Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We need to understand what democracy is and why politics will fail

Democracy, like any other system of government or political system, is designed to keep the powerful in the driver's seat. It's not about the good of the people, unless they hold power. It was invented and implemented at times when having a large group of people supporting you meant something, gave you the ability to do things. Any other system: theocracy, tyranny, feudalism, communism, fascism... they all do the same thing and fail when the group they support fails to maintain power. Democracy is not about the little people, it's about how fast a system can adapt to changes in the structures of power. It is just the "agile" version of the same old thing. By declaring its ruling group "the people", democracy can survive any political change. The system outlives groups and groups of "people".

Consider the present, where we are split more than ever into voters and the indifferent. Does democracy help the young disillusioned people who more and more refuse to vote for anything? No. That's not a bug in the democratic system, but nor is it a fault or a consequence of not voting; instead it is a realization of a truth, that young people are a minority that is segregated from the old by technology, new ways of communication and networking and ultimately, completely different goals. In this image, the young are the indifferent, but there is a reason for that: they are not the powerful - democracy doesn't work for them either way.

Imagine you are part of a group of three people, each with equal voting rights. Every time you try to influence a decision, the other two vote differently. Will you continue to play the voting game or will you recognize it for what it is: a waste of time? Now imagine you are the king of the three people. How long will you maintain your position when the other two outpower you? Democracy helps the stability of the three-body system, but it does nothing for you. Suddenly, one of the three people starts to like you (or dislike the other) and he starts voting with you. Now you are part of the powerful and your decision matters. Conflict is again averted and stability preserved because as soon as the balance of power changed, the ruling party changed accordingly. It would be stupid for the weak single man to try to fight two, so he grumbles and complains, but does nothing.

In this day and age, there are so many different types of power: military, mediatic, technical, administrative, economic, etc. Democracy doesn't help the many anymore, because they lost their power. Having a lot of idiots in your group doesn't do much. Smart people, they start to realize it and also to understand that the game is rigged. Some try desperately to shift the perspective of the dumb amorphous masses, but if you could do that, you would be in power already because you already have it. Mathematical algorithms are being created to diagnose the health of a network, to determine the influential nodes, to determine the best outcome when the simple "wisdom of the crowds" fails miserably. They could work online, locally, maybe, but in real life? Never.

The Internet itself started as the true hope of mankind to evolve and change. A place where people meet on equal footing, have access to information, can connect and discuss and decide together. What happened? Same thing. A few companies and a few people hold the power to sway the vast hordes of connected people. When that doesn't work, legal pressure is applied from "without", from the real world. People clump together by interest and information source; essentially they become one voice, but one blinded, dumb and ignorant, yet convinced of its own truth. It is a sad moment when we realize that the monopoly of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and the like is better than the complete anarchy of a disorganized web. Do you even remember life before Google? When you would use different search engines to find something? When 99.99% of everything was spam or malware?

But all of this just underlines a very ironic fact: democracy is, in itself, redundant, even circular. It legitimizes itself, it graciously grants power to the ones that already have it. It's a game that covers a truth as old as the world itself. Its only purpose is to minimize unrest by permanently governing the weak. The only true enemy of democracy is not communism or terrorism, it's asymmetric warfare: the rapid accumulation of power in small groups. When a single hacker can challenge the status quo, when a "lone wolf terrorist" can cause much more damage than we can cause them, when software allows you complete anonymity to gather, think and plan something the powerful cannot supervise, that's when democracy fails. That's when the powerful become unsure of their power.

And we know what happens when power is fearful: abuse of power. Beware power, because it makes you an enemy of the state. Not because of shadow cabals or government conspiracies, but because of direct logical consequence. And when I say "state" I mean the whole state (of affairs). It means your neighbors, your friends, your city and only at the end, some sort of authority which, ironically, acts as the perfect agent of a democratic government. It is actually not at all different from the original meaning of the term, coined by ancient Greece, where every citizen could vote, but not all people were citizens. How many sci-fi movies show superpowered individuals being chased by government agencies? Why is that? Because governments are evil? No, it's because unchecked power is illegal. You are allowed power, you never generate it yourself unless you rule.

I predict a moment, not far from now, where democracy as we know it completely fails. Not because it is a bad system, but because we become too fast. Power would shift faster than the system could adapt. We already see glimpses of this in the fashionable "Facebook revolutions", where political outcomes thought to be known change over night because of one rapidly spreading trend. The system will desperately try to adapt and it will succeed, but in doing so will become something akin to the stock market. It will be automatic, it will split society into algorithmically equal sides, holding power for inconsequential amounts of time, having no meaning. Radical movements will gain ground, not because they inspire something, but because they are a little brighter than the bland hemispheres of the political system. I believe at this time the entire political system will crash, like markets crash when they get to this point. Corruption will be the only thing keeping politics together so when the system crashes, it all spews forth like black tainted blood. The new revolutionaries will be vindicated by this and gain a flimsy amount of power that will ultimately fail. Then, as with the Internet, maybe the corporate system will gain ground. Or maybe political capital will move just like economic one, being sold and bought transparently. Who knows?

What I am certain of, though, is that politics - as it is now - is doomed to fail. Not because we become smarter, but because we become too unpredictable.