Why we should scrap democracy now?
And what we need instead.
Democracy, the system of government where everyone gets a say in who gets to lead a country, is the crowning achievement of human civilization. It is such an equalizer, taking the power from the ruler and placing it in the hands of the people. It did for political power what gunpowder did for physical power.
A government by the people. An ideal idea. But is everything as it should be? Take a look around. Observe the actions of some of the leaders in our world. They were selected by a majority, and to anyone with an objective point of view, it is clear that they are not best qualified to lead. How could this happen within the framework of an ideal system of government? What went wrong?
To answer this question, we will need to go back. Way back, so get a cup of coffee, put your reading glasses on, and dive in.
Before democracy :
At the beginning of human civilization, when we were hunter-gatherers, the stronger men could provide more protection from predators. The less stronger ones stuck by these, and thus rose the first leaders. As we settled at a location and started agriculture, protection from other such groups became a necessity as well. This need for martial prowess to protect your people turned physical strength into the decisive factor for who became the chief, and in later times, the king.
So then, when a man who had less power in the society wanted more power, he won it by force. At the edge of steel and iron. And as time went on, this became the norm. The warrior cultures raised their children to understand that physical force was the way to societal status. In the beginning, this was not a problem, as the concept was based on the need to protect a tribe from the predators in the wild. But as that danger subsided and human beings became their own opponents, this idea sank deeper into the cultures, and people started to mistake the capacity for violence for the capacity to lead. It is not exactly anyone’s fault. It is a result of generation after generation being raised with these ideals while forgetting their origins.
The next age:
Fast forward, to the rise of democracy. Why was democracy needed? Because the previous system was giving power to one family line of monarchs, who were not often deserving of it, uncaring of their subjects, and all sorts of mean. The rights of the common people were nearly nonexistent, subject to the whims of whoever held the crown. And at such a time, the idea to let the people choose who would rule them, in a civilized, peaceful manner, was a grand idea. It was world-changing, and it was exactly what the world needed at that time.
Once democracy became the norm, the system of voting to choose a leader became the common practice at all levels of society.
And for a long time, it worked well. Now, basic human rights are guaranteed in many parts of the world. The governments know that the power lies in the hands of the people. Everything is perfect, utopian. Except it is not. The world is still very messy, and the people holding the top positions of leadership aren’t often the most worthy. And it is no one’s fault. Once democracy became the norm, the system of voting to choose a leader became the common practice at all levels of society.
Now a group of friends would decide which restaurant to go to by voting, a bunch of kids playing soccer would select their team captain by voting. The way to higher positions in society is through the skill of winning votes. And this is at every level of our lives. Now that generation after generation has grown up in this model, we have forgotten the original reason and principles behind democracy. This is why the popular guy in the office is often promoted before the more qualified one. This is why self-development bookshelves are filled with titles similar to “How to be charming”, “How to win friends and influence people”, and so on.
We have forgotten that character and virtue are actually more valuable than likability. This was inevitable. This is the same phenomenon that happened with the previous model of leadership. There, after several generations grew up seeing that violence was the way to power, they forgot the real reason why physical strength was valued. If a system of choosing a leader stays around for a while, it is unavoidable that people will find ways to exploit it. And even if we solve the problem with democracy and replace it with something perfect, it will be the same in future. All we can do is take a step forward, and figure it out from there.
With a final note on what exactly is the problem with democracy, let’s move on to what should replace it. The main problem with democracy is that it expects the people to select the most qualified person. And the average man today has no idea what to look for in a potential leader. So he ends up rooting for whoever makes him feel the best. Which means, whoever is most charming. This is why film stars find success in politics, despite having little experience. The problem with democracy now is that it confuses who the people want in a leadership position with who would actually do a good job in that position.
The problem with democracy now is that it confuses who the people want in a leadership position with who would actually do a good job in that position.
So what do we need instead? If people are incapable of making the best decision, what better system can we create? If you disagree with the claim that people have lost the capacity to select the best leaders, look at the national leaders around the world. While some are doing quite well, some of them are glaringly failing. I’m not saying democracy is wrong. My statement is that since basic human rights is no longer a great issue in a large part of the world, we need to upgrade to the next level. We have moved past the need to hold on to a system to assure the rights of people.
The core idea of the next system of government is that the selected leader should be most qualified to lead the people in the way that is relevant to our time and level of societal progress. There are several ways to do this, but here I shall focus on two.
One is to improve upon democracy, to retain the voting system and to add conditions upon it. Epistocracy is the term that comes to mind. In simple terms, it is the idea of giving more votes to people who understand more about governance. A popular example touted by experts is that lawyers get more votes, not because they are more educated, but because they are more used to thinking about problems which have no easy answers.
Another is to put aside the idea of voting entirely. The leader of the nation must be chosen by taking a test/contest, which should be unbiased, rigorous, and open to all. The main hurdle in this path is that we have no unified agreement on what it takes to be a successful leader. And without this, it is difficult to design such a contest. For this thought process, let us say that experts on history, psychology, and other related fields come together and manage to design such a test which would allow the most qualified person to win. The most qualified individual would be not necessarily the most learned. He or she would have characteristics that makes them most likely to succeed, such as intelligence, perseverance, ability to detect and resist bias, a strong moral compass. Charisma would only be one of these.
So, a contest is designed, and allows anyone to participate. Obviously, there are issues such as: the test might be influenced, the test might be flawed, and so on. These are valid concerns. These can be corrected with time. The objective is not to develop the perfect system in one step. The objective is to move in the direction of improvement. At the very least, if the would-be presidential (or prime ministerial) candidates are required to take a test to prove their qualification, that would be a step in the right direction.
True, either of these ideas are bound to meet fiery protest, as it goes against the sensibilities that we are attuned to. But I beseech you, take a deep breath, count to ten, and be honest to yourself. Consider the idea that all people should have an equal say in who leads his country. Is it truly the right idea, or is there a nagging voice at the back of your mind that says this may feel right only because that is what we are raised to uphold?
Does it not make sense that someone who has spent more time and effort learning about leadership and governance would have deeper insights, and therefore should be given more weight?
We have stuck with this form of leadership for long enough that we are ready to evolve. This is the time to push against the settling weight and start building the momentum of change, or we risk stagnancy. This is the time to ask the question — what could be better than democracy, and how can we make it happen?
In the next article on this topic, I will go deeper and broader into the proposed methods of leadership selection.