Sunday, April 13, 2008

Democracy vs. Crime: Phil Paine's Sixth Meditation on Democracy, part one


This is the best of Phil Paine's meditations yet.

Here's the key passage, I think:

Democracy is a mode of human social interaction that can be practiced by any human group, of any size, with any type of technology, and at any time or place.

Democracy is a product of human intelligence and creative imagination, in the same way that technology, art, and music are. These fields of human creativity are the direct consequences of human faculties, not passively determined by environment. In other words, human sculpture in wood comes about because of a built-in need of humans, as conscious, thinking, and self-aware beings, to manipulate physical objects for representational and symbolic purposes. It is not merely a side-effect of the availability of wood. If wood is not available, then the impulse to carve will find another object, such as bone, stone, clay, or even the human body itself. Similarly, democracy is a product of the profoundest creativity in human nature, the ability to grasp that other human beings are not merely external objects, but conscious beings, similar and equal to oneself. Consequently, democracy cannot be explained as the result of temporary conditions, such as population density, climate, resource limits, birthrates, or modes of production, though these variables may influence its application.

The purpose of democracy is to promote and protect the well-being of humans, while its opponent principle, crime (warfare, caste systems, hereditary privilege, tyranny, aristocracy, dictatorship, theocracy, and totalitarian ideology) is pathological. Thus the relationship of democracy to the “political” concepts subsumed in crime is similar to that of the healthy organism to infectious disease. The relationship is one of constant strategy and counter-strategy, innovation and adaptation, with the predators on humanity exploiting every novel condition as an “opening” to establish their infection. Thus, political crime, embodied in caste, aristocracy, or kingship, is “normal” and “natural” to human societies, in the same sense that infectious disease is endemic to it. That “normalcy” does not mean that crime is either desirable, or that we should passively tolerate it. Democratic thought and action constitute the practical strategy for surviving the pathology of tyranny, just as understanding biology and practicing cleanliness are the practical strategy for surviving the ever-variant assaults from disease.

Those of you interested in American politics may want to compare Phil's analysis to this front-page post at Daily Kos.

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