10 votes

Political confessional: Democracy is overrated. I want an oligarchy

10 comments

  1. [8]
    hungariantoast
    Link
    I'd like to avoid some of the extremely negative and angry comments that have seemed to (wrongfully, in my opinion) dominate some recent topics on Tildes, so here's my opinion on some of the...

    I'd like to avoid some of the extremely negative and angry comments that have seemed to (wrongfully, in my opinion) dominate some recent topics on Tildes, so here's my opinion on some of the points of this article (and not just the title) where I agree and disagree with this guy, think he might be missing the big picture, or isn't thinking ahead. I'm going to explain it without being totally outraged. (Which, for the record, is something I have very successfully been the perpetrator of before.)


    Democracy is pretty overrated. I would be totally content with a benevolent oligarchy making policy decisions for me.

    I understand this feeling. It's exhausting to be invested in politics and to actually care about the happenings of your country when, at least in the case of the United States, it seems like one half of the population is ass backwards, but also supremely powerful. I get it, feeling like you can trust the people who govern you to do a good job because they should be qualified to do so to have that position is a great feeling. There are documentaries and books and movies built around how America lost that feeling at several points in history. Watergate perhaps being the most prominent... so far. I'm not knowledgeable enough to link quotes and what not, but the idea of democracies being good at electing people who are good at being elected, and not necessarily electing people who are good leaders (because those aren't the same thing) comes to mind.

    I'd much rather have a benevolent oligarchy of perfect politicians that I agree with running the show with an iron (but agreeable) fist than I would rather constantly go back and forth with groups whose politics I despise as borderline evil. No one wants to cede ground, everyone wants to hold it.

    I’m not an expert in medicine, so I don’t decide who gets to be a doctor, and I’m not an expert in engine repair, so I don’t decide who gets to be a mechanic. Since I’m also not an expert in government, so why insist that I decide who governs me?

    I find this very hard to refute, because at a basic level he's right, again. In a perfect world the people best suited for positions would be put there by people best qualified to appoint them. In a democracy, uneducated voters can absolutely play a part in decisions that end up unfavorable for their nation, community, whatever. In order to even argue against this, I find myself falling back to the realms of reality, countering with questions like "Oh yeah, well how do you decide who is "expert enough" to get to vote then? How do you eliminate biases and not misconstrue the education process to favor one political party?" and while those are valid questions, they're not really relevant to arguing against this scenario directly. If someone asked me what I would choose as my preferred form of government for my community or nation in a scenario where my choices play out exactly as I want them to, and then they argue with me that those conditions are hilariously unrealistic (anarcho-syndicalism by the way, sorry) and that I should feel bad for giving that answer, I'd be annoyed. So I don't want to do that. I don't want to point out the flaws that these ideas have in the real world, I want to argue against them within the scenario as that's the only realm that's applicable at the moment. (Or, actually, you could argue it isn't, since this guy believes these things but also gets to vote like you or me. Do his personal beliefs then automatically transcend his scenario into reality when he exercises his ability to vote?)

    I have a particular religious conviction that the family is the fundamental unit of society. And I think that if our politics are getting in the way of that rather than enforcing it, we’re doing something wrong.

    I don't think I need to explain that this isn't universal. Some people absolutely consider politics more important than ties to family members. I can definitely tell you that there are people I'm related to that I don't talk to or interact with largely because of their political beliefs and I think that is fine. I think their political beliefs either result in or are a result of some of their other negative qualities, and those negative qualities exist in sufficient amount for me to cut ties and not communicate.

    What I'm saying is, this is a personal belief. The idea that family is the fundamental unit of society and that politics disrupting that is wrong somehow. I disagree with it. My family doesn't (under normal circumstances) get to decide how much I am taxed or where that money goes. They don't get to decide where bike lanes get built. It isn't up to them if I am going to receive financial aid or if the cost of my tuition is going to go up or down.

    (Except... it is? Once more, democracy bites us in the ass.)

    I think a lot of people get worked up over things that they aren’t in a position control, and that makes them really unhappy. People would be a lot happier if they gave themselves permission not to care about election outcomes.

    Again, this is something I can't really argue against within the scenario. If the oligarchical government benevolently governs us all, then I'm sure that each and every single one of us who no longer has to worry about politics to ensure we're getting the best out of it will be much happier than we are constantly dealing with our democratic, and sometimes unfavorable, results.

