Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Paradox of Representative Democracy

The Tragedy of the Commons is an ancient concept of democracy that was first stated in its modern form in 1968. The key idea is that the more individuals have a 'share' in a polity, the less each individual thinks of the commonality they share. It has worked itself out in many ways, and all of them have the vague stench of unethical behaviour justified by division of moral burden.
And that's how modern democracy works. If you have many stakeholders, each is an advocate for a single view or set of ideas. They see the rest as competitors and can only gain power by advancing their own stake. They assume that the rest will be automagically handled. So eventually either extreme polarisation or extreme gridlock occurs.
The only way out is to oscillate between extreme poles and zero displacement. It's exactly how a sinusoidal wave looks. There is dynamic stability in such motion. But humans being human, political forces try very hard to keep the wave at the extremes to avoid gridlock or power-sharing.
The paradox of representative democracy is that it works best when not working, and it governs best when it seems ungovernable. Indeed, it might work because it shouldn't work at all, and only selfishness and power-thirst from its proponents keeps it going.

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