I have traced a philosophical line of thought in my mind that “human rights” as commonly defined (and also “democracy”) may suffer a kind of disjunction between their “statutory” and “purposive” aspects (sorry for the breach of terminology, but I am trying to adapt what I learned on Law.Stack Exchange), where statutory law is what a law says is not allowed, but purposive interpretation is a judge’s discretion as to what the law was supposed to be about, as in the difference between that possession of marijuana is illegal, vs. why possession is a criminal offense. The latter can be used to reform the actual implementations of the laws, sometimes, at least. This may have been a factor in the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. of America, where a judge (in a Supreme Court hearing I heard) was heavily basing their points on what the purpose of certain rights or amendments really was, what its function was supposed to be.
I have been considering that “democracy” apparently literally means “people-rule”, and is therefore a very vague word, literally, open to lenient interpretations, as arguably any human society might exhibit, loosely, some type of “people-rule”. A monarchy features a person, the King or Queen, ruling, so this is an incident of a person ruling, in contrast to a civilization of people overrun by animals, or aliens.
Rhetorically, the “purposively” implied character of a “democracy” could be understood next to common rhetorical associations we hear, the semantic “prototypicality” of the word in culture and media -
- freedom of the press
- freedom of speech
- rule by the people, for the people
and so on. (A computer can also do this using NLP.)
I have begun to wonder, is the token “democracy” akin to what something believe something is, because it is what they are told, a presumed, latent supposition in discourse and cultural knowledge? How rigorously can it be defined? (Yes, I know there are metrics like the Freedom Index or whatever, but I’m not sure that digs deep enough into the debate).
If we allow our choice of word to take meaningful from what it contrasts with, I have been wondering if a better meaning for what “self-rule” is would be better served by the word “anarchy”, a system where people locally and continuously can re-update their decisions on what they want, in accordance with each other, from moment to moment.
Comparing and contrasting the two has made me consider that we do not really experience “democracy” very much in the loose way it is touted to be beneficial, and actual. One reason is we have very little opportunity for a benchmark of something else to compare it to, since we really only see a few types of governments and societies in the world (in my opinion), whereas I think political game theory or something could reveal a huge, mathematically rich cornucopia of possible “rule-based systems” or games by which people can try to manage each other and things, be they small or local or large.
Thus, we do not know what a “democracy” is because we have only ever known that word to mean “there are elections so at the end of the day you get what you choose.” The number of possible critiques against this are numerous, in my opinion. Walking down the street in daily life, how often do you feel that “the way things are” is an extension of your will, that you had in some small part or way a say in what things are being done, how the roads are being built, what plants you could smoke, how the buildings are and look like, etc.? How many local officials like police officers would you have chosen to serve that role in your community, had anybody asked you? How often do you feel anybody asked you for your opinion, on almost anything the government does?
Even if you vote, consider how a vote is not in itself a benchmark of any kind of personal “freedom” - what are you voting on? What are the choices? How often do you get to vote? Do you even like how the vote was conducted? And so on. Noam Chomsky once said “a democracy is more than just a cookie-cutter filling out a ballot, but would be a society in which people are actively involved, and participating in group decisions regularly.”
Just as I wonder how “democracy” may very well be - in the style of contemporary critical theory - a rhetorical illusion which actually upholds power, because it is used to make people believe they are free, when there are an inordinate number of things you are not allowed to do, like sleep in public places (sometimes - when some modern scientists tell us sleep is one of the cornerstones of human health), which people do not realize because they have no intuitive sense of what is a “normal” law except the laws they are already used to (imagine washing up on the shores of a foreign land where music is illegal or beer is outlawed but everyone has to dance at least 3 hours every day - )
I also wonder if “human rights” are similarly, not what they present themselves as. I can go into further detail if necessary. But I wonder if the key problem there are basic assertions about what a human is or ought to be, without that much theoretical development about why. Similarly, we have to wonder who made such rules, to begin with, and why we - humans - haven’t yet been consulted with.
Therefore, I invite answers regarding political philosophers who have expanded on these ideas: is “democracy” really even “democratic”, or would it be better substituted by a different term, and a more precise formulation and set of reasons of what “rules” there should be, amongst us all, and why?