    At the same time, I would say that people being a lot happier because "they gave themselves permission not to care about election outcomes" is a direct reason as to why democracies tend to falter at times. This entire scenario is built on the idea that our democracies aren't as good as this theoretical oligarchy because the people who form the outcomes of our democracies don't hold the required knowledge to maximize its effectiveness. Therefore, this person advocates that we just give up the process to "those who know" and be done with it, embracing our ignorance and making ourselves happier by not being concerned.


    Okay, I'm not going to nitpick every single part of this interview. I don't have the time to type all that out, y'all don't have the time to read it either. Here's a couple more quotes and my argument against them, which forms the crux of my opinion:

    She’s not my congressperson. It shouldn’t really matter to me what she’s doing. But I think most marginally informed people have heard of her, and probably all of those people have a very strong opinion of her. I’m not immune to that. But if you take a step back, why should I? Why is it worth me getting invested in what this person from a different state is talking about? I think the instinct is to take being informed as a per se good. I don’t know if that’s the best thing because, in the end, what are you going to do about that?

    I want an economist who is going to make data-driven decisions about doing things with the economy, and I want that person to be in charge of the Federal Reserve. I want someone who has a lot of expertise in military strategy to be in charge of the armed forces, etc.

    CM: What would be the ideal population for the democracy we have right now in the U.S.?

    Matt: I think on the size of a local community. That’s something a small group of individuals can actually influence, and I think on that scale you can actually get to know your representative and there’s more of an incentive for them to represent you rather than be answerable to a party or to a radical wing of a constituency.

    The last quote I included is specifically important to me, because I believe in it 100%, but the rest of this I have issues with. For instance, when a congresswoman from New York gets elected and actually participates in Congress, she affects you. The members of Congress don't exclusively work on and change things that only affect their constituents. They have a hand in the overall process that affects everyone. So, the idea that you shouldn't be concerned about this is something I disagree with. Ideas transcend borders. The congresswoman from New York might radicalize a base of voters in Texas and so on.

    As far as economists running the Reserve and military experts commanding armed forces, this is hard to argue with. Again, this goes back to the issue of the perfect scenario, but I would argue that these institutions at least have proven very resilient to some of the flaws of an under-educated electorate in a democracy. Personally, I would have chosen Secretary of Education as a more realistic example of where democracy has realistically failed us.

    I can't argue within the scenario in many places, but I can refute it broadly by saying that implementing an effective oligarchy like this, freedom and liberty be damned, is much more difficult than dealing with the biggest failing of modern western democracies which is, in my opinion, an under-educated electorate, disdain for academia, and the rejection of science and data. Excusing ourselves from this process in exchange for being happy in our ignorance would be a dangerous, deadly mistake for many of us.


    I'm just going to end the political discussion part of this comment by saying that I definitely vibe with the idea that democracy has certain flaws because of what it is. I love the idea of comparing inclusionary democracies with exclusionary democracies. For instance, should felons serving a prison sentence have the right to vote? They're actively serving time for going against the ideas of society and breaking its rules. They've demonstrated an inability to participate in society within the confines we define ourselves, thus their interests were, at one point, at odds with some or all aspects of our democracy. Should they have the right to vote?


    Right, so why did I bother to write this subpar comment in a way that isn't totally agreeable and may not realistically represent how ridiculous I think the opinion this interview revolves around is? Because it doesn't make for good discussion. Like I said earlier, a lot of the comments I have seen on Tildes lately seem to be "hot takes" of people being really upset or "heated" about the content of a topic, or the title of a topic, without really expressing that in a way that's approachable for others.

    Some of the arguments in this comment are pretty weak, but what I want to point out is that I at least came up with something mildly convincing and effective as a rebuttal against the content of this article without being outraged, angry, or vitriolic. This comment (I hope) isn't off putting, demeaning, or rude. I'm not pontificating and am being relatively approachable for discussion, not making others feel like they need to be ready for an argument just because they want to bring up something they disagree with me on.

    I'm definitely not trying to police any other user's attitude, but some of the popular comments I've seen recently are pretty whack and way angrier and harder to approach than they need to be, in my opinion.

    Just... try to relax a bit

    14 votes
    1. [5]
      Dogyote
      Link Parent
      Sorry OP, I think this is my hot take of the article. I'm open to the idea that democracy/capitalism may not be the best political system at this moment in time. I'd like to engage in a serious...

      Sorry OP, I think this is my hot take of the article.

