December 15, 2019liberal democracynaturedebates with my daughters

Democratic decisionmaking in the household

The amount of chaos in a system is proportional to Nth power of 2, where N is the number of children present.

Deccan Herald This is from my Debates with My Daughters column that appeared in the Deccan Herald in 2019-20

We realised the challenges and limitations of liberal democracy soon after Airy, our second child, was old enough to express an opinion. From what to have for dinner to the seating arrangement around the table involves a series of negotiations, compromises, solemn promises with no enforcement mechanisms and ultimately, voting. When Victor—our third— came along, the decision-making problem got even more challenging, even if he was more accommodating than his older sisters. Pai’s First Theorem of Parenting thus reads the amount of chaos in a room is proportional to Nth power of 2, where N is the number of children present.” A later addendum expands the term N” to include both children and non-human members of the family, specifically dogs.

Ahead of holidays, the problem of liberal democratic family decision-making turns to the question of where should we go this time?”. Strangely, in retrospect, the children are unanimous that the decision making was seldom democratic. Fairy complained that after we moved back to India, the first time we went to a remote Himalayan village miles away from anywhere. The second time, you took us to a village on the west coast where we found a frog in the toilet bowl, and we spent days wondering which direction it had come from. The following year we found ourselves at a rainforest research station in the Western Ghats with cat-sized lizards inside our room and a pit viper just outside. A few months later we were in yet another forest with dozens of leeches sticking to your feet.” She contends that all these choices were made by a powerful oligarchy that used information asymmetry and budgetary control to force decisions on everyone, all the time cleverly packaged as democracy.

My contention is that as city dwellers, it is good for us to experience the countryside and the wilderness. Having spent part of my childhood in a small town in the hills, I love forests and want my children to share the joy of outdoor activities in the lap of nature. And then there’s the science — from identifying flora and fauna, to figuring out where they live, where they grow, what they taste like…it’s like your science and geography textbooks coming alive.

Fairy’s argument, in her own words is this: Humans have over millennia built shelter, high rise buildings, malls and cities to get away from nature, so why are we fixated on returning to our roots as cave-people, hunters & gatherers?” Since we’ve struggled so hard to move in this direction, why go backward? She’s particularly annoyed with the prospectus that advertises beautiful foliage, vast scenery and colourful plants but leaves out arthropods and annelids that bite you and suck your blood. No such problems in nice hotel rooms with room service.

There are many more Debates with my Daughters here

Airy is somewhat convinced, but astutely separates going to nature camps with her friends from family vacations. On the latter, she’s on the same side as her elder sister—that we should visit cities and do stuff” in cities.

The problem, for me, is that the voters have become more educated over the years. In addition to using their vote as a veto, they have discovered the power of collective voting, and have altered the decision-making calculus.

I no longer have to shake my shoes before putting them on.



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