Democracy is a noble idea, a benevolent gift that we humans bestowed upon ourselves not very long ago, after suffering through millions of years of our tribalistic existence, with sole aim to abolish our subjugation and slavery. Democracy helped us to decentralise the political power so that we, the people, could govern ourselves with fairness, without bias or prejudices or cruelties of the archaic monarchies. However, democracy is not easy or for the faint hearted, it demands patience and sacrifice, or else dictators come to rule, bringing tears for one and all.
Democracy is like a baby that needs nurture with extreme care, or else it can turn into a gobbling monster. Authoritarian democracy is not much different than dictatorship, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Like any other gift, such as religion, we human have demonstrated our insidious capabilities to use, misuse and abuse it. While most of us seek peace through democracy and religion, some devious within us also seek power by mixing the two. On the one hand, healthy democracies have unified their communities, but on the other hand, some regressive democracies have divided their people for harvesting political dividends.
Democracy and Capitalistic Cronyism
In the last decade or so, authoritarianism has fast emerged as the mechanism of practical democracy, driven largely by capitalistic agenda, especially in those countries where it is also intertwined with cronyism. It is intriguing that, despite formal education and material progress achieved in systems that follow democratic processes, many people paradoxically drift towards authoritarianism and undermine the vital institutions of very democracy that propped them up.
What good is that wealth if it is acquired through the sweat and blood of poor people? What good is that power if it is won by dividing people? What good is that peace if it is achieved over dead bodies of innocent people?
For material and geo-strategic interests, some top-tier democracies are also seen to woo and appease authoritative leaders of some democracies, which must concern the champions of democracy. It is disturbing that leaders of some countries, which have high Democracy Indexes and vibrancy on ground in their democratic processes, shamelessly appease autocratic leaders of other countries for nothing but material interests. Is it all about material wealth?
Money does talk but does it also dwarf our values? Does our material greed expose our shallow faith in democracy? Proverbially, a person is known by the company he or she keeps. What does it say about those democratically elected leaders who, by appeasement and association, undermine the very democracy that they represent?
A Shifting Political Divide
The dividing line between the traditional left and the traditional right seems to have faded, with the traditional left behaving more as the traditional right and, in doing so, pushing the traditional right either to the far right, to create a false impression of some distinction between the two, or pulled it to the left to fill the vacuum created by it.
While the politicians remain busy in political manoeuvring, the common person feels disillusioned and let down by a blatant misuse of democracy by a hand-in-glove relationship between the wealthy and the powerful. As the privileged upper-class becomes richer, thanks to the blessings of powerful politicians, and vice versa, the overwhelmingly larger portion of the humanity – the unprivileged or the underprivileged – is insidiously kept distracted by trivial but polarising religious and ethnic issues.
Democracy suffers but who cares when, in the name of God, religion and nationalism, brittle emotions of gullible humans are aroused by fear psychos and creating a non-existent threat from their fellow citizens? Sadly, this happens mainly in flawed, regressive and superficial democracies where innocent and vulnerable people are used, misused and abused in the name of democracy.
Divide and Rule
This proven strategy continues to be used by deceitful and incompetent politicians, with a poor score card on employment, inflation, cost of living, health and education of the poorer sections of the community. To harvest votes, they employ insidiously distasteful and hateful tactics in exploiting age-old religious, caste and ethnic divisions. Thus, divisive politicians create numerous war fronts for ordinary humans, which can be existential for some. People are made to live in numerous ‘unnatural’ silos within the domains of ethnicity, religion, class, caste and gender, all constructs of the gullible and fallible human mind.
Many of us may have forgotten that we are 8 billion humans on the planet. Let us respect and behold all other humans as we wish to be beheld by them.
As long as we nourish mutual hate and fear, and hesitate in recognising our humanness and empathetic character, our sufferings shall perpetuate indefinitely. The cycles of distrust and discord need circuit breakers. It all starts with us, individually and collectively.
Democracy demands sacrifice or else dictators come to rule, bringing tears for one and all. If we act with conscience and patience, and remain respectful of democratic processes and institutions, humanity wins. It is time the humanity sheds its tribalistic mindset and comes together to save itself from self-inflicting wounds and sufferings, and potential extinction. It is time we leave behind our debilitating past baggage and move ahead as one human race.
Does Democracy Serve the Poor?
Whence the today does not listen to and learn from the yesterday, with humble gratitude, the tomorrow will end up in tears. Future humans, not too far from now, may wonder:
‘It was never truly about democracy; it was all about power and how to grab it stealthily; democracy was misused by imposters to rule over the gullible. In the end, even the best of the intellectuals turned stupid, the wise humbled, all overwhelmed and consumed by the forces mighty and unimaginable, transcended. A lot was discovered by the mortals, yet much more remained a mystery, shrouded. Audacious mortals dared but quickly disappeared. The gods neither answered nor appeared. Was it all a dream? Who knows, who can tell? Perhaps, it was, perhaps not.’
Setting idealistic standards of caring and conscientious governance is more prudent than accepting the impossibility of such governance. It is like setting high moral standards to children in their early years despite adults being cognizant of the inherent human imperfection and fallibility. In the absence of such standards, children would not know about the virtues of being good, truthful and honest. Idealism has its own place in restoring some sanity in the world.
