On the "Complete Uselessness" of Democracy

(Dou Hanzhang at China.com.cn Forum)

Many people say that "Democracy Is A Good Thing".  But for this to be true, a long list of qualifiers might have to be added up front.  Various things that have occurred or are occurring all around the world show us that there are also bad things about democracy.

In Afghanistan, the election has just taken place but the results have not yet been officially announced.  The two major candidates Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah do not appear to be willing to accept defeat.  People are generally worried that an election dispute would inflame tensions between Karzai's Pashtun tribe and Abdullah's Tazik tribe.  In Iran, the election in June led to major disturbances and protests.  Although the situation has gradually calmed down, the social ruptures caused by the election will take a lof time to heal.

In Taiwan, the leader Ma Ying-jing has been called "completely useless."  The Democratic Progressive Party and many media blamed and criticized him for the heavy casualties caused by typhoon Modarot.  His popular support was as low as 16% at one point.  According to a widely known public opinion poll, "82% of the people of Taiwan thinks Ma Ying-jeou should resign."  When the government is ineffective in relieving a major disaster, it should expect to be criticized.  But it is somewhat ridiculous for the support level to drop so low.  If Ma Ying-jeou is so incompetent, then why did the people of Taiwan voted him in with a vast pluraity last year?  Aren't these extreme swings in public opinion somewhat irrational?

Let us look at mainland China.  With the development of the Internet as well as the progress in society in recent years, the people of China have more free space for speech.  The Internet becomes an important platform for the people to monitor/supervise the government and express their personal views.  The Internet also has been important in making the government adhere to the rule of law, to formulate policies using scientific principles and to choose policies based upon public opinion.

But the freedom on the Internet (especially the anonymity aspect) has also created many problems.  Some people carry their own personal gripes onto the Internet.  They hate everything and they curse everyone.  Especially with respect to the government, they will negate everything that the government does regardless of whether things are better or worse.  They use freedom of speech as a means to vent their rage.  For example, when it comes to school construction, they will condemn the government of ignoring education if it does not build schools.  But they will still criticize the government if it does build schools.  For example, a Project Hope school at the Three Orges cost 3.5 million RMB.  So some people accused the government for spending too much money on an "image project." 

As another example, people are generally unhappy with the high housing prices and therefore the government plans to building 3.9 million economically affordable apartments over the next three year.  But that is wrong to some people who criticized these economically affordable apartments as "neither fair nor efficient" and "a feast for the elite."  In the media and on the Internet, the talk for completely halting the construction of these economically affordable apartments grows stronger every day.  But nobody is willing to ask the thoughts of those middle- and low-income people whose living conditions have improved substantially in these economically affordable apartments.

In these examples, the so-called democracy exhibited a certain intolerant tyranny.  People completely negate everything about the viewpoints, individuals, groups or matters that they oppose.  They don't care about whether there is anything redeemable about the other side because the whole point is to negate them completely and thoroughly.  It is necessary to make the other side look "completely useless."  The result is often misunderstanding, hatred and disputes; contradictions proceed to the extreme and become irreversible.  Society becomes unstable and the standards of living of the people plummet.

This sort of "complete uselessness" that comes with democracy is hard to overcome within democracy itself.  For example, in electoral politics, the interests of the two sides are often completely opposite to teach other.  So it becomes essential to completely negate the other side.  If there is not a historical tradition, a system of mediation and a central social force that can control the situation, the two sides will do everything to attack each other.  Society may be torn apart and thrown into endless disputes.  The vicious two-party fights in Palestine (after the 2005 election) and Taiwan are typical examples.

Also, in a society with multiple interests, any government policy is going to be unfair to certain interests.  Anyone whose interests have decreased or are damaged will attack the government.  Under such circumstances, unless there is a smart, strong and stable social force to control the situation and regulate the distribution of interests, the government will lose its direction and goals and its policies will lack long-term vision and continuity.  As a result, policies may change from day to day depending on where the pressures are coming from at the moment, and the whole society is embroiled in endless disputes.

So does that mean democracy is bad?  Not necessarily.  Democracy is a broad concept that exists in the politics of various countries around the world.  Democracy which is appropriate for the local situation can expand the freedom and rights of the masses and monitor/supervise the government.  So there are many good things about it.  The discussion over whether democracy is good or bad most often becomes a meaningless quarrel.  When people cannot even agree on the answer to a fundamental question such as "What is democracy?", the debate becomes empty talk that leads to no meaningful conclusion.  In order to rise above these theoretical arguments, it is necessary to find a more realistic footing.  I believe that the basis of the judgment has to depend on what the people really want.

I often think about whether the people want democracy or a stable and plentiful life?  After much thinking, the answer has to be the latter.  Any form of democracy is ultimately just an ideology, a configuration of the system, a means whose ultimate end is to bring world peace and bountiful living.  Therefore, the ultimate standard for any kind of democracy has to be based upon the standard of living of the people and the stability of the world.  Any democracy that allows the people to live in peace and abundance is good; any democracy that causes disturbances around the world or leave the people unfed is bad.

