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Jeruba's avatar

Here's one thing I wonder about: democracy in nonpolitical settings?

Asked by Jeruba (55853points) December 18th, 2023
8 responses
“Great Question” (5points)

This question is about the functioning of democratic norms in everyday situations (not in elections to public office) where we are used to voting for our choice, versus places where majority rule does not function.

Our American democracy appears at risk to be sliding away. I’ve read lots of opinions about it. Here’s something nobody mentions:

How are the processes of group decision making (other than political elections) carried out in authoritarian societies? Do voting and majority rule apply or not?

In, say, Russia or Hungary, do students vote for class president, does the majority rule in choosing officers of a social club, does a business organization elect a chairman and secretary by vote of the members? Or how are those things done in an authoritarian society?

We are used to taking votes in all sorts of commonplace situations. It’s a basic part of our culture. How many want to go to Subway for lunch, how many want to order a pizza? If we end up with a Trump dictatorship, will we still practice majority rule in such everyday matters? Or who gets to be little dictators in all those trivial situations? Who picks the winners of the Academy Awards?

Or is our culture too ingrained with the idea of casting a vote and having a voice (no matter how poorly executed at times) to actually submit to a system of dictatorship?

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LostInParadise's avatar

You have got me wondering how dictatorships arise. Somebody must support them. Is it a majority of some select group? Does it ultimately depend on the military? Are there ever cases in the military where a decision is made by a vote among people of equal rank? What happens if a decision made by the top ranking general is opposed by a majority of those at the next lower rank?

JLeslie's avatar

I’ll send the Q to mimishu. Vietnam might be the closest we have in the collective. I’m not sure if Vietnam is a dictatorship, but from what I remember it is basically a single party that has total control.

Just thinking about people I know from countries with dictatorship and also countries with communism, I think it varies among the population. Just like in the US you will find parents who raise their children in a strict authoritarian culture with no room for questioning and find parents who care about the opinions of the whole family. Religion seems to have a big influence on this also.

My guess is in democracies the concept of all voices being heard and having a vote is more likely to permeate the entire culture in every way than in dictatorships.

Edit: I couldn’t send the Q to mimishu, is she gone?

ragingloli's avatar

In my mind, democracy is so fragile, because even in so-called democracies, every-day life is decidedly authoritarian.
It starts with the family: It is mostly autocratic. Especially as a child, you have no say. Any input you might have is at the discretion of the parents.
School: you are told what to do by the teaching staff. Teachers themselves are at the mercy of upper management.
Work: The boss/managers tell you what to do.
Police: Authoritarian.
Military: Definitely Authoritarian.
The Justice System: Authoritarian.
99% of your every day life is decided by little dictators, so why would you really care about preserving “democracy”, when democracy, your participation in shaping policy, really only exists at an almost symbolic only level? Think about it. Apart from the occasional referendum, which those in power can ignore a lot of the time, all you do is designate representatives, who in turn are not actually required to carry out your collective will, and can decide whatever as soon as they are in power. And what they decide is then enforced in an authoritarian fashion, with you having to obey, outside some very narrow, and ultimately ineffectual pathways to appeal through the justice system.

canidmajor's avatar

@Jeruba, excellent question. I think the idea of consensus is a community survival thing in so many cases. When people come together, the human tendency for hierarchy asserts itself, and if the group is not satisfied or does not benefit from how it is run/led, the group doesn’t survive for long. Don’t like how someone runs the book club/community choir/PTA? You will likely drift away.
In a government situation, trying to maintain a democracy is much more difficult, partly because of the unwieldy size of a population. And in the United States, where the population is so very diverse by design, it is more difficult to have a consensus. And because of the rules of governance, it is almost impossible to drift away.

I can’t answer the Q, not being a cultural anthropologist, I can only speculate.

flutherother's avatar

@ragingloli Another important aspect to democracy is having access to information. Even If we have no direct control over things at least we know who did and what the result was and hold people to account.

flutherother's avatar

@Jeruba To answer your question with what little I know of China. It is common there for management of companies and institutions of various sorts to have a representative from the communist party on the board not just to observe but to help shape the organisation’s future.

kevbo1's avatar

I reached out to my cousin who is around 55 and a lifelong resident of Poland. He experienced the late communist era there. He said student union candidates and basically every other candidate for local civic roles (director of a factory, head of a high school dormitory, editor-in-chief, manager of a housing estate, etc.) were approved by the authorities or the Communist Party, so elections were a farce because all candidates were prescreened.

He says among friends, it was more normal. Not really a vote—sometimes a natural leader emerged. He doesn’t remember how the whole school decided to skip out one day and agree on where to take a day trip. He didn’t respond to the lunch question, but I know that scarcity was an issue, so you probably just ate what was available.

At that time, the father made the family decisions, but there was also a saying that “the wife was the neck that turned the head.”

Another aspect I can speak to is that markets develop unless they are forcibly eradicated. This was true among Russian country peasants until Stalin decided that these markets were anti-communist and enforced a ban. In Communist Poland, barter was common—you got in line for goods, took what was available and maybe traded them later. They also had ration books for goods such as meat, butter, and sugar, and eventually the system developed ration books for the ration books. If you were a friend of the party, you might get perks. If you borrowed someone’s child, you might get to stand in the front of the line. Someone else I know who was a child in Ceausescu’s Romania remembers standing in line for 3 hours for sour cream.’

edit:: Oh, I remembered, we sometimes held votes in high school, e.g. regarding the type of decorations, the place of the trip. Because they weren’t political. Of course, we know that no one would propose, for example, decorations with Piłsudski [Chief of State during Poland’s glimmer of independence after 1918] for Army Day.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

I believe that society and technology has advanced enough that everyone can have their own toppings on pizza. The same goes for politics. I would like to suggest that everyone gets to choose who their leader is and can change their vote as many times that one likes.

I would like to try having the freedom to decide where ones tax dollars go. Instead of voting out a party after 4 years. As the old system is too slow.

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