Democracy is a concept that both looks and sounds appealing to the eyes and ears of those who benefit from its tenets. But it is important not to forget that democracy, as a process, needs nurturing and above all, understanding. The idea of creating a society where everyone is allowed to participate in the everyday running of social and political affairs, is one that is usually not met with the oftentimes cumbersome challenges of increased inclusion. One of such challenges is the bureaucratic process related with allowing a greater number of individuals to have their views heard in our political institutions.
It is important never to disassociate the demos from the kratia, and to remember that the rationale behind democratic rule is precisely the participation of “the many”, not “the few.” It is intended for democratic entities to have the necessary mechanisms to allow for its constituents to engage in informed, free and overarching deliberation, and to be willing to use said mechanisms. A problem arises when a government renders democratic rule more important than its substance, for it risks over-focusing on procedural steps that may or may not be related with the common good.
As is true in most political explorations, it is interesting to strip social relations from their flesh, in order to uncover the machinery that are our political bones. In this case, I find it pertinent to use one’s interactions with others at the dinner table to illustrate the relation between democracy and bureaucracy. When faced with the situation of having a meal alone at the dinner table, every decision taken pertaining to what is being cooked, where people will be seated, and who will do the dishes, falls on the shoulders of only the person who is eating. If an additional person decides to join in, the ability to make an independent decision gets cut in half, and the second person will have an equal right to decide and disagree on matters of the table. As the number of guests increases, the ability of each individual to push forth with his/her own culinary leanings gets diminished drastically, and the only way of deciding something that will please the palates of most is through dialogue and debate. What is essential in understanding the dinner table dynamic is that democratic decision-making processes are not meant to be straight forward, and even less so linear. Constant consideration of other guests’ leanings needs to be explicitly accounted for in order for one’s own rationale to be welcomed by the rest.
This example leads to one conclusion: The delivery and substance of democracy are inseparable; cumbersome and time-consuming processes are at the core of inclusive democratic practices. Having the participation of “the many” is directly linked with having to develop mechanisms that will allow these voices to be heard, which in most cases, is not an easy task. Using this logic, it is unsurprising that politicians, in an attempt to untangle the bureaucratic complexities of policy-making, may attempt to shun certain sectors of society from active debate. After all, the less people eat at the dinner table, the easier it will be to decide on things.
I believe that our present-day politicians, whether on purpose or not, have become entrenched in the paper-trailing, process-based, and time-reducing nature of their profession, and as a result, it has become easier for them to make decisions that will allow for more fluid processes, but that ultimately, undermine the very principles of our democratic institutions.