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Simulacrum of Democracy

March 30, 2007

Here are some “truths” about our democracy. Well… here are some sentiments about our democracy that are seemingly widely held, or at least, often expressed:

  1. Citizens are responsible for keeping themselves accurately informed of the issues and candidates.
  2. Citizens are ethically obligated to participate in the electoral process.
  3. If one doesn’t participate in the electoral process, one has no justification for complaining about the results.

But here is what Your Montag wrote yesterday:

[Allow me, Dear Reader to use the weasel-words “some say” here, so I don’t have to hunt down a quote to back it up…]

Some even say that it is unethical to participate in such an undemocratic arrangement, thus legitimizing it as a ‘free and fair’ election. [Stump Lane Archives: Clean Elections]

This time around lets examine the possibility of replacing “some say,” with “I might say.” (“I” meaning “Your Montag.”)

Rather than blindly accepting those three “truths” mentioned above, let’s take another look:

  1. Citizens are responsible for keeping themselves accurately informed of the issues and candidates.Yes.
    If one is going to vote, or otherwise participate in governing, then one should heed this sort of ‘buyer beware’ rule. And while it’s worth mentioning that one needn’t achieve full or complete understanding of the issues of the day in order to formulate an opinion, it is also probably worth mentioning that it’s a good idea to actually investigate and think about a particular issue before one participates in activism— whether that activism takes the form of voting, or signing a petition, or sending a message to those in power. You know, to make one’s activism meaningful.
  2. Citizens are ethically obligated to participate in the electoral process.No.
    In fact, when a responsible citizen comes to the realization that the electoral process is not truly representative of the best interests of the populous, it may actually become unethical to participate in, and help legitimize, such a process.
  3. If one doesn’t participate in the electoral process, one has no justification for complaining about the results.Again, no.
    The act of living in and accepting the benefits of our society— governed as it is by the institutions set forth in the Constitution —implies each individual’s right, nay responsibility, to monitor, steer, and, yes, even complain about our leaders, whether an individual participates in the electoral rites or not.

The two major parties in the United States have taken hold of the process. They have the power. They make the rules. They write the campaign finance rules and decide who is allowed to participate in presidential debates, for instance. They will never make a rule or decision that might run counter to the preservation of their power.

The “truths” discussed here— at least numbers two and three —seem that they might not amount to a truth at all, but rather a simulacrum of democracy: nurtured and perpetuated by those in power, and instilled in their subjects. Their subjects are our friends and family who, with good intentions, urge us to participate; but only within the narrow boundaries set out by those already in power. They are the friends and family (and I’ll admit I was among them not all that long ago, myself) who urge us to participate, but warn us against voting the ‘third way.’

How can one effect change, if forced to operate within such tight and strictly regimented constraints? If one is not allowed to effect change— or attempt to —can that situation be rightfully considered true democracy?*

* In this case, “representative democracy,” responsive to the needs and desires of The People; envisioned and passed-on by forefathers and Civics teachers throughout US history.

[It’s not about liberalism/progressivism specifically, but let’s add this one on to the Series of Indeterminate Length in which Your Montag lays out my political philosophy and opens it up to criticism by commenters that don’t exist as yet.]

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