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This Month's Scripture Verse:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How We Have Failed Our Democracy

In 2014, an academic study clearly said what many had been thinking before, that America is no longer functions as a democracy (click here and there).  Before that study was released, we had Noam Chomsky's book Failed States that told us the same thing (click here). Or we could simply look at the current list of Presidential candidates to learn the same lesson. While the Democrats have been telling us that the Rich are in control, the Republicans are acting as if that isn't a problem.

We've lost our democracy in the sense that people are no longer in control of the government. The last time they were was during the '60s when people took to the streets. The government was forced to respond to that activism on a number of issues from Civil Rights to women's rights to war. But when people take to the streets today, the government seems to pay little attention. After all, our government worked quickly to breakup the Occupy encampments while the big banks that helped cause the 2008 collapse are still as big as ever. And while many an Occupy protester went to jail, only one member of Wall Street did the same and that was only because he confessed. In addition, though we have had some changes in our laws, we are constantly told that we again facing the same kind of collapse we experienced in 2008 and for many of the same reasons. In the meantime, as with the Pentagon and Defense Industry, there exists a revolving door between appointed government positions and high paying positions either in the financial sector or with big corporations. For example, one of the key people who constructed Obamacare was a former employee of the largest health insurance company, WellPoint. And now that person has left her government position to work for a pharmaceutical company that supported Obamacare (click here).

And for all of the shenanigans we see in this revolving door between the private and public sectors, we the people are to blame. That is because our apathy-enabled ignorance and passivity has given those who are selling out our democracy a free rein to do what they want.  So what has led to we the people allowing the sellingout of our democracy?

This blog will note that there are three values on which a true democracy rests. And a failure to hold to these values results in the death of a democracy. That's right, we have failed our democracy instead of our democracy having failed us. This assertion that we have failed our democracy points to the fact that democratic processes alone do not a democracy make. The people in that democracy must hold to certain values in order to create a true democracy when using democratic processes. Otherwise, these processes will be used to serve a limited number of elites, which is what we have today.

What are those three values? The first value is to count people, regardless of who they are, as being more important than things. Martin Luther King Jr. said it this way (click here for the source of the quote):
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

What is great about King's quote is that he was very specific regarding the identity of the things that are so highly valued in a thing-oriented society. We could summarize what he said to this, when gadgets, profits, and property rights are more important than people... And currently, we are inundated with gadgets, especially social and entertainment media gadgets. And each time a new gadget comes out, we are told that we must have it to be further connected or anesthetized, I mean entertained. For where would we be without our entertainment?

 MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle has offered some sane criticisms of our all too easy passionate embrace of every new social media and other technology in her books Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation (click here and there). What she has written is very important since we are in a consumer society and thus we place more value on collecting things than on collecting and improving human connections. For many of us, we are content with the world so long as we have enough desired things. And thus, any change we would commit ourselves to working for is for the purpose collecting more things. If we read this month's quote of the month for this blog, we get an idea of what a thing-oriented society leads us to personally (click here for the source):
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.

When we are thing-oriented, more of us become like how the 1% are characterized: we are always looking for our new thing fix because we are never satisfied with what we have. And as we become more thing-oriented, the more people become mere objects to us as their only value rests in their willingness and ability to help us accumulate more things. And whereas King saw the growing war effort as competition for national resources that could have been used to  help the poor, the more thing-oriented society becomes the more that gadgets, profits, and property rights compete for people's commitments and concerns over their desires to help the vulnerable and do what is right.

The next value we need to look into is that of looking out for other people's interests as well as our own. One of the mistakes that both Marx and the Occupy Movement made was that, in the end, both saw the fix to the main problem in life is to being playing the same game but with different players. For Marx, he wanted the Proletariat to replace the Bourgeoisie as the ruling class. So while he wanted the position of the Proletariat improved, he still wanted to play a class-rule game. As for my Occupy Movement, again, scapegoating the 1% meant that others would take their place so that the 99% would flourish. But what would happen to the 1%? And how would we convince the people who so heavily rely on the 1% for their living to let the 99% rule?

Martin Luther King Jr. took a different approach. He wanted to persuade his opponents to join his side. And those who wouldn't be persuaded he wanted them to be controlled by the rule of law. This is one of the reasons why he so opposed both inner and outer violence. It was because the more violence one uses to force change, the less chance there is for reconciliation afterwards.

But we could also take a different approach to understand the need for looking out for others as well as ourselves. That approach is to draw an analogy between what Adam Smith said about the effects that the specialization of labor had on workers to the effects that the reduction of interest to self-interest has on any group. That just as labor becomes more specialized, the laborer becomes more stupid, so does working for the interests of one's own group only tends to limit the vision of those working for change. In both instances, a person's world is reduced to what they, and not others, experience. Thus, the more we focus solely on what happens to us and neglect what happens to others, the more likely we will oversimplify both our problems and solutions. That is because the more we think solely about ourselves, the fewer factors we have to include in our thinking. This principle is at work both within a nation and outside of it.

Now in most cases, our need to care about other groups comes in response to the suffering and marginalization of other groups. But our concern for other groups should also be extended for those we see as our opponents. For what we should be telling the 1%, which consists of those who are rich enough to have the government's ear, is that we all need to care for each other. That instead of scapegoating them for public scorn and punishment, we need to persuade them to end their economic apartheid. And for those who will not be persuaded, we can use our democracy to control the harm they would inflict on others. But here, we should realize that when the privileged cause others to suffer, it is usually because those privileged are thing-oriented rather than person-oriented.

Finally, we need to look at how we want to share society with others. The battle over same-sex marriage serves as a perfect example here. For when many of my fellow religiously conservative Christians fought to prevent same-sex marriage from being legally allowed in society, what we were saying to those from the LGBT community was that we believed that we should share society with them in a hierarchical fashion. And we identified that fashion as being one where we held a degree of privilege over them in determining what they could and could not experience and enjoy. The negative way of saying that was that we were refusing to share society with those from the LGBT community as equals. And that was our sin.

Unless we are willing to share society with others as equals, what will occur is that the values of competition and conquest that come from our economic system will become the values of our democracy. And thus, we will look at our democratic processes as tools to be used to compete and gain a superior place in society over others. Thus, instead of enjoying joint rule where we work together and protect each others' rights, we use our democratic processes as tools to gain supremacy for ourselves. And as long as the majority agree with us, we claim to have a democracy. But  in essence, it is a tyranny.

The drivers that work against the values that produce a working democracy are easy to spot. Materialism drives us to be thing-oriented rather than person-oriented. Christians should never surrender to materialism seeing how the Scriptures clearly speak against valuing wealth and things over people. Meanwhile, tribalism blinds us to the concerns of others as well as tells us that we are entitled to rule over other groups.

Now while many of my fellow religiously conservative Christians have tried to tell me that our nation and society can only properly operate when the majority of people are Christians and hold to Christian values, experience begs to differ. For we see many Christians who suffer from affluenza as well as those who are intent on ruling over others. As a result, many religiuosly conservative Christans fail to look out for the welfare of those who hold to different views. The same-sex marriage debate showed this to be true. And such is a tragedy for Christianity because the desire for power over others is antithetical to what the New Testament taught.

So while 3 values have been identified as being essential to democracy, democracy has 2 enemies. The more materialistic we are, and the more tribal we become, the more we sabotage our own democracy and give way to the rule of some elite group who promises to take care of us by giving us what we want. 

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