Pundita is on vacation and will return to blogging on September 16; in the meantime (excepting on Sundays) the blog will reprise some of her earlier essays. The following Golden Oldie was originally published in April 2005.
Sometime during the 1970s we passed into a new chapter in the saga of the human race. Here is the outline: Present technology + human population number + Amazon going up in flames due to bad development projects + rapidly escalating desertification + present phase of earth's cycle + very limited knowledge about dealing with problems of mass populations.
The earth has her own cycle of life--as we saw on the day we refer to as the Tsunami. Yet we can't tell the earth, "Please suspend your cycle until we get it together."
That means we're now operating on a very thin margin of error. One of the many recent signs of this was the heroic Canadian doctor who battled SARS to the death in a hospital in Canada. She had to wage battle with her back to the wall of bureaucratic bungling. That kind of situation is happening more and more. Yet when we're routinely having to depend on just one person to save us from a mega-disaster, this is a clear sign of system failure. It's a sign that our margin of error has shrunk to near zero.
Those who talk about saving humanity from disaster are referencing opportunity that is long gone. The ship left the pier decades ago. Given the combination of factors, there is no way humanity can avoid crashing into the metaphorical iceberg. However, the Titanic passengers who were killed did not die because of the impact of the ship's crash. They died because the ship maker and the shipping company didn't build in margins of error. They assumed the ship was unsinkable so--not enough lifeboats, no disaster drills, no backup SOS system, etc.
We can't avert all coming disasters but we can widen our margin of error--minimize our exposure to disasters and maximize our responses to them. There's plenty enough human brainpower for the task, thanks to our mega-population. The challenge is to get more of the brainpower involved with governing decisions and oversight.
That's where democratic government comes in. Democracy is no longer just about the choice between freedom and slavery. It's about transferring decision-making from small numbers (an 'elite') to large numbers with their vast diversity of experience and education. It's about the human race making it through this century in one piece.
Here we come to a snag. There are two democracy doctrines; one is phony. The Democracy Bubble of the 1980s and 1990s, when it burst, left many people round the world feeling cheated by their experiment in democracy. But they didn't really have democracy. They were sold a form of government that's a stage show run by a small circle.
How did so many people get taken in? Pundita's been trying to figure that out, in the manner of a bunko squad detective taking apart a con. I've zeroed in on the word 'freedom,' which is the word I hear most associated with democracy. Remove the dom and you're left with free--the con artist's favorite word.
(To the tune of "A Christmas Song" sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks):
Freedom for you and freedom for me!
We'll be free with democracy!
We won't worry when we are freeeeee!
All we do is vote and see
Our leaders will make us free!
Freedom is not free. It has a very high price and the payment is not a one-time shot. It's a huge ongoing investment of time and because time is money in the modern world, it's lot of money to invest. So the question is whether all the freedoms that come with democratic government are worth the high price for all peoples in all circumstances. From a Darwinian perspective, and during earlier eras, the answer would be no; the Democracy Stage Show Kit essay looks briefly at one reason--the exhaustion factor. But the choice is no longer about accepting democracy. The choice is how well the human race survives this century.
A Palestinian once told Pundita that humanity has no worries about the future because Muslim prophets have said that the end of the world is near. Hello, the end of the world is sure enough near for some peoples if they don't get cracking but we're not looking at a doomsday scenario in this century. We're looking at hell on earth for a lot more people, if we don't get more brainpower set to work on the problems we're facing. The fastest and best way to do this is via genuine democratic government beep this is a recording.
The US government needs to take all the above into consideration, the next time they decide to cut corners--for the greater good--and support a democracy stage show. They need to update their concept of the greater good. Same goes for the governments in other developed countries. Let's get it together, ladies and gentlemen, because this earth will not suspend her schedule of events while we're working through our issues.
In the Democracy Stage Show Kit I noted, "We have simply passed the era when a small elite could be counted on to properly manage the problems of governing a populace. It takes large numbers of people to efficiently govern populations that run into the hundreds of millions. "
In his commentary Zenpundit observes, "This point is not merely one of functionality but of political legitimacy."
I agree, and yet functionality and political legitimacy must converge, else the concept of 'government' is rendered invalid. I don't know the exact population number that has to be reached before tribal government begins to break down but at some point up in the thousands, it does. The same for imperial government when the population rises to the millions. "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold."
From then on, the choice is to rule by force or bring in democracy, which can efficiently govern very large numbers. Yet the functionality of democracy has not been emphasized during the past century; democracy has been presented as a philosophical subject and ideal. That's allowed for a lot of fuzzy inspirational talk and not much talk about the nuts of bolts of democratic government. That's what is missing, when we preach democracy. A little less preaching, a little more explanation. That would make it harder to palm off a show for the real deal.
We might try something new for a change and get creative. Someone could think up a board game that has players set up a democratic government. Then would come the computer game. Then the movie and the theme park.
Better yet--ask Mark Burnett to create a reality show on setting up a democratic government. Maybe we could get a LDC government to cooperate. The president of the country could give the same task to different members of his government then fire the one who did worst with the task. You could spin a soap opera off it. The BBC would pick it up; it could go on playing forever all around the world, like EastEnders.
Well why not, if you really want to see 'the masses' learn democratic government? But gee come to think of it, there never has been that much interest in teaching the masses the actual nuts and bolts of democratic government. What we've had is--
Freedom for you and freedom for me!
We'll be free with democracy...