There was a post over at the Science-Based Medicine (SBM) blog that discussed ‘placebo’ laws that try to cater to the interest of giving terminally ill patients the opportunity to try experimental treatments, as a very last chance and resort.
On the face of it, these kind of laws fall into the category of ‘what harm can it do?’, and seem both sensible and humanitarian. The good people over at SMB have however put these laws into a bigger context, revealing them to be more driven by ideology than humanitarian concerns.
However interesting the placebo right-to-try laws might be, the discussion in the post that really caught my interest was the interaction between the author of the SBM blog post with their government representatives, and the relationship between the government representatives and the people whom they represent.
All too often, it seems, that legislation is driven more by popularity (right-to-try laws seem humanitarian, and therefore you come across as being a non-humanitarian is you oppose them, and therefore have to support them to seem like a humane human being), causing legislators to cater less to the sensibilities of experts and more to the emotions of the deme whom they represent.
To me, allowing passion to triumph over logic is a travesty, although I recognise that it is an inevitable outcome of any democratic system. Human beings are passionate creatures, and often driven by emotion; emotion giving rise to the fallacy that what feels right must also be right.
At its core, I suspect that this fallacy is the reason why contemporary democracies have not been completely successful in creating a truly humanitarian environment for people to exist in, because it operates on the mistaken assumption that people (the deme) know what they want, and that they are capable of operating logically without being overcome by emotion.
The current system of democracy, where people vote to appoint representatives to represent them, is therefore vulnerable to emotional exploitation, allowing the representatives who most resonates with the deme (rather than the most sensible) to be elected.
Because of this, the prelude to any election is indistinguishable from any popularity contest, where representatives exploit the emotions of the deme to remain in power. To me, this preposition seems absurd.
The preposition is absurd because any system of government that allows people to elect their own representatives operates under the assumption that people know what is best for them. But how is this possible when sense is often obscured by emotion?
Although I am not a political philosopher, by any means, a system of government that is run by the people doesn’t seem much like a system of government at all. The clue lies in the word ‘government’, which is derived from the root ‘to govern’. The word ‘govern’ (in the context of politics) refers to:
the exercise of political authority; the exercise of running a government; of exercising a determining influence; of controlling actions or behaviour.
These definitions seem to me to refer more to a system of experienced mentoring, where the government-deme relationship is analogous to a teacher-student or parent-child relationship; where experience (sense, logic) is the drive that triumphs over emotion; where government representatives are the sobriety that prevents intoxicated passion from going astray.
This relationship makes the issue of government in democracy reminiscent of the question of who is the sensible part in a teacher-student relationship: is it the student, or the teacher? Student-led learning puts the student in control; it being a system where the taught part is in control of the teacher. Although this a system that is becoming increasingly popular (just think of the ubiquitous questionnaires and rankings that prioritise the student ‘experience’ over actual academic outcomes), there is little testament to its efficacy, as student-led learning misappropriates the nature of the teacher-student relationship; it being a relationship where sober sense (experience) is in charge of intoxicated passion (inexperience).
And the situation is the same in the parent-child relationship, where the parent acts as a benign tyrant, whose experience seeks to control the follies of the child. A relationship that puts the child in control of the parent is doomed to fail, as the two parties (the parent and the child) have different motivations. Whereas the child seeks to maximise its own pleasure (being driven by emotion), the parent seeks to maximise the functionality of both (being driven by sense). These two juxtaposed aspirations are not compatible to more than a degree, and to maximise well-being sense must always triumph over emotion. A child whose emotions are constantly satisfied will not be maximally functional — just consider the reason why calling a child ‘spoilt’ is rarely a compliment (associated with undesirable adjectives like ‘rotten’, for example).
When it comes to issues like democracy and government, I don’t understand why the deme is supposed to remain in power, reducing the role of government to catering to the emotions of the people. Why is government different from teaching or parenting? Isn’t the very purpose of a representative democracy that the educated and experienced should be appointed to lead the less experienced and educated — allowing the knowledge and sensibilities of the few to benefit the many?
What is it about Western culture and political history that causes people and governments to both want their cake and eat it too; of appointing puppet representatives that allow the many to lead the many through the few? Logically, it’s like the issue with two negatives making a positive, allowing democracy to become a kind of structured anarchy.