideologies usually do not consider single issues and considering all relevant issues is, in fact, not even possible. Each morning we have to make decisions on what to do next. On personal, interpersonal, and political scales. Parliaments still have not run out of issues and will not do so in foreseeable future. And there is no book where we could look up the exact decision, nor could such a book exist.

Proper use of ideologies. Ideologies are not worthless. One good thing about ideologies is that they make communication easier. It takes less time to mention a word, such as ‘anarchism’ than to write a paragraph about what you think anarchism means and then make someone else read it. However, people often offload their political considerations and reflections to a versatile signifier detached from rationality (thinking “I like liberalism, so I should vote for the liberals” or “what would a conservative do in my situation?”) effectively declining their capacity to reason and pushing political ideologies ever closer to religions.

Behind ideologies you can find many hours of intensive human thinking, of reflection of the present and the future. There is a lot to learn from them. However, we have to become aware of what ideologies actually are, and how to split them into propositions to obtain new more relevant ideas.

Brief immersion to the issue of dynamic democracy

Here I will share the ideas and stories about improving the decision making process where decisions affect large groups of people. In the first post I present two main assumptions that I make while discussing aspects of decision making: unpredictability of outcomes, and subjectivity of outcomes. The first one inevitably leads to dynamic ideologies, and the second one to collective agreement, which is best known as various forms of democracy.

Briefly on dynamics

The major claim is that optimal political decisions can not be prescribed by some solitary scribbler before they actually have to be implemented. Philosophers and writers can give valuable insights and by no means should be ignored, but these ideas are too vague for specific cases. We live in a complex environment with myriads of factors which can not be predicted by any writer, and no human being is capable of considering each combination of possible future factors with a fine enough precision. Computer modelling of decision outcomes probably deserves a separate discussion, but as of 2011 it is far from reaching a sufficient level and also requires a deep understanding of political philosophy in the scientific community.

The dynamic collective decision making process embraces the complexity of possible situations and learns from failures. All other features of such system are derived from the values of collective members.

In theory, such dynamic process could even lead to a conclusion that a more rigid process should be adopted - and that would seem fine as long as it is in accord with the values of the collective under consideration. However, one of the properties of macro-physical universe where we as human beings act is perpetual change and the improbability of precise future prediction (even given determinism, due to various reasons, which also deserve a separate discussion). As a result, the dynamic theory makes an assumption that the dynamic component must persist.

Briefly on democracy

The second and probably the most important assumption is subjectivity of reality. All humans and the environment where we live have certain limitations which led to development of something that could be described as pragmatics. Every day we are forced to make decisions on various issues from simple to life-time (remember - not making a decision is also a decision to avoid a decision) and we succeed in making them (not always succeed with our predictions, though) based on our perception of reality and our subjective pragmatics which stem from the details of the different paths that lead each of us to our current states. But simply having an opinion is not enough - it needs to be expressed by exercising power. And unless one is a solipsist, there is no objective reason why values of some person are superior to values of another person. Even such seemingly fundamental questions as survival of species bow to the power of individual interpretation. This lack of exceptional superiority is what we conceive as equality and the exercise of power is what we consider our freedom.

Term democracy means that members of a collective of people exercise their power considering each member’s opinion as equal. One could question the exact wording - but I believe that it communicates the idea of δημοκρατία well enough. The exact process of reaching consensus is subject to discussion, but the key step is to recognise the equality of each others’ worldview as being more fundamental than any historical or emotional reasons, because it is only a result, the surface of something more profound. That is, as mentioned, the second assumption that we need to make and to agree with before we can proceed with democracy.

By using certain broad terms, such as democracy, one has to bear with all the historical uses and misuses, but gains the easiness of appealing to the ones somewhat familiar with the related issues. In this particular case term democracy is used in the sense which is closer to consensus democracy and participatory democracy, because these are the forms that respect the equal distribution of power between collective members. However, in most of the countries that consider themselves democratic, the term democracy is used as a synonym of representative democracy - a form of decision making that respects opinions of the citizens a little, but where power distribution is rather awry and distorted.