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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 13-Aug-17


Sunday 13-August-17

Selfishness, Capitalism, Democracy: where are we going?

At the turn of millennium, the world seemed so nice. Well, mostly. Communism had been defeated and democracy was spreading. Peace had had its chance and was spreading nicely. But now, elected leaders everywhere, from Russia to Turkey to even the USA are working hard to restore the natural order of dictatorship. Efforts in the Middle East have also gone to pot as wars intended on bringing democracy have turned to anarchy and warring factions instead.

The world, it seems, is going to track and ruin. It's a common coffee table conversation. Political upheaval, climate change, population explosion. What next? Perhaps the revolution of the robots might be a good idea if it leads to a more sustainable world.

But why? Humans are at the top of the evolutionary did chain? How did we get into such a mess? Much can be explained by considering two forces act on us: selfishness and unselfishness.

Selfishness focuses on me and mine, leading to competition, elitism and ultimate dictatorship as the most powerful rise to the top of the pile. Unselfishness, on the other hand, focuses on equality, fairness and the broader society. Unfortunately for the world, we are more selfish than unselfish. Most of us take more than we give, resulting in an unequal society.

This is what Communism rails about, yet the selfish streak also invades Communist societies, making them unequal and hierarchical too. The best counteraction we have is democracy, not just in the critical one-person-one-vote principle, but also in the legislature and independence of key institutions that distribute power.

Effective democracy depends on wisdom of the masses in discerning candidates who will promote the greater good, yet this, too, is flawed. Wise voting increases when voters are educated and socialized. Yet education is chronically uneven and voters are of course affected by the selfish-unselfish imbalance. They are also subject to the whole raft of human fallibility, from biased thought to being persuaded by irrational, emotive argument.

And democracy is more blind than wise. If you can persuade the masses (and get them to vote), you could have a fool in charge. The best way to do this is to avoid reason and appeal to emotion. Get them angry and promise to heal their wounds. Play to their hopes of a better world. Then betray them while telling them how much you are helping them. It is amazing how long people will believe what they want to believe. Just make sure that, by the time they wake up, it is too late.

Also, power does not stay spread out. Power attracts power and begets power. The powerful get that way by building and gathering power. They become elite by banding together and keeping others out of their little cabal. Dictators survive by having a small such group who keep them in power and who are richly rewarded for this, much as medieval kings played politics with their barons. Yet uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and kings do get deposed, though they often just get replaced with other kings, often tougher ones, unless the underlying system itself is changed.

Democracy survives when enough egalitarian people want it and are prepared to fight for it. This is not easy when human nature plays in the opposite direction, yet it is our only hope.

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