Can't We All Just Get Along...
in our little Representative Democracy?

This article is part of the PPSA Online Magazine
by John Johnson
Volume 8 Number 1 - Spring 1995

When I drive to work, or most other times, I often find myself behind a driver who wants to drive 5 to 10 miles per hour slower than me. When it is laboratory support staff in a government vehicle, being paid by the hour, they are usually driving at least 10 mph below the speed limit. Some mornings I will find myself in a line of cars following some front end loader, going 15 mph. And this happens before the lab even officially opens for the day.

You can see that someone who wants to drive at or a little above the speed limit could easily become annoyed. As for me, I sometimes let it get to me when I haven't had my caffiene for the morning, but I try to let it slide and set cruise control at some amiable speed. That, however, doesn't always work. Some other people on the highway couldn't maintain a consistent speed if their lives depended upon it. They drive in an erratic manner - one minute they are driving several mph under the speed limit, and the next they speed up. Typically they drive slow when going uphill, making no attempt whatsoever to appreciate the desires of the person following them. Then they realize they can speed up several mph over the speed limit when they start downhill. Meanwhile I want to drive a consistent speed. This gets annoying. It shows either an ignorance or arrogance on the part of this driver who feels that he or she can make the world move at their pace. I admit that sometimes I like to pass a person, on whatever side is open. But this is because I feel that the driver ahead of me is driving too slowly and defensively for my tastes. They can't maintain speed, they brake for no real reason, they don't use their blinkers, they don't move over when someone faster comes up in the middle lane - they are generally incompetent, scared or just plain rude.

Then there are the dangerous ones. These guys tend to drive slow enough to count blades of grass when you are in a no passing zone, but when an opportunity comes for you to pass them they speed up and try to keep you from passing them. Three things can happen then. First, you can speed up to some ridiculous speed and make it pass them. Second, you can give up and continue following them - in which case they will slow down again. Third, they can run you off the road or prove their manhood (and this applies to women with too much testosterone as well) in some other manner... hopefully without the use of firearms. These guys have something to prove and if I run into one who is making it impossible to pass I will just pull over and wait a couple minutes. No point in getting mangled just to teach them proper road etiquette.

Please don't get the impression that I am causing problems on the road. I really try hard to be a respectful driver, however the people who are in the front of the pack have a responsibility to get on with it or get out of the way. It is this sort of experience that makes me glad that we are in a representative democracy. Most of the people in this country are ignorant or frightened. They are mostly selfish and can't think about the near term consequences of their own actions, let alone national policy in the next century. These are individual traits that are common to human beings though. I don't mean to be inflammatory. Living in the modern world can break a person's spirit. This is why those strong opinions of youth give way to milder and more tempered opinions of adulthood. In many cases this, and a lack of continued education, turns people into lemmings. They put in their time to earn enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table, and they spend their free time as robots of the media. They are glued to the television watching the O.J. trial and they try their damnedest to give their friends and neighbors the impression that they are normal.

Ouch! I was getting pretty cynical there, wasn't I? I really do feel that way sometimes, but in general I know that the vast majority of people in this country are good people, who mean well. I'm certainly not any more special or deserving of special treatment than the next guy. I guess I want to provoke you to think as much as I want to just rant about something this morning.

Living in America is a blessing. It really is. We are blessed with freedoms and privileges that we take for granted, and the rest of the world envies. At least that's the idea that our founding fathers had. They knew that the way the government of England was set up didn't work. In order for the government to work, it had to follow the will of the people. Government has to base itself in the democratic ideal. People who want to drive slow have rights, and so do people who want to drive fast. The trick is getting people to respect one another so as to maximize the flow of traffic.

The role of government should be to facilitate, not to impede. This country was founded with the realization that the at the heart of everything is the family and the community. State and national government is important, but it must govern in a manner that is in the best interest of society as a whole. There are two principles that must work in harmony. Government should do what is best for the individual, yet it must also do what is best for society as a whole. That is a difficult and often impossible task. That is why the role of the federal government should be to deal with the big problems: international affairs, interstate trade, national defense, and other problems that affect the nation as a whole. Authority should be delegated to the states, communities and individuals where appropriate. All too often a politician will introduce a bill that they feel is beneficial to society as a whole, but it is all to easy to harm one individual on the way to benefiting another. Opening up access to a market for some people or businesses can cause access for others to be blocked.