      I'm open to the idea that democracy/capitalism may not be the best political system at this moment in time. I'd like to engage in a serious discussion about this topic, but I think that the opinions of the interviewee are far too underdeveloped to even engage with. What was 538 trying to achieve by interviewing this person? Their opinions were incredibly irritating, like hot garbage, edgy teen, irritating. To me, it sounded like they were saying 'I wish someone would just do things for me.' I suspect we all feel that way occasionally, and who would have a problem with a near-perfect benevolent oligarchy (should we be using the word technocracy)? However, to quote the interviewee, "That’s the obvious flaw in the plan. It only works out if the decision-makers are looking out for everyone’s best interests." Oh really? Then how does one create a system that attempts to ensure this outcome?

      OP, I don't think this was the best article for provoking discussion. It seems like a 'garbage in, garbage out' situation. I like to think that most people on this website are a bit beyond the opinions presented. However, you clearly have more developed thoughts that, in my opinion, are great discussion topics. There are just too many in one comment to address. Is there one in particular that you want to hear opinions/thoughts about?

      9 votes
      1. [3]
        alyaza
        Link Parent
        well, it's part of a series on people who have political opinions they wouldn't share with their friends, hence the name 'political confession.' presumably they saw someone with a rather...

        What was 538 trying to achieve by interviewing this person? Their opinions were incredibly irritating, like hot garbage, edgy teen, irritating. To me, it sounded like they were saying 'I wish someone would just do things for me.'

        well, it's part of a series on people who have political opinions they wouldn't share with their friends, hence the name 'political confession.' presumably they saw someone with a rather unorthodox political view (i want an oligarchy) and decided to investigate that because, let's be honest, how many people do you know that openly state that they would rather have an oligarchic system them a democratic one?

        6 votes
        1. [2]
          papasquat
          Link Parent
          I didn't think that anyone living in a democratic country held that opinion, to be honest. It sounds like they got Anakin Skywalker to do that interview. I thought it was a ridiculous few lines of...

          I didn't think that anyone living in a democratic country held that opinion, to be honest. It sounds like they got Anakin Skywalker to do that interview. I thought it was a ridiculous few lines of dialog when George Lucas wrote it because I didn't think anyone actually thought that way. There are obvious flaws there.

          I think everyone would prefer to live in a benevolent oligarchy where their idea of a perfect society is de jure. The problem is that there is exactly zero chance of that ever happening. Dictators don't tend to have interests that align perfectly with the people they govern. Even if they did, there's no guaranteeing that the next person in line will. Once you give up the power to effect any sort of change to align with your interests, though, the only way to get it back is extended periods of extreme acts of horrific violence. You can't just decide that even though you liked the last dictator, this one is bad and we shouldn't have him any more. You have to fight and die for the remote chance of that happening.

          It doesn't seem like Matt's actually thought through any of this, or if he has, he's being disingenuous simply in order to have an unconventional opinion.

          7 votes
          1. alyaza
            Link Parent
            oh no, he's thought through literally none of it. this exchange alone on the single most important aspect of making a functioning oligarchic system should make that clear:

            It doesn't seem like Matt's actually thought through any of this, or if he has, he's being disingenuous simply in order to have an unconventional opinion.

            oh no, he's thought through literally none of it. this exchange alone on the single most important aspect of making a functioning oligarchic system should make that clear:

            CM: How would we select these people?
            Matt: Boy, I don’t know if I’ve thought that deeply about that.

            5 votes
      2. tea_and_cats_please
        Link Parent
        Emphasis mine. This is indeed some hot garbage. "Vapid man has dumb opinions on a subject he admits to not thinking very deeply on" is how I'd characterize it.

        CM: Don’t we have those things right now? Economists in the Fed, people in the military running the military. What would you propose, for instance, should take the place of Congress and the presidency?

        Matt: I don’t know if I’ve thought that far about it. But I think in terms of listening to politicians, I really don’t like ideological, emotionally-driven arguments. Like, “Oh, we should do this because it supports freedom or supports equality or whatever.” And I really do like things that have results or things that have numbers behind them. And I think that’s a lot more of an objective way to look at things rather than, like, rhetoric.

        CM: How would we select these people?

        Matt: Boy, I don’t know if I’ve thought that deeply about that.

        Emphasis mine. This is indeed some hot garbage. "Vapid man has dumb opinions on a subject he admits to not thinking very deeply on" is how I'd characterize it.

        3 votes
    2. [2]
      Silbern
      Link Parent
      Well if you only limit yourself to his context, sure, it's hard to argue. Every politician is perfectly moral and competent, and a perfectly fair selection process someone manages to ensure that...

