Democracy: a fragile concept

In 2011, I was privileged to do some work in Tunisia. Part of this involved developing some educational presentations with a Tunisian science professor. What was most memorable to me was not the science we were working on, but her experiences and thoughts on the recent (January 2011) revolution that triggered what is known as the ‘Arab Spring’.

During our work together one day, this woman – a leading scientist in the country – burst into tears. Wondering what on earth was wrong, I was somewhat nonplussed. Had she lost a loved one? Was she panicking about our work? I was completely puzzled at first when she said ‘I’m just worried about our country’. I asked her to explain and over coffee she told me all about her views on their new democracy.

‘We thought that after the revolution and the elections, we would have democracy. Proper democracy where the politicians listen to the people. And where we could vote for good people. But it hasn’t worked out. It is all going wrong again.’

Ok….what exactly did she mean?

‘We were all full of hope after the revolution and then we all looked forward to the election. But lots of people with money took it over and brought their colleagues back into the country where they have been living abroad. They have all the money and they promised the people all sorts of things like ‘free this’ and ‘free that’ – everything will be free if you vote for us. And all the uneducated people believed them and voted for them! But these people are all frauds! The people who are capable of running the country didn’t win’.

Sound familiar, anyone?

‘Now they have the power and they will use it for themselves and we will have no voice again. The people we voted for didn’t win. They will have no power. There is no constitution. We are back where we started.’

I was sorely tempted to say ‘Well, that’s democracy for you,’ but I resisted the temptation. The poor woman was really distraught. Speaking later to other well-educated Tunisians, most of them felt the same. When working in Iraq more than once, I was faced with colleagues there making similar comments. What the problem was, though, was not simply not winning, but being unaware that it was possible to lose an election. All of these friends who I spoke to in these ‘new democracy’ countries were of the sincere view that their ‘side’ would win the early elections. Likewise, I spoke many times with colleagues from more established democracies such as Pakistan and Bangladesh and they typically felt the same. Working in Ukraine a few years back, our taxi driver one day took us past their Parliament building in Kiev, saying in his broken English, ‘Here is all the criminals in Ukraine!’ and smacking his head in frustration.

Why am I telling you this? Because here in the West, we have been lulled into a false sense of security because of our longstanding democratic traditions and mindset. Our UK democracy is the best in the world, in my opinion, yet it and its norms are now subject to an assault that is both disingenuous and dangerous. And most of us don’t even see what is happening under our noses.

Western populations take democracy totally for granted. It is so apparently entrenched in our lives that it isn’t even noticed. It’s just there, in the same way that water comes out of a tap and the sun comes up every morning. If anyone thinks about it all, asking themselves how our democracy ‘got here’, it’s as if it just emerged, fully-formed at some point in the past and was somehow subsumed into daily life. Our worldview – the baseline from which we view the world in which we live – is saturated with democratic values:

The status and rights of the individual in society;

the use of reason to solve problems and to communicate effectively;

free education for all;

freedom of religion or of no religion;

free speech;

the permanence of our institutions;

the ‘indestructable’ nature of our lifestyle, our values and our freedoms,

and more.

But here’s the thing: none of these wonderful concepts is written in stone, never to be changed. In my experience working in the non-West, it is clear to see that we are not only envied for our democratic freedoms and systems, but we are also pitied for our failure to understand how fragile these are. Worse, we are ridiculed privately for not understanding how life really is under non-democratic governments and value systems. Yet there are those who are active among us who wish to essentially dismantle our democracy and its values and replace them with their own norms.

I should point out here that I am not setting up a conspiracy theory. I’m simply suggesting that our cherished democratic values and all that goes with them are being attacked in plain sight. Unlike the shadowy figures ‘out there’ according to conspiracy theories, we can easily see who is doing this attacking here. They’re just very cleverly doing it while dressing it up as something else.

What do all my overseas democracy experiences have to do with us here at home? Plenty! We need to recognise the value, the nature and the fragility of our democracy and its associated freedoms pretty damned quickly before they are taken from us by the new fundamentalism of wokery, correctness-enforcers, platform cancellers and free-speech deniers. Few people seem to recognise that by promoting all of these concepts they are actually undermining democratic freedoms. What will it take to make us wake up and take a (non-violent) stand on this?

Let’s look at a couple of recent examples of the undermining of our democratic values.

