Democracy in its purest form can amount to nothing more than “mob rule.” It is why functional democratic governments and societies must be limited democracies with structures, such as that of a republic, that afford their citizens representation. Under mob rule, reasonable people willing to compromise with each other quickly succumb to their emotional impulses as divisions between subcultures compel individuals to parrot the “group think” of the like-minded. When caught in the fervor of political transitions and civil unrest, towing the line and staying in the good graces of one’s group becomes a top priority of almost everyone. Even the most reasonable dissent is not permitted from within one’s own faction, including among anti-establishment, revolutionary factions. Unfortunately, mob rule is the greatest threat from within to functional democracies of all forms. It is mob rule that rips democracies apart and it is mob rule that allows those who seek power for their own self-serving purposes to corrupt democracies.
As social media has demonstrated time and time again, if enough of the right people say something is truth enough times, people will start to accept that it is truth. If enough people believe something is true, other people start to believe that something is true. Although a reasonable person can either see the error in this logic or be taught the ridiculousness of it, it is the natural tendency of people to see those they personally trust as credible sources and simply accept whatever their trusted associates believe is true. It is not that the majority of people are stupid or uneducated. It is that few people have the opportunity to engage in the research needed to fact check every novel piece of information they encounter nor are they able to engage in the lengthy deductive reasoning necessary to affirm the validity of all the new information they learn. To function on a day to day basis, people rely on abductive reasoning. Abductive reasoning is the process by which people make an observation then seek to find the simplest and most likely explanation based on their preconceived notions and past experiences.
Mob rule can be used to corrupt, because individuals are inclined to embrace the ideas of those they know and trust. By presenting bits of false and misleading facts that agree with the perceived notions, intuition, and emotional reactions of a group of people, it is possible to make them believe untrue things are true. It is not, of course, necessary to convince a lot of people of a deception’s validity nor is it necessary for targets to be faithful believers. To introduce untruths as truths, it is only necessary to convince a small, yet critical, number of credible enough individuals. From there, the mob mentality of people can be used to convince a growing number of others that a small grain of an untruth is true. It is these little particles of misinformation that can be repeated over and over again to form the basis of a strategic propaganda campaign. It is how manipulators drive mobs of people into emotional frenzies then steer those mobs toward whatever causes best serve their interests. When democracies succumb to mob rule, this is how they are corrupted by manipulators.
Furthermore, mob rule is an effective means to seize control of others, because it transforms targets into willing participants. Not only does the approach eliminate opposition, it uses the populist desire for change to shift public opinion and social forces against those in power. It also leaves people with a sense of a control. People seek security, which they naturally find when they feel in control. To seize control of others, it is, therefore, helpful to instill a sense of security and self-determination. By its nature, democracy affords individuals a high degree of control over their personal lives and the direction of their nation. Ill-democratic societies, i.e. those that deploy superficial democratic institutions and ideals, give the appearance of this same control, yet the populations of ill-democratic societies are actually under the control of a small ruling class. By affording people a limited degree of freedom, the leaders of ill-democratic societies are able to compel those they rule to “choose” to submit to their decisions. Giving someone a false choice is an easy and effective way to both disarm resistance and ensure compliance. Wise dictators will allow just enough dissent and subversive activity on inconsequential issues to give people the room to accept whatever leadership deems most important.
Beyond manipulation by elite manipulators, the unfortunate truth is that even unchecked public opinion alone is dangerous to democratic societies. If government acted solely on popular opinion, self-destructive public policies would assuredly be embraced. The vast majority of people make decisions on a day to day decision that they often regret. At times, it is a case of doing what is most self-gratifying despite being aware of the consequences. Other times, it is a case of not fully understanding the complex implications of a decision. When it comes to potentially life-altering decisions with long term-consequences, it is difficult for even the most intelligent, most educated, and the most insightful to fully understand what consequences a particular decision will entail and whether or not those consequences are acceptable. Acting as a group on public opinion is, therefore, more likely than not going to result in very poor public policies with disastrous consequences. If public policies and social behavior are dictated by the affluent, however, the ruling class is most likely going to embrace policies that reflect their interests and conflict with the interests of the majority of a population.
Functional democracy, therefore, requires wise leadership that considers public opinion and open public discourse before deciding what public policies best address the interests of the People. Not only must there be leadership that makes well-considered decisions for the People, that leadership must be compelled to seek and address the common collective interests of the People. At times, this will mean leadership acts in line with public opinion. Other times, it means rejecting public opinion in favor of sound public policies. The simple truth is that functional democracy is predicated on the notion of dispensable leadership. It is often difficult for leaders to forfeit their power to make decisions and shape the future of their communities, but functional democracy requires leadership that is willing to give up power. Because all leaders must make unpopular decisions from time to time and all leaders must be held accountable, no elected official is intended to remain popular enough to perpetually stay in power. It is the only way to capitalize on the benefits of democracy while countering the hazards of mob rule and preventing the mass manipulation of democratic societies via mob rule.
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