Democracy and the automobile

There are two aspects to democracy, and I believe they can be illustrated by considering an automobile. Or perhaps some other situation, like the electrical wiring of an house.

But in short, they can be summarized by the questions of the goal and the method.

Suppose we want to design a car. There is a large group of us which are going to create this car, which will carry us all. There are two general kinds of questions to answer.

The first is, do we want to have a vehicle that is fast? Fuel efficient? Safe? Environmentally efficient? Long-lasting?

The second question is, how do we achieve those things?

Now, how do we decide the first question? Well, I am not going to even try to answer that question at the moment. Even if a person thinks they have given the answer that would satisfy them, it might not satisfy them permanently. But…

Let us suppose for a moment that we have 100% consensus upon our priorities for the vehicle. We want the same relative priority given to speed, to fuel efficiency, to safety, to efficiency. Suppose we agree upon all these aspects. How do we decide how to implement them?

Well, obviously, the best way, is to appoint the best engineer, and tell them to design and develop the car accordingly. But supposing a bunch of engineers are competing… would it not make the most sense to let the best engineer do the design, without showing us the design first? Provided of course, that this design were really guaranteed to be designed around our requirements.

If instead, we let everyone vote upon the design, we could easily end up with a design that was completely broken. And if we let everyone vote upon an engineer, even if we all want the same result out of the final design, we could easily select an engineer with no real knowledge.

My point is, in government, there are two distinct aspects: goals and means. Now, democracy has issues, because firstly, many people have very distinct goals. But even supposing we all had the same goal (let us say, maximizing the happiness of individual citizens), the method would still be in question. And, should we say everyone gets a vote? Really, if we all had the same goals, we should let those who are most trained in how to get results, figure out how to get the desired results. And why on earth would we think that we should all have a relevant input, in deciding upon an expert for achieving a specific result?

Of course, the issue in politics is, we have both the problem of how to achieve a given result, as well as choosing which result we want. There are many people who want a given result which is, perhaps, incompatible with another result that they want. I will not answer that problem here. But my point is, even if we were all agreed upon the outcome we wanted, we would not all agree upon the means – and we would not all be qualified to give input upon that means.

Think about this: if you had to repair your house’s plumbing, would you ask all your friends to vote upon the solution, or would you choose a qualified expert plumber, and go with their suggestion? Yet, in politics, we go with the democratic option.

Now of course, almost everyone agrees upon what plumbing should do, so in this case, the only question is the means. Dealing with the question of the goal in politics, is much more difficult.

However, dealing with the how is, most definitively, dealt with best by experts, not by democratic means.

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