вторник, септември 06, 2005

The Democracy Trap

The Democracy Trap

Political Analysis, published in OhMyNews on 15 July 2005

[Analysis] Today's most pressing problems call for an alternative to one of our most hallowed ideas

During his reign Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius thought about restoring the republic. He failed. In fact, almost none of his contemporaries understood his idea, which was also neglected by his successors until the Roman Empire disappeared. Probably it could be useful for us today to try to understand his motives.

Being one of the brightest men of his time, Marcus Aurelius concluded that the situation in Rome was beginning to escape the control of the authorities because of two opposing factors. Firstly, it was the emperor's power, which depended entirely on the personal qualities and ambitions of one person. Theoretically, if an emperor was relatively educated and ready to sacrifice some elements of his luxurious life for the good of society, the situation would not be so bad. But who was able to give a guarantee that the next emperor would be good enough?

Secondly, there were the so-called plebeians. It is hard to believe today, but the needs of the plebeians were among the main concerns of the powerful Roman emperors. The explanation: They were difficult to control. Evidently, it was no problem to kill every plebeian separately, but as a mass they were invincible. They were the People of Rome, the Public and the Participants in every significant event of the state. So, the emperors played along with the plebeians and ensured that their essential needs -- i.e., food and entertainment -- were fulfilled.

Marcus Aurelius tried to transfer part of the responsibility for the governing of the society to society itself. He understood the impossibility of the idea of one person finding a solution for all the problems in society. In fact, he recognized the supremacy of democracy in social life.

At this moment someone probably should ask me, why does this have anything to do with today? The answer is: Because not so much in our social life has changed since the time of the Roman Empire; we are governed by the same basis of law and we face a lot of the same problems. What is essential is we still do not understand the basic and most important contradiction of our lives, that democracy does not have an alternative, but it also cannot resist its own imperfections.

The easiest way to prove this is by taking a look at the main problems of our own time:

1. The increasing gap between rich and poor
2. The war
3. Terrorism
4. The lack of resources to support the growing population
5. Water
6. Nutrition
7. Energy
8. Health care
9. Education
10. Climate change
11. Globalization on one side, and religions and national traditions on the other

Honestly, even one of these problems could be sufficient to disturb the functionality of a social system. All of them together is a very challenging puzzle, which has the ability to destroy human society on Earth, or at least to disturb it to the extent that the achievements of our civilization for the last couple of centuries are erased.

The delay is due to the fact that some of these factors interfere with each other and shift public attention in the other direction. But as one can see, this is not a real solution, but a sort of auto-suggestion or postponement, when what we really must do is find real solutions to these problems. And don't forget, the price to be paid later -- as usual -- will be higher.

Let's look at how some of these factors interact, and try to see deeper under the surface.

Even from the first glance it is clear that some of the above problems are provoked by the others. Also, not all of them have the same urgency. Thus, if can close the gap between poor and rich, we eventually will possess more resources to face the other problems. But from another point of view, when someone distributes money that is not his own, money and resources can be wasted (1). It's a catch 22, isn't it? And there is no guarantee that private management of funds will always be more efficient or honest than state management.

These problems are so complex it is impossible to analyze them in one article. So, we will try to concentrate on one problem, which is often underestimated or ignored. Let's take a look at the problem of overpopulation and its interactions with the other factors in our system.

In the beginning of the 1980s the Earth's population was around 5 billion people. Today, 25 years later, there are over 6.5 billion people.

According to the Population Institute report quoted by Raza Naqvi from the Washington Times entitled "Breeding Insecurity: Global Security Implications of Rapid Population Growth," "the world's population will increase from 6.5 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, with most of the increase occurring in developing countries."

If we take into consideration that developing countries will witness a major portion of this boom, humanity will face a situation never seen before. On one side, the aged population in the developed countries will hold the majority of the goods and capital, but will gradually lose its vitality and capacity to manage it's own destiny.

On the other, the young population of the developing countries will have to fight for a small portion of all the available goods and capital. If you add to the picture the increased speed of the flow of information worldwide, it is doubtful that these young people will sit and wait peacefully for the other side to decide when it should be generous and how much it should give.

Everyone can guess the name of such a situation. For me, it begins with "re" and ends with "volution." But I do not dare to pronounce it entirely. Simply, I do not want to be labeled a "leftist" or something similar, because I am not. I'm simply trying to be reasonable.

Here we arrive at one factor we mentioned only partially: technology. Its exponential development rewards power-hungry individuals and groups. It is of interest to powerful lobbies and political circles, and gives the feeling of power and unlimited possibilities. This is an extremely dangerous misbelief with unpredictable consequences.

One thing is true: The era of popular mass revolutions is probably gone. But still, it doesn't mean local revolts -- in different forms -- should not occur. One among the others from the above list is terror. According to the report mentioned earlier, "Revolution and other manifestations of political unrest are likely to originate within groups of youth looking to change the current political system." The report says 40 percent of the world's population is under the age of 20, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries.

Perhaps, you may agree with me, something is deeply wrong with the fundamental values of democracy. We were all are told since our first day that everything depends on us, because we are the people, and because we have the capacity to do something, to concentrate ourselves and all our efforts on a real purpose. Since one is born society tries to forcefully implant in his or her mind that we defend common interest and values. Wrong! There is no such thing as "common values." Every social group has its own.