Therefore, democracy must not be made absolute.  We should not say that "democracy is good thing" just as we should not say that "democracy is a bad thing."  The key is how much do the people themselves benefit.  Such a standard is reliable and trustworthy.  It is a lot better than the empty discussion about democracy that lead absolutely nowhere.

(Sina.com)  "Neither Here Nor There" About Democracy.  By Yuzui Hongchen.

Someone published an essay entitled <On the "Complete Uselessness" of Democracy> at Xinhua Forum on October 1st.  It drew a lot of attention.


After I read the essay, I felt uneasy.  I blame myself for my poor knowledge because I did not understand.  I don't know why the author wants to give us his great ideas.  How many people have any interest in rebutting or criticizing the evidence that he gave to show that "democracy can be bad"?  The more interesting part is the brilliant intellect by which the author manages to draw so much attention.

I speculate that that there are probably four ways in which the author shows his intellectual brilliance.  Firstly, he used certain seemingly true phenomena as evidence.  "If there is wind, there must be rain."  "If you are choking, you stop ingesting food."  Thus he showed the "bad things about democracy."  But he said nothing about the good things about democracy.  Secondly, he attributed "total negation" as part of democracy without any reservation, which led to the term "complete uselessness."  Interestingly, he linked "democracy" with "co-existence" and therefore created the attention-grabbing essay title.  Thirdly, he craftily put "democracy" and "stable and bountiful living" in opposition.  He made people seem as if they only want to live a happy life just like pigs who have enough to eat.  Fourthly, he reached for the heights in his argument for "never turning anything into absolutes."  One cannot say anything is good or bad.  In the end, "democracy" is sent into the void.

Previously, talks about "implementation of democracy will lead to social rifts," "implementation of democracy will lead to chaos everywhere," "implementation of democracy will ruin people's livelihood" and similar themes are well-known.  Today they can only be the subjects of ridicule.  The essay <On the "Complete Uselessness" of Democracy> sensationally links "democracy" with "completely uselessness."  It exploits the Internet to gain attention, but that is not surprising.  But it is an undeniable objective fact that it was able to achieve a stunning performance effect.  From this perspective, this essay has undoubtedly achieved a higher level of crowd-wooing compared to similar essays.  This shows that the author has greater skills than ordinary people.  Therefore, it is interesting to dissect the sub-text behind the essay.

At a time when the flags for science and democracy have been raised highly in a civilized society, basic concepts and questions such as "What is democracy?", "Is democracy good or bad?", "Should democracy be implemented?" are really non-issues.  Democracy stands opposite to totalitarianism.  Everybody is aware that "totalitarianism is a bad thing" is an assumption before saying "democracy is a good thing."  When people say that "democracy is a good thing," nobody naively or "absolutely" believes that democracy can solve every single problem in the world.  But democracy is better than totalitarianism, and this is the truth for a public who does not need "to have a long list of qualifiers added in front." 

Because democracy is better than totalitarianism, countless number of people with lofty ideal and integrity have fought for democracy, even sacrificing their lives on its behalf.  Because democracy is better than totalitarianism, the sound of the singing of "let all non-democratic systems die off" still ring in our ears  Because democracy is better than totalitarianism, the Constitution of the People's Republic of China contains the word "democracy" in black-and-white without "anything like a long list of qualifiers before it."

To certain people in certain places: "Wait a minute, democracy is not necessary a good thing."  So the essay <On the "Complete Uselessness" of Democracy> wears the cloak of "rationality" and "objectivity" and comes out to teach the people: Do not say "democracy is not a good thing" or "democracy is a bad thing." 

Let us look: the author hoists the flag of "dialectics" but isn't the unsaid words behind his intellectual brilliance obvious?  Why is it necessary to come up with the sympathy-winning posture of caring about the "well-being" of the masses?  Maybe you are really trying to argue: "Totalitarianism must not be made absolute.  We should not say that 'Totalitarianism' just as we should not say that 'Totalitarianism is a bad thing'.  The key is how much do the people benefit."  According to your brilliant intellect, "totalitarianism is a bad thing" should probably be preceded by "a long list of qualifiers before it can be taken as truth"?  According to your argument, does the word "democracy" in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China require a more rigorous scholarly re-phrasing?  According to the ideas that you came up with after racking your brain, should there be a binary choice question between "totalitarianism" and "a life worse than a dog's or pig's"?  When nothing is "absolute" in this word, does that mean that there is no longer any way to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly?

Alas, if democracy cannot be either good or bad, then it can only be said to be "neither here nor there."  The only outcome from discussing democracy can only be "neither here nor there."  According to the author of <On the "Complete Uselessness" of Democracy>, my essay here is just more "empty talk about democracy."