Tag Archives: populism

Democracy and the Bell Curve

This is the bell curve:

https://www.statisticshowto.datasciencecentral.com/bell-curve/

It’s a statistical concept that says information about everything will create the shape of a bell curve if you can sample all of the population. Here, population is defined as whatever it is that you’re looking at. [Click the link above to read a more precise definition of a bell curve].

Let me give you an example. This is a rough spread of colours. It’s not accurate but bear with me:

Now, if you could ask every single person on earth which was their favourite colour, you’d end up with a smallish number of people at either end of the bell curve choosing black or white. Most people, however, would choose one of the colours in between those two extremes.

These are the people in the middle of that bell curve.

These are the people commonly referred to as the ‘silent majority’. These are the people who ultimately make or break the system of government we call democracy.

Of course, present day democracy isn’t ‘real’ democracy. It’s representational democracy, meaning we elect a tiny elite to do all the voting for a set period of time. We-the-people are lucky if our single vote has any influence on who is elected to vote for us. I

n case it isn’t completely obvious, I loathe representational democracy, and that’s despite living in a country that does it better than most. In Australia’s version, everyone of voting age has to vote, whether they want to or not. In theory at least, our votes can be expressed as a bell curve because the whole population is included in the result – i.e. some rabid right wingers on one side, some rabid left wingers on the other, and everybody else somewhere in the middle.

The net effect of having all those middies voting is that the power of the two extremes is diluted.

In countries that don’t have compulsory voting, the silent majority largely don’t vote. That means the two extremes are the ones who care enough to vote. And that means the power of the extremes is not moderated by ordinary, everyday voters with ordinary, everyday wants and needs.

I have understood the power of the bell curve for over 40 years. It is the reason I believe that representational democracy will, one day, be superseded by a more direct, more democratic voting system. In this barely imaginable future, ordinary people will be allowed to influence the direction of politics in a more meaningful way. Instead of only getting a say once every 4 years, they’ll have the option of voting directly on issues that concern them. Think social media or #auspol but with teeth. No more electing ambitious, professional bastards politicians to do our voting for us!

That’s the upside of direct voting, but there’s a downside as well, two in fact. People who don’t think direct voting is a good idea usually point to ‘populism’ as an example of how real majority rule can go horribly wrong. And they do have a point. While only the extremes get to have their say, direct rule of any sort can only lead to disaster.

But…we’re now smart enough to factor the ‘extremes’ into any direct voting system we devise. For example, let’s say we have a direct voting referendum on something emotional, like say a new flag. We could set up a system whereby a referendum would only pass [and hence become law] if a majority of at least 95% of the total population actually voted, one way or the other. This would ensure that direct voting faithfully reflected the wants and needs of the real majority.

Ah, but what about security, you say.

At the moment, security is the single biggest issue holding us back from direct voting, but I believe that blockchain technology, or something like it, will eventually make direct voting a viable and secure possibility.

I am still playing through all the issues in my head, but I honestly believe that one day, we will be like those ancient Athenians who first came up with the concept of democracy. It does feel weird though to think that it’s already been well over 2,000 years since democracy was first attempted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were the first to finally get it right?

Meeks


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