      I find this very hard to refute, because at a basic level he's right, again. In a perfect world the people best suited for positions would be put there by people best qualified to appoint them. In a democracy, uneducated voters can absolutely play a part in decisions that end up unfavorable for their nation, community, whatever. In order to even argue against this, I find myself falling back to the realms of reality, countering with questions like "Oh yeah, well how do you decide who is "expert enough" to get to vote then? How do you eliminate biases and not misconstrue the education process to favor one political party?" and while those are valid questions, they're not really relevant to arguing against this scenario directly. If someone asked me what I would choose as my preferred form of government for my community or nation in a scenario where my choices play out exactly as I want them to, and then they argue with me that those conditions are hilariously unrealistic (anarcho-syndicalism by the way, sorry) and that I should feel bad for giving that answer, I'd be annoyed. So I don't want to do that. I don't want to point out the flaws that these ideas have in the real world, I want to argue against them within the scenario as that's the only realm that's applicable at the moment. (Or, actually, you could argue it isn't, since this guy believes these things but also gets to vote like you or me. Do his personal beliefs then automatically transcend his scenario into reality when he exercises his ability to vote?)

      Well if you only limit yourself to his context, sure, it's hard to argue. Every politician is perfectly moral and competent, and a perfectly fair selection process someone manages to ensure that only the best rise to the top. But I don't see the problem with pointing out that this isn't how the world works in reality. If a benevolent oligarchy only works in very specific, unrealistic conditions, then doesn't that undermine the case for it being superior to democracy as a form of government?

      But I also take exception to comparing humans to an inanimate engine or a doctor. It's possible to somewhat accurately measure someone's competency with repairing engines or applying medicine, because these are relatively formulaic processes where the fundamental rules never change; acetaminophen doesn't just decide one day it's no longer going to dull pain, nor does it change depending on where you go. But people have wants, desires, and moods, and don't stay consistent. You can see this among some senior Republicans in the US who've been successfully winning elections and drafting policy for decades, are struggling to adapt to how rapidly the electorate has changed seemingly overnight in the past couple years, with Trump. Are these politicians now suddenly less competent, because they no longer understand their voters like they did before? Or where they sub-competent the whole time, because they're not capable of dealing with the rapid change?

      Plus, where do we draw the line between benevolent and effective? If these oligarchical rulers for example ordered that anyone over the age of 55 were to be executed in order to save the state the burden of caring for them, would the significantly greater amounts of extra money that could be spent aiding the poor and the sick, and relieving people of worrying about retirement, be worth cutting off potentially the worst years of their life? In a democracy, this problem is an easy one; give the option out there and see what people vote for. What they prefer is then the morally correct choice. But in an oligarchy or benevolent dictatorship, how can the leader know that they really made the right decision? If there even is such a thing as a right decision in this situation?

      It's very late at night and I'm tired, so I apologize if my questioning doesn't make any sense.

      5 votes
      1. hungariantoast
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Honestly, it has to undermine it. You can't really have a discussion about forms of government in their own little, perfect bubbles because the result you find is that just about each form of...

        If a benevolent oligarchy only works in very specific, unrealistic conditions, then doesn't that undermine the case for it being superior to democracy as a form of government?

        Honestly, it has to undermine it. You can't really have a discussion about forms of government in their own little, perfect bubbles because the result you find is that just about each form of government, functioning the way its supposed to in its little world, is the best form of government. So it's required to measure the merits of government in the face of real world conditions, which is historically where democracy shines.

        It's also where Matt's idea tends to fall apart. We get back to the "How do you decide whose expert enough to be a part of the government then? How does the oligarchy remain benevolent?" type of questions.

        Or where they sub-competent the whole time, because they're not capable of dealing with the rapid change?

        This is actually the part of Matt's idea that interests me the most. It ties into the benevolence of the oligarchy, and how that benevolence is enforced.

        What I mean is, in Matt's scenario, the oligarchy must be benevolent, meaning it must maximize the good it does for the maximum number of citizens possible. I see two ways this works:

        • The oligarchy is "benevolent" in the sense that it exists as a reaction of the population's opinions and desires.

        The oligarchy changes with the whims of its citizens. If the people decide that thing X is good and thing Y is bad, the oligarchy enforces this, but if the opinions of X and Y change to represent a different majority opinion, the oligarchy must change as well. This has the nasty side effect of still misrepresenting the will of a massive percentage of the population, such as a 49% minority. This is something that plagues larger democracies, ironically. (Even more ironic is how surveying these opinions and determining the will of the populace to remain benevolent essentially allows the oligarchy's very existence to be at the mercy of a nearly democratic process.)

