I believe in democracy. Regardless of the true intentions of political leaders spouting their crusade for democracy everywhere in the world and media talking heads, a critical point is missed in all these discussions. I believe in democracy not as an end but as a means to a quality of life that benefits an entire society. Democracy need not always be the answer for everyone in the world but I believe that it works well. Like any tool, preconditions for its usefulness and effectiveness to achieve sought after goals are paramount. It is not my intention to list all the preconditions but to simply raise awareness. Let us examine the current state of our own democracy.
One obvious requirement for the successful exercise of democracy is involvement of the citizens of the society in the political, economic and social processes that lead to policy development. A small unscientific sampling, which includes my own family, finds that we have little time between long working hours, time spent commuting to work, shuttling kids to various activities, carrying out chores, etc. to properly engage in our democratic political system except for the occasional symbolic voting. In a democracy, voting is mainly the final and least important act of a citizen not the first. Another requirement is relevant and truthful information. The media and government fall very short on this critical matter sometimes giving its citizens falsehoods and highly filtered information.
One other requirement is continuous practice. Though we live in a democracy, very little of our daily experiences include democratic practices. For most of us earning our livelihood through corporate careers, democracy is not the way of the corporate world. Even in our homes, most of us live in the modern encampments of conformity known as subdivisions. These enclaves include architectural committees whose sole task is to maintain property values. I had one instance where several ‘neighbors’ did not like the color of my house roof shingles and so I was threatened with a lien if I did not abide by spending thousands of dollars to re-shingle my roof. This is the sort of story one might imagine reading about happening in Russia.
The non-democratic governments of other countries could learn a valuable lesson from the United States. Instead of setting up an expensive apparatus to fully monitor citizen activity to minimize threats to their grip on political and economic power, they could simply saddle their citizens with mortgages, job insecurity, and time pressures. Though I rarely practice or observe democracy in action, I still believe strongly in the value of democratic institutions and processes. I believe that we need to revitalize the democracy in the United States first before we worry about other places. We need to focus on what we want our democratic institutions to achieve for ourselves and for generations to come.