A: Don’t you believe in democracy? Would you rather live in a totalitarian country?
B: I would rather live in a country whose citizens are capable of intelligent discourse. But I don’t believe any such country exists.
A: Perhaps. But haven’t you heard the quote that democracy might not be the best government, but it is better than any of the alternatives?
B: Winston Churchill. I believe the exact quote is “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”
A: Thank you. Exactly. Democracy has flaws, of course. But it is the best that we have.
B: I prefer to look at politics in cynical and reductionist terms.
A: Why am I not surprised?
B: Because you know me too well. Bear with me a moment. Humans are primates. Primates are social hierarchical animals. Animals in social hierarchies usually defer to other animals in positions of power and influence. The most obvious example of this is the family. Children, who are young and ignorant and helpless, have no choice but to defer to their parents, who are the most powerful and influential beings in their lives.
A: Did your mother love you?
B: Cheap shot.
A: I take what I can get.
B: Get this: the president of the United States is often referred to as the most powerful man alive. Being the most powerful man alive, he exists at the pinnacle of a social hierarchy, and he has people — Secret Service agents — who are sworn to sacrifice their lives, if called upon to do so, in order to save his.
A: Power has its privileges.
B: Indeed it does. And we, as citizens, are also called upon to heed his words and to support him and the decisions that he makes.
A: We don’t have to support the decisions that he makes: we can disagree with him.
B: But beyond that, we can do nothing.
A: We can vote him out of office.
B: And so the cycle begins again. Let me put it in stark terms: in America, every four years, we are given the freedom to choose the alpha male. And after we make our choice the only thing we can do is watch what he does.
A: You make it sound like we are just passive participants in the political process.
B: Prove to me that we aren’t.
A: But don’t you hope for a change?
B: Hope is not an action and change is but a buzzword. And hoping for a thing does not make it so.
A: I hope that one day you can be happy.
B: So do I. But at times I do not believe it is possible for self-conscious primates to be happy. Maybe that’s why we created religion.
A: Which often takes the form of a political hierarchy.
B: Such as the Catholic Church.
A: Right. And the Pope?
B: The father of the church.