Random Thoughts

Information & Democracy

I love reading about some of the hot issues in the world like person next to me and more I read about them, more I realize that there is so much information out there that it is almost impossible to make the right call. You can never be certain whether information you will read is actually unbiased, fact based. Almost all of it is opinion based. More you read about certain issue, more you are not sure. I wonder if that is the reason why Peace Talks never yield anything substantial other than a treaty on a peace of paper that both party sign on and none of the adhere to. Especially to in the age where expressing your opinion and giving them shade of authenticity is much easier now. You write something and with a click of a button now it becomes a published article ready to be consumed by millions of people. Not that we did not have this problem before, but one has to admit, printing a propaganda book/pamphlet is lot harder than creating a blog

If you take example of either issue of Palestine or even Kashmir. How do you make a decision who is right? There is such a long history of events filled with allegations/counter allegations/pacts/books etc. I think one can say, the best way to make up your mind is to experience it and people who go through it can always make the call. But some of these experiences can be so intense that it is impossible to see through them rationally. It is completely possible to spend time with 200 people who hate a thing and come out with an impression that thing is really bad even though there are other possible interpretations of the same phenomena. I am Indian by nationality and official position of my government on Kashmir is that it is part of India. One one hand, I feel that it means I need to defend that position but on the other hand I feel, that I could possibly see a different pictures if I spend enough time with group of individuals that feel very strongly (& honestly) that they have been misrepresented or cheated of their rights by being part of India.I am pretty sure I am not the only person, I have seen people who have these conflicting feeling about issue of Israel/Lebanon war that is happening even when they are in Jew.

So does this mean there is no truth or good/bad become oversimplification of any issue that is described that way that can be consumed by person X drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper on the train while going to work and something that will give them enough information to feel included in any conversations that happening around them. If this is really true, is there anything wrong with it? Not really but can we really assume that the decision that many more people are going to push for be the right one.

We assume that majority of the people would do the right thing. Most of the times, people are driven by basic/materialistic needs such as money/house/food/clothes or personal things such as family/religion/culture more than they are driven by “higher” things such as liberty/freedom etc. Mass psychology if not more must be as prone to be susceptible to short term reaction to certain events. It also means what a group of people think is the “right” thing for them, can be a very “wrong” thing for a group of people somewhere else. How do I know that we don’t suffer from “earth is flat” syndrome.

How does a executive leader really know what group of people are thinking. Yes the true leader supposed to know it and but how? If they know what is right/wrong inherently then, does not it become an opinion of that person and not really opinion of the mass. I was hearing about democratic primary and Joe Lieberman on NPR. I wonder how many people felt that Mr Lieberman did wrong thing by voting for war, right after he did it. Hind sight is always perfect. I also think that he should be responsible for the call that he made, whether good or bad but I don’t know how he can know at that point in time what is the right thing for future especially when popular opinion would have been different at that point.

One of the basic premise of democracy is that people will make the right call. But this means people will have all the information to make the right call. To make this work the way it is supposed to, it means we need a mechanism that takes the information that is needed in order to make the decision to the people and get the feedback from the people really fast and make the decision. So let me put this down in terms of three steps

  • It assumes people will get all the information necessary to make the decision.
  • It assumes that majority of the people can consume that information and  would want the ‘right’ thing.
  • It assumes that there is a way to get a handle over mass opinion.
    Unfortunately, all the assumption are not really true in many cases.

PS:

It is interesting that we have managed to build software/technology around almost everything but this. I can know what stock was 20 minutes ago or I can find out what is the most visited web site but I cant really know what people think about a particular issue in one place and have that information surface to people who make the decision. Do we need to build software for helping the government listen to people? I wonder if we build that software, will all the governments buy licenses for it?

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