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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

Religious Gerrymandering

Common sense is the least common of the senses. What's more, common sense is intrinsically anti-democratic. Indeed, democracy is built on the assumption that no one knows better so we should better ask the people. That said, socialization can lead to a form of expediency in the democratic process. Namely, the idea that groups of people with common interests can be represented well by specific individuals. Representatives are a great solution. But one filled with problems and tensions. On the plus side, they can lead to the executive power of democracy hastened as hundreds of decisions can be made and regulations written in the time a single referendum can be cast. On the other side, representatives have to be given legitimacy. There has to be some rule or regulations that elect them and gives them power. Someone or something has to decide that the full set of representatives are representatives of society. Elected officials are a common way of having representatives that are representative of the will of the people in their districts. Yet, districts change. Some grow, some shrink. Without care, one representative could vote for a group dozens of times larger than another one (see the US senate for an example). But other problems can emerge in global settings. From what I understand, we have no global electoral system. I know of three systems that make decisions on a global basis, but their representatives are just absurd misrepresentations of the societies they govern.

United Nations

The world is filled with countries. Some with a few thousand people, some with thousands of millions. In the United Nations, voting happens often. Yet, the regulations passed are not always in the majority's best interest. For example, most people in the world are Asian. Yet, of the five permanent members of its security council. only one is Asian. Europe, which represents one in ten humans, has 40% of the votes. That is if as me, you consider Russia as a non-European nation. Worse still, in the security council, nations have veto power so on average, nothing can happen unless everyone wants it. And, one can ask: Why is a vote even needed if everyone agrees on a matter?


Things get a bit more democratic at the regulating body of the first of two religious bodies I will discuss in this post. At FIFA, every member has a vote. Members are not necessarily countries (but they sort of are). This sounds good as in each country there is a process to elect the official who represents their best interests. However, this system is actually worse than the UN, at least in one way. Not every country cares about football the same amount. Some countries might care more about cricket or hockey but still have the same weight in the decisions made by the organization. Therefore, at a FIFA meeting, you will have the representative of Brazil a country whose 200+ million people care about football, and the representative of Finland, whose 5 million care about hockey more than football. Furthermore, countries like India have never qualified for the World Cup. Yet, represent over 10% of the world population. In contrast to the UN and the fact, all humans care about global security. FIFA has a much harder problem to handle, which is why scandals surround the Swiss organization. Indeed, if each representative has the same power, and holds the reign over the fate of billions of dollars, whoever makes the deal can find a way to buy its cheapest coalition. A kind of corrupt fantasy league.

Catholic Church

Now, to the second religion of this post. The Catholic Church holds elections on a regular basis. There have been 250+ popes elected in history, and about one in seven people say they believe in the regulations set by the Roman Catholic pope. I say regulations because the Catholic church is a set of rules that define the boundaries of a faith. Some half a century ago, people went to mass in Latin! Even though only a rounding error of a minority spoke the dead language. The Catholic church elects its ruler by a democratic process. In 2013, at least two-thirds of the 115 Cardinals elected Jorge Maria Bergoglio as pope. But who are these cardinals? 25 were Italian, 59 European. Latin America, a subcontinent that holds 40% of the believers, has 19 votes. Asia and Africa, 11 each. Even though they jointly accounted for one-quarter of the Church of Peter. As a Latin American, this misrepresentation was crystal clear. I never cared about the repercussions of the 30-year war. The Pope might be in Rome, but the church lives where its people are. Only a quarter of Catholics live in Europe, but half the votes needed to elect Pope Francis came from its residents. The reason for this disparity is clear. A reigning Pope elects its cardinals. Other than Jonh Paull II, popes travel little, and thus it becomes easier to promote the sycophants around them than people around the world. If that leads Italy to have more votes than the subcontinent, where 40% of the believers live, well, that is just how it goes. Growing up, the remoteness and foreignness of the catholic church were palpable. Evangelical churches sprung out during my quarter of a century in Costa Rica as a response to the arbitrariness of the Roman church. Evangelicals could believe in a practiced religion, and their priests were the ultimate word. For over 60 years since Kenneth Arrow's dissertation, we know we cannot build fair voting systems. Yet, fairness is not even a question in these global institutions. How can one define fairness at the UN? Or FIFA, a massively successful media agency? Or at the Catholic church, the good old kingmaker of the middle ages looking for a rebranding in the industrial era. Fairness is essential for building a society, but it is absurdly ill-defined. Democracy is the best system to achieve it. But it is intrinsically flawed. How do we pull ourselves up from these lowly bootstraps?

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