Greetings Earthlings!



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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34 Responses

  1. Avatar E.D. Kain says:


  2. I suppose that before I list my true rejection, I’d have to state what it is I would be rejecting (or keeping, sans the true rejection), and frankly, I have a very difficult time even defining “democracy.”

    If we’re talking about pure majoritarianism, then I already reject that.

    If we’re talking about some admixture of “majority rule and individual right with a smattering of concern for minorities and with several veto points that check the majority rule in the first place but don’t do it too much,” then I have great difficulty teasing out the mechanical features (veto points, majority rule, some workable guarantee for individual rights and acknowledgment of invidious distinctions against minorities (for lack of a better word) imposed by civil society) and the normative features (how much is “too much,” how arbitrary does a distinction have to be before it’s invidious.

    If, however, you were to ask my true rejection of the current governing structure of the United States (I’m a unitedstatesian), then I would have to consider what is a workable alternative for reforming that structure and what are the realistic alternatives for leaving and setting up shop in another country. I’m not so sure what the answer is.Report

    • I’ll put it more precisely:

      What is your true rejection for unconditional universal suffrage (hereafter called UUS)? You can keep the other checks and balances etc. What would it take to say: letting every adult vote is a mistake. Especially since its all fine if you get the right to vote but it may not be worth it if Nobby Nobbs also gets to vote as well.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Murali says:

        I don’t have one. This is a tricksy spots for my precious.

        I think unconditional universal suffrage (letting every adult vote) is a mistake (in the sense that it has significant negative consequences). I just don’t think there is a reasonable alternative that doesn’t have other, equally bad or worse, significant negative consequences. Indeed, most of the others that have been tried have more significant negative consequences.

        Personally, I don’t regard it as a necessary condition for a working sociopolitical organism. I regard it as a necessary condition for *our* sociopolitical organism, but that’s another story.

        In the case of truly limited government, you don’t need universal suffrage because you don’t have to necessarily worry about people feeling disenfranchised because they have other power roles available that are equally (or potentially more) effective. I don’t need to feel disenfranchised by the fact that I can’t vote if voters can’t change tax rates and I have a lot of money. I don’t need to feel disenfranchised if I can’t vote if abortions don’t happen because everyone is part of the Church of Unity and I’m the archbishop. The more government does, the more likely you’re going to get dissatisfied subgroups if you don’t have universal suffrage.

        This is one of those “it’s hard to get there from here” things.Report

      • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Murali says:

        I don’t have one. In fact, I’m in favor of mandatory universal suffrage (As long as NOTA is always a candidate and/or some sort of run off voting is in place). Is it politically or technically feasible from the starting point we currently occupy? I’m not sure. Likely not.Report

      • Thanks for the UUS clarification. I haven’t given it a lot of thought, andI’m not sure what my true rejection would be.

        If we argue against unconditional universal suffrage, I guess I would have think on what “conditions” would characterize any alternatives to UUS. I’m really against racial- and gender-based conditions (I believe most people in the US are, at least in theory).

        I understand the theory behind property requirements, and in certain limited situations–like a homeowners’ association that parcels the money out to fellow condominium owners–I think it’s an okay condition, but I see society as too much of a complete whole to say those without x amount of property ought not vote.

        Literacy requirements (i.e., knowledge about government and policy)? I’m not sure: who gets to determine the rules? who gets to enforce them? Also, in the US at least, literacy tests have a pretty dark history.

        Education / expertise requirements? Almost the same as above, but again, who decides who gets to be an “expert”? What kind of check are we going to put on them?

        Probably the only alternative I can think of offhand is some sort of “weighted vote,” wherein those most affected would have more of a say than others. But I have no idea how such a system can be worked out in a manner that I would consider fair. Also, there would be manifold questions, such as how can we know ahead of time who will be affected by what issue and to what degree?

        I think I agree with Mr. Kuzinicki’s comment below that “democracy” is often what’s resorted to when other things fail.Report

      • Avatar Stillwatera in reply to Murali says:

        I’m not sure I have one. My view is that behind the veil, I would reject any type of government that didn’t grant me and my cohort the right to shape policy via elections and legislation.

        I admit this view is open to challenge.Report

  3. Avatar James K says:

    Welcome to the League Murali, good to see another non-American in the group.

    As for the substance of your post, I can actually grant points 1 to 4, the problem comes down to alternatives. Epistocracy sounds fine in theory, but I have no confidence that a sufficiently robust political institution exists to create a test upon which an epistocracy could be based. Gaming that test would become the central focus of every political institution and interest group in the country.

