Democracy != freedom

Watching all the coverage of the protests/riots/uprising in Egypt and elsewhere, I’m always struck by the idiotic things Americans say in response. (Not surprised, note. Just struck.)

The latest thing is the man-on-the-street interviews about how “oh yes, we should help Egypt get democracy” and “democracy is the best thing ever” and equally trite statements. What most people fail to realize is that democracy does not equal freedom.

Democracy means everyone gets a say in how things are done. Hey – we have that here! And yet, every day, we’re just a little less free despite the right to vote. Because no matter how we vote, government continues to encroach on our freedoms in the name of protecting the children and the wildlife and our lives.

Freedom means you own yourself. You get to say what you eat, how you use your body and how you protect yourself. No voting required for a country to provide that level of civil liberty to its people.

Would it be nice for Egypt to have real elections rather than the shams of the past 30 years? Yes. Is democracy a good step toward increasing freedoms? Yes (since benevolent dictator jobs generally go unfilled).

But there is something far more important than the right to put an X on a ballot. And the more we confuse the two, the easier it is for democracy to become kabuki and freedom to become eroded.

Photo credit: The unnamed on flickr, used under a CC license