Democracy: Fundamentally Flawed or Taken for Granted

Playing backgammon – a metaphor for life & politics – on the river Nile.

Finding myself in Egypt in the spring of 2012 brought to light many questions that my public policy undergrad and PoliSci degrees formed – philosophically – in my mind many years prior.

What political system is best? Is an inevitably corrupt democracy any better than its political counterparts? Will an elected leader serve the interests of her people any better than one ascending the throne by birthright? Do elections ensure accountability?

In April 2012, I saw people bet with their lives on what they hoped to be the right answer.

I met a man – well-educated, in his thirties – with a dream of democracy so beautiful, so innocent. A hope so pure, and so naive.

‘If people can vote them in, and then vote them out, they can’t just say they will do something and then do the exact opposite,’ he said one night over a sheesha. But here’s the thing – they can…and they do.

Now whether that is the fault of democracy or corruption or apathy is best left to another forum. But the cause is also unimportant to the every man who sees only that his government doesn’t listen – or worse, that it lies.

Are all political systems flawed because we, as humans, are flawed? Or are our political systems flawed because we take them for granted?

Are our democratic systems flawed because democracy is the best one we’ve figured out so far, so we’ll accept it, warts and all. Is that how they all started?

It is this opening of the mind that happens while traveling; it’s the moments when real life usurps the philosophical conversations that increasingly become frustrating and useless, yet remain of fundamental importance. It’s the moments you realize these conversations are both at the same time. How is it possible to be those two things at once?

Sometimes I think I pack my bag just to dive into these contradictions; to discover the simultaneous complexities and simplicities of life, of a thought, of a moment.

I never come out with an answer, but I always come out satisfied.


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