Saturday, July 03, 2010

Making Votes Honest

Face-to-Face Democracy

2010 July 03, Rahmat 12, 167 BE

Truly Direct Voting, Foundation of a Universal Civic Society

"The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men." (Immanuel Kant, Cosmopolitan History)

I think what Kant had in mind here is the rule of law, the only fair basis of equality. When rule of law is internalized it becomes a self-regulating mechanism permitting strangers to act in an orderly manner, often without being consciously aware of what they are doing. This is expressed in the Golden Rule, and in reciprocal virtues like courtesy and humility. As Paul Summerville pointed out in a recent interview (, it is evident even in simple customs like the habit of standing in line for buses, or lining up while standing at a distance at ATM machines. Cultures with such reciprocal norms have no need of external police supervision at every bus stop.

The stronger and more universal the willingness of individuals to sacrifice ephemeral advantage to ordered behaviour, the better and more "naturally" a civic society can "administer law among men." Summerville points out that our modern nation-states wrongly interfere with self-regulating mechanisms by removing consequences, by removing what he calls "moral hazard." For example, governments bail out poorly run corporations, they allow tax exemptions and so forth. I would add to his list grants and subsidies, most of which amount to legal bribes that amplify disparities, devastate the environment and corrupt the democratic process.

The word "corruption" comes from the Latin "Rumpere," to break. If the "truth shall make you free," then a lie breaks not only freedom but the roots of democracy itself. A democracy cannot fail to live up to truth and virtue. To cast a vote is a moral duty, an act of civic integrity. Mendacity, voting based on less than the truth, corrupts courtesy and degrades the rule of law.

Each vote must be a statement of what the voter honestly believes to be the truth. The vote is only as good as what he or she really knows. Each vote is a stated opinion about who is best suited for a given job. A voter cannot vote either for or against whatever he or she is in no position to know. Integrity requires those casting votes to rely only upon first-hand knowledge, on their own direct personal experience of those being considered for the job. Otherwise, corruption sets in. Conscience dictates that a vote can only be cast for someone the voter knows personally, and preferably has worked together with very recently.

Implication? In elections as they are now, it is impossible for a person of integrity to vote at all. Votes are broken, hopelessly corrupt, because in almost every case knowledge of candidates is second-hand or third-hand, based on reputation and reports in the media. Even the apparently intimate medium of television is a sham, since it filters and selects data many times before it reaches the viewer. It is impossible to shout across such a vast epistemological gap. To pretend that we can do so is to subject our votes permanently to manipulation and corruption.

Instead, the system must see to it that every vote is local, that elections take place only among those who live nearby, who serve together, who know and love one another well. Voters, thus made free by truth, must be at liberty to choose anyone conscience dictates, including themselves.

In a universal civic society, elections are set up so that the choice is among those with whom voters have recent, direct experience serving together. In this way those who demonstrate reciprocal virtues will tend to rise to the top. Anyone willing to respond to rule of law, courtesy, to self-regulating customs (like standing in line for buses), who works well with others and who habitually sacrifices narrow interests to broader ones, will have no choice but to be under consideration by his or her peers for higher office.
The hillside architecture set up by a world government would help such a face-to-face, neighbour-to-neighbour democracy in many ways. As we have seen, it assures that there is an agrarian base for every local electorate, urban, suburban and rural. Workers palaces on street corners and consultorums at every meeting place establish each neighbourhood as a polity, a living, creative cultural community. The Localized Broadcasting Cooperative, led by dialecticians, assures that news media and the arts no longer mischievously manipulate the grassroots, but rather positively assist in evolving policy and public opinion.

However, even if all these factors are in play, this infrastructure does not in itself address the huge gap between a voter in a neighbourhood and a voter for a world government, never mind continental, national and regional governments. This voting gap between votes among a few hundred and votes among billions of citizens, we shall address in upcoming essays. Daunting as the problem may seem, we can rest assured that, as Kant puts it, all nature is driving man to this achievement.


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