We are sometimes given the impression that the best among us rise to the top, and that we, the people, choose how we are governed.
‘Representation and democracy are a contradiction in terms,’ wrote John Adams, third President of the United States, and it’s not hard to agree with him. He was referring to the obvious fact that if we, the people, choose others to rule us, we are not doing the ruling ourselves. But what sort of system does representation turn out to be, if not democracy?
People who offer to ‘represent’ us want power. In the party system, those hungriest and most ruthless reach the top. They may not kill (though in many countries they do); they may not steal (though in many instances they do); but anyone who wants to stay in the race must lie, avoid inconvenient truths, and be ruthless: and, of course, have that dubious characteristic known as ‘charisma’. Such a character competes aggressively; it manipulates; it provokes; it is the very antithesis of a peaceful world. Enough is known about such a character type that it should be the last type on earth to be given power. In a world bristling with automated weapons systems, international relations need honesty, consistency and consensus.
And what about those who rise to the top in ‘civil’ society? Corporate systems favour much the same character type as does politics. Meanwhile millions – billions – of honest, conscientious people trudge on, doing their work as conscientiously as they can within terms set by the ruthless, greedy and manipulative. But conscientious people end up in the middle and at the bottom of society, if they are not excluded altogether.
Of course, we COULD change things! We COULD have some real democracy. We COULD rein in the power of corporations. We COULD contemplate the development of political systems that lead to consensus, not strife. We COULD develop a meaningful system of international law. But at the moment, we don’t look as if we are doing any of those things.