Friday, October 30, 2020

I Dare Nando's to Serve Democratic Meals

In our stupid culture full of stupid people, one of the ways you demonstrate moral purity is by repeating platitudes without thinking clearly about them. 

Recently, Nando's did a stunt to help people realize the value of democracy. You can watch the videos here. People could order an "UnDemocratic Meal", which then mean they were served whatever crazy awful food combination the PR people choose for them, such as brownies with mayonnaise or whatnot. 

The problem, of course, is that while it was a decent critique of dictatorship (even then, dictators sometimes have incentives to keep their subjects happy), it was not a defense of democracy.

I'd hereby dare Nando's to create a Democratic Meal package. Here's how it works: When you get to the counter, you order the meal and you then put in your preference for whatever food items you actually want. Your meal then consists of whatever food preferences have received the plurality of votes so far.

"Hey, I ordered the Democratic Meal and said I wanted a Nandoca's Choice with XX hot sauce and a side of Portuguese rice. But you have me a lemon herb chicken breast with fries." 

"That's how democracy works! Democracy means other people choose for you, just a like in a dictatorship. The difference is who chooses. In dictatorships, the dictator chooses for you. In democracies, everyone else chooses for you."

This is one reason why defense of democracy on the grounds that they empower us as individuals or give us autonomy as individuals fail. See chapter four of Against Democracy. (Note that while lots of people have critique AD's defense of epistocracy, basically no one has tried to defend democracy from the critiques in chapters 3 and 4.)

Indeed, I used this very example before in my own writings:

Consider: On the day I write this sentence, the best-selling album in the United States is Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear. I find Sia’s music trite, simplistic, and irritating. I much prefer the progressive metal band Opeth. But Sia’s popularity doesn’t make my life any better or worse. I can just decide not to listen to her music. In fact, I’d never heard of Sia, and hadn’t heard any of her music, until I wrote this paragraph. I had to look up the best-seller on the Billboard 200, and then listen to her on iTunes to form an opinion. 


Or consider: Pizza Hut is the most popular pizza chain in the United States. I find their pizza is gross. I’m no foodie, but I much prefer Chef Will Artley’s wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas at Pizzeria Orso to Pizza Hut’s fare. But it makes little difference to me that Pizza Hut is popular. I never have to eat there again if I don’t want to do so. 


In markets, we don’t have to agree, because others choose only for themselves. We have different tastes, but we don’t have to resolve our differences in taste. We don’t have to deliberate over what’s best if we don’t want to, because everyone is free to choose for herself. 


Imagine instead that we removed these decisions from the market, and put them to a democratic vote. Suppose we had to choose one pizza maker or one music performer for everyone. It will be Domino’s vs. Pizza Hut—Pizzeria Orso is out. It will be Justin Bieber versus Sia—Opeth is out. If we turned these market decisions into political decisions, we would probably decide that everyone must eat Pizza Hut and listen to Sia.

I don't blame Nando's for doing this. It sounds good, despite it being stupid, and it's good PR. However, if you have to defend democracy by misrepresenting how democracy works, you haven't actually defended democracy. If you have to defend the value of a vote by misrepresenting how voting works, you haven't actually defended voting. If your contribution to civic culture is to create propaganda that stultifies the public and reduces their understanding of democracy, you can't call yourself pro-democratic. 

At any rate, let be lesson for everyone: If you want to defend democracy, you better defend democracy, not something else. The term for the system in which you as an individual get what you as an individual want is...the market.