The modern democracy dilemma

Hungary is going to expand its nuclear power station in Paks which was built by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s.  These nuclear power blocks will have to be decommissioned at around 2030 and the new ones are going to be built by the Russian company Rosatom.   Russia will provide a 10 billion Euro loan for 30 years to finance the construction and 40 percents of this amount will be awarded to Hungarian companies as suppliers.  (At a first sight that sounds really good to me.)  The postcommunist (“socialist/leftliberal”) opposition is using this opportunity to accuse the government and Prime Minister of “selling out the country to the Russians”, “betraying our Transatlantic interests” and they generally question the need for the new power blocks, etc.   At the same time they keep a low profile  about that the MSZPSZDSZ majority parliament voted for the expansion in 2009.  According to a Wikileaks document,   Attila Mesterházy, who is the chairman of MSZP now, told the Americans that “the tender offer (for the expansion) would be announced soon and  that, while a Russian firm would probably have an advantage based on the fact that the existing Paks reactors use Russian  technology, he hoped potential US suppliers would be given due consideration”)

There is a lot of noise about this decision and everybody (and his dog) speaks and writes about it.  Most of the “arguments” are purely and openly political.  However there are some which are disguised as professional counter-arguments. (Leftist) environmentalists say, for example, that the increased requirement for cooling water will force Hungary to build water dams on the Danube, etc. (What a nonsense!)

However in fact I don’t  mean this post to be about lambasting the deep  hypocrisy of the post-communist opposition again or to argue for the necessity of the power station expansion or why the Russians should do that indeed.  Incidentally most Hungarians support the Paks upgrade by Russia.

The point I want to make here is the apparently universal feature of modern democracies when a particular issue,  which maybe only one person in each ten thousands or so could have a competent opinion about, will become the object of heated political discourse.  And, following from this,  the political discourse has the least to do with the technical or economical details and things like anti-Semitism (in Hungary and Russia), LGBT rights (in Russia and Hungary), what-have-you will be brought up.  And the existence of vested interests  lurking behind the scenes will swept carefully under the carpet. (The US nuclear power station flagship company Westinghouse  won’t have a piece of the Hungarian nuclear power cake: read that Huffington Post article I linked to below keeping this in mind!)

As opposed to earlier times, people in our modern times get practically all their information from others, opinion makers and practically nothing from their own experience. Opinions are practically never  formed through the process of critical comparison of conflicting arguments, the masses simply get ready-made opinions, like their ready-made food from the supermarket,  and then they’ll decide in the general elections on the fate of themselves and others based on these ready-made opinions.   No doubt this mechanism seems to be the worst in the US among democracies,  the country which loves  so much to lecture other countries on democracy :

We understand the concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary that have been raised by people both inside and outside of this country. Some of these concerns are very serious. They need to be resolved democratically, by Hungarians, and this country’s democratic institutions, its checks and balances and rule of law, need to be strong enough to support that process.

The USA is the country among modern democracies  where there seems to be the sharpest divide by far between the (at most five percent) opinion -making elite and the undereducated, opinion-fed masses.  This opinion-feeding is not restricted to the media in our time though (BTW, the Latin word ‘media’ means “transmission, mediation”).  It’s a common thing, too, when it comes to history, social sciences, too.  Sadly I must say that it happens even in natural sciences to some extent.  No doubt natural sciences are the least infected with this opinion-feeding plague though.

Maybe a certain cultural-intelligence test to exclude the illiterate, the ones who are incapable of any independent thought,  from voting might help modern democracies.  In earlier times tying voting rights to having some minimal income or possessions (“cenzus”)  did act as a kind of cure for democracies then.  Of course this is almost like  comparing apples and oranges:  there was no TV, no radio, no Internet, there were only printed newspapers in those times.


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3 Comments

  1. Here is what democracy in Hungary needs: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NNCziUwPbp4

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  2. Angela Bogaczy

     /  02/02/2014

    ‘Opinions are practically never formed through the process of critical comparison of conflicting arguments, the masses simply get ready-made opinions …’

    There was an interesting example of this on 26 January, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day: The mainstream media went absolutely berserk nazi-ing at Jobbik, and by implication, but sometimes directly, at Hungarians generally, because Gabor Vona came to London to meet his UK-domiciled constituency. But those media completely neglected to mention that, on the very same day, there was an explicit antisemitic demonstration in France by 17,000 marchers who chanted things like ‘Jew, out of France’, and ‘Jew, France is not yours’: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=3be_1391077275 . (And no: the marchers were not Muslims.)

    Keeping Schtum of this event makes clear that the opinion-makers decided that it does not fit into the calculations.

    What would the media have done if anything even remotely like this had happened in Hungary?

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    • Yes, I happened to hear about that incident. It’s very telling that the entire German media, otherwise sooooo sensitive about “anti-Semitism in Hungary”, failed to report on this.

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