The Trouble With Democracy



From top: Irish Water protest last year; Dan Boyle

The author admits defeat to those who have ‘succeeded in what passes for politics these days’ whose narrative is that all can be blamed on others

Dan Boyle writes:

The liberal commentariat (of which I aspire to be part) has been struggling with the state of chassis that is modern politics today.

Attempts have been made to attach the sobriquet ‘Post-Politics’ to the situation. Sometimes with a greater sense of hopelessness the term ‘Post-Truth’ has been applied.

It may be that it has ever been thus, that the real social contract that exists between those voting and those representing isn’t based on idealism, but is held together through nod and winkery that those most successful at politics show the ability to look after themselves first, and that that is all right just as long as most of the rest of us are being looked after as well.

Politics today, if it ever was, is not about what is just and fair. It’s about the saying the right things, to be heard in the right way, by the right people at the right time.

I bend towards the philosophical here, as I have had the realisation that it has been twenty five years since I was first elected to Cork City Council.

It has been a privilege to have participated, to have been chosen, to have served. It also has been, and continues to be, a fascination to engage. Even with those with their checklists who see my engagement as a portal to place onto me the woes of society.

My skin remains the least dense part of me. Nevertheless I’m not going to start indulging in confession for wrongs I don’t believe I’ve committed, or for reversing events that were beyond me then.

The regrets I have are strictly of a personal nature. In choosing what I chose and doing what I did I compromised my family. A career with better definition and certainty would have allowed me to play my family role better than I have.

Where I will admit defeat is to those who have succeeded in what passes for politics these days.

Those who have created a world where from positions of privilege they have portrayed themselves as victims. Those whose narrative is that all can be blamed on others.

Those who have contrived the notion that everything is paid for already. Those who believe that responsibility is always their’s never our’s. A world of truthiness and hopeitude.

The trouble with democracy is that it is a very messy business. It is proven to be one of the least efficient methods of making decisions. It is so easy to engineer and to manipulate. Pander to that prejudice. Never challenge it. These are my people I must follow them, the pathetic yet effective catch cry.

And yet the rights to be wrong, to be indifferent, to be selfish, to be wasteful, to be incompetent are intrinsic to democracy.

At best it could be that these storm clouds will eventually pass. Then those of us who believe in idealism might come out to play again. If only to be able to regain control of the asylum.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: Ruairi McKiernan

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42 thoughts on “The Trouble With Democracy

  1. Tony

    I think democracy has been an interesting experiment. However, it is time to radically review. The simple fact is that the democratic system and its rewards have been commoditised and taken over by the moneyed establishment, thus rendering the social contract null and void. Money can buy popularity, which gets you the power. And money can buy the law, which keeps you in power. So to tell citizens that they are equal is a ball of tosh. The most successful entities in the world right now are armies and corporations. both willing hierarchies. Elected governments simply cannot compete. We cannot continue to talk about the ills of society without looking at the rotten system that produces them. (And before anyone mentions Churchill, he was a drunken warmonger)

    1. rotide

      We should take a look at benevolent dictatorships, its worked out really well in some places. North Korea for example is a model of a citizens nirvana where corporations have no sway

    2. Tony

      See, its kind of typically lazy to go straight to North korea, but I guess you felt you had to. The point I am making is that Democracy is a sham because it has been bought. You may just shrug and say so what but meanwhile the transfer of wealth continues at a greater pace than ever. All facilitated by the democracy you love.

      1. rotide

        Democracy is only one factor in the status quo and there are other far bigger ones at play when it comes to Evil Corporations. It’s feasible to use democracy to remove those factors, if not likely. With other systems, it’s nigh on impossible.

        You said earlier don’t mention Churchill but if you ignore his quote then your words are just empty raging at the machine. Everyone is well aware of the flaws yet no-one has quite managed to come up with anything better. I’m sure you can enlighten us.

        1. Tony

          Democracy is the main factor in deciding our laws and therefore underpins all other activities. Because it can be hijacked, it is flawed and being misused. If we can’t discuss options because of something some dead guy said, we are truly powerless.

    3. J

      Beats reactionary fundamentalism which is anti-reason, anti-science, anti- rule of law and anti-women ( threw the last one in just for Clamps).

      1. Clampers Outside!

        Typical moronic response to my “moan” (thanks Don) about how feminism today in the west is not the benevolent force you think it is, and somehow that makes me anti-women?

        Very good lad, very good.

