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Direct Democracy: can it work?

October 23, 2011

Welcome to the first political blog by Runakuna, written for the 99% by one of the 99%. This is intended to be one of many of my own personal acts of resistance.

I’m writing from Dublin, Ireland. I’ve spent much of the summer and autumn here after I came over to help a friend who has been left sleeping on the streets of the Irish capital with her guide dog. The circumstances of this are complex, and perhaps the subject of a later blog.

Today, I’m going to explain my own biases. As a member of the Fifth Estate*, I don’t have to pretend to neutrality which, for my fellows in the Fourth Estate, often consists of taking the views of the two biggest groups and then pretending they’ve been “fair and balanced”.

I’m unashamedly going to take, not so much the third way of looking at things, as the fifth or sixth – something alternative and, hopefully, out of the box. I’ll also be trying to hold the rest – especially the media, the political classes and the wealthy (three overlapping groups, let’s face it) – to account.

I’ll also have a quick glance at democracy: a group of political systems that has singularly, at least to date, failed in its promises.

I’ve sided with the worldwide Occupation movements openly for good reasons. I’m in my late 30s, articulate (I hope), intelligent (apparently), and literate (I hope evidently). I’m dependent on state benefits, seeing a psychologist, apparently unemployable – assuming the rejection letters from those prospective employers who could be bothered to respond are anything to go by – and I’m seriously pissed off.

I’m awaiting diagnosis for Asperger syndrome, which may explain my utter ineptitude at social interaction: the syndrome is a form of high-functioning autism, associated with above-average intellect, a different theory of mind, and extreme difficulty using and interpreting non-verbal communication. While I often don’t understand other humans very well (leading me to sometimes wonder if the rest of you are in fact a different species), I do seem to think differently, leading me to hope I might be able to develop some insights others might miss.

At some point I might get round to talking about thieving bankers and their culture of entitlement, but everyone is talking about bailouts. Sooner rather than later I want to think about disability discrimination (perhaps less about autism than about other people who are discriminated against), migration and human trafficking, messed-up healthcare systems, even more messed-up social welfare systems, and an economic system that’s based on lies and fantasies.

My thinking has an Andean influence that comes from a close friend. She’s a shaman born in the Andes, and she has explained some of the social concepts used by the peoples who live there. That thinking will almost certainly have an influence on my writing, so hopefully my reader(s) will learn something from that.

So, on to matters of self-government. Representative democracy is perhaps the least bad system of government tried on a large scale on this planet. Ultimately, the global howls of fury erupting all over the world are one consequence of its failure. Rich people are in charge, the poor are getting poorer, and the natural environment is one big tragedy of the commons – or at least one big tragedy of the greedy.

Here’s what I like about the Occupation movements: participation. In the consensus process everyone’s view is welcome. It’s possible – even encouraged – for anyone to speak up and make their voice heard. A fusion of the ideas of many might not be the best way forward, or even one that everyone is totally happy with, but it at least leads to a position that everyone can live with.

There remains a hitch: it’s biased towards those who are verbally articulate. There are plenty of people out there without the education to articulate their views. I’m articulate, but don’t have the nerve to stand up with a megaphone: I stammer, for a start. Writing, as with many Aspies (a usually affectionate term for people with Asperger syndrome), levels part of the playing field.

There’s another problem: direct democracy might not act in the interests of everyone, but in the best interests of the most skilled demagogue, or the man (and most of them are, let’s face it, male) who can afford most ink to reach the majority of the population with his propaganda. History is full of examples of talented orators bringing a majority to a position that might be considered utterly reprehensible.

I know of no evidence of wannabe Hitlers in the Occupy camps, but consider this: if there were to be a referendum in the UK on the death penalty we’d probably have it back. We’d probably have never repealed the odious Section 28 of the Local Government Act  – legislation that barred schools from “promoting” homosexuality, and effectively meant that teachers could not discuss  a natural expression of human behaviour, or tackle homophobic bullying. The majority actually acted against their own best interests when there was a recent attempt just to reform the electoral system in the UK.

Participatory democracy, for those reasons alone, won’t work as a political system without balances, and may not work in the best interests of everyone at all. What it might do, with enough minds trying to crack the problem, is lead is to something that could just transform our societies, and our world, for the better. It’s a process, not a solution and, as we stand in a general assembly, it may pay to remember that.


* Fifth estate: in this case, the bloggers, as distinct from the fourth estate (the mainstream media). The others are the First estate (clergy), the Second estate (nobility) and Third estate (commoners, artisans and those in business).


This post was edited for explanation at 1700 local time, 0r 1600 GMT.


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