I have to admit that my faith in humanity has slipped a bit in the last few weeks. I used to think that our better side would predominate when things got tough, but now I’m not so sure. I still think we could pull it out but it is going to take some doing. We are at a point where we have to decide whether we really want to have a democracy or not. It is not a casual proposition. If we want it, we are going to have to fight for it.
It is at a time like this that I was so grateful to get advice from one of my favorite wise persons, Frances Moore Lappé. In her recent article, “What Is Democracy Anyway? Let’s Talk,” she calls democracy a cultural journey, not an endpoint. “It is a journey toward that which brings out the best in us, and away from that which brings out the worst in us.” She sees three main factors. Democracy is a journey away from concentration of power and toward dispersion of power. Secondly, it is a journey away from secrecy and toward transparency. Thirdly, it is a movement away from a culture of blame and toward a culture of mutual accountability.
The first is dispersion of power. Where we see concentrations of power, we need to break them up or make them directly accountable to us. Large corporations and government come to mind first. Any temporary gains made by concentration of power are eventually lost through the degradation of character of those wielding that power. Only when we equally share power in our government and corporations and share equally in the decision-making concerning our land and resources, will we have the best chance of cultivating our better nature.
We need to move away from secrecy and toward transparency because we are then less likely to do something slimy that we wouldn’t want out in the light of day. We’ve all been there, and we all know it is true.
Thirdly, we need to move away from a culture of blame and toward mutual accountability. This follows directly from the first. We naturally blame those that we feel have power over us, that are making decisions that affect us. If we feel that we have taken part in the decisions, we will more likely accept the consequences and work together to make improvements. It is very clear that the Blamer-in-Chief has contributed greatly to a mutually hateful atmosphere that threatens to break out in widespread violence, but we are all guilty of this. Blaming and excluding others is one of the ugliest traits of humanity. Stop blaming others for the situation we are in and start thinking about how we can fix it.
I heard a story yesterday on the radio that theorized that liberals’ and conservatives’ brains are wired differently. Liberals tend to be more trustful and not particularly worried about disorder. Conservatives tend to be less trustful and like things to be clear and orderly. Both natures have value, and we have to quit trying to convince each other that our way is the only way. We have to agree to disagree and find the right path from the interplay of our two natures. That doesn’t mean we condone destructive behavior or allow anybody to be treated with disdain or lack of respect.
If we accept the fact that we are flawed beings, we have to resist the urge to indulge in our dark side.
Coming around to the present, let’s remember that we have a very important election right now, and the only way we can peacefully work toward the democracy we want is to vote for candidates that will help us create it. If your choice falls short of some of your expectations, be sure to let them know as soon as and as often as possible that you have reservations. This election is very important because it is nothing less than a referendum on the kind of behavior that pervades our politics now and whether we really want or deserve a democracy.
For us in Washington, voting is about as easy as it gets. Our ballots are mailed to us, and they are even pre-stamped this year. In other parts of the country, people drive many miles and stand in line for hours to vote. Last week in Afghanistan, people faced the very real possibility of a bomb going off in their midst (and a couple did), barely functioning polling places, and openly fraudulent election commissions, and they still had a turnout equal to ours here where far too many of us simply can’t be bothered to fill out our ballots and send them in.
Think seriously about what system you want to live under. If you like the freedom and security you have, you had better participate in the government that provides it for you.