We have all grown up with a natural assumption that our democracy and its values are here to stay. But this is probably, for the first time since the last war, not a foregone conclusion. Earlier this month, the US Capitol was invaded by Americans who refused to accept the outcome of the November 2020 elections. It seems too obvious to even have to say it, but democracy relies on post-election losers accepting defeat. There’ll be another election around the corner. This is governance by consent. We have to consent to lose if that is the outcome of an election. By all means, campaign and demonstrate (peacefully and lawfully). But don’t start trying to take over the seat of government because you don’t like the results of an election. Once we go down that rabbit hole, we’re sunk.

These individuals who stormed the Capitol were so convinced of their own rightness that they were blinded to the realities of what they were doing – trying to overturn the results of a democratic election. Had the other side attempted the same thing – boom! This was a total failure of democratic consent and an attempt to force an outcome onto the nation that the nation had not voted for. It is what happens in totalitarian states.

What is the difference between a state that ‘elects’ the same leader for decades; a state that up-ends an election result if the governing elite don’t like it, and a state where the seat of government is invaded when some of the electorate don’t like the election results? Nothing! They’re all undemocratic and prepared to impose their own views on those who disagree with them. This is how bad things have become.

During 2020, both the US and the UK saw demonstrations by Black Lives Matter supporters – widely supported in the media. No reasonable person could disagree that black lives, like all other lives, do indeed matter. But no reasonable person benefitting from life in the West could intellectually support an organisation that calls for the defunding of the police and the disruption of the ‘western style nuclear family structure’. Western law and order, for all its failings, is still better than most that practised elsewhere in the world. And the nuclear Judeo-Christian family structure is one of the key reasons the West began to prosper economically, technologically and socially when compared with the rest of the world. There is plenty of evidence around to show what happens when the nuclear family structure is destroyed or ignored. Read up on the early Soviet ideas around marriage to see how that one worked out. Look at sections of our communities today who don’t practise the nuclear family as a norm – and I mean from all communities when I say that.

Interestingly, the BLM website removed its pages on ‘What We Believe’ which itemised these and other aims, in September 2020. But despite this apparent attempt to dilute criticism, the BLM movement was represented on New Year’s Eve by a raised, clenched fist in the midnight sky above London, formed by illuminated drones. Is it appropriate to glorify any movement that advertises itself by a raised, clenched fist? Does that say ‘peaceful’ and democratic? This is a subversion of peaceful protest – a violent symbol that has been applauded by the media and the woke. What if a white group had as its symbol a clenched fist? Yet the reasonable view – that no peaceful organisation should have a violent symbol as its marker – is ignored and glossed over due to woke ‘sensitivities’. This is nothing less than ‘one rule for you and another for me’.

On a wider level, we now have a daily diet of media reports about speakers being cancelled, individuals being sacked for their beliefs and people being vilified as ‘phobes’ if they stand up for their beliefs at the school gates. Even if they are dead, influential people are being brushed out of history if their views were not currently acceptable. ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ but hey, we’ll still take his money.

Freedom of speech is part of democracy. Freedom to disagree with a majority view is part of democracy. Freedom to believe in the tenets of your religion is part of democracy. The equality of all is part of democracy. Yes, we see inequality everywhere every day, but this does not prevent us believing in democracy. There are many factors that cause inequality, but democracy ain’t one of them. We don’t write off health for all as an aspiration, simply because some people are sick. Neither should we write off democracy and its values just because some are not doing as well under it as others. History and the modern-day are jam-packed with individuals and families who have succeeded from poverty-stricken, unfair beginnings. It is democracy and its associated attributes that enabled them to rise to the top. Do we really want to revert to systems in which only certain families or groups are allowed to rule? Yet this view is what is growing – disguised as compassion and ‘fairness’ – before our eyes. The so-called ‘liberal left’ is keen for exactly that – only they and their fellow-believers have any legitimacy to rule the rest of us.

Democracy is not just about elections – it is a philosophical worldview as well as a political and social concept. It takes generations for it to be absorbed by a population. The fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet system in 1989 was not the beginning of a set of fully-fledged democracies in the former East Germany and Russia – it was the start of the possibility of democracy and a long road to fairness, openness and transparency. Given that our own democratic systems in the UK and the US – as elsewhere in Europe and ‘the West’ – are not perfect yet, what hope is there for perfection to arise in 30-odd years in Eastern Europe? Let alone the Middle East. Yet even people in these new democracies are looking on at the West and shaking their heads. Why? Because they can’t believe what we are allowing to happen to risk our freedoms.

