Tuesday, 8 March 2016

PER DiEM (1)

PER DiEM: Can one Save Europe by appealing to Democracy?


Dear Yanis Varoufakis,

Your remedy against the disintegration of Europe is to “democratize Europe”, and make it more transparent.

The trouble is (and you know this as well as anyone) that a democracy is a rickety boat with a host of opinionated pilots, dozens of helmsmen, and a barely effective rudder. Here, in Britain, we should have as good a chance of it working as anywhere, but it does not work here; the pilots give up and the helmsmen squabble among themselves for a hand on the tiller. We are dazzled and exhausted by the barrage of conflicting views presented by the media. We (in Britain) find that most of our votes are not actually represented in the House of Commons, and so are pointless.

Our forthcoming referendum is of course different; for every vote will count.  But it is even more difficult for the average voter to assess the arguments. There is enormous ignorance in the country about the workings of the European Union, and the mechanisms of power.

It is widely held that democracy, while a poor thing, is the best form of government available. We all pay lip-service to DEMOCRACY. But do we truly believe in it? The counterpart of ‘oi demoi’ is ‘oi aristoi’ ; the opposite of democracy is aristocracy. There is a widespread view among the average working person that these difficult matters are best left to the clever few. And that view is, alas, both sensible and largely correct.  

The ‘demos’, though sound on morality, is relatively ignorant of the details of government. This ignorance is inescapable, for there are very few people that can acquire more than a fraction of the information, and hold it long enough to form and assess arguments. Even these few must blindly trust their sources. It is not for wisdom that we turn to the ‘demos’.  Morality, on the other hand, belongs to the ‘demos’; it can scarcely be said to exist except in the  demos’ . Individuals may be high-minded or base, altruistic or selfish; it is only when you average out all the variation that you can conclude what is “right action”. 

Unfortunately, ignorance often trumps morality; the ‘demos’ can be played upon by anyone with adequate rhetorical skills. Hitler marched a nation to war, while our own finance ministers can trick us into cutting taxes, and benefits. (“The worker voting for a tax-cut is like a mouse voting for a mouse-trap, thinking of the cheese.”)  We can hardly rely on the moral compass of the voting public, except in the long term. It might take a decade. It might take a generation.

So, does one have to join the ranks of those trying to manipulate the public?  You travel, and speak. You blog and post videos. You hope that you inspire some. But your message must be essentially simple, clearly honest and patently disinterested.  I wish you well and would like to help.


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