January 21, 2018

Democracy or knowledge: Do we have to choose?

High Street sceneWe’re brought up on the principle of democracy—one person, one vote.

We’re also brought up on the importance of knowledge: “If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance” (to paraphrase Derek Bok).

But what about when these two meet in opposition?

What should happen when someone in the room has the knowledge and other people have the votes, or most of the votes?

Who and what should prevail?

If, to the best of your knowledge, you believe you have a deeper understanding of something, should you assert your view over others? Can you even do that in a democratic structure?


If you believe someone else has the wisdom in the case, are you ready to concede?

And if it isn’t clear, then what?

How do you balance advocacy and enquiry in your relationships?


How can knowledge and democracy best be reconciled?

Is slow adaptation the price we pay for democracy?

High Street sceneIn the West in particular, we believe in democracy, almost without thinking, but is it being abused?

You see…

When we elect a leader, we need them to lead, even if, in fact, we don’t like the consequences for us very much. That’s their job – to lead. That’s what we put them there for, not to spend their time working on getting re-elected.

But are we complicit? When the time comes to re-elect, do we reward the strong leader, or the politician who tells us it’s all going to be OK (when we suspect it isn’t)?

Modern political leaders often don’t seem to truly lead. They conceal uncomfortable truths. They are obsessed with opinion polls. They duck the tough decisions that we might say it’s their duty to take. They push the problems down the road, as the challenges all the while get more serious. Witness the Eurozone, Rio, public debt, and more.

And so problems don’t get handled.

Is the price we pay for democracy slow adaptation to change and weak response to crises?

How could it be different?

And is it a bit like this in organizations?

Do you take the tough decisions you need to take?