        Equality for all first and always.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            Ah, I getcha now. I threw that in last week for the fun. It was intended as a ‘poke’ of the usual commenters who throw the pension line at Dan every week…. :)

  2. nellyb

    This essay chimes with Dan’s ponderings:
    “The liberal democracy package is so widely admired today, and so seldom scrutinised, that people tend to forget that it is, in fact, a package. Even skeptics lump democracy together with liberalism: in early 2008, the then President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan called on Western governments to stop obsessing about democracy, by which he meant: stop focusing on human rights. ”
    “Democracy and liberalism both contain much of value, but they’re not the same thing. They can be conjoined in a successful political order, but their marriage is not inevitable.”

  3. Clampers Outside!

    “It’s about the saying the right things, to be heard in the right way, by the right people at the right time.”
    In other words, political correctness stymies dialogue, which is just another word for the control of free speech. Thank you “left” for getting lost in the bull and gagging the world with political correctness and slogans, rather than dialogue and actions. It’s a world wide problem, not a local, Irish or European one.

    1. DubLoony

      There is a very salient point buried in there:
      “that responsibility is always their’s never our’s.”

      THEY are the reason we can’t do X.

      Example: SF in Dublin saying that Labour never provided money for social housing. So its all Labour’s fault.
      But, Labour made the largest financial investment in housing this country has ever seen in €3.5 billion.

      The reality is that the entire construction industry collapsed. Surveyors, architects, accountants, finance ground to a halt. Builders suppliers closed down. Many Tradesmen emigrated to Canada & New Zealand. Appreticehsips stopped. Unemployment soared for construction workers.

      In the 30s – 70s social housing was built on the outskirts of towns/cities with little amentiies and were effectively segregated from rest of the population. Many were social failures & regeneration programs needed to correct the problems.
      The challenge now is to build social housing that is integrated with whole population. Ireladn has never don that on any serious scale before. Que pop up residents associations objecting as soon as the phrase is even mentioned for their area.

      It is complex, messy and will take years to solve. Money is not the problem.
      But blaming someone else is easier to fit in a tweet than all of the above.

      1. rotide

        +1 million for that last line Dubloony.

        Nearly every issue discussed here is not black and white. There are always contributing factors and unforeseen effects yet overwhelmingly it’s the simplex narrative that gets shouted and repeated ad nauseum

    2. f_lawless

      @Clampers Outside!
      “It’s about the saying the right things, to be heard in the right way, by the right people at the right time.”
      I don’t think Dan was referring to political correctness here – more like that politicians will say anything if it furthers their own agendas eg. some in the Brexit camp who appealed to those with xenophobic tendencies by turning the debate into an issue about immigrants

  4. Gorev Mahagut

    They had an experiment once in Athens (way before Dan was elected to Cork City Council). There were two rules. No-one would have power. Everyone, collectively, would have responsibility.

    Nowadays people want to pick a leader and blame him for everything. Supposedly this is their “choice”. The Athenians didn’t recognise this as an option; the choice was between sharing responsibility or facing exile alone.

    1. J

      @ Gorev “Everyone, collectively, would have responsibility.” you may have to refine that with “Men only would have responsibility”

        1. J

          Get with it Grandpa Rotide. It is all about the wimmin now.Slaves and immigrants are not part of the hashtag revolutions.

    2. rotide

      Well, when you say ‘Everyone’….

      Everyone as long as you had been in the army and weren’t a woman, a slave, an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant.

      roughly 5-10% of the population.

  5. J

    “The regrets I have are strictly of a personal nature. In choosing what I chose and doing what I did I compromised my family. A career with better definition and certainty would have allowed me to play my family role better than I have.”

    Jeez Dan. That’s all a bit Andrea Leadsom meets Mother Theresa meets diary of the post -truth politician ( previously referred to as navel-gazing)

    1. Dan Boyle

      Not what I’m saying. I was pre-empting a ‘what do you regret?’ question. Not better or worse just was.

  6. jimmy russell

    the brexit proved that referendums are a mistake, the average person holds too much power in a democracy we need to take steps to make sure that only the right people are making the right decisions.

  7. Mulder

    Democracy ye say, ehh, where.
    Pie in the sky and can ye eat that.
    Example, if one has an issue or problem, ye go of course to yer democratically elected TD, who looks at ye as if had 2 heads and near asking why coming to me.
    Writes letters goes through the motions.
    Go to another TD, who may be more experienced and he writes letters and follows up, lobbies and gets better result.
    Or directly contact and write to principle officer or senior officer, who surprise, surprise with a wave of their hand can resolve the issue.
    Alternately lobby Europe and its different bodies and get a similar result but lot more hassle for everyone.
    That is democracy.
    Where TD`s troop through the lobbies to support their parties on votes, where privately they hold opposite view but yet vote with their party.

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