When do we start seeing the world from the eyes of the lower half of the world community? Aren’t they humans, in flesh and blood, and emotions? In the human jungle too, is it all about the survival of the fittest?
Fading Democracy – A Matter for the Middle-Class?
Democracy or not, may not be a matter for discussion for an overwhelming large portion of the human race, in particular, the lower half of the humanity, who toil hard to survive and incessantly fight against unemployment, homelessness, hunger, disease, natural calamities and, of course, persecution and exploitation by the upper half of the humanity. We are talking about at least four (4) such billion humans on Earth who comprise that unprivileged or underprivileged lower half.
In reality, the existence or disappearance of democracy may be a matter for mainly the typical middle-class. The privileged upper class, loaded with disproportionate wealth and resources, and benefits of political patronage due to its close proximity to political power, may not be bothered as long as it wields a free hand to exploit the life and labour of the significant portion of the world community that struggles to survive.
Who does not know the importance of good health and sustainability of the middle-class? Middle-class is the vital bridge between the minuscule filthy rich at the top (in terms of the percentage of the community) and the predominant struggling low-income and poor sections of the community at the bottom. Where the middle-class struggles to retain its position on the socio-economic ladder and shrinks as a consequence, a country struggles to retain its economic and political stability, and anarchy follows without fail.
The middle-class is also the mine and the nursery for the cultural and moral values of a community. Degradation in the middle-class – in any shape, size or form – depicts a corresponding degradation in the overall health of a country. A wise and benevolent government will always nurture the health – moral and economic – of the middle-class and endeavour to pull more and more people from the lower rungs of the economic ladder into its middle-health. Growth and health of the middle-class reflects the true progress of a country. Therefore, a noticeable growth in the middle-class and the GDP per capita are true barometers of the economic growth of a country.
The ground reality is that most common folks may not really care if their government is centre-left or centre-right, all they want is good governance, one that ‘serves’ them through smart economic management and looks after their health and education. The basic needs of conscientious, taxpaying citizens include food on the table, employment, job security, a stable economy, affordable healthcare and education for children, reliable law and order of the highest integrity, a caring and conscientious government that serves one and all and, above all, human dignity and voice to express fearlessly. A country that meets these core human needs can be called civilised and developed.
Addictiveness of Power
Power is addictive, it consumes one’s wisdom. Power is not what one can do; it is what one must not do when one is in a position of disproportionate power. Flaunting it shamelessly or flirtation with it may be tempting but intoxicating too. Irresponsible abuse of power – for short-time gains and to aggrandize oneself – can be potentially disastrous for one and all. Custodianship of political power requires extreme restraint or else it can consume the one who wields it for unethical, immoral, personal and unlawful reasons.
Blatant misuse of national wealth and public assets, by divisive politicians, for furthering their polarizing socio-political ideologies and decadent opulence renders nothing but unforgivable disservice to the nation, and all its present and future generations of good citizens.
A parliamentarian must represent the constituents without personal or ideological bias or prejudices, become their voice, fight for their needs, and justify his / her taxpayer-funded salary, benefits and princely comforts.
Unchallenged shameful exhibition of authoritarian arrogance and decadence in the affairs of parliamentary democracy reflects a deep rot in the societal values. Decadence leads to anarchy and tears. Having gift of the gab or proficiency in writing is not enough, we are accountable for what we say or write. Our words have consequences that we must bear. History holds us to account for our derelictions.
Is it our apathy to others or a sadistic nature to keep the less privileged enslaved, or the fear of losing our power and command that pushes us towards authoritarianism while reaping material benefits through democracy? Does the idea of independent court not fit into a majoritarian rule? Does populism or majoritarianism serve the idea of democracy? Should the public criticism of the actions of a government be construed as seditious and attract punishment and yet the court be called independent? Can democracy exist without independent court? Can a system that allows the Executive and the Legislative rule over the institutions be called a democracy? These are important questions that we must individually answer after honest self-introspection.
If a majority of people justify a ‘yes’ answer to all above questions, the world must redefine the idea of democracy. It may be more honest for us to throw away our sheepskin (a deceptive cloak of democracy) and reveal our inner authoritarianism? How long can we trick the innocent believers in the idea of democracy?
People who support dictatorial autocracy against democracy have no idea about what history has in store for their future. Some people believe if autocracy works, why follow democracy? They don’t realize what has worked for them today can also work against them tomorrow, and tomorrow is not very far. Why dig pits for yourself?
A democracy ceases to be a democracy when religion becomes the focus and the driving force of the policies of its government in a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic community.
Democracy demands sacrifice or else dictators come to rule, bringing tears for one and all. If we act with conscience and patience, and remain respectful of democratic processes and institutions, humanity wins. How did some megalomaniac dictators, like Hitler, enjoy such great mass following before plunging their nation and gullible followers into ruins? Can we prevent the history from repeating itself?
(1) Koul, B. K. (2022), Authoritative Democracies – Need or capitalistic greed?, Palgrave Macmillan (Springer Nature).
(2) Koul, B. K. (2020), We Humans – Our Initial 100 days during the Covid-19 pandemic, Vivid Publishing
© Bill K Koul [5 June 2023, Perth, Western Australia]
Copyright © Bill K Koul