Archive | April 2011

Web Picks Sceptique for April 29, 2011

In Quarters Number 1, paranormal investigators...

Image via Wikipedia

A Wee Bit-O Pedantry on My Part: What do I call a ‘Functioning Democracy?’

The Economist Democracy index map for 2008, wi...

Image via Wikipedia

One of my friends recently left a comment on an earlier post in my argumentation series, and raised a few points, one of which I thought I would address here in more depth.

Now, I’m not certain, but I suspect that regarding his use of the term “republic” and my use of “democracy,” we could very well be using two different terms to say the same thing, based upon our own personal usages and definitions of them.

It even seems to me as though members of our country’s own Senate cannot agree amongst themselves as to what these words actually mean.

He’s generally more prone to vote Republican, myself, Democratic. I suspect that we are bandying semantics in favor of our chosen political ideologies.

I suspect this, because for my part, without resorting to the possibly confusing use of the term “democratic republic” — a term often used by nations that are neither democratic nor republics, and thus laden with more baggage than I’d like — and since terms like “democratic liberalism” are also laden (Language is almost never neutral, after all…), I’ll lay out below in more detail the specific meaning I intend to convey when I use the phrase “functioning democracy.”

When I say, “functioning democracy,” I’m not talking about a literal participatory democracy. Of course 300 million people aren’t going to be able to meaningfully discuss a subject, at least not coherently, or in a reasonable amount of time. We’re not talking a nationwide telepathic Overmind here…

I’m talking about any society with a system of governance in which a citizen electorate votes their chosen representatives into public office to enact legislation, set and administer policy, and to interpret and enforce the law, to be put to the duty of governing society (preferably) fairly, and with some measure of accountability, with the “functioning” part also denoting a relatively free, open, pluralistic society in which the citizen electorate has available the willingness, the means, and the opportunity to effectively reason through their positions on most voting issues.

In short, to think with some clarity through the essentials on important matters (such as which candidate or referendum to vote for, based on their record or the nature of the matter voted on), with themselves and each other as the audiences for their arguments, to arrive at the best decision given the information at hand.

But maybe that’s a bit too much to hope for…

In any healthy functional democracy, citizens would be more willing to talk to each other constructively, a situation I see as somewhat lacking in our current crop of strongly opinionated, one could even say extremely opinionated, citizenry and elected representatives in both of the major parties.

Note that a dysfunctional democracy has few traits found in the above definition, and one with none of them, it goes without too much saying, is by that definition a democracy only in name.

Hopefully, this sheds some light on my system of meaning regarding certain terms.

I do try to be reasonable, after all: I have standards I try to abide by, and shoddy, knee-jerk skepticism on my part is not something I care for, even on social issue topics like politics, which I consider to be a compound word with distinctly unfavorable connotations — Poly, meaning many, and ticks, meaning a subset of blood-sucking arachnids. I did say that language is often loaded…