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Illusions of Democracy

by Death Friday, Sep. 30, 2011 at 5:17 AM

A series copied from a content bucket about politics.

Many people hold an idealized vision of American democracy. The story is that we vote, our representatives will vote our way most of the time. During each election, there are debates, discussions in the press, and people read up on issues and vote.

Of course, that's all bullshit.

In fact, that story is concocted and fed to us to keep us powerless. The more you believe it, the more trapped you are in the illusion.

The real situation is that we have two poles of democracy. One is the functional democracy where many people have power, and representatives are responsive. The other is the non-democracy, where elections are fixed before the people get to have an effect.

The functional democracy is simple: it's based around groups. You have small community groups, even clubs, sports leagues, and other interest groups. You have regional and national groups usually based on a policy issue like the environment. There are also labor groups like unions, but also guilds and trade organizations. These groups all spend time talking to representatives, and throwing their votes behind specific candidates. Additionally, the groups campaign for the candidates.

The non-democracy is complex. It's political, but mostly about relationships and influence. You have different kinds of lobbyists, usually professional and paid by businesses. The donations are made to campaigns, and that cash is used to buy different kinds of media, usually direct mail and phone calls, with the goal of swaying the votes of undecided people. As elections come up, the candidates negotiate with each other to avoid running against each other. The candidates are similar, but slightly different in ways that will matter to the undecideds (the differences are gender, race, weight, age, looks, job and other factors which usually don't matter).

There may even be a group of voters who are lied to or strung along. These are called low-information voters. It's a nice way to say these voters are ignorant, at least about politics, if not generally.

Both these poles are in effect. They both exist at the same time, but the problems happen when we move from the functional pole to the non-democratic pole.

To keep the democracy healthy, we need to join into groups, advocate for our issues, and be pretty darn well sure of who to vote for long before the media spreads the horse manure around. And when the elected person gets in, you put some pressure on them to write legislation to address your issue.

Some people may not be "joiners" and may want to be independent. These people are largely powerless in a democracy. The reason why is somewhat funny, though.

The great middle, the independents, are prodded and polled. Based on the polls, politicians will make promises, and even pass legislation that appeals to the polled. The problem is, there are other pressures, so the laws are likely to be watered down or distorted and sometimes even deceptive. The risk of unintended consequences is very high.

People who are joined in groups are not as likely to suffer this kind of political bait-and-switch, though it does happen. People within groups tend to read the legislation, and can demand that the law address their issues.

Basically, groups make you smarter, and more powerful. It's a double whammy of goodness in a democratic system.
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