This year a series of politically turbulent events have occurred, prompting controversy and complaints from the public. These events include the riots against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (minority ethnic Chinese governor Ahok), Trump being unexpectedly elected as president of the US, and Brexit. I found myself quite interested with Nathania’s TED talk on politics, and her stance which she took on the issue; which was that democracy, which most people consider the best form of government, may not be too beneficial for society.
The talk starts out by describing democracy. Modern democracies are perceived as good because they help societies create good decision-making. However, Plato, considered the most significant contributor towards Western philosophy, clearly has a different opinion. He stated, “‘Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.” He believed that this excessive freedom is instead slavery, because as the lower class increases in size, the poor majority are free to do whatever they desired. The society then slowly spirals into something not unlike anarchy.
Plato uses two forms of parallelism to describe this concept. The first, Ship of State, likens the governing of a state to the commanding of a ship, with the country’s citizens given different roles on the ship; and conclusively states that the only people fit to run state are the philosophers, or the thoughtful and considerate men who have access to good. In this particular story, the public plays the part of the strong and nearsighted captain who lacks knowledge about marine navigation, i.e. a public that has strength to change society, but is ignorant ,naive and easily manipulated. The sailors, who quarrel with one another and constantly try to steal control of the ship, are the politicians. However, they have nearly no knowledge of ship navigation, although they pretend to, and try to manipulate the captain using wine and drugs. Finally, the actual navigator, or the philosopher, is dismissed as useless but is the one who in reality has the adequate information to lead the ship.
The second analogy, The Beast, likens the public to a beast, and the tamer to the politicians. The tamer studies the beast’s moods and wants. He knows when it is savage or tame, what its actions or sounds made, and how he should approach it. However, he does not have a way of knowing which of the creature’s desires were good or bad; simply likening what pleased it to be good, and what displeased it to be bad.
Nathania then uses the 3 political events mentioned above to illustrate how democracy may not always be the best approach for society, instead leading to chaos. The Jakarta riots happened as an incensed reaction against Ahok’s allegedly blasphemous comments which went against one of Islam’s verses, and thus offended the primarily Muslim community. In the US, Trump’s win was greeted by dissatisfied citizens taking to the streets in a violent protest, with objects thrown at police officers, and cars being damaged.
Finally, Brexit, or Britain’s exit from the European Union, has led to several citizens worried about the country’s economic stability.
The 2 AOKs clearly present in this talk are Human Sciences (because politics in involved) and the Arts (freedom of expression). Meanwhile, the WOKs I chose to explore are Emotion (the citizens are influenced by their present emotional state), Reason (the citizens make their decision based on ‘logic’), and Language (freely expressing one’s thoughts).
From this TED talk, I gathered 2 concepts: freedom of expression and self-conviction. The political turmoil and instability experienced in the 3 cases mentioned above were due to people freely expressing their thoughts and desires towards the government, asking for reform. The main reason for reform was for the common good; in other words, the citizens of these countries believed that they knew what were good and bad for their society.
These then led to various knowledge questions. First, who controls the mind of masses in politics? Who controls our emotions and desires that lead us to make these decisions? Second, how do we know that what we believe in is right? Is self-conviction in politics dangerous?
Emotion is thought to be universal and true for all cultures; that we as human beings have similar emotional desires. In politics, the majority of the masses decide what the common good is. This decision is based on a shared knowledge of what is generally beneficial for society, and the assumption that everyone has similar values and desires. However, emotion as a Way of Knowing can be disadvantageous, because it is irrational and often distorts our knowledge of reality. Thus, the final knowledge question I came up with was, can our emotional desires or prejudiced beliefs justify important decisions made for the common good?
Reason is the use of given premises or assumptions to create a conclusion or argument. It is important because it allows us to make correct decisions, and to act in a rational way. However, there is not one standard for what reasonable actions are, and our beliefs can certainly play a part in determining what is ‘reasonable’ or ‘right’. I believe that from these 3 cases, we can say that standards of reason and logic are different in each culture; based on particular societal beliefs or values. For example, the riots against Ahok may have been driven by a particular ‘logic’, i.e. that a minority non-Muslim is unfit for a political role; as Indonesia is deeply respectful of Muslim beliefs and thus is influenced by them. Also, when citizens contribute towards making political decisions, we operate on the assumption that we are intellectual and rational individuals who are capable of making decisions for ourselves.
I would like to link the anti-Trump protests with the other concept of self-conviction. The majority of American voters have chosen Trump because he embodies the fears of the people; the fear of illegal immigrants taking employment opportunities from the natives, etc. In other words, they believe that choosing Trump is right, that it is for the common good. However, this was later contested by the fact that hundreds of other citizens participated in protests against Trump. This indicates that the people, like the captain in the Ship analogy, do not truly know what is good for their society.