Democracy: Fundamentals (Unfinished)

Article ID: 4

Unless otherwise specified, ``democracy'' in this article refers to representative democracy. ``Country'' can additionally refer to other regions that have people and its own policies, such as a state, provinces in some countries, etc.

We usually think of ``democracy'' as people influencing the policies of the country by electing trustworthy experts that serve their interest to make actual decisions about running the country. This type of democracy, representative democracy, has evolved from direct democracy aging back two thousand years ago as created by Athens in Greece. Representative democracy is more scalable than direct democracy and also avoids some forms of populism and uninformed decisions as its the experts in the field that are making the actual policies.

The Chinese term for democracy is ``民主''. The first character, ``民'', means ``people''; the second, ``主'', ascin ``主人'' means ``owner''. You could understand it as saying ``the people of the country own the country (and thus get to decide on its affairs)''. But at the same time, ``主'' as in ``自主'' means ``do things themselves'', i.e. the right not to be interfered by others while doing their own business.

This is, of course, not the proper definition for democracy; democracy is just saying that the general public ultimately runs the country. But we could take the time to appreciate how with democracy we usually end up with liberty and how we take personal liberty for granted.

In any case, both democracy and liberty are important in a long-lasting prosperous system of society. Note my wording in the first paragraph, that the decisions of elected experts are for ``running the country''—I specifically mean issues that deal with either the general public (such as public health and the environment) and things that would be otherwise hard to solve personally (such as enforcement of contracts and crimes). The ``will of the people'', represented by the government, have no business doing things like banning freedom of thought or mandating people not to smoke in their private property. Only when things affect others such as smoking in public should the government, or the will of the general public, have any say. And of course, people should take responsibility for their own private deeds. It is argued that a lung cancer patient who got lung cancer by smoking excessively doesn't deserve medical insurance from taxpayers; but for cases where an illness isn't caused by a identifiable private decision factor, medical insurance and support should be given. (In practice the distinction is subtle; this is also a very controversial topic.)

People overemphasize the importance of democracy. In fact, democracy is in my opinion less important than liberty—though in practice indeed liberty wouldn't survive for long without democracy.

Note that abortion and similar subjects may fall into the scope of government. Some opponents of abortion believe that fetus is human life and thus abortion is murder and shall be outlawed. The ``privacy'' and ``personal liberty'' arguments don't stand up well against this as it's no longer a personal matter when another human life is supposedly on the line. I oppose the abortion bans that Republicans in the US are placing in many states for a different reason.

Modern populism (which is a poorly-defined term but does have the following general scope) gives the power of deciding everything that happens in the country to the people. This is bad in two ways. (1) The general public often make uninformed and un-thought-through decisions and are easily influenced. (2) The government, in this case directly the collective decision of the people, is stepping its feet into the personal lives of people. While it is democratic, it doesn't give people liberty, creating a tyranny of the majority, and at the same time making uninformed decisions which are better made by experts which people elect.

In future articles, I will discuss more practical issues in democracy and society, especially on corruption of representatives, issues with the modern voting system, etc.