Individualism, take two

My last rant about individualism was about systemic problems being framed as “personal responsibility” (usually of the affected themselves, sometimes in the form of charity directed at individuals), which leads to various problems, like perpetuating or creating new TotC’s, putting the burden on the shoulders of the poor, disabled etc. who are least likely to have the resources to act, and so on.

This time, I want to make a sort of reversed rant: that placing responsibility for change on an amorphous “them” doesn’t help either.

I see and hear this all the time, usually in the form of “well yes, it’s a big problem. I really wish [insert name of public agency here] would do something about it! oh, well, what can you do.” Which is a way of allowing oneself to do nothing at all, ever. But it just doesn’t quite work like that, since a government/public agency can’t do shit by itself. It’s not a living, cognate thing with its own will, it’s a tool to be used by people. It’s very specifically a tool to deal with those problems that can only be addressed at a system-wide level, but in the end, it can and will only do whatever the people that engage in it/use it are telling it to do. And if you aren’t using and maintaining it, it will either rot away, or be used by others in ways you might not like.

I’m thinking part of the problem is with the idea that the people in government are “leaders”. Except in the very short-term and especially emergency situations, they usually aren’t. I suspect the naming was historically more accurate, but on most issues a government and its agencies are usually more conservative and inert than the society in which it resides*, which means that people always need to drag their government kicking and screaming to where they want it to be, rather than expecting, as we now often do, for the government to literally lead the way (which is especially stupid considering this works like a Tug o’ War, and if you’re not pulling, your government will actually move AWAY from your position, rather than leading in the desired direction).

Another reason for this attitude might be the unexamined wrong assumption about how to make a government agency act on something. People in their everyday lives are used to “voting with their wallets” in restaurants, shops etc. (usually about relatively trivial matters, or matters that can be supperficially patched up. But that’s a topic for another post), in which a simple announcement that you won’t do X at place Y anymore unless they correct problem Z can be a motivation for place Y to fix the problem, and similarly stating “if only place Y would fix problem Z, we’d definitely go there more often, but unless they fix it, we’ll stay away” can lead to the desired change. This does absolutely not work in government. It’s especially bad in a two party system, where the “choice” for participation is limited anyway and the parties really only care about a small subsection of voters in the middle, and therefore often cluster relatively close together on the overall spectrum; but to declare that you’ll stay away from a governmental agency entirely just renders you irrelevant to their decision-making process. The only time political parties care about whether someone will vote or not is when these potential voters already agree with them, and now just need to be coaxed into validating them. Otherwise, they only care that you do not vote for the other side, since they win if they have proportionally more than the other side, while businesses win both when they have a proportionally larger share, but also when they simply have more people “voting” for them, since the all-important growth can be achieved in both ways (conversely, the political parties don’t care if the total number of participants shrinks, as long as their slice if the smaller pie is still larger than the other guys’; businesses OTOH don’t handle the shrinking of their customer base well, even when their share of the market rises).

So anyway, a government agency isn’t going to change itself to “win you as a customer”, and a political party is only going to try if otherwise you’ll support the competition. So, participation is essential. And equally essential is vocal and highly visible participation, since government agencies cannot follow your lead if they don’t know what the fuck you want. And so it’s not just about voting, but about making it loud and clear why you’re voting, and why your vote should matter: because you have many friends you can take with you to the other side; because if they listen to you, you will give them your time and money to help them convince others to support them; etc. For that reason, building, supporting and joining interest groups and relevant public organizations for the issues that matter is often more useful and more important than just voting (though, without the voting part, the rest won’t carry enough weight).

And how does this square with my previous complaints about how problems cannot be solved by individuals? Well, the problem is that I wasn’t quite specific enough previously. The highly privileged can, as a matter of fact, solve the majority of their own problems; but the less privilege you have, the more difficult this becomes, because on the one hand you have to address fewer problems less thoroughly because you have fewer resources at your disposal, and on the other you’ll be more affected by more problems. But if the problems are being addressed in a collective manner as described above, then “from each according to his ability” actually can amount to enough to make the systemic change happen, which then will make it easier for people to address their problems**, leaving them with further resources to address the other problems, and so on. But this only works if even those participate in the group solution who could have managed to solve the problem individually, as well. It’s similar to the insurance principle, where those who won’t use it subsidize those who will, so that all remain taken care of. Looked as a whole, this will benefit everybody, since only the super-rich and super-powerful can solve all their own problems by themselves***; and therefore, pooling resources to address everybody’s problems means that your problems will be addressed, too, to a degree that you couldn’t accomplish individually.

