Saturday, May 14, 2011

Folly? Democracy is Not a Folly

...As I write this our U.S. cousins are committed to "making" Iraq be the first Arab democracy. Well. I hope the U.S. people don't think they can teach something as complex as "democracy" with just a sound bite....

I would hope the average journalist, reporting on all levels of society, would have a sensible perspective on democracy. Not all do. Not the Calgary Sun journalist who wrote a column about the proposed west rail extension for the electric Light Rail Transit (within city limits) train. He angrily judged it "folly" to have only five (or seven) people on the planning committee. My blood pressure rose and I thought, "Methinks he hates the new rail line too much."


Folly? Surely he doesn't wish that early one evening police with clubs would swoop on a hundred homes and cart people away to a community center to decide on a rail line? And surely he doesn't wish to see the club kept in a soft leather case while a hundred legal summons are sent out? Perhaps he hopes that a hundred people will voluntarily answer the call to go meet?

I like volunteering. And as a university graduate I am well versed in "comparing and contrasting" and thinking. Of course, to do it right, we would require several meetings to give people time to send for experts, to "sleep on it," and to discuss with a slow pace to encourage the subconscious to come up with stuff.

Yes, as a graduate I am highly trained in being open minded but I must confess: If I had to sit on a steel folding chair in a crowded stuffy hall then I might be tempted to throw my integrity in the ditch on the way to the hall and arrive with my mind secretly made up in advance... and then ask us to "decide" by calling for a vote with almost indecent speed....

"Democracy and town halls" were touched on when I was a boy during the cold war. Everyone said we were more democratic than the Soviets; there was a fine Norman Rockwell painting of a man standing up to talk at a meeting. Sure, we love democracy, but let's keep our town halls in perspective.

As a boy, I read, somewhere, that it is not enough to have a speaker renting the hall to advocate fascism on one night, and another speaker advocating communism on the next night. No, what is required is for the same townsfolk to be in that hall on both nights listening hard. And this requires enough self-discipline to believe in Freedom of Speech. Such self-control isn't easy, as most of human history, and all of today's Arab world, can tell you.


How can you listen hard in a creative meeting of a hundred people? If each person gets a minute to speak, followed by a respecfull minute of silent thought, then... that's a lot of minutes. Better to break the meeting into subcommittees of five to seven people, each with a leader and secretary, who report back to the main group before the half-time break. Better still to hold the meeting with just five people. I would trust this precious few just as surely a herd of deer trusts a single sentry.

Of course there would be checks and balances, starting with selecting people who are already respected in the community for having common sense. I know they would be conscientious, just as you and I, dear reader, would be. I would trust them to deliberate weekly for as many long nights as they needed. The poor Iraqis are having trouble trying to be the first Arab democracy because, in part, they don't trust each other.

I would guess that having a national dream of democracy has caused us not accidentally, but rather, unconsciously, to "grow" the sort of nation where we can generally trust each other.

God save the queen.

Sean Crawford
Summer 2008

For what you can do (besides learning about democracy) to help America's counter insurgency see my April 2011 essay Are Yankees Stupid?

a reply: Blair Petterson notes that the Iraqis (and others) can trust less because they have more at stake: with fewer resources to go around, and thus a smaller margin of safety, they must naturally be more anxious when making their funding decisions.

~For more on subconsciously growing democracy see my March 2013 essay, Goals and 300 (the film).

~I just happen to have my Master of Facilitating certificate from Mount Royal College, from taking several two-day courses. Regrettably, I regard most of what I learned to do as being "tricks" that represent a hasty compromise, balancing thinking with the constraints of time and "work aquaintainces" in our modern world, rather than facilitating true thinking.

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