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21st Century democracy-Get rid of Rudimentary Politics

This post is a transcript of following Video. It explains the short coming of current politics and how can we overcome it. It is really well presented but is still hard for common man to hold attention to for long time aka boring.


So I translated it for reading which is easier to grasp for really curious minds.

The idea that there’s something rotten wrong with our democracy has become a truism especially in the wake of public outrage over MPs expenses but what really is it that’s wrong with our system of democracy and what is it that needs to be done.

My observation begins with this that democracy can only be as successful as we the people make it. But how well-suited are we to being good democrats.

We’ve come over recent years to understand more about the idiosyncrasies(particularity) of our mental processes as some of these appear to compromise our ability to make wise and fair democratic judgments.

We are for example a bit confused about the medium and the long term. If people are asked to choose between 50 pounds now 100 pounds in a year most of us will take the 50 quid.

But if we’re asked to choose between 50 pounds in five years and a hundred pounds in six years which in a way is the same choice we’ll all choose the hundred.

We tend to be risk-averse feeling more strongly about losing something we have than gaining something we don’t.

There are problems to run our objectivity. We tend systemically to think our own successes are a result of our qualities but our failures down to circumstance and we think the precise opposite of other people.

To take a trivial example 90% of us report that we are above average drivers.

And there are problems with our judgement. We’re not very good at predicting what will make us happy and even more surprisingly we’re not even very good at describing what made us happy in the past.

Now we don’t think like this because we’re bad or because we’re damaged. This is just how we have evolved.

So..short-term, innumerate(unknowledgeable) and self-centered…On the face of it we don’t look like we’re particularly suited to being good democratic citizens.

But of course this isn’t the whole story because surely democratic processes should involve overcoming the problems of applying prehistoric instinct to the complexities of the modern world.

Instead shouldn’t it mean working together to make good decisions despite
our limitations. This I think is where the core problem lies because instead of democracy being
understood and arranged as a realm in which we think past our mental predispositions(inclination) it offers to be a sphere where we can pander(give in to) to them.

The democratic process itself has taken on the language the norms and the techniques of consumerism. The customer is always right is echoed in the motto of triangulated politics.

The voter is always right. Or as we should say in our electoral system the voter in the marginal constituency is always right.

Worcester woman is always right. The problem is she isn’t.

Take these findings. Most of us think more power should be devolved to the local level and even bigger majority say that public service standards should be exactly the same everywhere.

Patient satisfaction ratings for the NHS are higher now than they have ever been in the history of the NHS.

But 56 percent of us think the health service is in crisis.

We agree that we need to change our lives to counter global warming but admit we have no plans to do so ourselves.

Now it’s hard enough I know because I used to work in Downing Street. It’s hard enough for politics to reconcile different interests and preferences in society.

But now a combination of the complexity of modern life and consumerist expectations mean that politicians face the challenge of reconciling conflicting interests and preferences in the same people.

Generally it’s a challenge that they dodge.

So if we wanted people to see democracy as inherently about dilemmas and trade-offs about balancing interests within people within society and across time what are the kinds of things we might do.

First devolve more power because it’s easier at the local level for people to relate to issues and see trade-offs and to appreciate how their own behavior shapes those trade-offs.

Second every year the government should hold at least two high-profile national citizens juries on major policy questions and with the government committed either to implementing the recommendations or explaining why not.

And Third require all policy advice to ministers to be published in full. Every policy has disadvantages and it’s about time politicians came clean about this.

Now lest you’re worried of my inconsistency I freely admit that they’re probably downsides to those three proposals.

My point is this the problem with our democracy is not as we often think about
the performance of politicians nor even the workings of our Constitution but it’s about the content of the democratic conversation.

Proper processes of democratic deliberation in which we either participate directly or which we can acknowledge as legitimate would help us to be less petulant wiser and the more responsible taskmasters or our beleaguered(under pressure) representatives.

So these are some of the practical ways we might encourage people to be better citizens. But what could new thinking about human nature mean for our broader view of society.

One of the most powerful concepts in modern sociology is that of reflexivity developed and popularized by the author of the Third Way Anthony Giddens.

Putting it simply this is the idea that modern citizens do not see themselves as mere objects of impersonal religious, national or class forces but as subjects of their own lives each with their own individual story.

Giddens talks about moving from class politics to life politics. This he contends must enable citizens to work through issues at the intersection of personal life stories and social forces in the changing context of the 21st century.

In absence of the binds of tradition and deference(Respect) Gibbons argues we must rely on new democratic discourse to work through the challenges of modernity promoting responsibilities, new forms of solidarity and trust in new social institutions.

But there’s a problem and the problem is reflexive individuals, their self-centeredness reinforced by free-market ideology and consumerist mass marketing can all too easily fail to see why they need these new forms of discourse.

Can’t they just do what they want and leave the rest to the hidden hand of the market or the hapless(unfortunate) blundering(err) of the political classes.

So I believe both the case for a new collective spirit and the principles that could underpin(support) the development of modern civic and democratic spaces are to be found in thinking about human nature.

Cooperation and engagement are not things we ought to do but a necessity to help us steer a course through the modern world using brains that evolved before the invention of the wheel.

We became the social animals we are subsisting(surviving) enclosed homogeneous communities with deeply respected and very slowly evolving bodies of knowledge and culture our first 200,000 years.

We find ourselves now, the last 50 years living as part of an economically abundant diverse communities in a fast changing global knowledge economy.

This moment in human affairs has been characterized as the teenage years of the post enlightenment project. A period of change in creativity but also self-indulgence, confusion and some danger.

As a schoolboy socialists in the 1970s direct grant Grammar School the first explicitly political arguments I ever had were about human nature.

My vision of the good society arrested on a view that people are fundamentally collaborative and benign(kind). Something only hidden by the depredations of what I called the system. Working-class Tory(member or supporter of conservative party in UK) mates mocked my naivety.

To them we were all self-interested individuals. Those who succeeded did so by their own efforts those who failed or cheated would only change if they were incentivized or compelled.

Yet for most of the 20 years subsequently that I’ve been involved in politics, debates about human nature have been restricted to criminality and other social pathologies as if only bad people fail to conform to the rational man model of neoclassical economics.

Gibbons was right. New times do require a rethinking of old political categories, new thinking about human nature, combining insights from natural science, social science and philosophy encouraged us to revisit and recombine ideas from the left and the right.

The left is right that society matters but the right is right to believe that growing self-reliance and thickening civic binds provides a more powerful even for slower and Messier route to social progress than the well-intentioned schemes of state bureaucracies.

A new politics of human nature encourages us to accept the flaws in our intuitive sense of self, recognizing our psychological frailties and acknowledging the social nature of the brain.

It requires us to see that the existential mirror of modernity is distorting. I have in the past described the contrasts found in an opinion poll after opinion poll between our undue personal optimism and our equally undue social pessimism.

But the individual and personal is not quite the domain of self-control we imagined it to be and if we are creative and ambitious we can exert more influence over the social sphere than we’ve tended to think possible.

It may not be an easy route to the fulfillment of our amazing human potential but is there really any other. And it’s a route that I hope through its lectures, through its research projects and through the actions of our amazing fellows the RSA will help to chart in the years ahead.

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