To explore these thoughts, we must leave politics at the door. I know that’s a hard task nowadays in such a political world. But once politics is added to questions of democracy, it is hard to have a true discussion about democracy.
A few ways to define democracy:
Government is determined by the people who are governed.
The rule of the majority and the protection of the minority.
Freedom of the individual.
These are the most common ways people think about democracy. I have an additional way of thinking about it. Democracy, at its best, is a manifestation of a collective creative process. People are able to join together to create to society they want to create.
These days, the way people argue about capitalism and socialism is absurd. Why? Because of the “ism” at the end of the words. “Ism” means that it is a belief system. Once something is reduced to a belief system, we have to pit one belief against another belief. We can see what has happened out of this. People argue like they are talking about religion. Then, too often, the belief system becomes connected to their identities. The term identity politics is an accurate way to describe how the person’s political belief system is fused with how they define themselves. To consider a different point of view can lead to the feeling of one’s identity being attacked. If you haven’t read Dr. Wayne Andersen’s and my book Identity, please do if you want to see this principle developed in no uncertain terms.
Politicians’ business is to get elected. The current underlying structure is incapable of supporting a true democracy in terms of it being a collective creative process. Politicians nowadays must vilify those who are running against them. It wasn’t always this way. There were times in the past when there was a built in respect for political opponents. And there were times, for example in the 1830s and 1840s, when everyone running for office tried to paint their opponent with the worst wickedness there was. These were not times of a collective creative process. Quite the opposite.
If you’re looking for an example of a collective creative process, think about the Apollo Project from the 1960’s. (Just for a quick reference point so what I’m saying doesn’t seem like an abstract idealist pipe dream.)
Here are a few things to know. There is no inherent conflict between capitalism and democratic socialism. There is between communism and capitalism. I’ll say more about this later.
But in these days of trying to make the opposition seem like the biggest idiot there is, the terms are made to sound as pejorative as can be.
Remember, if we get rid of “ism” we can have an interesting exploration of ideas. Money is a good thing. Without it, we would have to barter chickens for a ticket to the movies. Hard to put chickens in your wallet. Money is capital. Drop the “ism” and we get to appreciate how great the invention of money has been.
Those who glorify the free market make that into an “ism.” If we really understood exactly what is being glorified, it is a self-organizing system. What we have come to understand from structural dynamics is this: self-organizing systems ALWAYS develop into structural conflicts.
In a true free market self-organizing systems without any controls, people would put lead in your milk, sell you electric equipment that could burn your house down, and do other things to beat the system that would be harmful to society. Some people who have turned this idea of the “wisdom” of the free market would say, “Yeah, but after a while, people would stop buying the milk that has lead in it.” Of course, lots of kids would have been damaged by then. And still, some would still try to get away with it to succeed in the market.
A totally free market is not conducive to a collective creative process.
But a totally controlled market kills invention, individuality, and advancement. This is also not conducive to a collective creative process.
Take these two principles together, and that raises the practical and useful question, just how much do we need to regulate the market? Take away the “ism,” and there can be some very beneficial answers. Take away the “ism,” and we can experiment and correct if we’ve gone too far on one side or the other.
Some things we can do better on our own. Some things we can do better together. We want the best of both worlds. I’ve always thought the argument people love to have – is healthcare a privilege or a right – is silly. It is one of those things that tries to force people into a belief system. Fight it out. Privilege or right? Duel at dawn. Choose your weapons.
A not silly question is this: what type of healthcare system do we want to create? Absent is the “ism,” and present is the possibility of invention, clear outcomes, and good sense, both short term and long term. Short term: address people’s immediate health needs. Long term: help people live healthier lives so there is less need for short term care.
Democracy, as a collective creative process, means we are taking collective action to have what we want come into being. As I’ve been saying for decades, creating is NOT problem solving and problem solving is NOT creating. We can solve all of our problems and still not have created what we want.
There is a place for problem solving, but if that is all we do, we will have created nothing.
So why do the politicians mostly talk in terms of problems? To appeal to the most reactive emotions. To generate outrage, sense of fear, sense of loss, sense of danger. They have not been to “creating school.” They could never make a film, compose music, make a béarnaise sauce, write a novel, or tie their shoes using their way of thinking, let alone run a country.
A collective creative process is one in which we join together to create something we all want.
Throughout the world, democracy is being undermined. One reason, the understanding of what it is, is being distorted and damaged. If it looked like just a bunch of foolish politicians fighting it out about who is the biggest jerk, many people would say, “No thanks.” Some of those who really want to undermine democracy are the ones who want to run it all without other people’s input: the dictators, the tyrants, the autocrats, the authoritarians, and especially the despots. They do not want you to have a say in your own government, nor be able to comment on how they’re doing.
Some of the ways to undermine democracy is to try to limit participation. Could be through limiting voting rights. Could be by trying to convince people it doesn’t matter if you vote. Could be by turning you off, so you don’t care anymore. Could be by trying to establish sides so that people are more motivated to fight with each other than create together.
Real democracy does exist, by the way. It is here in Vermont, where people run their towns by town meetings, and it is surprising how well informed people are, and how well they do without all the political manipulations of an us against them mentality.
Democracy is an invention. It is not a fact of nature. It requires certain prerequisites. A level of education, for example. This is one reason Daniel Webster advocated for public education. He and his contemporaries understood that people, in order to join together in a collective creative process, needed to have a common understanding of the world in which they lived.
Most people want their kids to go to school, college, etc. Most people think education is a good thing. But nowadays, we have the so-called “elite” (the educated people) as somehow against the “common man.” This is just another ploy to try to divide us for political gain. If we do a little thought experiment and change the word “elite” to “educated,” how silly is sounds to criticize a person for being educated. And if, having been educated, they’re so bad, why do we want our children to follow in their footsteps?
One last thing, not all systems are workable at being able to support a collective creative process. Communism is one. Theocracy is another.
The history of communism is simple. No matter how idealist it was in the beginning, it always generates into a dictatorship. This is because it is a system that can’t work structurally. It claims democratic goals, but it is incapable of reaching them.
With theocracies, authority is not from the people, but from those who claim to speak for God, and your job is to just get in line.
The creative process is the most successful process in history. It is philosophically neutral. It promotes learning, cooperation, and, when it is collective, can lead to our ability to create fantastic things we would not be able to accomplish on our own. Things that make our lives better, support our freedom and individuality, and release the highest possibilities in the human spirit.