Problems of Constitutional Democracy

Watching the information bonfire of the current US election processes is troubling, to say the least. Beyond external interference in the fidelity of democracy and the internal dissonance of a nation being in many ways torn apart by incessant adversarial posturing and partisan self-interest, there is in this situation an instance of some broader unresolved issues which at this time and place assume a very specific shape and character.

The question is of the ways in which the systems of incentives and rewards that have sedimented and evolved around the constitutional frameworks have themselves become the critical pivots and abstractions around which democracy orbits. It is not, necessarily, that the core system is flawed – more that the extent to which the relentless and adaptive complexities of political self-interest have so shaped the environment in which it functions that these pragmatic intrigues and power-plays have assumed the central position. The center of logical gravity has drifted away from core functions to the malleable, ambiguous and serially-exploited representations of those functions as a perhaps unexpected consequence of increasing social, technological and economic complexity as much as of political self-interest.

Questions as to whether or not the base axiomatic (constitutional) framework still works as intended or if current doubts regarding this are a consequence (and symptom) of the fact that the audience and participatory observers for which it was written were dramatically other than those which currently exist are issues for the social media warriors, media and ideological pugilists to contend. I merely think it is worth mentioning.

4 replies on “Problems of Constitutional Democracy”

I think the fundamental problem is that the Representative model of Democracy leads to a mutual distrust: the founding forefathers and the current political leaders don’t trust the citizens (the people) and the people don’t trust the politicians; that, coupled with the fact that we’ve complicated the intent of the original social contract (our Constitution) well beyond the limits of human comprehension. We need to break the vicious cycle of mistrust by moving to a Participatory model of Democracy based on an updated social contract that every citizen can understand and agree on, and each generation must sign-off on it; not just our political leaders. There will always be liars, cheaters, and criminals, but society must learn to deal with it fairly and effectively. The worst politicians thrive on confusion, doubt, and disinformation. The people do not. It won’t be easy, but we must go back to basics for a solution.

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A problem of complexity, compression and simplicity? Definitions are problematic, I wonder if any public official’s career would survive very long if they suggested remediating core axioms or even merely suggested a self-evident value of simplifying the labyrinthine information systems away from the advantage of predatory legal self-interests that feed off (i.e. exploit) the associated confusion and chaos.

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As I said in my previous comment, “… The worst politicians thrive on confusion, doubt, and disinformation …” I think the problem is that Representative Democracy draws too many dishonest politicians, with its opportunity to do their lying, cheating, and other crimes in “the dark” (from the point of view of the disinformed citizenry) for the entire 4 years, except for one day, Election Day. A more Participatory Democracy might tend to draw more honest and disinterested politicians. Trump has no more knowledge or experience than the average man or woman in the streets; as a matter of fact, he has a lot less. If people are reluctant to fill positions of political leadership, then a national lottery to pick political leadership might be instituted, treated like mandatory jury duty.

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Interesting. Of course we could all hardly do much worse than the currently incumbent ignorance of the Office, although random population samples by lottery can go both ways – good or bad. I do think, though, that there are powerful statistical and probabilistic forces at work across large-scale sociotechnical systems which not only raise up such ignorant and bloviating orange buffoons but – perhaps – quite positively require them. There are flaws in our nature, in our shared humanity, which seem almost predestined to the cultivation of such catastrophic historical errata and misanthropic blemishes upon our shared history… what a world and what a mess… again.


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