By Daniela Castillo Esquivel - Student of International Relations
There is a common association between control mechanisms and authoritarian practices or, in other words, between control and an absence of freedom. While this can be a valid argument, it is not always true. There are many states who have shown the negative consequences of misuse of control, but, at the same time, there are many cases in which adding restrictions actually increases the amount of freedom and development of a person, which are essential for democracy. One example of this phenomenon can be seen in education, and while it might not seem like a priority, in order to maintain a democratic state (and a democratic culture) it is necessary to include appropriate control mechanisms in the educational system.
A control mechanism is a system of norms used to create and maintain certain parameters or specified bounds (Wordnik, s.f., para. 1). Besides it being a system, this concept can also be a way of communicating and giving feedback (Lewis, 1992, para. 2). This communication aspect is essential to control a system. “Feedback control is the basic mechanism by which systems (...) maintain their equilibrium or homeostasis.” (Lewis, 1992, para. 1). Without control mechanisms, feedback and proper communication would not be possible, and without communication (in this case between the state and the people), there is no true democracy.
But, is “controlling a system” truly democratic? Doesn’t the point of democracy is assuring people of free will? Well, the purpose of using feedback control and its mechanisms is exactly that: to prevent a control system from becoming an authoritarian practice. According to Cleveland (1919), “the purpose of a mechanism of control over government is not to develop or to use power, but to regulate the development and use of power” (Cleveland, 1919, p.2). There is a difference between using control to oppress and incite violence (like in the case of Venezuela) and using it as a source for connecting to people while respecting the state’s authority.
The way in which a state can assure to use power and control techniques correctly is by receiving and providing a good education. This education not only ensures that citizens, from a young age, will understand the importance of rules and how to respect them, but at the same time, invites people from both the government and general public to question things. Both, understanding and respecting the norms and utilizing critical thinking skills help democracy to develop and prevail. The more (appropriate) control is used in the present, the less of it will be needed for the future.
Before thinking of strategies of how to administer power, control, and authority, states need to focus on listening to the people, especially those who are still willing to learn, those in the educational system. “Feedback rather than a goal provides the major control mechanism” (Sweller, 1983, p. 3). There is no specific guide for becoming and staying a democratic state, but one thing is clear: education should always be the priority, it represents the future and will make a difference, because any state can claim to be democratic, but only some can actually become one.