Monday, December 01, 2003

Democracy is just like fire: my desire for it is exceeded only by my desire not to live in one.

In case that's too subtle, let me elaborate. The word "democracy" has (at least) two meanings. One is a condition, and the other is a form of government. There is a parallel situation with the word "fire"; it can mean either flame, in general, or a particular conflagration. Our republican -- note the small "r" -- form of government is distinct from a democracy, despite what everyone, including U.S. Presidents (including big "r" Republicans, who presumably ought to know better) may say on television. What's the difference? Good question. Maybe you should look it up. ;-)

It seems to be presumed both that a democracy is democratic, and that any democratic government is a democracy. The first is true; the second is false. (As we would have put it back in Basic Logic, all a is b but not all b is a, or, b is a proper subset of a.) We in the United States, for example, live in a democratic republic -- at least, that's the law; whether the law is actually followed these days is another matter. It is wonderful that our government is democratic, just as it is wonderful to marry a statuesque blonde. It is not wonderful to have a democracy for one's government, just as it is not wonderful to marry a statue.

Do we live in a democracy? You ought to know the answer to that question, and, if you don't, you ought to learn the answer. Start by reciting the pledge of allegiance, paying particular attention to the word right before the "for which it stands" part. (This goes for you, too, Mr. President.) Then retrain your brain and your mouth to know the difference between these things, and stop illustrating what Orwell talked about (see my September 18, 2003 entry on that subject).

Now go and tell a friend or 300 million.

[Note: it has been brought to my attention that my a and b comment is backwards: as described above, a is a proper subset of b, not vice versa. Sorry for the goof-up. --JJ, Dec-7-03]


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