Category Archives: Initiatives For Better Democracy

Democracy is a …religion? No, it is a mechanism which we urgently need to fix.

“Democracy is a religion that has failed the poor” states Giles Fraser in his weekly column “Loose Canon” in the British Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2015/may/08/democracy-a-religion-that-has-failed-the-poor

Now, Giles Fraser is a highly intelligent man, a theologian and doctor of philosophy whose column, even if one may not always fully agree, generally contains some stimulating thought.

But is democracy a “religion”?

Certainly, Fraser’s thoughts contain some truth. He points out how piously we pursue a process – voting – even if we may not have any idea whatsoever who to vote for or may seriously wonder which difference our vote makes at all. Giles suggests (with Banerjee) that voting may simply be an “expression of one’s citizenship”.

But then, this makes a mockery of human beings. If one believes in human beings as conscious architects of their world and lives, for them to pursue a more or less useless process which does not ensure a sound management of our nations and world is by no means adequate.

In a way Fraser’s bias as a theologian is understandable. We all look at the world from our personal angle. Changing vantage points, exchange of views is necessary to arrive at the most suited perspective. To talk about democracy as a religion in fact appears highly disconcerting and even paralysing.

If we want to make this world a better place, then we clearly need to adopt a more constructive stance, one of a kind which might come more naturally to managers or engineers: Rather than looking at democracy as a sombre force over which we have no influence, we  need to consider democracy as what it  ultimately is, as a man-made mechanism, which we need to improve, if it fails us. We, humanity constantly work on all kinds of systems, processes and mechanisms which do not fulfil our needs and expectations. Why not fix or improve the way  we practice democracy?

In which way is democracy actually failing us? Following the UK elections, many observers clearly highlight a deficit in the election process, it does not turn votes into adequate representation in parliament. Then there are the issues of devolution and “English votes for English Issues”: The structure of regional representation in the UK is unclear and needs to be overhauled. All in all, we need to check whether each element of the democratic system optimally fulfils the purpose it is meant to fulfil. Generally and perhaps most importantly, like in many democracies there is increasing disenfranchisement between the people and the political system. Democratic policy making needs to be changed in such a way in that it offer new channels for the public to engage in and to take adequate control of the management of public issues.

True citizenship and stewardship for our world means shaping the processes with which we govern it. Since we as individuals do not have any influence, we must join with other citizens to make democracy work. Forming an association called “Citizens Controlling Democracy” will be crucial to ensure that our democratic policy making processes work effectively and represent the interest of all people in society.

In a way we talk far to much, we publish hundreds of articles every week on what needs to happen in politics. If we do not take joint and constructive action to make democracy work, it never will. A machine which was considered adequate fifty years ago, may well not be adequate anymore for our world of seven billion people. It may have to be overhauled and re-engineered.

Democracy – a “mechanism which needs to be fixed”. It would greatly help, if also theologians could adopt and support this perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Optimizing Democracy versus Slow Democracy

In an article on “Slow Democracy” published on 20 November 2013 on the openDemocracy website Susan Clark and Woden Teachout describe a highly constructive process of citizen engagement in policy making at the community level  ( http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-clark-woden-teachout/slow-democracy ).

In a comment on the website I suggest that “Slow Democracy”, focusing mainly on better deliberation, appears to be an element of what needs to happen, i.e. optimizing democratic decision making processes in a comprehensive fashion, not only at community but also at national and international levels.

On one hand the terminology one uses might not be that important. On the other hand it describes a program. What we as civil society appear to need is policy making of the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency, efficiency not only in terms of money but also in terms of time used to come to the best policy strategies. With respect to global warming for example we all, the citizens in every nation around the world, need the very best policy making strategies as soon as possible.

So if we need the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency in policy making, and if terms contain a program, then it appears useful to call a spade a spade and join forces behind what we need to achieve, the optimization of all our democratic policy making processes. Joining forces behind what we want to achieve is necessary to get to results.

Here my complete comment on the article:

Very exciting to read about the various constructive ways in which citizens got involved in decision making at the community level in Portsmouth NH.

I would like to pitch the concept of “Optimizing Democracy”, however, against the concept of “Slow Democracy” presented in the article. I suggest that “Slow Democracy” with its focus on better identification of the issues at stake and better deliberation is a necessary element of what we urgently need to do: take comprehensive measures to generally ”optimize democratic policy making” at all political levels.

The well-being of our children and of future generations anywhere in the world, also in Portsmouth NH, does not only depend on their education, the policy issue discussed as an example in the article. The well-being of our children and of future generations is also immediately and very severely threatened by a number of existential global developments which need to be managed as effectively as only possible at national and international policy making levels. They are issues such as global warming, the changing of the quality of human life by biogenetics, the potential loss of freedom by constant surveillance from corporations and governments, potentially increasing unemployment also in the middle classes through robotization, and a destabilization of our entire economic and social systems all over the world by these developments.

If citizens in the US as well as in any other country on earth care about the well-being of their children and grandchildren, it is of the greatest importance that they take the game up one significant level: Efforts in improving policy making as they paid off at the community level in Portsmouth must be implemented for national policy making as well. Taking such measures is also of the highest degree of urgency as data on global warming for example prove. Not only with respect to local issues, also with respect to the big problems threatening to affect the well-being of people everywhere in the world, citizens must get involved and improve, or best – given the existential nature of some threats – optimize policy making systems and processes. Only the very best policy making procedures and systems will be able to handle those challenges.

I suggest that in order to organize the “optimization” of national policy making, citizens in the U.S. need to form an organization which we might call: “Optimizing Democracy USA”. In the UK it could be called “Optimizing Democracy UK”. Any democratic country urgently requires such a citizens’ organisation looking after the quality of policy making in their nations. Since the set-up of our democratic policy making systems is rather ineffective in many ways, these citizen organisations in each country need to co-operate in solving the existential threats for all citizens in the world.

The article on slow democracy desperately calls for leaders with “clarity, wisdom, and courage.” The question is: Where do we get these leaders from? In a democracy it is the very own responsibility of citizens to identify which precise qualifications leaders must have. Citizens must then train and select their leaders so the persons in charge have the required qualities to manage the public affairs both at community or national level adequately. The future of a society and of the world depends on the quality of leaders it trains and selects.