The air smelled clean, like the vapil plants after a Gorgarian rainstorm. Humans mulled about, waiting in line to enter the gymnasium of one of the district’s local public institutions. The people mostly ignored him, being unable to see him, but the man smiled at them regardless.
“So who is winning? The corrupt one or the crazy one?” said the second man -shorter than the first- as he appeared beside him.
“The democratic process,” said the first indicating the humans.
“Humans…” replied the second looking over the shoulder of one of the men waiting in line. “They are such children. Democracy is system doomed to failure, and worst of all they know it. Yet, they turn a blind eye and continue on with their belief in elections and representative ruling bodies. How quaint, but it is simply tyranny by majority.”
“I disagree. It is a belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is faith in the collective power of humanity itself, that the wisdom of no one person’s lone decision is better than the rest; whether they be rich or poor, noble or common, male or female.”
“A fairy tale, which they themselves cannot even seem to accomplish. The very system that they uphold does not -in practical terms- even judge every man equally. Despite all their high ideals, there are those among them with greater influence than the rest: those with power, money, the right skin pigmentation, the right genitalia, the right sexual orientation, and the list goes on. You speak of a perfect system, but I see nothing but a flawed race of people playing at moral superiority. Concepts, such as democracy and elections do nothing but give the powerless the illusion of choice while keeping them blind to the truth of power.”
“It is an imperfect system to be sure, made all the more imperfect by the hubris and prejudices of the species, but it is not without its beauty. Democracy is a social contract that puts actual power at the doorstep of the masses. Sure, the single common person may never see their whim or wishes enacted into law, but as a people -as voting demographics- they cannot be ignored. The elected must keep the electors content or they are removed in a non-violent and non-chaotic manner. Even you must see the brilliance of that.”
“Brilliance?” said the second man. “I would hardly agree, brother. It is a convoluted and slow system built solely upon the ignorance of the people.”
“Once again you are too harsh by far. What you see as ignorance, I see as hope.” The first man smiled at a young human in a wheeled carriage. The small creature smiled back at him with a giggle.
“Hope,” the second harrumphed. “Another foolish notion. Cast your vote for hope and all you get is disappointment.”
“What would you have them do then?” said the first. “Would you have them return to monarchism, or theocratic rule? What other options do they have at this juncture in their development?”
“I always found dictatorships to be quite effective,” said the second with a smile.
“That is true enough for the dictator,” said the first with a knowing look. “But for humans -at least the humans of this nation-state- they would never oblige it. They value their freedoms too much.”
“They certainly do have freedom,” said the other with a laugh. “Freedom to cause poverty; freedom to pollute the planet and their bodies; freedom to justify war and justify murder and justify every sin and hardship that humans can inflict upon one another. As they say, freedom is never free, except what they don’t understand is that it is the free that rarely pay the bulk sum.”
“Your cynical attitude once again betrays your own pessimism. Where you see anarchy, I see choice. Where you see a planet heading toward a cliff, I see a planet that believes it can fly.”
“Most cannot,” said the second. “How often have we seen it, time and time again, on a thousand other worlds? They all have high hopes. They all have lofty goals. The basser’babal people even had wings and they couldn’t fly, at least in the proverbial sense. For them it ended the same: ruin, chaos, war, and eventually extinction. This planet and its people will be no different.”
“You ascribe a lot of importance to one single election,” said the first man.
“It is the not just one election,” said the second. “In fact, despite their mewling, this election is fairly insignificant, but elections lean toward partisanship, which leans toward infighting, and stubbornness. Eventually nothing can get accomplished because people are too concerned about winning to see the galaxy through the stars. It does not matter if there are two or twenty candidates or parties or districts or regions or parishes or whatever. In the end, it always comes down to us versus them. It’s not about voting for what you care about but about voting against the person you see as the embodiment of evil, at least for the current election cycle. That is anything but a healthy system.
“I mean, look at these people,” continued the second man. “You talk of common power and choice, -and even if that is true- how many of these common people have carefully researched the issues or the candidates? How many of these people are going to go into those small curtained booths to press a button for the option that would make a true benefit for them? I would wager, very few of them. Elections are not about the issues, they become about the candidates. That is how demagogues and egotists and all manner of corrupt officials get the common people to vote against themselves. Holding elections doesn’t give the powerless a voice. It only ensures that the power-hungry have to be more charismatic than your average strongman despot.”
“Well, you would know a thing or two about that,” said the first man, “but what you fail to see is the potential of the system.”
“Potential for ruin…”
“Potential for change. Human lives are short, less than a 100 orbits of their planet. Elections allow for the relinquishment of old ideas and the coronation of new principals. Sure, they are not all going to be winners, but the system and the people are robust enough to absorb the good and the bad, and to learn from them. As you said, this one election will not change much on its own. Yet, on the whole there is an empowerment found in the election process. It forces these people to constantly think and reevaluate themselves and their place on the planet. Mistakes and missteps can be just as powerful as the right decisions. Yes, it is a riskier road, but the power to vote means that humans are forced to be more independent and more proactive in their views and ideas.
“Look at these people,” continued the first man. “They aren’t waiting in line for food or material wealth or even momentary joys. They are waiting in line to cast a vote for an idea. That is more important than all the security and comforts that come from blind obedience to some emperor or theocratic dogma. Maybe they will vote with their passions instead of their heads, but there is something to be said for that too. It’s a physical act of hope that does give voice to the common person. So, you see that you are wrong, my brother. The call of democracy may be frustratingly slow to be heard, but it is there. Maybe it is anything but singular, but it is powerful. It is rarely the sound of a lone voice in a crowd, but a chorus of voices, some singing off key, and some signing different words, but in the end it becomes a song that can’t be ignored. It becomes a melody that changes the course of this people and the course of this planet.”
“Naïve as usual,” said the second. “You talk in metaphor and high minded rhetoric, while my arguments are based in the reality of this planet. Yet, to counter them you give me nothing but poetry about hopes and dreams. I judge your argument as invalid.”
“And I disagree. My argument could not be more valid, at least where humans are concerned. They are a people of hopes and dreams. They need them as much as they do food or oxygen, and I give you poetry because it contains wisdom. In fact, it was one of their poets that once said, A man’s reach should exceed his grasp. I think that sums up the human race very nicely.”
“Careful, brother. It almost sounds as if you care about these insects.”
“What can I say?” said the first man. “I am guilty of having a fondness for them.”
“You always did enjoy lost causes.” The second man smiled and disappeared in a flash of light.
“Maybe,” said the first man again watching the line of humans. “But we’ll see.”