"Le Roi Soleil" Louis XIV said, "L'Etat, c'est moi" ("I am the State"). He was honest to recognize this, what he saw as a responsibility. Today, someone or a group of people with a couple of billions behind them have a lot more influence on the development or degeneration of the world than the Sun King at his time. But is the same true for responsibilities? I doubt it.

Yes, this is the kind of future we have to expect because of the imperfections of democracy. Contrary to our commonly accepted belief that democracy is something nearly perfect, you can find different points of view in all the available encyclopedias. I recommend that you have a look at the article in Wikipedia.

We often witness abuses of the rights of one group of citizens by another. Need an example? Look at the situation of refugees. There are thousands and thousands of legitimate, real claimants worldwide. But there is also a significant number of fake claimants, who are trying to profit from the system to obtain for themselves the benefits, which others deserve.

From a purely logical point of view such behavior represents both the incapacity of society to defend the rights of the people who need this kind of protection for their survival, and also the deception of the individuals who have learned to profit from the system itself, i.e., from democracy.

With the exponential population growth the value of the human life will diminish drastically. Need proof? At the beginning of the 20th century crime was so stressful for society that newspapers devoted whole sections to the topic.

Today, we work with big numbers. Almost no one is impressed by a headline that announces a single person was killed in Afghanistan. It is true that the constant bombardment of news suppresses our ability to react adequately. But it is also true that the center of the public attention is constantly moving toward the things that affect the whole society, ignoring something as insignificant as a single, ordinary citizen.

Another questionable characteristic of democracy is related to the proclaimed a priori equal rights of every individual, without taking into consideration his or her contribution to society. As a consequence, many asocial individuals and groups have learned to profit from the system and abuse it.

So, to generalize a little bit, here is a series of problems:

1. We all know that the democracy is not perfect, but we do not know what to replace it with. Another related problem is that every time someone dares to speak about this topic in public, he automatically receives some pejorative labels and is alienated. The result is the out-of-control reproduction of the internal defects of society. In other words, society is killing its own defense system, and very few people seem to care about that.

2. Overpopulation will gradually push the situation out of control. Uncontrolled population growth in developing countries, combined with aging populations in developed countries, should provoke a constantly growing imbalance between the real needs of the society and the available resources.

The reasonable question is, What can be done to avoid chaos when the social system goes out of control because of a lack of resources? What can we do to preserve the strength of personal initiative and avoid the sense of dissatisfaction of creative individuals?

The answer could be found in one word: meritocracy. Please be patient enough to read further. I am not proposing the abolishment of everything good, created and realized by democracy as a system. I am simply proposing to elaborate a new system, based on the principles of the meritocracy, in keeping with the good aspects of democracy. We the people have enough information, experience, culture and education to change the system without destroying the foundation of society. For those of you who are not familiar with this idea, I propose that you read about meritocracy in Wikipedia.

Contrary to the opinion that the word has a pejorative significance, according to the Web site World Wide Words, "... the current furor began with the recent British General Election, in which Tony Blair, the Labor Prime Minister, made much of his commitment to what he regularly described as meritocracy. This word is very widely used, even more so in the United States than in Britain. It is usually employed in the sense in which Mr. Blair seems from his speeches to have meant a social system which allows people to achieve success proportionate to their talents and abilities, as opposed to one in which social class or wealth is the controlling factor (2)."

Meritocracy has to be understood as a system giving priority to the personal qualities of every individual and his or her capacity to contribute to the common welfare. It is time to accept it as a basis for redistribution of goods and other resources in society. Finally, it is the only principle based on pure justice. In any case, supremacy has to conform to meritocratic principles. In other words, the only criteria for success has to be personal qualities: knowledge, ability and willingness to contribute to society.

Approximately half the population of the world for one or another reason does not participate in the development of society. I do not dare to imagine 9 billion people with the same proportion of inactive population. Do not get me wrong! I do not argue that they have to stay in this sorry position. Just the opposite! But the reality is that the proportion of the world population actually contributing to society diminishes every year.

This is a statistic and not an emotional perception of the situation. The only way to realize the potential of the people and give them a chance to participate actively in social life is to assure fundamental change in the way they are evaluated. Today's form of democracy simply cannot achieve this goal.

It is time (hopefully it is not too late!) to understand that being born into a super-rich family does not guarantee the use of wealth in a way that is acceptable for society as a whole. With the constant mergers of multinational conglomerates and the banking system, the concentration of power in the hands of haphazardly chosen people increases exponentially. That also goes for the opportunity for uncontrolled waste of resources.

Contemporary society simply cannot afford that. Our available resources are limited and must be used for the good of society. Yes, strange as it may seem at first, the meritocratic principles of governing the economy are necessary for a correctly functioning global economy.

So, if we radically change our social organization, if we stop the unnecessary wasting of resources, we shall witness a global society based on the principles of increased respect for human qualities. I hope so from the bottom of my heart! Otherwise, we should meet the consequences of our inactivity, which threatens to push our world toward chaos and self-destruction.

2005-07-09 07:19
©2005 OhmyNews
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