2016 has been a whirlwind of politics – from the brutal US presidential campaign to the local issues surrounding Ahok. Both the United States and Indonesia are, to an extent, democratic. Citizens are allowed to vote for their leaders, which has always been viewed as a good thing – a nation’s public opinion is meant to be the ‘voice of the country’. However, one of the TEDx Youth talks by the Year 13’s, delivered by Nathania, addressed how sometimes, democracies become ‘too democratic’. It can be used to manipulate the public into believing things that they wish to believe. This leads us to the question of: How do we know when democracies become too democratic?
During the TEDx talk, the subject of Plato’s anti-democracy ideals brought to light his perceptions on why democracy is doomed to fail. According to Plato, democracy is too excessive in freedom, resulting in exploitation, chaos, and a system in which citizens are easily swayed. He used the metaphor of a ship with its crew and its captain. A ship needs a skilled captain to navigate it through the seas, because the captain should be knowledgable on how to direct the ship correctly. The masses cannot be trusted to choose a suitable captain because they are not educated in the necessary fields – in a nation’s case: economy, military, sociology, and such. When we apply this to current politics and view Plato’s perspective through a modern day lens, most of what he claimed makes sense. As we can see from the results of this year’s US presidential election, the US electoral college system resulted in the election of Donald Trump, a businessman who has no experience in politics whatsoever. Yet, millions of people voted for him, because he was a symbol for ‘change’ and voiced concerns that many white middle-class Americans were worried about. It is becoming apparent that people want a voice that they can relate to and feel connected to, someone they feel isn’t only concerned with the upper-class elite. This makes a lot of people refuse to listen to professionals, as Plato predicted. Also recently, it has been proven in Brexit, where the majority of the people in Great Britain voted to leave the European Union without knowing what the EU is. Data shows that after – not before – the UK was voted out of the EU, a large number of people searched the internet for what the EU actually is. This shows how uneducated the masses can be. If they are incapable of educating themselves or have no intellectual or moral capacity to vote, then clearly no good outcome or leadership can bear fruition.
Furthermore, Plato also argued that democracy allowed for the public to be easily manipulated and swayed. Most politicians do not care about the masses – they simply want the power. They make strategic speeches, promising things that they know the public wants, but only to garner the votes. How do we know whether or not Donald Trump actually believes in the things he says about banning Muslim immigration and degrading women? Did he just say those to appeal to a certain class of the American population?
It is clear that in situations such as these, the two main Ways of Knowing being addressed are Emotion and Reason. In a democracy where the government has become too democratic, it appears that people often vote according to their emotions instead of reason – they ‘know’ that a certain person or decision would be good for the country based on their personal opinions and beliefs. Again, people will most likely listen to the politician that they feel is going to solve their problems and give them their wants and needs. This has occurred countless times in history. Adolf Hitler did not rise to power through force – the people voted for him. He promised them jobs, food, better living conditions, and to make Germany great again after the devastating losses of WWI and the effects of the Great Depression. The similarity in his promises with the promises of Donald Trump have not gone unnoticed. These people reuse their methods over decades and centuries, effectively manipulating large masses of people who will listen to anything and anyone that addresses their problems. As is apparent, emotion often trumps reason here, and it is in these sorts of cases that democracy can become too democratic. This is again referring back to Plato’s concept of the weakness of democracy, which is that it can lead to a leader who is not capable of leading the people. People may have voted for him/her based on their words, but people trust politicians to keep their word so easily. Reason is needed to balance the emotions that often sway the public into voting for an incapable leader. In ways, Faith can also be applied here. The public puts faith in their leaders time and time again, hoping that they’ll keep their promises and make lives better, fulfil the needs of the people who voted for them, and more. But it is simply impossible to satisfy the needs and wants of everyone in an entire nation, which is why democracy sometimes does not work. In Indonesia, there are always a lot of demonstrations and protests. A group of people will be unhappy with a decision that the government made, perhaps made by the government itself but perhaps made because the majority of the country voted. This could certainly lead to tension between different groups of people, and if unfortunate, could turn violent. That would be, once again, acting through emotion, ‘knowing’ something is right or wrong purely based on one’s emotions. Reason is often simply overlooked. It is of course important to note than when concerning national issues, people will feel passionate about what they believe would be good for their country. However, their knowledge of what is good and bad could be questionable, because ultimately, the public are not the professionals. Their voice is important, but when emotions are used to make the decisions of a country, that is when democracy becomes too democratic.
People often also make decisions based on the Area of Knowledge of Ethics. Different people will have different ethics, perhaps the most common one being liberal vs. conservative. This addresses different controversial issues such as abortion, economics, social welfare, and many more. The public will most likely vote for the politician or decision that is convenient for their ethical beliefs. This can be a problem, because what happens to the rest of the people who do not believe in the morals that the voted leader believes in? Do they have to deal with whatever the majority of the country voted for? People also like to vote based on their Religious Knowledge Systems. This links in with Ethics, because religion is usually what stems people’s morals and beliefs. Their religious knowledge and strength of belief in their religion greatly impacts their political choices. This could once again be a problem, because although it could be a form of reason to vote based on religious knowledge and beliefs, it is also a very emotional decision. Religion is very personal and rarely based around facts, instead built on rules of what is right and wrong. Language is an important part of both Ethics and Religious Knowledge. These beliefs and this knowledge system has been passed down through centuries, being translated to hundreds of languages so that many people may understand and perhaps follow the beliefs. Language is what communicates these beliefs, and what leads people to understand the intentions of the politicians that they are so keen to follow. Although people may have similar beliefs, it is in the end always linked to their own personal knowledge – something they accumulated through family, friends, teachers, and whatever else they expose themselves to. That is why Ethics and Religious Knowledge can be inappropriate methods to vote for someone or something.
An Area of Knowledge that can help us see a corrupted democracy and leadership is History. History is meant to allow us to see patterns in the way that events have played out in the past. We were meant to learn from horrific events such as the Holocaust, so that we will not repeat it. Yet, history does often repeat itself. There was a World War I, and then there was a World War II. How will we ever know if there will be a World War III? Everyone seems to think it is rather likely that there will be one. People have begun to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has even spoken out about the hate that Trump seems to advocate. It stated that ‘The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words’. This is true for most things. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump raced each other in the presidential election primarily through words. Brexit happened because of the voice of people demanding a change. Protests and demonstrations that could lead to violence began with the people’s words. As is apparent, language is a significant part of history. It is, essentially, what shapes history. It is how history is remembered, how it is retold, and how it will be written or told in the future. People say that history is written by the winners, but I think we can still learn from that. We can learn to question things, instead of being ‘easily swayed’ and manipulated like a lot of politicians want us to be.
In conclusion, a lot of factors make up what can make a democracy too democratic. Democracy can be good, of course. It gives a chance for the people to speak for themselves, for them to have an opinion and a say in what happens to a country that they belong in. However, the idea of democracy seems to have been twisted. It is now often used to manipulate those who are not able to think deeper, to question, and to choose those that are fit to lead. The question now is: How can we make a democracy effective and good? Is there a way to make democracy effective and good, or are we meant to be governed by those who supposedly know best? Fortunately, there are still many years for humanity to attempt to find the best working government for the people. Maybe a more polished version democracy is the answer, or perhaps it is truly as Plato believed: that it can only lead to chaos and an excessiveness of freedom.