Democracy provides freedom for the common man
But those in charge will not, if they can.
Truth is subjective 'tis true
My reality may not be the same for you.
I thought the internet would provide a spectrum of opinions that would allow the common person to judge for themselves the 'truth' of world affairs and form reasoned and reasonable views. Although the internet would allow disproportionate dissemination of lies and allow extremist minorities to contact each other, I thought that extreme views and conspiracy theories would be evaluated and mostly dismissed. Given that most areas of the world where internet access is denied are behind the times and are not democracies, I had hoped that internet access for all its faults would be hugely beneficial for the common person and democracy.
Democracy, derived from the Greek 'demos', meaning people, and 'kratos' meaning power, implies that power is with the common people. But common people do not seek power: their only power relies on their vote. Those in power can ask themselves whether the common person is sufficiently intelligent and knowledgeable to have opinions about economics, law, local politics, national and international politics, and be able to distinguish between truth, misinterpretations and lies.
Sigmund Freud, after a lifetime of psychoanalysis, thought not. He said: 'I have found little that is good
about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all'. Hitler said: 'What luck for the rulers that people do not think'. Sadly, they might be correct.
Those in power seem to think the common person's opinion counts for little, any opposition is discreditable, and therefore their opinions if not their votes can be numerically and literally discounted. Current events suggest that the common person will believe what they are told or what they want to hear.
Those in power can also argue that the average IQ is 100 and, because IQs constitute a standard distribution curve more, then 50% of people would score below this and would find difficulty in assessing complex situations. If anyone thinks their IQ, or indeed any other attribute, renders them superior to the common person, then they are on the slippery slope towards authoritarianism that allows emergence of leaders who believe that they, assisted by their chosen advisors, deserve to rule the common person (note rule
, not serve). Any deviation from the truths of the common person is for the good of the common person.
We live in a post-truth era (post-truth is the euphemism for lies). Promises can be made that in retrospect can be considered mere aspirations that can be subsequently disregarded when 'circumstances change' (as they always do), or even when circumstances do not change (as with the Northern Irish Protocol).
Lying becomes inevitable for those who think along authoritarian lines (according to the Washington Post
, Trump told 30,573 lies over four years). The defining line between promises, misinformation, spin, propaganda and lies is often blurred by those in power. Given time, minor authoritarian 'white' lies crescendo to malignant lies that those in power use to get their way, no matter what the price.
Even the number of deaths becomes irrelevant. Examples include 'One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic' (attributed to Stalin) and the mounting death toll of Putin's 'limited military operation' (Putin's lie – his limited military operation, it is an undeclared war – a war being a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country).
How do liars get away with it? Why does the common person not call them out? The sad truth is that people have to admit to themselves that they had been duped in order to return to their credibility baseline. And who likes to admit they have been duped? The UK common person voted for Brexit because they were told that management of the European Union was poor, and they were duped that independence from Europe would be bring easy benefits and that a comprehensive deal had been concluded. However, once duped, the common person cannot bring themselves to realise that the UK Government might be no better. For the record, I have never been duped (I lie authoritatively).
Prominent examples of untruth tellers, in ascending order of danger to democracy include Boris Johnson, Trump and Putin. What happens in Kim Jong-un's North Korea or in Xi Jinping's China is unclear because of lack of internet dependent information.
Boris Johnson, to be charitable, probably does not act with malignant intent but rather is an epitome of Etonian entitlement and believes himself to be a person of principle – 'An example to us all' – despite the fact he broke laws that he himself promoted to us and, being a likeable rogue, attempted to get the Queen to prorogue parliament.
Trump nearly succeeded in his seditious 6 January coup attempt that was contrary to both the US Constitution and democracy. His coup was thwarted but be not duped
, this may have only been a temporary victory for democracy. Trump may well have learned from Hitler's 1923 Beer Hall Putsch that failed because reinforcements were pre-emptively summoned. This did not prevent Hitler completing his transmogrification into total authoritarianism that caused the Second World War 16 years later. Trump may have learnt from this, did not make the same mistake and, on 6 January reinforcements were not immediately summoned. Trump's coup was only derailed when Pence refused to validate Trump's lie of electoral fraud (for which there is no evidence) that could have led to Trump's 'winning' the election. Most Republicans were duped and brought into Trump's attempt to subvert democracy and, although some were appalled at the time, they later repudiated their initial reactions.
Trumpism may yet succeed unless he and his cronies are called to account and measures taken to ensure that there can be no recurrence. Failure to do this will mean that the US will become fragmented. Have you noticed there are increasing replacements of the expression, '
The United States is
…' by '
The United States are...
Putin is a classic authoritarian dictator. He surrounds himself with acolytes and controls internet access (censorship is often used to hide lies that are being told). What the KGB, his secret police, get up to is secret and highly likely to be undemocratic. Those that rouse Putin's displeasure get polonium (Alexander Litvinenko) or Novichok (in Salisbury) or, in in the case of Alexei Navalny, get Novichok and get disappeared. What happens to the common person in Russia who displeases Putin can only be imagined.
Is democracy always necessary for proper management of the common people? Asking significant questions of the common person in referendums will not lead to integrated policies. Democracy also presumes that all men are created equal, but inheritance, genetic or financial, and laws such as primogeniture predispose to an emergence of an elite ruling class.
Democracies are weak when compared with authoritarian regimes.
Democracies are always vulnerable to attempted coups and to counter these requires give and take between opposing parties and not mutual vilification as now occurs in the US. Even in well-established democracies, popularist politicians promise the common person they are being disadvantaged, misled by others and that they deserve better.
Society will need to up its game to prevent the possibility of undemocratic authoritarians attaining and retaining power. But fire has to be fought with fire and this means society has to react by seeking similar countervailing, and thus authoritarian, power. Minorities have to accept, even if begrudgingly, the wishes of the majority if democracies are to function. This does not always occur and, worse, a minority of power seekers within the majority can exploit the authority of 'their' majority for their own agenda. This explains the paradox that the wheel of revolution may revolve but authoritarianism always returns. Thus it seems that there will always be a battle between authoritarianism and democracy. Even communism, one logical antidote to fascism, produces authoritarian leaders.
Even if we believe democracy is desirable, it may not be achievable as it may not deliver the greatest good for the greatest number. Maybe a brief burst of time-limited authoritarianism might be beneficial as it was in Singapore until 1990 under the benign dictator, Lee Kuan Yew, although one has to note that his party has remained in power ever since. If such leaders were appointed on non-partisan grounds from those who had shown political ability, integrity, and who were not power seeking, it would still be highly unlikely that they would be representative of the common person.
There is a prospect that there will always be contradictory interests between those who seek power and the common person.
Philip D Welsby was a Consultant in Infectious Diseases in Edinburgh. He writes extensively on medical and other matters and, as a consequence, is driven to distraction by requests from predatory journals (journals that charge the author for publication) almost invariably dealing with subjects about which he knows little