democracy and sociality

I’ve written many times in this blog (see here and here) about the importance of arbitrariness in life. Sometimes its good that we are forced to read a news article we wouldn’t ordinary read (because it comes in a package of news stories that we bought for other reason), just as its good that we are forced to talk to strangers we don’t know or walk with people that don’t run in our social circles. These lesson apply even more broadly; a good human life is one that responds to arbitrariness. A world that we could completely structure to suit our needs would be a paradise for the flesh, but a prison for the spirit.

I think one political lesson to be learned from noting this fact (especially about sociality) is that democracy is in tension with judicial resolutions of conflicts. Just as it may be useful for people to have to meet people they normally wouldn’t, sometimes its better for people to have to deal with people they normally wouldn’t. Imagine a country in which every dispute was dealt with in courts. In one sense, this would be good. There would be arguments and reasons and rulings and evidence. But think of what we would lose. Some people already complain about the over-judicialization of American life. Lawsuits and lawyers are everywhere, and the court increasingly takes up more and more questions: deciding elections (Bush v. Gore) and controlling access abortion (a bunch of cases). The point is not that the court is right or wrong on these issues: the point is that an over reliance on the judiciary is just like relying too heavily on facebook to meet people. Yep I said it. I compared the judiciary of our country to facebook, and it’s not a silly comparison.

Think. Sometimes in life, you have to deal with lunatics in situations where things are not perfectly structured. You have to get your neighbor to compromise and turn down their music during the day because you have to nap so you can work the late shift, and no lawsuit will solve this problem. They on the other hand might need you to water their flowers. You just have to work with people. Same with meeting people. You can’t just poke and prod and stalk people; you have to go speak to the person you want to meet. The situation is uncertain. You can’t hide behind electronic curtains, and in fact, things might go horribly awry (trust me, I know), but this is the great value of real sociality; it’s unpredictable, and it tests you.

The same is true of democratic systems versus legal systems. If everything we do is structured by contracts, lawsuits, and lawyers, day-to-day life. Just as surely as I have to learn to get along with my insane roommate (who I had to accept because there was no one else, and I needed the cash), I have to learn with my country-mate who lives in Louisiana and believes the opposite of everything I believe. Democracy is the art of compromise and negotiation, where law is about reasons and decisiveness. Democratic discussion is infinitely extendable, and that is it’s great virtue, unless we forgot how to keep the conversation going.


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