democracy has failed us

[estimated reading time 7 minutes]

democracy doesn’t work. it never has and it is painfully incapable of functioning in a way that leads to a good society. perhaps a better one than other possibilities, at times. but not a good one because good from a moral and ethical standpoint is starkly opposed to collective desire and democracy is simply the practical representation of desire. but that’s a theoretical issue and there are dead children on the ground all around us so while you may not agree with me about the necessary failure of democracy in all its iterations it may be far less contentious to think about why it has failed in this particular instance and what can be done about it. whether you like democracy or, like me, see it as folly, we look around us and see small corpses riddled with bullets and if you are not crying you simply do not deserve to be considered human anymore. you are nothing more than flesh waiting to decompose. keeping our children safe is the most fundamental of our roles and we are failing. not just once. accidents happen in our lives. but when a situation repeats with no end in sight, when we continue to walk down a path expecting different results but change nothing about how we exist, that is not an accident. that is us being complicit, tacitly demonstrating our acceptance of the status quo. it means we either like the outcome or we don’t care enough to change it.

according to the cdc, a little over forty-five-thousand people are killed with guns every year in the united states – that’s about eighty-percent of murders. if this number isn’t striking to you, you have an interesting sense of proportion but i’ll make it more real with a comparison. if we take the official estimate of the number of people exterminated at the sobibór concentration camp during the second-world-war and average it across the whole duration of the holocaust, that’s approximately the same number of people killed every year. i’ll say that again in case it flew by so fast. the average number of people killed in the united states with a gun every year is about the same as the average number of people killed during the holocaust at the sobibór death camp.

but you were aware it was a problem before i started speaking, i have no doubt. it has been in the news for years. the subject of editorials and talkshows and more articles than anyone can count. despite this, it has continued. it hasn’t just remained a problem. it has gotten worse. i know what some people will say, of course. that there has always been violence on the streets and in schools and the fact that we have better communications technology and people are more plugged-in to a world of constant, ubiquitous access to instant information means we hear more about it. and that is certainly true. but just because you hear more about something doesn’t mean there isn’t more of it happening. statistics on shootings are increasing and have been for decades with no significant decline. even during a pandemic that kept us locked away for the majority of two years as some crimes declined in a measurable way gun violence increased – while complete statistics haven’t been released yet for part of the pandemic period for obvious reasons, those that have show absolutely no improvement and mostly a continuation of the worsening of the issue.

we agree there is a problem. the most die-hard conservative pro-gun obsessive agrees there’s a problem. we don’t all agree what the problem is but there is no lack of empathy on the conservative side of the political spectrum. republicans, i am absolutely certain, are not generally for dead children any more than non-republicans. and i’m certainly not a democrat so i’m not going to make the awkward mistake of thinking that everyone who’s anti-right-wing is necessarily pro-biden. which causes a significant issue when the democratic system is designed as an adversarial binary. either you’re for the republican party or you’re for the democratic party. and if you’re for neither…

which is where this issue raises its ugly head. democracy doesn’t work. it can’t. but specifically in this instance it isn’t just an intellectual exercise. the failure of democracy in america is resulting in children bleeding for our stupidity. i believe this must stop. but i am, sadly, not in the majority. i want to think we all care enough to prevent more death. i am, however, certain this is not the case. and the reason i know this is true is simply that after years of horrific results we have still done nothing. despite all voicing our desires to end the cycle of violence on both sides of the political aisle nothing has been accomplished. if it was important, we would have fixed it.

democracy is the application of mob rule to government. that’s not an opinion. it’s a definition. let’s take a look at how this works. the whole idea of democracy is not that the general public has a voice in making decisions, which may or may not be useful. it is that the general public, whether directly or through representation, actually makes all the decisions. this is disastrous for three reasons.

first, the general public is not well-informed about the basis for decision-making. if you want someone to make a good decision, you have to ensure they have the information required about all the options before making it. not just making that information available but guaranteeing its comprehension before the decision occurs. this is the basis for all contract law, for example. if you don’t understand the contract, you can’t legally agree to it. the fact that it is not the case in government shows exactly how much we don’t care about the decisions being made being good ones.

second, the general public is poorly-represented when making these decisions. according to polling data, the overwhelming majority of the american population is in favor of reproductive rights, strict gun-control and dramatically-increased environmental standards. yet none of those things has actually been represented in the discussions and decisions taking place in congress. whether the democratic concept of general-public-decision-making is good seems like a less-important question when faced with the issue that in a government pretending to represent those collective decisions the majority is not even being given the power to make them, simply a loud minority that happens to hold power because of voting equations and representation borders.

