Sep 27

Posted in: Percival's Corner Posted by: P S Billimoria

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Being Greta Thunberg – The Fault Lines of Democracy

The world is in trouble. And not just because young Greta Thunberg says so.

On reflection, of the two maladies which affect us all, the more obvious issue is the exponential increase in cognitive disabilities caused by the pervasive use of social media.

It was always a perception oriented world. Perception is half the reality we used to say. Well, now it is everything. That’s because we have lost the ability to question and ponder over any subject which requires contemplation. Opinions are superfluous and based on inadequate facts.

It’s a different era, and not just because of fake news and the use of your private data to predict how you will vote. Fake news thrives because people will believe anything. And if you think your private information has been (mis)used, blame only yourself, because you have become predictable to the point of being robotic and thereby also prone to manipulation. If it is possible to predict your propensity to vote one way or another because of your electronic footprint, it can only mean that you are predisposed to one point of view. Have you ever realised that you will reject anything which does not endorse your unwavering beliefs and joyfully pump the air when anything which reinforces them is presented? Scientists call it cognitive bias.

The level of discourse in mainstream media is shocking and biased. There are the “left leaning” channels and the “right leaning channels”. Ironically, they lament about the world being polarised like never before! The UK is sharply divided between the “Brexiteers” and the “Remainers”. Our American friends have had 4 years of anti-Trump propaganda by CNN and its ilk, while Fox News and Brietbart remain firmly conservative. In our own country we have the “Love Thy PM” crowd and the entitled elites, who having enjoyed patronage for many decades, cannot accept change.

The decline of intellect is commonplace even amongst educated individuals, with the triumph of perception over reality becoming apparent in academia and even science. Quite simply, if one repeats a lie often enough, people will believe it without question or thought.

Which now brings me to the second, though no less dangerous ailment, which is the reverential belief in democracy. If you are startled or your eyebrows have shot up on reading this, it only proves my point. For many decades we have believed that democracy is the panacea for all ills. Such as eradicating poverty and to ensure life and liberty. These are fallacies.

Democracy is quite simply the best form of Government we know to-day. It is certainly a superior alternative to dictatorship, but only because that model depends entirely on the virtue and intention of the dictator. This can be an existential gamble. If it pays off, then you will have a dictator like Lee Kuan Yew and a Singapore with remarkable development. However, history is replete with instances where dictatorship implodes in the face of the sovereign as well as the people. That then leaves us only with democracy.

The thing about democracy however, is that it is imperfect and seldom results in acceptable outcomes. The Western world pontificates about democratic values and strives to export it to impoverished nations with divisive societies where it is a recipe for unending strife and corruption. This has prevented the progress of political thought to a more evolved system, which though not a dictatorship, could be beneficial and equitable to the people it claims to serve. But in recent times, the fault lines of democracy are being progressively exposed.

Many well-heeled Londoners believe that Brexit will be a retrograde step and plunge the UK back into the dark ages. Well, Brexit was ushered in by a referendum – the purest form of democracy. England gave us Westminster style democracy which we admire and yet its outcome, is what many believe will be disastrous (this author not being one of them, but that’s beside the point). As the saga continues, Parliamentarians who opposed Brexit, now want to implement it all the same in the name of democracy. Even if the dark ages were to befall their great country – it is what the people voted for so let’s turn out the lights!

Yet another momentous paradox was witnessed this week when the Supreme Court of that sorry land struck down the decision of the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament. Mr Johnson, in an effort to ensure that Brexit is not further delayed, or even derailed by what he believes are rogue members of the Parliament, relied on the advice of his Attorney General who apparently opined that it would be legal to do so. Surely, he would not have been foolish enough to believe that any deal he negotiated, would not have to be tabled before Parliament and to therefore say that he was being dictatorial is mere posturing. Being plagued by fetters placed upon him by different factions of Parliamentarians who cannot seem to agree on what a deal should look like nor on the question of whether a no-deal Brexit ought to be an option, he wished to focus on negotiations with the EU.

The primacy of Parliament and the accountability to it are absolutely the correct principles in a Parliamentary democracy and therefore the decision of the UK Supreme Court is eminently sound. However, what it has effectively done is to put the Prime Minister in the untenable position of battling Parliamentarians, some of whom belong in a circus (bring on the whips and chains) instead of getting on with the serious business of negotiations.

Surely it is now time to ask the questions which many consider taboo. Firstly, whether Parliamentary democracy is really the absolute ideal it is professed to be. And how is a mature democracy expected to function if elected representatives of the people stoop to buffoonery, to achieve what their constituencies desire? Given a polarised electorate, is the debacle we are witnessing not inevitable?

If this was not enough, we also had the spectacle of a national party in UK pledging to do away with private schools. While one can expect anything from a radicalised labour party, what is astounding is that the pledge is premised on confiscatory actions which would enable endowments and private property being redistributed. Lenin himself could not have done better (or shall we say worse!). That Mr. Corbyn may soon be found at No 10 Downing Street is a serious indictment of a system where charlatans can espouse the cause for democracy while at the same time indulging in class warfare by trampling all over democratic values.

Evidence of the decline of democracy is by no means limited to these events, though this one week of September starkly revealed its pitfalls. We know for instance, that the Democrats in the USA were baffled when the democratic process threw up Mr. Trump as the President. The blame was placed at the door of ‘populism’ and the narrative that the ‘plain Joe’ working class of middle America doesn’t know what it is doing has been accepted as a truism. Without commenting on President Trump (being beside the point), the learning again, is that democratic processes are prone to throw up results which those who propound democracy themselves consider to be unpalatable.

Given this, the question which must absolutely be asked is this – what should one expect in such circumstances? Are we to necessarily follow the desire of the electorate and turn off the lights if need be, like we witness with the Brexit mandate? Or are we to wring our hands and cry ‘woe is me’ and blame the ‘plain Joe’ for its gullible acceptance of populist ideology?

Or is there a third more civilised way which we are completely missing and that only because our fascination with democratic values in the last century has prevented us from strenuously progressing the evolution of political systems from where we last left off?

And that now brings me to Ms. Greta Thunberg. Let it be said that it is shameful on the part of any cause, no matter how virtuous or desirable, to use a 16 year old pretending to be not enjoying the limelight, to further its agenda. Ms. Thunberg will one day realise that her childhood and future was stolen by the environment lobby and not the leaders at the UN.

Further, her diatribe is probably the most serious indictment of democracy in recent times. The drastic response to climate change which Ms. Thunberg asks for cannot possibly be implemented by politicians who owe their power and prestige to an electorate which is concerned only with their everyday lives. Some of these responses would cause massive setbacks to economic growth, and consequential loss of employment. Lawmakers who need to campaign on how well they did on these counts every few years cannot be expected to take tough decisions which Ms. Thunberg and green radicals would like to get done. So yes, shame on them for talking about money and doing nothing. But its democracy my dear.

The greatest question of this century must surely be – after democracy what next? And there are some answers which would be forthcoming if only one were to permit that question to be asked. Or definitely not berate those who dare to ask.

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