Holding My Breath
Here it is. I’m putting it out there in the world.
The trick at this point is going to be to get other people on board. Of course, I’m still developing the idea, I’m still working on a body of explanatory literature that will eventually be enough to fill a book, and there are still a lot of specifics that need to be filled in. But the rough outline of what I mean by Democracy Straight-Up is pretty much in place. At some point, you just gotta jump in!
This project started to take shape for me 30 years ago when I was in grad school. I was studying sociology.
I had a great English teacher when I was an undergrad–I took three courses he taught. I tapped him for a recommendation when I applied to grad schools, and he obliged, but he wrote me a letter, one line of which I will never forget: “Your pursuit of a graduate degree is laudable, but I can’t agree with your choice of sociology, which I see as a haven for mediocrities and unclear thinking.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Notwithstanding that, I entered sociology with good intentions: I felt like there was something wrong with society, and I wanted to fix it. It seemed that, with all our prosperity, and even with our long experience living in a democracy, we Americans were still making ourselves miserable.
My focus on Direct Legislation grew out of my frustration with all of the social theory I was ingesting. I became suspicious of any effort to improve our democracy through ideological efforts. That’s a nice way to put it. What I would like to say is that our go-to technique for improving democracy in America is to make ourselves a great, big, really judgmental, ideological hammer and start pounding on people’s thick skulls with it. Not that I don’t have an ideology. I can get judgmental with the best of them. I’m a human being and like anyone else I have my political opinions. But after a while, that hammer gets so heavy. So very, very heavy.
So, I asked myself, if I wanted to improve democracy without changing anyone’s political beliefs how would I do it?
It struck me that there was a huge disconnect between the ‘will of the people,’ on the one hand and our system of representation and legislation on the other. So, I started casting about for solutions. Often, the problem of representation is addressed by shouting, “Kick the bums out!” This places the blame on the legislators themselves. But this always struck me as a poor solution. There is a reason why legislators tend to be the way they are. It doesn’t really have much to do with their personal character. Even people with good intentions have a hard time getting things done. Also, as much as people say they want to replace the congress with a better crop of people, they never do, do they?
But if the legislators aren’t to blame, then are the voters to blame? After all, they keep voting for the bums! So, what are the next steps if that’s your diagnosis? You need to run around motivating and educating people so that they make better decisions. Get involved in the civic life of their community. And…zzzzz….oh, sorry, just fell asleep for a second there.
More to the point, what if ‘blaming the people’ is also a wrong-headed solution to the problem? So, it occurred to me that the solution to the disconnect between a legislative representative and the people they represent was simply to build a connection. A direct connection. Not encouragement, not education, not making sure a representative was in touch with the voters in some vague, haphazard way, not employing opinion polls, or even, God forbid, referenda. Just a direct link, as direct as possible, cut out all the messiness and uncertainty in the middle.
Direct Legislation, I realized, was what I had happened upon (although, admittedly, I am hardly the first to do so).
But I soon realized that Direct Legislation needed something. The idea of the ‘unwashed masses’ dictating public policy on a whim fills many people with trepidation. I’m one of them.
How can we be assured that when people obtain the power of direct legislation, they will use it wisely? Our representatives were supposed to be the ‘wise’ ones, but the current system has clearly failed in that regard. And if we cannot sway the American people to embrace a single ideology, if we can’t motivate them to become responsible civic actors, what defense is there against mobocracy?
So, I began to think of Direct Legislation as a right. And, as with any right, there comes attached to it a responsibility. Since there can’t be a litmus test of how well-informed you are before you vote on a bill, there had better be some other way to at least encourage careful thinking when it comes to enacting the law of the land. As it turns out, there is. It naturally takes the form of a Merit-Based System of Delegation. Yes, it is a mouthful, so I’ve been calling it Direct Representation, which has a bit fewer syllables. Still and there’s no point trying to explain it all here, when that is what this website is for! But it is the missing piece, the other side of the coin, that which makes Direct Legislation an integrated whole. It meets the minimum requirement of keeping every empowered voter connected to the legislative body of which they are a part, without putting any unwarranted, or ideologically driven, demands on the individual.
And there we have, in brief, Democracy Straight-Up: Direct Legislation combined with Direct Representation. Hit the Explore button up above, and start learning more, if you like. Or not. It’s a free country.
And it is about to get a lot freer.