The Limits of Democracy

The idealism facing reality

Marjan Krebelj

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By author using MidJourney.

At the time of writing, half of Europe is underwater, and the rain just keeps pouring. This comes after a scorching summer that pushed the human experience and the biosphere to its limits. It’s November, and daily temperatures barely dropped below 20°C here in Central Europe. Many fruit trees still hold onto their green leaves, and some are even blooming, thinking it’s already spring.

Yet, what most of our elected officials do is what they’ve done for the past couple of hundred years or so — scheming and plotting against each other in the search for more power. They form secret coalitions and simultaneously shame each other in public, or vice versa. They do whatever’s necessary to cater to their tribe of voters, who are often busy quarreling on online forums to the point of being blind to the reality in which we live. And, of course, they unilaterally support Israel.

But at the same time, there are people who hold this world together, though barely. People like the chiefs of firefighters (and their staff), who work around the clock to keep people safe from incoming deluges, or people like hospital workers who tend to the wounded and hurt. None of them was elected; all of them came to their positions after hearing an inner calling and then working their way up the ranks through competence and effort.

Doesn’t this demonstrate the limits of democracy and the need for something better? In arguments against it, people often turn to the metaphor of pilots and airline crews who keep us safe in the air while flying. Obviously, you wouldn’t want your captain chosen by popular vote instead of professional competence. So why do we let the state — the biggest airplane of them all — be piloted by someone who won the popular vote in a debate tournament (at best) or a beauty contest (at worst)? It is just that now we don’t need to evoke the metaphor of airline staff anymore, it is enough to look around and see who is doing all the work in the ongoing climate catastrophe.

I guess it’s because it is, in most cases, better than the past alternative of capricious monarchs and absolutists. Democracy gives people the illusion of choice while behind the curtains, capital continues its absolutist reign, using people as means to an end. Everyone is involved…

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Marjan Krebelj

Once an architect, now a freelance photographer/filmmaker with passion for words.