There is an icy mass floating on the Norwegian sea, waiting to show us a prophecy with its glassy reflections. It is a revelation of the potential of liberal democracy and its potency as a real-life experiment. We have already seen in 2008 how the Icelanders courageously took down the greedy tycoons on capitol hill through a peaceful revolution. A triumphant overture of liberalism. Despite this victory, my fellow Americans repeatedly call a direct democracy, “a fool’s dream, while Iceland makes it reality. The obvious excuses such as “we’re too large a nation” or “Laissez-faire is better” surface with zeal and fury, as if it is preposterous to even ponder on how our nation could possibly arrive at a democracy in which people actually participate and exercise their civil rights. There have been many suggestions from political philosophers like Michael Sandel and John Rawls, as well as economists Paul Krugman, and scathing critiques of US foreign policies by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. They have laid out the institutional and communal soil from which a liberal democracy is fertile. Scientists like Steven Pinker and Alan Sokal have also provided us with tools to evade pseudo-scientific nonsense to better inform our judgments. Many of the major colleges like Yale and Harvard offer free online courses by splendid professors like Paul Bloom and Shelly Kagan, which allows us to fully tap into our capabilities, the chief glory of mankind. In order to take advantage of these suggestions and tools laid out by our intelligentsia, we must be able to give ourselves the appropriate environment and institutions to effectively burn the torch of man’s glory. This requires participation. It is certainly fruitful to cut our teeth with issues like Ferguson or Gay marriage, but the stakes are too high to cease at those. It is critical for the public to be able to discern which political agenda would be able to get us closer to achieving a platform from which we could easily dissolve problems like Ferguson and Gay marriage. From the top of my head, I can think of a few.
1) Regulate banks 2) Tax reform that does not require the middle class to suffer, while distributing sufficiently from the wealthy. 3) Raise minimum wage. With the power of the wealthy diminished, it opens up an excellent opportunity for the poor to flourish. 4) Diverse integration. I believe Michael Sandel is correct in that we do not merely need economic inequality to live in a proper democracy. We must share culture, space, and time in order to form a community that stands in solidarity with empathy and understanding. 5) Restoration of the art of democratic debate. This is more like a sub-category of 4. Also suggested by Sandel. It is obviously crucial for citizens to form the habit of debating with evidence and critical thinking. 6) Scientific literacy. As Carl Sagan once famously said, “”We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?… Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, politcal or religious, who comes ambling along.” 7) Direct democracy. With these foundations laid out, it might be plausible to set up a direct democracy, returning power to the hands of the citizens.
These few steps I’ve written out should not be taken as a sophisticated agenda for our future. Instead they show the importance of paying close attention to events like the democratic revolution in Iceland. It is to show that Iceland’s efforts can spring up many interesting thoughts from a young sprout like myself. It is to show that there are many free sources out there, patiently waiting to be unearthed. Direct democracy is a matter of consideration, and it should be taken quite seriously, rather than being denigrated as a mere utopian dream.
Postscript: It is invalid to derive the conclusion that X will not achieve Y from the premises a) A achieved Y b) X is not A. Iceland is different from the US, and the steps to achieve a direct democracy may be different, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Even if it were impossible, getting closer to its ideals is a vision one should not easily dismiss. It’s like scoffing at a Lexus, while driving an old Ford, that the Lexus is not a Porsche Spyder. By the way, Tesla’s cheaper than a Porsche Spyder. And greener.