Democracy – There is no silver bullet

Recently, parliamentary elections took place in my country of origin, Jordan. As I live in Canada, it has been interesting to survey people’s opinions on social media. (I am aware that this is hardly scientific and there is inherent bias in the sample of opinions that I came across.)

The thing that struck me most is that a large proportion of educated people seem to seek / support a “scientific” way of organizing society, some sort of silver bullet. This would especially be the case with people who would identify themselves as liberal or left-leaning. It is important to note that by “organizing society” I don’t mean issues related to administration such as building roads, but I mean the basic principles from which we derive how to govern relationships between members of society.

Members of the educated class seem unaware that their “scientific” ideas, however are loaded with their values and how they would like to lead their lives. What I am addressing here is for example how aggressively dismissive they can be of other value systems, including religious ones.

This in my opinion represents a surprising (to me at least) misunderstanding of what democracy is. The below segment is part of the introduction to a course by Open Yale Courses by professor Shapiro, and here he introduces an argument that I subscribe to; namely that democracy resolves a specific tension: given that there  isn’t a clear scientific way to organize society, everyone who is affected by government should be able to hold it to account somehow (those who hold different values).

The above sounds simple, but it isn’t clear that it is understood. Jordanians on the left and on the right have to realize that democracy has to allow for different world views as there is no world view that holds up to any scientific scrutiny. I focused on the educated class as you would expect them to be more aware of their thinking process and possess a degree of humility that would temper their confidence in attacking other views (a lot of these people are well travelled and a lot of cases lived in democratic societies). This is not to let those who are driven by religious principles off the hook. They need to realize that people with different views are just a fact of life and they have no right to impose their ways on others (this should be part of the agenda of reforming current mainstream Islam).

In a later post, we will discuss universal and timeless values that have traditionally been used as principles for organizing society.

This is the first of a series of posts where I leverage Shapiro’s lectures to shed light on the limitations of scientific thinking on organizing society. We will be exploring scientific traditions such as the Utilitarian, the Marxist, and the Social Contract traditions. Our exploration will also shed light on how organizing around religious values also fails. Throughout we’ll highlight how democracy helps address these limitations.


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