A Referendum on Democracy
Although in America republic and democracy are used interchangeably, both organizational concepts have roots with different Greek philosophers. The differences between republic and democracy stem from these philosophical roots. Because of the way the theories treat the people’s place in the political process, the 2012 election in California will be a referendum on democracy and the future of America.
Plato believed that the people were far too uneducated to play a direct role in governing. Because of the manner in which his teacher, Socrates, had been put to death by a jury of hoi polloi, or proletarians, he never again trusted the “people.” Because of this, he designed a system in which the people would have their opinion mitigated by a more experienced, intelligent, and pure group of people whose judgment would be more just. The people would vote for their elected body, which would make the legislation and lead the government. Plato believed that a gifted orator could manipulate the populace into believing the orator over a subject matter expert. This so-called Gorgias effect is still relevant even today.
Aristotle did not directly study under Socrates, so he still had faith in the people’s ability to govern. This summation is oversimplified for the purpose of this short editorial, because Aristotle also had requirements for citizens to participate in politics; one of which, interestingly enough, was that the individual would not be participating in business.
America has both republic and democracy in it. Most of the elections in the country are solely republican in nature. However, California has a proposition system in which citizens may put forth a proposition, and during the election, each proposition is passed or denied by popular vote. In this election, in particular, as the legislative side of the state government has remained useless, inundated by a divergent political class, determined to shove their irreconcilable variations of political dogma down the unwilling throats of the populace, the propositions on the ballot will have a larger effect on the state and the economy than previous props.
In the cases of propositions that will hurt the interests of corporations or help them, billionaires have launched massive marketing campaigns to fool the populace into voting against their own interests. The Gorgias effect fools the populace on an almost daily basis on cable news. Fox News, in particular, is guilty of this. The framing used on the shows, the formatting, the casting, the writing, the layout, everything, down to the very smallest detail are designed to boost ratings through making news entertaining rather than informative, and to further the political agenda of the emperor himself, Rupert Murdoch. Just like the people who currently hate our President because of no reason they can put words to, those influenced by massive marketing campaigns can’t say why they will vote a certain way, they just have a couple hip pocket phrases that have been repeated to them hundreds of times that make it past the critical frontal lobe into the more passive parts of the brain. “Oh, if I make companies label what has been generated in a lab, it will increase my food cost…”
Republic is by no means a perfect solution. It too has been corrupted and co-opted by those who put their own financial interests ahead of those they are supposed to be leading. (If the American experiment were based purely on Plato’s writings these people would not be allowed to lead.) The outcome of this California election, due to the unprecedented amount of dollars being spent by various interests will show whether a skillful orator can manipulate the populace into voting against itself. Please, voters, get educated on the props, pay attention to the source. Americans and Californians could be on the precipice of taking back their government from special interests that will stop at no end to make a dollar, or continuing on the path they have been on since the Civil War. I know which way I think it’s going to turn out.