Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Democracy, Democracy, Democracy

Athenian democracy emerged in the sixth century BC. Over the course of time a democratic system emerged that enabled adult males to have a fair amount of involvement in the running of the city and the election of their leaders. From here there developed the selection of leaders by lot so that hereditary power and status were not the defining influence in who was selected.

Undoubtedly Athenian democracy was not a perfect system - the exclusion of woman and slaves from the process a prime example - but we must be careful not to impose a modern mindset upon an ancient and developing form of governance.

Democracy then could be seen as a means through which the people have a voice, a say into the way communities and countries govern themselves and make decisions. It is a belief that the people as a whole will be able to determine what is best for communities as a whole ensuring the flourishing of neighbour and the common good.


The challenge that we face today in Western democratic nations is whether or not we actually live in a time that can be called 'democracy'.

Giorgio Agamben points out, 'The political forms that we once knew—the nation-state, sovereignty, democratic participation, political parties, international law—have come to the end of their history.'

He goes on to highlight how words such as 'crisis' and 'economy' are employed by the political elite to ensure that the decisions they make are not for the common good but rather for the benefit of the few. Obedience to the State is what is required of the people in order that capitalism can thrive and survive, whatever the cost, even if that cost is human and ecological life.

This is why Girard's mimetic theory is crucial. We so often live in fear and so believe the myth of redemptive violence and assume that for our society to continue there needs to be a sacrifice that will calm our fears and dispel our violent rivalry. Capitalism is the religion of our time and in order for it to continue there needs to be sacrifice, and all around the world we see the human cost that capitalism brings.

So we live in a time of 'exception' where 'crisis' is the language commonly deployed in order to bypass democratic rights and ensure decisions are made that in 'normal' circumstances would not be accepted by the population. Furthermore,

'...security regulations introduced after September 11 (they had been established in Italy since the Years of Lead) are worse than the ones that were on the books under fascism. And the crimes against humanity committed under Nazism were made possible by the fact that Hitler had taken power and proclaimed a state of exception that was never repealed. Hitler, however, did not have the same possibilities of control (biometric data, surveillance cameras, cell phones, credit cards) that are at the disposal of our contemporary states. One could very well say that today the state considers every citizen to be a virtual terrorist. This can have no other consequence than to diminish and render impossible the participation in politics that is supposed to define democracy. A city whose squares and streets are controlled by way of surveillance cameras cannot be a public place: it is a prison.'

 In a time such as this with a General Election approaching in the UK we have to ask serious questions of our political system and those who govern us. It is not enough to simply assume a different colour party will readdress the balance when a system such as capitalism determines and controls much, if not all of what happens in Westminster.

To vote or not to vote is a decision people need to decide for themselves, but in many ways all that I am talking about here goes beyond that question. For transformation of our shared life together on this small planet we need to collectivise together on a grass roots level bringing change to one another's lives in ways that the political system never could. Again, I am not saying you should or shouldn't vote but that whatever you do on May 7th is not the end of the story.

I am inspired often by people who I meet, know and love who are that change and bring that change in unseen and remarkable ways. They certainly do not wait or ask or seek permission from government to bring about the change, they simply act with compassion, love, kindness and generosity recognising our common humanity.

Of course we can carry on as we are, accepting things the way that they are and bedding ourselves down in our capitalistic way of life. I imagine that there are many who are perfectly happy with the ways things are. But I am not convinced.

We need to 'see' those mechanisms that cause us to be active participants in exclusion and segregation. We need to 'see' all those ways in which we scapegoat and sacrifice in order to be in places of power and prestige.

Those who are beginning to 'see' are collectivising and working towards communities of compassion, love and grace ensuring that people are not the marginalised but are treated with dignity and respect.

We only exist in relationship. I am only who I am in my relationship with another. Therefore love of neighbour, the recognition that all are created in the image of God, that every person is broken yet beautiful is the only way I believe we are going to work towards a society of change and transformation.

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