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The Danger of the Stubbornly Committed Democracy

There was a time, in every Chinese ex-pat’s life, when he/she is drawn to the fascination of the Democratic freedoms.  What is not to love about “freedom”?

Except, nothing in life is free, there is always a cost, often hidden.  Many of us Chinese experience these costs often in life, and it has made us wiser, for we do not easily commit ourselves to fanciful sale pitches.  Many of us are even overly cautious, but I would say that is a strength, not a weakness.  Afterall, only the future can tell if the overly cautious are truly right, or are the rest of us merely being optimistic lemmings.

In yet another conversation with an American friend, he said, he would not be able to live in China for very long, because he would get very fed up with the censorship.

In reply I said, (and many of HH readers can attest to the knowledge of my sentiment), that I was actually more fed up with the “Activist Trolls” in modern democratic societies.  That I would rather that some one clamp down on all of them, and let the rest of us live in peace.

He asked me why I felt that way.  I responded in a rather long stream of consciousness speech, pointing out all the evils of “Activist Trolls”.  But what dawned on me later was a specific problem that is rooted in the overall Democratic system.

That is the danger of the Stubbornly Committed.

What do I mean?

Freedom is great, voting is great.  They let the People get involved, let their choices/opinions matter in the political system.  They have vested interest in the political system.

But that’s also precisely the problem.  When the Populous are “mobilized” to choose, they are emotionally committed to their decisions, regardless of how stupid or irrational their choices might have been.  The emotionally committed become the Stubbornly Committed, even if they are wrong, and the Populous are wrong A LOT.

The Stubbornly Committed Populous, would thus never admit to faults or responsibilities.  And the Government ruling such Stubborn populous, are thus backed to the wall on all the important decisions, because it is on the MOST important issues that the Populous are MOST committed.

Imagine, if China is Democratic, and the Chinese people had an OFFICIAL vote (not some informal poll), and decided by popular vote that USA was China’s enemy (based upon some history of incidents).  Heated debates will ensue, dividing the people into camps.  Well then, the Chinese government will not be able to go against the result, or risk a popular outcry that will bring down many politicians in the next election cycle.

(or the opposite could happen, USA is not an enemy.  Then the Government is again also forced into a specific track of policies, with no wiggle room.)

Some say Democracy is very flexible, in that it can throw out 1 party and get another one into power very easily.

True.  But it does not change the Stubbornly committed populous, who are divided according to their respective committed philosophical decisions.

Some of us Chinese immigrants might have also experienced this kind of emotional commitment.  Some of us perhaps obtained US citizenship, voted for Obama, and are now forced by our emotional committment to defend Obama.

Vested emotional commitment is very dangerous two-edged sword, in Democracy.  The average people have ALL the strong stubborn emotions to their past political decision to stick it out, and yet no incentive what-so-ever to change their minds and live up to their responsibilities and correct past errors.

No, Democracies do not teach admission of mistakes.  Apologies are rare.  Even disgraced politicians have fanatical supporters and fans, and they don’t ever admit that they are wrong, (at least not for the big mistakes).

Hence, in US and Europe, politicians and pundits and Activist Trolls say the most ridiculous and outrageous things, and YET have PEOPLE applauding them.

See that?  That’s stubborn emotional commitment talking, not reason.

Yes, there are certainly a large amount of reasonable people in US and Europe, but most of the reasonable people do not come out to counterbalance the irrational.  They stay silent, and the political system do not hear them.  (Sometimes, the ones who stay silent are not reasonable, but because they are already aligned to some stubbornly committed camp, and they rather just cheer them on.)

The politics of Democracy are further fueled by mountains of money for causes, supplied by the MOST stubbornly emotionally committed People and/or Activist Trolls.

How is any reasonable people who are uncommitted to be heard?  Uncommitted does not mean that you don’t have an opinion, just that your opinion tend to be balanced for all sides, and you don’t want to make quick decisions.  Afterall, who like to be forced to make any decisions, especially hard ones?  Quick tempers do not make good decisions.  But look around the Democratic arenas, loud stubborn voices and mountains of money and giant banners and protests are constantly pushing the average people to “CHOOSE”!!  If you don’t “CHOOSE” now, they say, you will LOSE everything, even your right to decide.

That is true.  With the politics being pushed so hard by the Activist Trolls and the system, if you don’t decide quickly, you do lose, because the system will decide any ways, BADLY.

The system does not slow down, does not wait for proper rational discussions.  It wants BAD decisions QUICKLY, NOW, or YESTERDAY.

And tomorrow, everyone will blame other people for the mistakes, and never blame the system itself for making people choose and become stubbornly committed.


There was also a time in China, when a lot of people were stubbornly committed to politics, and even specific cult of personality.  They could see wrongs done only by the other side.  No room for compromises.  They were also forced to choose sides on issues and leadership, even if informally.

Some might say China is like that today.

But no.  China is not like that today.  China is most rationally uncommitted.  It changes, flexes unceasingly.

When there is nationalist outcry on Chinese streets, the Chinese government sometimes tries to temper the emotional commitments, because yes, there are other issues like economics to be concerned.

To be sure, the Chinese government is not always right, nor does it claim that it is always right.  It is feeling its way for what works for China.

But the major difference is that the Chinese SYSTEM itself does not have the illusion of infallable commitment.

The problem of Democracy is IN the system itself, in the danger of the Stubbornly Committed.  It leads to all the bad decisions in the past and will lead to bad decisions in the future.  Votes do not guarantee rational debates.  In fact, Votes make people forget reason altogether, and votes become increasingly run on money and Activist Trolls.

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  1. SilentChinese
    February 25th, 2011 at 11:14 | #1

    good point.

    see W. Hooper’s comments on scientific developement (which I must point out that it is more of a description of the ideal model than any description of what is actually happening in china).

    also not only in democrazy people get emotionally committed.

    government must be scientific and non-emotional. it must become a science and mechanics more than an art.

