Democracy, technocracy, and Black Lives Matter


I’m a technocrat, in both the positive and negative senses: I believe in the opportunity for improvement in human well-being that can come from using a technical in governance. I’m also, by virtue of my birth, luck, and education, part of a hyper-educated elite.

I’m also a humanist, and I’m saddened by the assumption that the virtue of a government is its ability to do the “right” thing. Churchill quoted a previous, unknown source in saying, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried […]”

The word worst is interesting: I think it is used to suggest that democracy is “bad” because it fails to achieve things. This aphorism is a play on the idea that fascists may make the train run on time, but that fascism is somehow worse than democracy.

I think the common answer is something vaguely technocratic or free-market-y about how democracy is more likely than fascism to do the “right” thing. This misses a critical point. Democracy can be good because of outcome—for example, by making the trains run on time—or it can be good because of process, because it dignifies every individual vote. It doesn’t say that the richest or the smartest or the ones with the most prestigious birth get to vote; everyone gets to vote. And the fact that everyone gets to vote is not only good for the not-richest, not-smartest, and not-most-luckily-born. It’s even good for the privileged 1%.

I was shocked to learn that one of the major objections to American slavery was that it degraded the morality of white people living with slavery. At first I thought this was a preposterous distraction from the brutal, inhuman treatment of slaves. But now I recognize its wisdom. Slavery did hurt everyone. It hurt our morality because dehumanizing one person creates the possibility for dehumanization of everyone. When slavery was abolished (insofar as it was), everyone was freed of slavery.

I end with a quote from Black Lives Matter:

#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.