I’ve mentioned in several previous posts that many of the current trends in wokery are actually characteristic of totalitarian governments. I make the point again. Our media and those who shout the loudest are in thrall to ideas that actually undermine our democracy and its values and systems. These woke ideas have taken the form of a new fundamentalist religion. They look caring, kind, loving and supportive on many fronts. But scratch the surface and the gilding comes off. If you don’t buy into the latest woke truth, you are out of there, pal. Gone. Cancelled. Vilified. Your reputation ruined. You will be unemployable. So much for ‘caring, kind, loving and supportive’. Only, apparently, if you agree with the right people and their ideas. That’s Soviet Stalinism, by the way.

Democracy by consent is being undermined. I do not subscribe to the view that people are ‘forced’ into violence or ‘persuaded’ into it. The people who stormed the Capitol made their own choices. But when a population is drip-fed values that overturn its traditional norms, an emotional backlash will develop. That is what we are starting to see in the awful scenes in Washington DC recently.

Reason seems to be in its death throes in public discourse. Yet it is reason, not just belief, that enabled the development of our Western democracies. It is reason that allows us to understand and even to feel what others understand and feel, even if we have not personally experienced something. Yet we are being flooded with an identity politics that says only you can feel what it is to be you; only you can rule for you. Only women can understand women’s issues. Only Black people can understand Black issues. Only trans people can understand trans issues. And so on.

The logical end point of all this, when ‘intersectionality’ is also factored in (you can be multiple forms of victim at the same time), is that we will soon live in a world of several billion individuals, none of whom will be able to communicate with anyone else, because their own ‘lived experience’ is the only thing that is relevant to them and capable of being understood by them. Is that what we want?

Along with all this come more examples of the totalitarian practice of ‘one rule for us and one rule for you’. Yet examples are not widely reported in the media unless they illustrate the ‘right’ arguments:

Please correct me if I am wrong (I mean that), but I haven’t seen the BBC mentioning this along with Trump’s election fraud claims. Has it done so? Yet most media outlets have been pushing this massively:

Personally, I think Trump has always been unfit for office and his use of social media has been outrageous. His online behaviour diminished his high office. However, no matter what I think of Trump, the ability to reason gives me the ability to ask why some stories are ‘pushed’ while others on the ‘other side’ are not. The liberal left doesn’t allow this. We are supposed to ignore or bury anything of reason that could possibly allow for any good on the ‘other’ side, or which fails to vilify the enemy.

Sadly, examples such as these are undermining our democratic system. The effect of all the wokery that is being foisted on us is simply to feed the dis-satisfaction of those who disagree with it. The un-woke do not want to be converted. They may be open to changing some of their attitudes; they are not all the evil monsters they are said to be. Most of our un-woke are actually liberal when compared to the views held by the non-West. But that doesn’t count, of course. Most of the un-woke do not aspire to storm the Capitol or the Houses of Parliament and don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories such as QAnon. They just want their values and views to be respected. If we are prepared to criticise the Capitol stormers, we must also be prepared to criticise the BLM activists and supporters who advocate policies that undermine our society. This is, of course, a radical view to those on the liberal left.

If we lose the concept of ‘loser’s acceptance’, then we are in dire straits. And this is just the tip of the at-risk iceberg. What most public figures seem to fail to recognise is that by pushing the woke, platform-cancelling and silencing agenda, society is already well on the way to dismantling our democracy by the back door. You don’t need to storm Parliament to kill it, you just need to chip away at the values that go with it and demonise those who want to uphold a more balanced view of the world. That way you can bring in ‘enlightenment’ (the woke version, that is) by stealth and take over by default.

You are not a ‘phobe’ if you don’t accept an ideology. You can have friends who depart from majority norms of identity without totally agreeing with them on all their beliefs. You are not a safety risk to a minority just because you don’t buy into their views. You are not a racist if you disagree with the tenets of BLM. You are not a bigot because you want to be able to control what your primary school kid reads about sexuality.

Yet many in positions of influence, or who have the loudest voices, today believe that you are all of the above if you don’t agree with them 100 per cent. When we are being told what we can and cannot allow to be thought inside our heads, we have a big problem. But we have an even bigger problem if we don’t recognise where all this is leading.

We need to start speaking up for non-woke norms. Those are the norms that have served Western society and democracy well for hundreds of years (see the list above). Of course we change over time – and we have changed, a lot. But democracy has flourished and its values with it, largely due to the firm foundations of reason built on top of the Judeo-Christian values that underpinned it. Magna Carta in 1215 was a good start for us here in the UK. That old democracy has enabled the downtrodden to rise to the top. That democracy still offers ladders to all. If we fail to stand up for this history and these freedoms, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves when our democratic values and systems are hijacked by those who wish to see them destroyed in favour of their own version of the Brave New World.

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