  2. February 25th, 2011 at 11:57 | #2

    We can see how hostile people can get even arguing over the internet, with nothing more than Pride at stake.

    If there is more at stake for the outcome of the arguments? Pride AND MONEY AND “rights” at stake? Heaven help us all.

  3. February 25th, 2011 at 12:30 | #3

    One can also see the same mentality and thought process in the Bush “With Us or Against Us” argument.

    I think the Chinese answer corresponding to the Chinese core value is that, we are neither With you NOR Against you.

    We don’t want to choose sides, and we will not be cajoled, bullied, or forced into making decisions by someone else’s schedule.

  4. February 25th, 2011 at 13:27 | #4

    Another point:

    If the goal of good government is to be responsible to the welfare of the People, then there is no reason why decisions must be rushed according to election cycles of committed votes.

    Informal polls are much better, because it does not overly reward the impulsive, emotional, irrational, intolerant, stubborn headed among the People, and give more opportunities for the contemplative, rational individuals to voice their opinions.

    (2) Alternatively, a voting system can be made, where each person can ONLY vote on each specific issue, like abortion, or a specific public office, like Presidency, ONLY ONCE in their entire LIFE TIME. That will force people to “save” their votes until they are absolutely sure, because if you vote early, the issue may be revoted and you won’t have a vote in the future.

    This would prevent the repeated arguments by the same groups over the same issues over time. In essence, this is far more fair, since why should a person be allowed to vote 1st time to pass a law, and then vote 2nd time to repeal the same law? (We know how that person feels already, let someone else, such as young people, new voters, decide).

    I think the 2nd system may be an interesting new solution to explore. I don’t think there is ever such a system in the world.

  5. silentvoice
    February 25th, 2011 at 23:41 | #5

    raventhorn2000 :
    But no. China is not like that today. China is most rationally uncommitted. It changes, flexes unceasingly.

    When there is nationalist outcry on Chinese streets, the Chinese government sometimes tries to temper the emotional commitments, because yes, there are other issues like economics to be concerned.

    That’s not always the case, for example, when it comes to Taiwan, China can get irrational.

    With regard to your points about democracy breeding “activist trolls”, and government decisions fueled by mountains of money and the “Stubbornly Committed Populous”, I think you are correct so long as we are talking about the USA here—which is an extreme example of democracy gone wrong. Most other democratic governments such as Australia, Canada, GB, are not as divided, irrational, or influenced by lobby groups.

    On the whole, democracies are still better than dictatorships because there are no check and balances in a one-party system. It’s all and good when the leaders in power are responsible, level-headed, and pragmatic like Deng, Jiang, and Hu. But what if you get another Mao? Sure, votes do not guarantee rational debates, but having debates is superior than having no debates.

  6. r v
    February 26th, 2011 at 08:32 | #6

    “That’s not always the case, for example, when it comes to Taiwan, China can get irrational.”

    On the contrary, I think the Chinese government’s Taiwan policy has been one of the most pragmatic and flexible.

    Imagine if China actually had elections? Patriotic NGO’s would make sure that Chinese government mount military campaigns to recover Taiwan, instead of trading with Taiwan.

    Debates and checks and balances still exist within the Factional system of the one party. With such a large single party, it is virtually impossible to have only 1 faction.

    And the factions are balanced against each other. Jiang was in one faction, Hu is in another now.

    As long as the party factions don’t coming to violence with each other (as in Cultural Revolution), that system is balanced.

    So I disagree with your characterization that there is “no debates”. It is common knowledge that the CCP leaders do a lot of compromising with each other. And it is no accident that their resulting policies are considered to be VERY pragmatic, far more so than in many Democratic countries.

    And “Democratic debates” are all fluff, no substance. No politicians want to make hard decisions in Democracy, they just want the limelight when they talk the big talk, and cry on TV. That’s no debate at all.

  7. xian
    February 26th, 2011 at 09:06 | #7

    Excellent piece. Democracy divides people into camps based solely on pride and political orientation. That’s why when you look at “hot button” issues in the US, the lines is drawn between Left vs Right, whereas the same issues would not be considered political in other countries. The result-oriented, pragmatist attitude prevalent amongst Chinese leaders and Chinese people is truly our greatest strength.

  8. February 26th, 2011 at 10:46 | #8

    Uh … do we have “debates” in democracies?

    Judging by what was depicted in the political ads this last election season, I wouldn’t say much. Politicians spent a staggering 4 billion last election, and they were mostly polarizing, mind numbing, sensational ads. We don’t “debate” in democracies any more. We consume prepackged sound bites and images – packages bought by $$$ put forward by special interests.

  9. February 26th, 2011 at 16:24 | #9

    Islamaphobia in Europe is no less divisive than it is in US, in fact, probably more in Europe.

    Violent protests against Austerity measures are indicative of the amount of emotional investment that the Populous have put in, and how much they don’t want to back away from their own mistakes, even on rather rational policies of cut backs and less welfare.

    Oh yes, even in Europe, the People are stubbornly committed to their tracks. The Democratic systems made them so.

    Yes, if the People are empowered, they can fight tyrants, OR they can also crucify any reasonable leaders and teachers who have solutions that the People simply don’t like.

    But we don’t need a system to empower People to fight tyrants. People have been doing so for 1000’s of years.

    *As we have seen from Gun ownership in US, guns are rarely used for defending against tyrannical governments, as originally intended by the 2nd Amendment. They are more often used to hurt regular people, accidentally or not.

    Democracy is a gun waiting to go off. It does not hurt so much the potential tyrants. The potential tyrants too know how to use Democracy and guns.

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