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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Democracy's Enemies

This blogpost is an attempt to restate and then go beyond what was said in last Tuesday's, December 9 post (click here). In that post this blog made a distinction between democracy as a state of being for society from democracy being a description of a set of political processes followed by the government. In the former, a democracy is where all of the people in society rule. There is an equality implied in this definition. For if only certain groups rule, then not all of the people can participate in the making of society's rules.

In the latter definition, democracy is where people vote for or against certain legislation as well as for the candidates of their choice. Here, democracy isn't describing an end result, but a process that is practiced by its members.

Now we should note that we can't have a democracy in terms of the state of being for a society without democratic processes. But the converse is not true. The employment of democratic processes by a political structure does not guarantee that all of the people will have an equal place in society. We only need to look at our own nation, state, city, and so forth for proof. 

Thus, if we are seeking a democratic state of being for society, not only will we use democratic processes to press our own demands, we will use them to protect the rights and status of others, especially those who are battling marginalization.  And this is where our nation's notion and practice of democracy are most deficient. While too many of us have seen democracy as a set of tools to use to raise our own position, we have forgotten our responsibilities and obligations to others. Why is this the case?

We have 3 personal motivations that work against wanting a democracy where everybody shares society as equals. These motivations are a sense of entitlement, ambition, and greed. We should note that we can work against democracy for more than one reason--there is no quota here.

A sense of entitlement comes into play when a group feels that it has a right to dominate over other groups. This domination has been based on racial differences, economic class differences, ideological differences, and delusions of one's own moral superiority. For Christians, the most recent exhibition of our desire to share society with others as being their superiors is seen in the same-sex marriage debate. After all, not only do we view ourselves as being morally superior to homosexuals, by opposing same-sex marriage, we believe that we are protecting society from sliding down the slippery slope of sexual moral decay. This is why we have opposed the "judicial activism" that has reversed democratically decided legislation banning same-sex marriage. And in many places where we have lost the court battle, we have pushed for Jim Crow type laws that would allow us to stigmatize homosexuals by refusing to provide goods and services to either them or their ceremonies. 

This refusal to share society with homosexuals as equals is an indicator that our claims to being spiritually superior are delusional. Romans 3:9 proves our claims to be false.

The above shows an example of entitlement. Many of us Christians believe that we have not only the right definition of marriage, we have the necessary definition for the benefit of the nation. Thus, we feel justified in pushing our agenda at the expense of equality for homosexuals.

And though there are other examples of where other groups feel entitled to push to the margins those to whom they feel superior, the striving of Conservative Christians to maintain a privileged position in society for themselves and pushing of homosexuals to the margins of society provides the epitome of one group feeling entitled to dominate over another group.  The attitude of many of us Conservative Christians regarding same-sex marriage is that not only are we are right and they are wrong, we are protecting society from hurting itself. Therefore we have the right, and even responsibility, to prohibit homosexuals from enjoying what we enjoy, being married to the person of their choice. Such an approach does not work for a democratic state of being in society. 

Another personal motivation that works against a democratic society is ambition. This ambition could be paired with a sense of entitlement or could consist solely of the desire to conquer. To give an example, I was talking to one group about my experiences at Occupy Wall Street and how we used consensus as a democratic process in reaching decisions. One of the women in the group strongly disagreed with me. Why did she disagree? It was because she lived in poverty and was powerless and thus her goal was to gain as much power as she could so she control society as much as possible. This is an example of ambition. It is the desire to conquer and reign over others. And what was sad in this case was that the implications of this person winning control over others in society did not stir any kind of reaction from the rest of the group.

And when we look at our political landscape, because of the ambitions of the people in the two major political parties, we find that many of the people we vote for look at winning elections as a way to get their way in politics and government. Some do this for the glory--that is for the sense of significance that comes from winning and getting some kind or recognition from others. To them, it is merely a competition, another game to win. Others simply want to rule and dominate over the rest because they felt that it was their turn. In either case, ambition drove their striving to win. And perhaps, the democracy label from our democratic processes eased any misgivings over the new control over others which they obtained. Such is the problem with reducing democracy to the set of political processes that involve elections. For we should note that such people are not easy to work or negotiate with.

The final personal motivation that works against a democratic society is greed. With greed, we are focused on the goods and wealth we can obtain and we start to care less and less about the welfare and equality of others because we look at those others as objects. If these objects can help us get wealthy, we feign respect for them in order to use them. If they cannot help us get rich, we count them as disposable. When companies offshore their work in order to maximize profits for shareholders, the welfare of the employees who lose their jobs is not considered. In fact, these employees have no voice in publicly owned companies because the only ones whose voice is heard there are those who own stock and the executives. All others can be let go at a moment's notice. 

And if we think that this only happens in business, we need to look again. Bill after bill, in this country, are written by lobbyists whose chief concern is how much revenue their employers can gain from their work. No one else matters. That is why the chief beneficiaries of Obamacare are Health Insurance companies and corporate medical facilities. Energy companies benefit from relaxed environmental regulations. The big banks and other financial sector companies have benefited from relaxed regulations in the past and from the lack of criminal prosecutions even when some of our financial institutions laundered drug money today. And how many companies benefit from our foreign policies and the use of our military.

Martin Luther King Jr described our society as being a 'thing-oriented' oriented society. What he meant was that gadgets, profits, and property rights were counted as more important than people and taking care of them. And those who are so thing-oriented will be too concerned with the latest technology, making the most money, and using property rights to excuse themselves from responsibilities to care about whether all have an equal place in society. Such an equal place does not imply that everyone would have the same income level. Rather, an equal place in society means that the welfare of all is counted as equally important so that none are either exploited or marginalized.

We could learn what a democratic state of being for society means by studying the decision making processes used at Occupy Wall Street. It isn't that their way of making decisions was without flaw or that it wouldn't have to be modified for society at large. But the basic aim in how Occupy made decisions protected the equal status of those in the group. One block could table a proposal. Such a process prevents a tyranny of the majority. But more importantly, it caused people to listen to others who had different concerns and so proposals and procedures received revision after revision until there were no blocks. 

Here, it isn't the exact procedures that we should carry over from Occupy to society that is important. It isn't the methods that we can learn from, it is the intention and the spirit that existed there that we would do well to imitate. For there, there was a sincere desire to craft statements that everyone could agree with. Everyone was listened to. Yes, Occupy Wall Street did not carry out their decision making processes perfectly. But the idea that we legislated through cooperation and listening rather than competing for support made a more democratic state of being for the Occupy encampments.

All of the above points to a dilemma for America. For the values from our economic system which are most highly valued, greed and competitiveness, are two traits that work against creating a democratic state of being for society. Thus, if we want an equality that comes from a true democracy, we have a choice to make.



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