So, while “acting alone” won’t solve problems, depending on others to act for you won’t, either. Participation and cooperation is essential. On life-or-death issues, this is so important that it needs to be universal and mandatory (healthcare most notably), but really almost all systemic problems require widespread and hopefully universal engagement, lest they become TotC’s in which cooperation unravels at ever-increasing rates, as is now happening with education for example.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

*and this is true regardless of whether the society is moving forwards or backwards. Reactionary elements may be more common in government, but government rarely leads in that direction, either. as fucknuts as some Republican politicians might be, they’re not nearly as reactionary as the Teabaggers as a whole, and certainly they aren’t their leaders; rather, they’re hanging on to the movement as it drags them violently to the right.

**for example, walking instead of driving requires either a lot of free time and a very convenient location of your choosing, or: all useful things to be closeby, everywhere; infrastructure and maintenance thereof (only a masochist (*cough*) would stomp through 2 foot high snow on the unplowed sidewalk instead of getting in the car and driving on the cleared road); community moral support (if it’s seen as a virtue, more people will do it than if it’s considered something only fucking weirdos and poor people do). Once those systemic problems are addressed, the treshold to doing it becomes lower in terms of willpower and physical resources, so that for one more people can start doing it, and two the people who used a lot of effort to do it before can now redirect that effort & resources into addressing other problems.

***though they often solve them by using the same sort of systemic tools available to us, they don’t need them. If there was no government for them to use to bully the populace, they could do it directly, and easier to boot. But other than that, even such systemic problems like bad air quality can be addressed with enough money for a state-of-the-art air filtration system. the rich will survive most of the disasters, unless they get killed off in a revolution. And even then any individual rich fucker has a higher likelihood of surviving than any individual revolutionary does. Private armies can do that.

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17 comments on “Individualism, take two

  1. Pygmy Loris says:

    This is the kind of thing a couple of my friends and I were talking about a few days ago. We were bemoaning the (apparently liberal?) tendency to get excited about voting, but do nothing afterword. Being active between elections, calling Congresscritters, protesting government actions you don’t like, publicly lauding actions you do like, etc. seems to be difficult for many people.

    I think, for some people, the precarious nature of employment in the US is one reason for this. My dad didn’t speak up too much at work (or out with work friends) because he didn’t want to suffer for it at the workplace. This extends into various other conversations people have. When you’re unsure of your job security, or you’re looking for work, you don’t want to upset potential contacts or employers. One of the many reasons I remain pseudonymous on the internet is that I don’t want a potential employer to google me and decide that my views on politics or feminism or something else I’ve said makes me a risky employee. Atheism, in particular, is a bad thing to be known for in the USA. I have had people I know say that they would never hire or want to work with someone who didn’t believe in some kind of higher power. So many jobs are at will here too that you can never be sure if your employer will decide to fire you when they need to downsize because they don’t like what you say even outside of work. That does tie into a common thing I hear about, the idea that one’s employer has say in what you do outside of the work environment. It’s a bad deal all around.

    Your points about the differences between government and business are really great, too. One big thing I think that makes many government services different from businesses is that many people are in really bad shape by the time they call on services like the various forms of welfare (TANF, food stamps, SSI disability, etc.). Being in a bad place financially and/or emotionally makes many Americans feel powerless to effect change in the services they receive. Outside of direct forms of welfare (the stigma attached to these is also important) people who use services like public transport are often working class rather than middle and upper class. Again, economic insecurity often translates into feeling unable to effect change, like getting a new bus route to your neighborhood.

