Earlier this year, Britons voted on something which would change the course of history forever. No, I’m not referring to the In-Out EU referendum, or as it’s commonly known, Brexit; nay, this vote was of a much greater magnitude. I am, of course, referring to “#NameOurShip.”
The “#NameOurShip” campaign was set out to be a little marketing ploy by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and oh boy did it work. NERC asked people to name their new polar research vessel; a vessel which could quite possibly be mentioned in future generation’s history books.
People submitted names, they voted, and come the last day of the campaign, lo and behold, the name Boaty McBoatface reigned supreme and won. Beautiful, colorful, magnificent, and encapsulates the imagination of a 3 year old. However, democracy failed Boaty McBoatface, and it failed the Brits who voted for Boaty.
The vessel was eventually named RRS Sir David Attenborough after the broadcaster and naturalist. Perhaps a name more fitting, but it was not the name the people wanted. NERC realized that the will of the people was not appropriate, and went against the people’s will. But what would happen if governments worked in this fashion? In the light of the decision by the Brits to leave the EU, having the government being able* to override the will of the people may not seem like such a bad idea.
Fiona, a 52 year old mental health nurse, told The Guardian after the In-Out referendum vote in Britain, “I voted leave for empowerment, and to feel like my voice is heard and can influence change. The compromise to remain was too high a price. It’s a reminder that democracy does exist here.” Indeed, democracy does exist in the U.K. I think the better question is, however, does democracy actually work?
In a democracy, everyone’s vote is equal (except in the U.S., of course). It doesn’t matter if you are an economist, fisher, or janitor — one vote is one vote. This is what makes democracy so beautiful, but is is also what makes democracy a cause for concern.
It is quite certain that there would not have been a Brexit if only economists, political scientists, and investors were to vote. In almost every aspect, the Brexit will result in an immense loss economically due to the reduction in direct investments and relocation of financial institutions — not to mention losses the U.K. would suffer if they aren’t be able to secure any trade deals to gain access to the EU market, namely, becoming a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). If they are to become a member of the EEA, however, the U.K. will have to accept migrants within the EU, the very thing the leave campaign wanted to stop.
Brexit started out as an economic idea, but that idea was quickly proven contradictory, and then it became about “taking back our country,” a country which, believe it or not, was already very independent. What the Brexit really boils down to is xenophobia; I do doubt, however, that 51.8% of U.K. citizens are xenophobes. Most people simply did not know what leaving the EU entailed, which is evident by the fact that the most googled term in Britain after the vote was “What is EU?”
This is not a new phenomenon however. On the other side of the atlantic, the very same thing is happening right now. After over a year of campaigning, Donald Trump is now one of two candidates for the presidency in the United States. Trump supporters have, approximately, three arguments for why Trump should be president, “he’ll build a wall,” “he’ll ban Muslims,” and “he’s not a Democrat.” Ask about economic policy and observe the enormous question mark slapped across their faces.
If 1 in 5 Americans cannot point out where Iraq and Syria is located on a map, then how can we expect these people to make an educated vote in regards to the intricacies of the U.S.-Iraqi war and how to combat terrorism?
Democracy is not a broken concept, do not get me wrong. It ensures that the voice of Fiona, the 52 year old mental health nurse, is heard; that decisions are not only made by the rich and powerful. But, a democratic form of governance is not the fairytale idea we’ve been conditioned to love since birth. It is inefficient, it allows for corruption, and it can have devastating outcomes due to uneducated, ideological, voters — think the rise of Hitler (Perhaps future generations will say the same about the rise of Trump).
“Ah yes, it is flawed, Mr. Rothstein,” you might say, “but is it not superior to the alternatives?” Perhaps. With all the oppressive regimes and dictators across the globe, it would certainly seem so. I’m not going to argue in favor of dictatorships, for I highly doubt there will ever come a time in which a single ruler, despite having advisors, can act in the interest of the Wall Street banker, as well as the peasant from the south.
Nevertheless, it’s a discussion worth having. We shouldn’t be satisfied with something just because it’s less broken than the current alternatives. Build upon the democratic concept, perfect it, and do not try to force it down other countries’ throats (planting the seed of democracy, if you will), for it is not perfect — perhaps one day, it will be.
* The U.K parliament technically do have the ability to go against the will of the people and vote to not initiate article 50.
What are your thoughts on democracy?
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