We have to look at the basic reasons for grouping together in the first place. Families, friends and communities are formed because people share common values. However, one group's set of values, or moral tenets may not be held by another group. At the level of a city or large community, there must be a manner for facilitating interaction between these groups. In today's world, with advances in technology, people are able to communicate and travel easier than ever before. This means that distance is no longer as significant a barrier to the interaction of groups of individuals. This is especially true when groups communicate electronically on the Internet. The Internet can provide an easy way for groups around the world to interact. This means that certain issues must now be taken up at a national level. >When politics is taken up at a national level, the protected rights of the individual must not be lost. While the idea of a pure democracy may sound good from a superficial standpoint, it cannot work either. At least not for all issues.

If we were to take up the case of murder, no doubt a clear majority of Americans would agree that very strict punishment was in order. When it comes to the death penalty, however, there would be much more disagreement. When we consider national defense, people would almost unanimously agree that we should defend our borders. The specifics would, however, cause much debate. It is for this reason that we must have a representative democracy. We must elect highly trained and able politicians to office who can effectively debate the issues and argue for their constituents. To this end, the electoral districts should be drawn in a fair and judicious manner in order to assure that the voices of the individuals are not lost. This is not a trivial thing. Even with this form of democracy, fairness is not insured, but it is encouraged.

When it comes to government edict on morality, there is much debate. Should or can the government effect a moral change? Can morality and values be legislated? I say they cannot. Should the government impose moraity based laws, because the majority of the people want them - even if they impose upon the freedoms of others? How much deviation can we allow from societal norms? Prayer can be a right to one person and offensive to another. Pornography may be accepted in some circles, but not others. At what point should the government restrict one person's choices to please another? Should a person be punished when they are doing something dangerous, or can we punish them for just doing something that we consider to be unsavory? At what point does the government relinquish control to the parents and let them decide what is right and wrong for their children? Is it the right thing to do, or do we want our elected officials deciding what we should and shouldn't watch on television, or at the movies. Can families decided for themselves what books are alright for their children to read, or what music lyrics they can listen to? Can parents effectively regulate what their children do on the Internet, or does Big Brother need to intervene to protect the innocent from seeing what might be a corrupting influence?

A police state is a blessing to some people - people who never question authority, people who stay home and just want to be safe to walk the dog. In Illinois there is a town that restricts entry and exit to checkpoints. In this community, most of the people agree that crime is such a problem that it is justified to question people who enter their town. If someone looks suspicious, it is alright to have the police follow them. Harassment is permitted of the few in order to make the many feel safe. If I lived there I might agree with it, until the first time a police car followed me home and questioned my right to drive down a public street. This sort of regulation is fine for a privately owned housing community, but not for public municipality.

Part of living in a large society, such as ours, is getting along with other people. Part of what you pay to partake of the communal benefits of our country is that you have to make an attempt to integrate yourself into society - in as far as you have to be able to successfully interact with others in order to get ahead. This doesn't mean that your culture or values are less significant than anyone else's. People need to appreciate their differences and embrace their similarities. Many individuals and even our enlightened politicians are unable to accept differences. "It's either my way or nothing." "My religion supersedes yours." "Your kind aren't welcome here." "You behave in a manner that I find disgusting and unnatural, therefore I can deprive you of your rights." These sorts of bigoted thoughts occur all the time, and sometimes get legislated by Congress. Bigotry like this originates from fear, and the only way to overcome fear is through education. I truly believe that the most important place to focus our combined efforts as a country is on the issue of improving education and making it universally available.

So, living in a representative democracy is a great thing, but it has its problems. Theory and reality seldom agree. Politicians are not perfect, they are only human and are victim to greed, ignorance and intolerance just like their constituents. The benefits to the individual by grouping together and forming a country are great, but they must be carefully weighed against the individual's need for personal freedom and identity. Our form of government has given us much, and will help America grow over the coming centuries. It reflects us as a people, usually for better but sometimes for the worse. Just as people disagree over values, the most difficult thing to get people to agree on is a morality based law. The government should do only what it can do best for the group of people it is responsible for, and it should delegate power to the state or community or turn over decisions to the private sector when appropriate. If you read the constitution though, you will see that this is what the founding fathers believed in. They wanted a flexible document that would act as a framework for this political experiment. They expected people to be people, and as such they wanted to protect the rights of the minority as well as the majority. They believed in the potential of the individual for greatness, but they knew that sometimes we would have to impose restrictions on ourselves so as not to wrongly deprive another of his rights. Does it work in the end, our confusing political system? You have to be the judge of that. The ultimate power over the individual come from within the individual himself.

Last Updated 07/13/95.© 1996 PPSA