I'm writing in English, which is strange in itself since I really love my own language, Finnish, and since I detest the power position that the English language has in global communucation... but I'd get way too many complaints from American friends if I didn't write in a language comprehensible to them.

May 30, 2011

Democracy, again

"If you ask people if they support affirmative action they say yes. If you ask them if they support positive discrimination they say no" said my husband, explaining to me how the Finnish term "positiivinen syrjintä" is translated into Finnish. I think we need a new name in Finnish too.

I was again sadly reminded of the problems of democracy this week. The True Finns (a Finnish populist political party) published a proclamation against racism. However, they let a certain J H-a write the proclamation. Mr H-a is widely considered to be racist himself, or xenophobe, or at least have sympathies with very racistic ideas. The proclamation came out condemning any kind of discrimination, including affirmative action to help minorities or groups in weaker position. Soon after this, the chair of the youth organization of the National Coalition Party (biggest of the Finnish parties since last election) wrote an article supporting this position, admitting only the need for affirmative action to help disabled people. He especially condemned affirmative action for women or racial/cultural minorities. The biggest national newspaper, in a typical simplified move, made a questionnaire on their pages: Do you approve of (positive discrimination) affirmative action? 80% of readers answered "no".

Someone pointed out that most people don't even know what affirmative action is about. I think even less would be able to follow the reasoning for why it might be good and why it was written in the Finnish constitution.

Democracy. Everyone should vote, but only a fraction of voters will actually study any subject. Finland doesn't have elections on actual issues, just representatives, so the idea is that in stead of me having to study everything under the sun my representative will, and he or she may then be able to give an informed vote on subjects. Yes, but we still want our representatives to vote as we would, however misinformed we are. Many people choose a representative before the elections through an "election machine" - computer questionnaire that shows which candidate's thoughts are closest to the voter's. The questions range from ethics to economy. To answer them most people will need to rely on a vague feeling on the subject - a feeling that is very easily manipulated by clever use of words. Like the difference between "affirmative action" and "positive discrimination" shows.

Winston Churchill seems to have said "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." That's how I feel. All the other systems suck - but democracy is no good either. It would work perfectly if people were well-informed, friendly towards their neighbors, honest and humble, with no hunger for power - but then again, so would almost any other system too.


  1. Let me remind you of the studies that tell that voters who find issues to be urgent and important know significantly less about those issues than rest of the voters [citation needed].

    When stuff sounds ideologically right and familiar they go for it without digging any deeper.

  2. This is well thought out and I agree with you. James Madison said "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention...Theoretic politician, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions." (Federalist Papers, No. 10) Democracy, or majority rule, quickly learns to soak the rich, which destroys jobs for the common people and usually leads to an overthrow.