    All that being said, I really hate the “government should run like a business” model that the right-wing has fostered for the last 40 years. Government services aren’t provided because they’re profitable, but rather because there’s a need in society for that service. Welfare would never produce a profit, and there’s almost no competition from the government for welfare (private charities, like food banks, are merely spackling some of the holes), so the government should provide this kind of service. Other government services, like police and firefighters, are things that only the wealthy could afford to buy on the free market, yet we think everyone should have access to their services. There’s also the risk that if my neighbor can’t afford firefighters if his house catches on fire, my house may catch on fire too.

    Anyway, I’m sorry this is long and rambly. I had to work overtime today at the census, and I’m dog tired. Time and a half makes me happy though. :)

  2. Walton says:

    Jadehawk,

    I see and hear this all the time, usually in the form of “well yes, it’s a big problem. I really wish [insert name of public agency here] would do something about it! oh, well, what can you do.” Which is a way of allowing oneself to do nothing at all, ever. But it just doesn’t quite work like that, since a government/public agency can’t do shit by itself… I’m thinking part of the problem is with the idea that the people in government are “leaders”. Except in the very short-term and especially emergency situations, they usually aren’t.

    I strongly agree with this – in fact, it’s actually a very libertarian viewpoint. Authoritarians, of both left and right, tend to put their trust in “leaders”, and in an anthropomorphic conception of “the State”, to sort out their problems.

    Another reason for this attitude might be the unexamined wrong assumption about how to make a government agency act on something. People in their everyday lives are used to “voting with their wallets” in restaurants, shops etc. (usually about relatively trivial matters, or matters that can be supperficially patched up. But that’s a topic for another post), in which a simple announcement that you won’t do X at place Y anymore unless they correct problem Z can be a motivation for place Y to fix the problem, and similarly stating “if only place Y would fix problem Z, we’d definitely go there more often, but unless they fix it, we’ll stay away” can lead to the desired change. This does absolutely not work in government… So anyway, a government agency isn’t going to change itself to “win you as a customer”, and a political party is only going to try if otherwise you’ll support the competition.

    This, again, is very true – and it’s a classic libertarian argument for why free competition between businesses, rather than government monopoly, is a good idea.

    Of course, you do also explain the difference between your viewpoint and a libertarian one:

    And how does this square with my previous complaints about how problems cannot be solved by individuals? Well, the problem is that I wasn’t quite specific enough previously. The highly privileged can, as a matter of fact, solve the majority of their own problems; but the less privilege you have, the more difficult this becomes, because on the one hand you have to address fewer problems less thoroughly because you have fewer resources at your disposal, and on the other you’ll be more affected by more problems.

    This, I think, has a lot of truth. It’s no accident that most of the libertarians I know (including, formerly, myself) are privileged middle-class white kids. When you have financial security and relatively high social status, it’s easy to take care of your own problems on an individualistic basis and to assume that everyone else can do the same. Hence why I wouldn’t call myself an orthodox libertarian any more: libertarianism fails to provide a solution for addressing the extreme power imbalances in our society.

    But at the same time, I’m not convinced by this:

    So, participation is essential. And equally essential is vocal and highly visible participation, since government agencies cannot follow your lead if they don’t know what the fuck you want. And so it’s not just about voting, but about making it loud and clear why you’re voting, and why your vote should matter: because you have many friends you can take with you to the other side; because if they listen to you, you will give them your time and money to help them convince others to support them; etc. For that reason, building, supporting and joining interest groups and relevant public organizations for the issues that matter is often more useful and more important than just voting (though, without the voting part, the rest won’t carry enough weight).

    I totally agree that just voting is not enough to make a difference. But I don’t think campaigning, or being vocal, makes all that much of a difference to many things either. As you point out yourself, government agencies and politicians have little or no incentive to give a damn about our problems most of the time. If you’re in a small minority on an issue, then government will not give a damn about what you think.

    So while I do speak out on things I care about – such as drug legalization, ending the detention of refugees, cutting the prison population, or opposing longer pre-trial detention – it would be a waste of time for me to spend my whole life writing letters to politicians on these issues. Because people who think like me are far outnumbered by the Daily-Mail-reading “law and order” crowd, it would be electoral suicide for any politician or party to actually agree with me, so I’m never going to get anywhere through democratic politics.