    My best candidate for a replacement to democracy is Futuarchy because it sidesteps the competence issue by only having people vote on the government’s terminal preferences, rather than on policy specifically. Still, there’s still a lot of work to be done before it can be tried out.Report

  4. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    I suppose my true rejection of democracy would be the existence of a large and diverse non-democratic state that for a period of, say, sixty years preserves the freedoms of those who live within it to a greater degree than modern, first world democracies do.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Alan Scott says:

      You’re setting the bar too low. A reluctant dictator (one who has power but chooses to use it sparingly) can run an excellent government, better than any majoritarian one. It’s the law of large numbers: Democracy tends to produce average governments, because it averages the preferences of voters. But with a dictatorship, you can get extremes, both good and bad.

      The problem, of course, is the problem of succession. People don’t live forever, and there’s no guarantee that the next dictator will be reluctant. He may even be enthusiastic.

      So you need a period longer than sixty years to judge the success of a non-democratic government. You need to watch it through several successions.Report

  5. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Greetings fellow Earthling!Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    Congrats Murali, I’m utterly thrilled that you’re a front pager!Report

  7. I’m down with constitutional republic separated into smaller and smaller units of democratic efficacy. I just don’t think direct democracy works at as large a scale as we have in the U.S. On the other hand, give me the power to decide with my neighbors what’s best for my neighborhood.Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    What is your true rejection for unconditional universal suffrage (hereafter called UUS)? You can keep the other checks and balances etc. What would it take to say: letting every adult vote is a mistake.

    It’s a difficult question, because my view is that democracy is what we resort to after everything else has failed.

    We try democracy after we’ve given up on (a) leaving stuff the hell alone, (b) letting people buy and sell it, (c) referring it to experts, and (d) forbidding it on principle.

    Democracy is what we do when we don’t know what else to do.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      In this frame, universal suffrage would be sort of a prerequisite for justice.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Jason, what do you think of Scott Adams’ new government?

      The Internet has come of age at exactly the time we need it to form the platform for a new system of government. A new and properly engineered government could be immune to financial corruption and more efficient at matching economic resources to opportunities. That sort of change would be enough to turbo charge the United States’ economy for generations.

      In a reengineered system of government, I like the idea of states operating as test sites for social and economic programs. In some ways, that’s the opposite of how things are operating now. For example, the federal government is clamping down on California’s state-legalized medical marijuana industry. Does that look like a government system that is worth keeping?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to wardsmith says:

        I don’t agree that the system should be scrapped.

        Even if I did agree, I wouldn’t support Scott Adams as the Transitional Leader. Even just having to capitalize the word “Leader” makes my skin crawl.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Don’t forget e) letting the guys with the weapons decide.Report

  9. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Ni Hau Murali. Gonshi.

    Next you can help me with my (non existent) Pinyin. 🙂

    As for your OP, I agree with everything, especially being right of Atilla the Hun. I’ve even used that line meself a time or three. 😉

    Fortunately as an American I don’t have to reject democracy since we don’t even have one. We don’t even have the next best thing, but we (mostly) are allowed to spit on the sidewalk here and chew bubblegum.Report

  10. Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

    I don’t think this critique gives enough weight to the critiques of democracy given by the public choice school. Even if we could determine which citizens were more intelligent or oral than the rest without that process being perverted to serve some interest or another, it wouldn’t appreciably improve electoral results because the central problem with democracy isn’t that we have an uninformed or unintelligent electorate. It’s that responsibility is so diffused that no one has sufficient incentive to take enough care in casting their vote.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’ve considered the issue you raise, actually quite recently, Murali, and remain provisionally satisfied that universal sufferage under the rule of law, with durable and effective supermajoritarian limits on the exercise of majoritarian power so as to secure minority rights, is the least bad of the spectrum of practical options for self-government. Post-Englightenment western-style liberal democracies are the best form of actual government yet devised to pursue that ideal. They all fall short, but they’re a whole lot better in that respect than than dictatorships of elites.

    I’ve flirted in the past with the idea of epistocracy (actually, I did so when I was at about your point in life — having completed bacchalaurelate education and moving on to the next level of educational attainment). If applied with universal good faith it has some real advantages to reccomend it, but universal good faith is not a practical possibility and even if it were, disproportionate power granted to even a broadly-defined cadre of elites will eventually flunk the test of legitimacy. See, e.g., France’s Committee of Public Safety, the Republic of Venice.

    Oh, and welcome to the front page.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Thought experiment.

      What if government actually was separated powers?

      Let’s say we let the men vote for the Presidency and Governors, but the women vote for the Congress and the Legislatures. Demographic majorities in any city can vote for the Mayor, but only minorities can vote for the City Council.

      Only atheists or agnostics can vote for federal judges, but only the religiously-affiliated can vote for state judges.

      Better… worse… or about the same?Report

  12. Avatar sutjihadi says:

    The neo-liberal/liberaltarian monster is here and I am he.

    so i guess you are a cobo then?
    colonized brown.Report