        • The oligarchy is "benevolent" in the sense that it enforces, based the interpretation of data and statistics (since Matt is so fond of those things), the rules it deems best for the populace.

        This is an entirely different kind of benevolence that's still troubled by the "large minority" issue, but also operates in an entirely different way. In this scenario, the oligarchy enforces what is "benevolent" using data, statistics, and hopefully a little bit of scientific methodology. So, a majority of the population might disagree with a choice that the oligarchy makes, but they must trust that the oligarchy knows that it is actually the best choice for the population's survival and maybe even happiness.

        Both of these types of oligarchies are, like you said, dependent on unrealistic conditions, and there's even more aspects of Matt's idea that need to be addressed, such as the ideas of liberty and freedom and how those concepts are impacted at the individual level.

  2. [2]
    Algernon_Asimov
    Link
    Matt seems to be focussing on the "what" and the "how", and missing the "why". It's all well and good to have an economist in charge of the Federal Reserve, but how is that person going to make...

    I want an economist who is going to make data-driven decisions about doing things with the economy, and I want that person to be in charge of the Federal Reserve. I want someone who has a lot of expertise in military strategy to be in charge of the armed forces, etc.

    Matt seems to be focussing on the "what" and the "how", and missing the "why".

    It's all well and good to have an economist in charge of the Federal Reserve, but how is that person going to make decisions? Sure, he wants people who are "looking out for everyone’s best interests", but what are those best interests?

    Here's an economic question for Matt: are people's interests best served in a capitalist economy, a socialist economy, a communist economy, or something else? If these benevolent oligarchs decide that socialism is the way to go (and, because they're experts, they know how to make it work), is Matt just going to go along with that? Similarly, I've seen some studies that show that humans were healthier, happier, and worked less, in hunter-gatherer societies. What if these experts decide that's the way to go for everyone? Give up our iPhones and cars and machines, and go back to nature? Because, according to the experts, that's in the best interests of everyone. Will Matt be happy with that?

    Or does Matt have some opinions about what he wants his economy and society to look like? Does he have certain expectations for his life that he would like the structures in place for him to achieve? He may not like "ideological, emotionally-driven arguments", but I'm pretty sure he'd be arguing quite ideologically and emotionally if those oligarchs took his smartphone away!

    As for the armed forces... who decides when to go to war?

    There are judgements and subjective decisions required about what the best interests of people actually are. The world is not a data-driven utopia. We are not robots.

    CM: What would be the ideal population for the democracy we have right now in the U.S.?

    Matt: I think on the size of a local community. That’s something a small group of individuals can actually influence, and I think on that scale you can actually get to know your representative and there’s more of an incentive for them to represent you rather than be answerable to a party or to a radical wing of a constituency.

    And, each local representative sits in a regional forum, where they elect regional representatives to a national forum, and the national forum elects representatives to a global forum. Every member of every forum comes from grass-roots votes at their local level.

    It's a lovely theory. I actually like the idea.

    (And it reminds me of the 'Power to the People' episode of 'Yes, Prime Minister'.)

    11 votes
    1. alyaza
      Link Parent
      most of the schools of politics that seriously advocate for direct democracy like that are some degree of anarchist or leftist, honestly, which might indicate how marginalized that model of...

      And, each local representative sits in a regional forum, where they elect regional representatives to a national forum, and the national forum elects representatives to a global forum. Every member of every forum comes from grass-roots votes at their local level.
      It's a lovely theory. I actually like the idea.
      (And it reminds me of the 'Power to the People' episode of 'Yes, Prime Minister'.)

      most of the schools of politics that seriously advocate for direct democracy like that are some degree of anarchist or leftist, honestly, which might indicate how marginalized that model of democracy tends to be in practice. it's a cornerstone of anarcho-syndicalism and usually other anarchists bring it up as the model of democracy they'd adopt, but even in leftist circles it tends to compete with consensus decision-making, and outside of those circles i don't know that i've ever really heard it brought up as a viable alternative to delegative democracy by anyone, ever.

      switzerland uses it more extensively than any other state in the world in the form of referendums but still obviously uses delegative democracy, and even in america, where there's a framework for some form of direct democracy in a lot of states, that framework is more of a quirk of the system that allows citizens to occasionally try and pass something they want than an integrated part of the system (and in recent years republicans in many states have made the bar for passing something through that framework so hard that it's realistically not possible to use it to pass things).

      2 votes