    Rather, often, the best route for minorities to get protection is through the courts: in countries with a strong constitutional toolkit for the judicial protection of fundamental rights, the courts, not elected politicians, are usually the best place to go to defend the rights and liberties of oppressed groups. This isn’t to say that they always, or even often, get it right; but they have a much better track record than elected politicians in this respect. This is why I think the best way for me to make a difference in society is not through political campaigning, but through being a lawyer. And why I admire the methods of American pressure groups such as the ACLU, which have achieved a lot of good things not through appealing to public opinion, but through appealing to the courts to defend constitutional rights.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    That’s another one of those that I’ve been thinking for a long time (in less detail and less clarity) and that you’re actually saying. No organization (no matter if public, private, anything) can read your mind; if you don’t tell them what you want, they’ll never figure it out except sometimes by chance (or if it’s a lot more obvious than anyone should think is necessary).

    I especially like the insurance analogy, which I hadn’t thought of.

    What does TotC mean?

    I’m thinking part of the problem is with the idea that the people in government are “leaders”.

    Certainly. That’s always what strikes me the most in discussions of American politics.

    The reason for the shock I still get every time lies of course in the German language: when the generation of my great-grandparents wanted a leader, they actually got one, and he even took “leader” as his official title. The word, and to a very large degree even the concept, have disappeared from German-language discussions of politics, and they’re not coming back, even though the English word leadership crops up maybe once a year somewhere. Referring to politicians as “our leaders” is unthinkable over here.

    only a masochist (*cough*) would stomp through 2 foot high snow on the unplowed sidewalk instead of getting in the car and driving on the cleared road

    I’d do it anyway (unless seriously pressed for time). I just like snow that much :-)

    So many jobs are at will here too that you can never be sure if your employer will decide to fire you when they need to downsize because they don’t like what you say even outside of work.

    That’s obviously a big factor in the USA, and absent in the rest of the First World (where it’s simply illegal to fire people for such reasons — it’s difficult in general to fire anyone).

    And that, I think, leads us into a vicious circle: how can you lobby for humane work laws when precisely that can get you fired? Never mind that the business lobby is in Congress and you’re not.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    All this reminds me: in the USA, it’s actually illegal to test cattle for BSE, because advertizing that one does that would give that company an unfair advantage over others. Hard to believe, but that’s the official reasoning behind it, as far as I’ve read.

    All over Europe, when the first case of BSE was discovered in England, testing every single dead cow for BSE became mandatory within 48 h (probably less, I don’t remember). The politicians’ fear for their heads was palpable — they knew that, if they ever gave the appearance of knowing about the danger and not doing enough about it, the media would trigger a shitstorm, outraged masses would march in the streets, and they’d all have to resign under a hail of rotten eggs, rotten tomatoes, and probably bricks, too.

    If you’re in a small minority on an issue, then government will not give a damn about what you think.

    Then campaign to make a majority aware of your issue.

    Writing to politicians is indeed a distraction in the vast majority of cases, I bet. I’m not used to it because over here we vote for parties, not directly for deputees; that makes campaigning to the voters rather than to the… “leaders” the only option.

    Rather, often, the best route for minorities to get protection is through the courts: in countries with a strong constitutional toolkit for the judicial protection of fundamental rights, the courts, not elected politicians, are usually the best place to go to defend the rights and liberties of oppressed groups.

    And how do you get such a constitution in the first place?

    By convincing a large majority of its usefulness. Either that, or by a coup.

    American courts are unusually powerful: the Supreme Court is not a mere constitution court who can do nothing but judge if a law is constitutional, and other courts can base their rulings directly on the constitution instead only on laws.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    So, en dashes get displayed as hyphens in this font; two dashes in a row get turned into a single dash, except if they’re surrounded by spaces and letters (spaces alone are not enough) on both sides; in that case, an em dash is displayed.

    Slightly bizarre.

  6. Walton says:

    American courts are unusually powerful: the Supreme Court is not a mere constitution court who can do nothing but judge if a law is constitutional, and other courts can base their rulings directly on the constitution instead only on laws.

