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Wanted: Committed Citizens.
Abused democracy fails the cause of liberty.
Statistics tell that your correspondent’s life will soon rate as being a long one. The blame does not rest upon the systems that made him their subject. There were years of unfreedom, first under the Nazis, then under Stalin. Thereafter, irrespective of formal education and the ensuing brain damage, then as the result of some reflection, this writer remains uncertain about a fundamental matter. Is freedom a natural, therefore instinctively strived for, condition of mankind? Or could servitude be imbedded in our genes? The latter case would make liberty a lucky escape from our natural condition.
Numerous thinkers have raised this question. For centuries since the Enlightenment, we have tended to give a dogmatic response confirming a cultural-consensus. Every era created by the unfolding of cultures has its prejudices. The inevitability of freedom might be one of these.
Our time’s accepted, and therefore hardly challenged icon, is “individualism”. In its decadent form, it reassures that it is right to “do your own thing” – as long as it is easy. You may act without giving much thought to the impact on others. What counts is the display of uniqueness. That implies that you need to do something that causes attention and that makes you to appear to be different from the equally conforming crowd. Genuine creative originality, to design a new chip, come up with a new product, evolve a new cure, or to write something memorable, is an ability that most of us lack. If this absence of creative originality fits the individual case, then something is to be displayed that will at least shock through its eccentricity. Such as the display, a green Mohawk cut, or a pierced tongue – a few years ago that would have rated as a crime against humanity. Or perhaps perform, as did “Pussy Riot”, a black mass in a cathedral. Whatever might draws attention is OK. For some, that escalates to shooting kids to become famous and noticed. Do others do this? No. Can others accomplish that? No. Therefore, doing it, you become unique and memorable.
The attitude is that “I am doing my thing and, therefore, I may not be judged as that disrespects my identity”. This idea, and the esteem of mere eccentricity, overlooks its costs. These threaten freedom and raise questions regarding our destiny to be free.
Increasingly, freedom is understood to mean that we are free to commit our person, our community and our state to causes of convenience while ignoring the consequences of the choice. “Do it if it makes you feel good” reflects an important attitude. It suggests that not only is there a freedom to choose wrongly, but that doing so comes with an exemption from the outcome. Cutting the tie between an action and its calculable effect reflects the expectation of a world that is free of consequences. The attitude that “nothing can happen to me” became a mantra. It expresses a right to claim immunity from individual actions of choice.
The implied not caring encouraged by the expectation that others will bear the caused burdens, is the virus that destroys civilizations. Past civilizations were, regardless of subsequent excusing wordings, such as in “the conquest by… ”, seldom wiped out by outsiders alone. Even in the case of the “outgunned” Incas and Mayas, internal decay expressed by shortsightedness and irresponsibility had contributed to their fall. (Those that regard everything far away and remote in time to be irrelevant, shall skip the rest of this paragraph. The case is presented because the reader is unlikely to have related prejudices. In 1526 the medieval European great power, Hungary, at the time three times its current size, again confronted the Ottoman Empire, a genuine world power. After having resisted the Muslim Turks for decades, the Magyars were crushed in this round. Why? About a half of the realm’s armies did not show up on the battlefield. Their commander underestimated the foe and wished to weaken the Monarch to ascend the throne. This thinking divorced of reality had destroyed the country.)
In our time, too, bad decisions, based on lack of information, disinformation, and illusions, as well as a lack of concern for the public realm, flow into political decisions. This can happen not for the want of information that could serve as the source of rational decisions. Not being able to know, apply only to the times prior to universally available media. This leaves shortsighted stupidity as our main enemy.
Formally universal suffrage has replaced decision making by elites. However, this has not resulted in a qualitative improvement of decisions. Perhaps we should conclude that gullibility is a universal trait. That being so, our age of total communication has extrapolated the symptoms. The internet and “participation” through TV have not generated the wisdom commensurate with total information. More data volume has rather functioned as carelessly used mixer that whips up the juice of idiocy. That resulted in a spread of droplets to besmirch the scene.
Our fair elections illustrate the irrationality of voters. Nobel Prize committees that make awards in the “soft” categories confirm the thesis. The same goes for government policies. The Arab Spring becomes a hot drought thanks to voters that pander away their new freedoms. These ignore what they could know and the centuries of evidence created by ruling retrogrades that are now organized as Islamists. The Euro-zone is practicing crisis management by having the national banks buy with freshly printed money the bonds of hopelessly indebted governments. Then the damaged goods are declared to be sound collateral. Unemployment is combated by make believe. The credulous are assured that jobs that provide unneeded government services are secure and that this miracle creates “growth” that will stabilize the economy.
Pakistan’s Islamists can convince the public that the schoolgirl that they assassinated is not only unhurt but also a participant of an anti-Muslim complot against the Upright. But is this not matched by the widely credited thesis that 9/11 is an Israeli-American (by insinuation there is no difference) action? And what about the logistical miracle that the Jews were warned to avoid the Twin Towers that day?
The Thirties demonstrate that formal democracy is not an antidote of of tyranny. Repeatedly, applied democracy has failed the cause of liberty. Complacency and lack of commitment, paired with the negligent’s ignorance, causes a turn-away from public affairs. In want of interested citizens to act as the volunteer militia of political life, democracy is shrunk to a periodic ritual. It is performed by the uninformed that act on last minute trivia when they vote. As the result, the duped put the power to govern into the hands of elites. These are in the best case cynical –as expressed by “vox populi, vox Rindfieh” /the people’s voice is the voice of cattle/. However, this is not the worst-case alternative. That is achieved when the remote elitist rulers begin to believe the stories they feed to their hoodwinked followers.