With elections passed in Finland and coming in England there are a lot of articles about the choices we can make. What issues are raised and what points of view are taken. As a good democrat I try to follow what is going on and think a bit about the future of democracy.
When the Greeks invented democracy things where relatively easy. There were less people so everyone who wanted to have a say could have a say. Nowadays we are with many. The empires we create ever larger. An individual voice does not mean so much any more. The more voices, the less one voice means. This is the paradox of a democracy.
I like options. I like to able to choose. In daily life I choose all the time. When I buy a new computer I weigh all the extra options against the cost they bring. Value for money we call that. But the more I research, the more confusing it gets. My options shift, conditions apply, my choices blur. Thus it is so in politics. There are many political issues to which the choice is crystal clear, but some are wildly confusing. What to think? You don't know. Leave it to experts? Or the politicians? If yes, better stay at home and not vote.
That's exactly what we do when confronted with an uncertain future. Before we make an actual choice, we choose to decide or not to decide. We are often lazy. We go along with a decision that someone suggests to us, because it sounds reasonable. No tweaking, no adjustments, no personalization. In the IT world the preprogrammed choice is called a default. It is easy you don't have to think and you are guided into a certain decision.
One example is the notes you can get the bank. There are six preprogrammed choices, having to with the values that were there when Finland still had the Mark. I sometimes take the “other” sum, because I don't want 4 notes of 50. Instead I like to have a few more notes of 20. So I change the sum to 210. That gives me 3 notes of 50 and 3 of 20. Perfect! I made my choice. Just what I wanted! I made a choice according to my own wishes. Not what the bank offered me, but my own. Nice!
Another is health care. In Finland we have KELA. It sets standards for health care and regulates pensions etc. I like KELA. Why? Because I don't have to make choices. KELA does that for me. In a market driven health care system that we have in the Netherlands you have to make a lot of choices. About what you want insure, how high a premium you can afford, what general practitioner to take etc. It is highly complicated. Even insurance companies have trouble to plan their behavior in the market. I don't like that. Sometimes it is better not to have so much choice.
The problem is that we shut down when issues become too complicated. We see a gordian knot and we walk away from it because we are scared to choose when the consequence of making an error is high. This risk aversion makes us go along with the majority. I have heard it say many times that an X million people can't be wrong, but that's nonsense of course. Anyone can go wrong, also in massive numbers (if you believe me count the number of Justin Bieber fans). However it could be worse. If you were never given a choice, that would be worse. That would be dictatorship or slavery! It is better to have a choice. It is a freedom that is worth defending.