    True. Kelsen’s model (of having a separate constitutional court – first developed, ironically, for the 1920 Austrian Constitution, which didn’t end too well) is very popular in Europe; but I think the American model is preferable. For me, the role of the US Supreme Court is the paradigm case of what courts should be doing in a liberal-constitutionalist state. That’s why I want the British constitutional order to develop in that direction, with an entrenched constitution and Bill of Rights that would give more power to the judiciary to protect individual liberties.

  7. Jadehawk says:

    All that being said, I really hate the “government should run like a business” model that the right-wing has fostered for the last 40 years. Government services aren’t provided because they’re profitable, but rather because there’s a need in society for that service.

    fuck yes; there’s some serious delusion going on that businesses (or a government run as one) can provide certain services. That’s because certain services just aren’t profitable or aren’t profitable to the providers directly, within a predictable short- or medium-range timeframe.

    This, again, is very true – and it’s a classic libertarian argument for why free competition between businesses, rather than government monopoly, is a good idea.

    that’s not actually true, but in all fairness I haven’t written about this yet :-p

    Business can’t provide services for which the profits are diffused throughout society and time, since that’s not a sensible business strategy. They cannot provide a sufficient number and scale of backup-strategies for the level of functional redundancy a healthy society requires, since profit competition demands that they pick an empty niche, or pick the most profitable solution within the niche. They also cannot address problems that will have real world effects in the long-term future, since they’re reactive and short-term oriented. They also cannot solve problems of the TotC variety, since they require people to compete, rather than cooperate (though ironically, a cartel is a business version of a solution to a TotC problem; it’s just that it benefits the businesses, not people :-p ) Lastly, competition is an unstable and expensive and therefore temporary state in a Free Market; they tend to stabilize by turning into monopolies much worse than a government monopoly. So strict regulation and enforced competition is the only framework within which private business is any good to anyone.

    But I don’t think campaigning, or being vocal, makes all that much of a difference to many things either. As you point out yourself, government agencies and politicians have little or no incentive to give a damn about our problems most of the time. If you’re in a small minority on an issue, then government will not give a damn about what you think.

    that’s bullshit. this may be true for top-down government, but I think I made it pretty clear that I support bottom-up government. When people form into unions, non-profits, charities, activist groups, community organizations, etc., or when they join their local parties and run for local offices, they become powerful enough to influence society and government, or even become part of government. The point is to refuse to separate politics and government as something “they” do (where “they is professional politicians”; I’ve already written about this previously).

    Ironically, the one true obstacle to this is actually the for profit businesses, because the current laws basically put them above the law,often treating governments as employees.

    Rather, often, the best route for minorities to get protection is through the courts:

    Even courts don’t make these decisions out of the blue, they make them because of shifts in the society in which they exist. Gay rights will not be granted because a bunch of judges will have a sudden, random epiphany; they will be granted because the pressure on society by activists will reach critical mass so that society changes sufficiently to influence court decisions. The influence is different, less election-cycle-dependent, but it still exists.

    It also helps when those who enter the field have been properly trained to engender the values you want them to have: basically, it’s a more concentrated effort at changing public opinion ;-)

    What does TotC mean?

    Tragedy of the Commons; I’ve been using that phrase so much, I got sick of spelling it out. sorry :-p

  8. Jadehawk says:

    Writing to politicians is indeed a distraction in the vast majority of cases, I bet. I’m not used to it because over here we vote for parties, not directly for deputees; that makes campaigning to the voters rather than to the… “leaders” the only option.

    agreed. your MP, or senator, or congresscritter will not care unless you fall within the “swing-voter” category.

    Which is why proportional representation is SO much better than this silliness of electing one person for a specific position.

