“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.
‘Demos’ coming as it does from the Greek word for common people, today also refers to the populace of a democracy as a political unit. A ‘Citizen’ is a legal inhabitant of a nation or state, one who is entitled to all the rights and privileges of a free person. Inhabitants of monarchies and authoritarian states cannot be Citizens. They are technically, Subjects with limited freedoms, few rights who, by definition, are ‘subjected’ to the decisions and vagaries of their rulers.
Who We Are
We are a voluntary initiative created for the express purpose of strengthening the values of open, free, and self-governing societies- what democracies were meant to be. Started by Meta-Culture, a human engagement and thinking studio (www.meta-culture.in) we will partner with other individuals, groups and organizations who are similarly committed to rediscovering and re-creating the civic culture necessary for a thriving democracy.
Over the years there have been various approaches and innovations giving rise to as many variations to democracy as there are groups and ideologies in human society. This includes direct, representative or participatory democratic systems. Many consider the holding of free and fair elections or the presence of institutions, with their much vaunted checks and balances, to be the essence of democracy. Alas, there is little that is simple, natural or obvious about democracy. Democracy, as confusing as the term has become, is an extraordinary experiment in self-government that is counter intuitive to the very human propensity for reactivity and need for instant gratification. As overly enthusiastic Western Presidents and Prime Ministers have tragically demonstrated, it is just as futile to encourage democracy with generous foreign aid as it is to bomb a people into respecting human rights. At CitizenDEMOS, we understand democracy to be a very complex balancing act between institutions, robust adherence to procedures, and mature human beings.
The Democratic Triad- Hardware, Software, and Mindware
Institutions such as the branches of Democracy, the legislature, judiciary, and the executive are the hardware. The laws, decision making processes, electoral mechanisms, and the communication platforms (media) that promote reasoned deliberation and communication are the software. The dispositions and human capabilities that allow for rational engagement and transparent communication, the values, character, and the culture of its people are the mindware.
Good intentions, strong will, and sufficient financial investment combined with technical expertise and managerial capabilities can put the hardware and the software in place. However, without a citizenry and leadership that strives to balance self-interest with the common good, and is capable of both critical thinking, understanding of human psychology, as well as generosity of spirit, democracy cannot be sustained. Without considerable and ongoing investment in developing mature and wise citizens (remember Homo Sapiens?) through education, explicit private and social modeling and continuous practice in homes, neighborhoods, schools and offices, not to mention the corridors of political power, democracy itself becomes a cardboard marionette, manipulated by anyone who holds its strings.
Failing democracies are easy enough to spot- the public’s complacency turns into cynicism and eventual withdrawal of citizens from the public space into their own personal and professional lives. With no one watching out for the public or common good and even fewer people willing to invest (leave alone sacrifice) for anything outside their homes or tribal affinities, the state and its institutions become first inefficient and then wholly corrupt. The movement from corruption to the hijacking of the state by an interested oligarchy is inevitable. Frustration with the openly contemptuous behavior and mismanagement of the oligarchy soon breeds frustration and anger towards all who are perceived as elites. This leads to the election of undemocratic demagogues who either rule with complete authoritarianism or allow the state to collapse into chaos and tyranny. Democracy disappears even as we, its citizens, are more interested in our own self-care, self-preservation and amusements.
When our citizens eventually realize that neither our tucked, toned or waxed bodies, nor our thousands of Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections, nor our organic coffees lattes, or even our retirement accounts will help us, if society withers away and the political center itself doesn’t hold, democracy can be rebuilt.
If CitizenDEMOS didn’t exist it would, urgently, need to be created. After years of neglect and abuse, liberal, secular democracy’s unrealized vision of a humane society founded on reason, respectful of human autonomy, dissent and dependent upon active civic participation cries out to be fed and nurtured.