third, not only does the general public have a vested interest, its decisions change on an almost-constant basis. this is not a lifelong-policy question. someone who held an opinion yesterday often holds a different one today. while politicians rarely dramatically change their position on issues (or at least don’t publicly change those positions in meaningful ways), individuals truly do. this is partly because of manipulation but mostly because of lack of information. the public makes its decisions and forms its opinions from a very limited quantity of data in most instances. ask an average person how much they know about gun violence, abortion or the environment and you will discover the majority (the overwhelming majority) only has a small amount of data and that all of it has come from sound-bytes and sensationalized news broadcasts. we are showered and inundated with information on a constant basis but it fluctuates so dramatically from one topic to another, what happens to be a hot-topic today. a few weeks ago it was the war in ukraine. after that it was the supreme court. now it is the most recent school massacre. people have developed the emotional attention-spans of mosquitos and make decisions based on fluctuating interests and sensational, entertainment-focused information distribution and manipulative sources.

what this means is that we have a government system based on the notion that decisions are made by an engaged and informed public directly expressing itself to its representatives who turn those decisions into practice. setting aside whether those decisions are intended to be ethically or morally good for a moment, even if these people are intending to make the best possible decisions, they are being separated from those decisions by lack of information, an inability to actually have their decisions turned into policy and continuous manipulation and disinformation. that is the first half of the problem.

the second half of the problem is that the general public has a vested interest in the question. while that doesn’t necessarily guarantee immoral, unethical and frequently “evil” results, it’s a good place to start if that’s what you’re looking for. in taxation policy, there is a concept where the system is intended to be designed so the person making the decisions doesn’t know what their circumstances will be. it allows for far more fairness in designing tax brackets to ensure enough money is collected without causing more harm to those who are underprivileged than is necessary. it doesn’t work, of course. because the people making the decisions aren’t actually separate from the system and they have preconceived notions of what is fair that are simply not objectively true. but it’s a great theory.

the problem applies far more largely when the issue is emotional, however. people will fight for what they want. perhaps more than ever, the general public is against the idea of seeking a common, objective “good”. they don’t think in those terms. morality and ethics are no longer interesting. there was a time when people wanted to be good. they wanted to live good lives, ethically and morally. but that was a time when they were afraid of an afterlife in hell and we’ve spent about a century since those old mythical superstitions finally disappeared. sadly, without the threat of eternal damnation, we have become practical existentialists, floating from one insatiable lust to the next. we want more convenience, more money, more luxury. we want more personal freedom and don’t care how much that destroys the lives and happiness of those around us. because we come first. it’s not just cultural exceptionalism. it’s personal self-obsession.

so the result of this is that we have a system where people are supposed to come together to select good options and put them into practice. but they are poorly-informed and easily-manipulated by an entire interlocking system of media and culture. add to that the complete lack of desire to actually make choices that are good for everyone and an obsessive focus on making choices that are self-serving and you have a recipe for something. it’s not disaster. it’s worse than disaster. it’s dead children.

there are easy answers to these questions. the easy answer to children being killed with guns is not to eliminate the people who want to hurt children, though that’s a nice fairy-tale answer. it’s to remove the guns. all the guns. not just the ones people want to give up and not just the ones we think we can eliminate. we have to make gun ownership illegal. do i think that’s fair or culturally-valid? absolutely not. but we must give up our desires and our cultural background to save our children. that is what we as adults are supposed to do – sacrifice our wants and lusts and passions for pleasure in the service of those we have brought into the world that it’s our duty to protect.

these are easy answers. but our system is making them impossible to put into practice. that means the system is broken. whether we fix it is also a simple question. it’s the same as the answer to this one.

do we care if more children die?

(the statistics on gun deaths come from the centers for disease control and the pew research center with the latest official statistics being from 2020. the statistics on deaths at nazi concentration camps are those provided by the holocaust encyclopedia of the united states holocaust memorial museum. you are welcome to explore these statistics for yourself. gun deaths in 2020, 45222. total executions at sobibór in six years of the war, 250000, giving an average of 41667/year. while these statistics are likely estimates and both are conservative, their similarity is well within the range necessary for a comparison.)

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thank you for reading. your eyes have done me a great honor today.