    P.S.: I’ve removed your testing posts, since they’re content-free :-p

  9. Jadehawk says:

    I’d do it anyway (unless seriously pressed for time). I just like snow that much :-)

    it’s quite the workout, especially when the snow is so heavy or hard that you cannot just move your legs forward, you have to move them up-forward-down, as if constantly stepping over things

  10. Jadehawk says:

    oh, and btw, a great example of how activism can put pressure onto courts to make the right decision is the Browder v. Gayle case. The Montgomery bus boycott was raising national awareness and creating a lot of social pressure for the desegregation case. It also was the “first shot” fired in the war for Civil Rights, which were also eventually granted by court. I don’t think it would be at all reasonable to deny the influence of activism on these Civil Rights Cases

  11. Walton says:

    that’s bullshit. this may be true for top-down government, but I think I made it pretty clear that I support bottom-up government. When people form into unions, non-profits, charities, activist groups, community organizations, etc., or when they join their local parties and run for local offices, they become powerful enough to influence society and government, or even become part of government. The point is to refuse to separate politics and government as something “they” do (where “they is professional politicians”; I’ve already written about this previously).

    I see your point, but I think you’re failing to take proper account of the fact that groups of people who are in a small minority, or very poor and marginalised, are not always going to be able to convince the majority to grant them equal rights. Yes, marginalised minority groups, and those who support them, can change some people’s attitudes through campaigning. But it only goes so far: democracy only works to help oppressed minorities if they can convince the majority to agree with their cause.

    You point out correctly that activism and protests, and the work done by the SCLC and NAACP during the civil rights era, were necessary pre-requisites to the key Supreme Court decisions in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and Loving v Virginia, and that the Court did not make these decisions in a vacuum. Thus far, I agree with you. But it’s also important to remember that without the Court, if civil rights had had to be achieved through democratic means alone, it would have taken a lot longer. There is no way that the racist white majority in the South would have voted in 1954 to end racial segregation in schools; it would have taken much longer than that for activism to change people’s attitudes sufficiently.

    Similarly, we have a serious problem with the erosion of civil liberties in US and UK society today, but you’re never going to persuade the majority of voters to realise that. In the UK, refugees and asylum-seekers are detained indefinitely in “detention centres” in worse conditions than prison: we would never accept this if it were being done to British citizens, but because it’s being done to people who are outside their own in-group, the majority of voters either don’t notice or don’t care, or swallow the moronic Daily Mail (think Fox News in print form) line that “immigrants are taking our jobs”. Similarly, the coercive powers of the police over suspects in pre-trial custody have been steadily expanded, and a whole raft of new powers (control orders and so on) have been introduced in relation to “terror suspects”. But again, the majority of British people just don’t care, because they assume that these abuses only happen to “criminals” and “terrorists” rather than to “law-abiding people” – a position which is in itself a product of class privilege, since working-class people, especially young men and especially those from ethnic minorities, are statistically far more likely than middle-class people to be wrongly detained and/or wrongly accused of a crime.

    As long as middle-class voters are able to ignore these abuses – which they can, and will continue to do as long as it doesn’t affect them – we have no hope of achieving proper protection for civil liberties in the UK, except through an activist judiciary. The same is true in the US. Just look at this batshit insane immigration law in Arizona. The legislators voted for it, and the (white) majority of voters support it – for the same sort of reasons I noted above; it affects “foreigners”, rather than people in the in-group. Rather, the only way it will be eliminated is if the courts strike it down on constitutional grounds – as they should.

  12. Jadehawk says:

    Walton, I don’t know why you seem to think I argue against courts. I do not. But not everybody can be a lawyer or judge, while almost everybody can be a member of an activist organisation (the caveats PL mentioned notwithstanding). To leave it up to judges alone is precisely the “I wish someone else would take care of my problems” shit that I mentioned in this post.

    As to the Arizona thing… do you know that a nationwide boycott of everything Arizonan is planned, to fight the law? Again, the battle will be won in a courtroom, but it will be fought on the streets, via activism.

    Democracy is more than just majority rule. Activism is, too. You keep on falling for the problem I mentioned in a previous post, where democracy has been reduced professional politics and to voting (or at most convincing people to vote the way you want them to); it really is far more than that though, and yelling loud enough to be heard by a judge counts, too. All political and social activism is part of being a democracy, even if the victories sometimes come from the courts.

  13. Walton says:

    Democracy is more than just majority rule. Activism is, too. You keep on falling for the problem I mentioned in a previous post, where democracy has been reduced professional politics and to voting (or at most convincing people to vote the way you want them to); it really is far more than that though, and yelling loud enough to be heard by a judge counts, too. All political and social activism is part of being a democracy, even if the victories sometimes come from the courts.

    I just find this a strange definition of “democracy”. Engaging in political and social activism is certainly one can only do in a free society – it’s an exercise of one’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. But if the people who make the final decision are an elite group, rather than the majority of the public, I wouldn’t call it a “democratic” decision.

    Would you argue, for example, that the political and social reforms in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Britain – such as the ban on child labour, ban on slavery, regulation of factory working conditions, legalisation of trade unions, extension of the franchise, introduction of unemployment benefit and sickness insurance, introduction of universal education, and so on – were “democratic” reforms? Many of these things came about after concerted popular campaigns by various pressure-groups; indeed, it was the age when organised political activism on a large scale first developed. But since the majority of the population could not vote – only upper- and middle-class men had the vote for most of the nineteenth century – these laws were passed by a Parliament which was not “democratic” in its composition. So while groups of ordinary people were involved in campaigning for reform, it was a small elite who actually enacted the reforms.

    You can call that “democracy” if you like, but I just see it as an overly wide use of the term.

  14. Jadehawk says:

    by your definition, only direct democracies are democracies; that I find a very limited interpretation of the term, for any practical purpose.

    democracy is a people governing themselves. the ways in which that can be done range from anarchy to constitutional republicanism. I would argue that a situation in which the people are not engaged in any way other than just voting is not particularly democratic; OTOH one in which they are fully engaged by all means available to them, even in a system where the final decision is officially made by not by directly voting on it, is still democratic.

    So yes, I would argue that all victories achieved by changing society via activist pressure are democratic victories. Besides, this isn’t black-or-white, anyway, but rather a gradient. The most democratic would of course be if all people were engaged in direct voting for all issues in proportion to how these issues affect them. But anything less than that doesn’t stop being democratic. That only happens when people’s voices become suppressed and ignored. And this happens very often in “officially” democratic countries where voting takes place, but really you’re just voting for which flavor of dictatorship you want.

  15. Rorschach says:

    democracy is a people governing themselves.

    Oh please, that’s just silly !!

    From their Wiki :
    Democracy is the eleventh studio album of English post-punk group Killing Joke. It was released on CD in April 1996, and there was also a cassette version. A remastered CD with a remix of “Democracy” was released on 20 June 2005 by Cooking Vinyl.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Kelsen’s model (of having a separate constitutional court – first developed, ironically, for the 1920 Austrian Constitution, which didn’t end too well)

    It didn’t? The reform of 1929 didn’t AFAIK do anything except make the president a bit more powerful. The civil mini-war of 1934 and the resultant dictature weren’t a result of the constitution… The biggest change to the constitution since 1929 was the adoption of neutrality in 1955, AFAIK.

    P.S.: I’ve removed your testing posts, since they’re content-free :-p

    Thanks! :-)

    it’s quite the workout, especially when the snow is so heavy or hard that you cannot just move your legs forward, you have to move them up-forward-down, as if constantly stepping over things

    I know :-)

    But it’s also important to remember that without the Court, if civil rights had had to be achieved through democratic means alone, it would have taken a lot longer. There is no way that the racist white majority in the South would have voted in 1954 to end racial segregation in schools; it would have taken much longer than that for activism to change people’s attitudes sufficiently.

    Unless this issue were a federal responsibility instead of left to the states (let alone the tiny school-board districts).

    As long as middle-class voters are able to ignore these abuses – which they can, and will continue to do as long as it doesn’t affect them – we have no hope of achieving proper protection for civil liberties in the UK, except through an activist judiciary.

    As I keep saying, democracy only works if the voters know what they’re doing. It’s a matter of education, of information. Found a newspaper, or (in these modern times) just start blogging!

    (…Not before your exams, of course. :-þ )

    To leave it up to judges alone is precisely the “I wish someone else would take care of my problems” shit that I mentioned in this post.

    Yes!!! That’s another one of those obvious points that I failed to become fully conscious of on my own.

    a nationwide boycott of everything Arizonan is planned

    Wow! :-) :-) :-)

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Rorschach FTW!

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