Eretz Yisrael Time

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Sunday, June 21, 2009
I doubt I will be saying anything new to those who have given thought to the matter, but lately I have become more and more aware as to how fragile democracy really is.

And I’m not referring to just national politics. I mean democracy on every level, including at the municipal level, in the shul, in the community, and even among your neighbors.

Democracy relies on a few key pillars. Remove one, and democracy has been subverted and perhaps even destroyed.

There are always those who will seize more power and ignore the will of the people for various reasons, including for noble reasons, such as they think they simply know better.

First of those pillars are the rules of the game. Democracy requires that all the participants know and follow the rules of the game – and not just the letter, but the spirit.

It is far too easy for shortcuts to be invoked in the name of expediency or convenience, when in reality these are actually tools used by those looking to circumvent the will of the people.

And it is far too easy to ignore or change a rule, as most people are too apathetic (as we will see below) to react to a violation. So democracy absolutely requires that its members agree to follow the rules.

The spirit of the law is important too. Sometimes laws are passed, and everyone understands what is meant, but that doesn’t mean they think to put down every last detail - because who is actually thinking in that direction (except those looking to subvert that law)?

A favorite example is the tender. The law may require that a tender be publicized, but neglect to say where. So the tender will be posted where no one will know about it – conforming to the letter of the law exactly, but clearly not the spirit.

The playing field must be level. Everyone has interests or connections and relationships with people who have interests. That’s how and why back door deals are made, or more insidiously, how supposedly neutral third party arbitrators can subtly shift final decisions against the will of the majority.

To use the same example twice, this is most commonly seen in tenders, where somehow those with connections win – against all odds, or logic.

One solution to that is transparency, where all the details of all the responses must be publicized. It’s not foolproof, but it makes certain common types of hanky-panky more difficult or at least more difficult to explain away.

The rules of the game must be enforceable. It’s very nice that there are rules, but they must be constantly and consistently enforceable, otherwise those who have grabbed power can flout it when convenient for them.

Enforceable best means by punishment by law.

But that isn't always an option, so more arbitrary tools, exist such as shaming and other social tools. Going public (i.e. in the newspapers) is probably the best tool in this toolbox, but it is arbitrary and no guarantee of success. Other mechanisms also exist, such as the petition, the strike, civil disobedience, and others – but again – those are difficult to organize against small infractions, and that is what those who have the power count on.

There must be transparency, if for no other reason than to minimize the possibility of back room deals. And if there is no transparency (such as in a secret vote), there must be a way to verify that the counting was accurate and not manupulated.

And finally, and this is the most difficult one to achieve, you must have full member participation.

Democracy is so easily subverted, because those doing the subverting know that the majority of the participants are apathetic, and will go along with whatever they are told.

It takes a lot to wake people up, and the “salami method” (always taking little steps instead of big ones) guarantees the people don’t get riled up enough to react or revolt.

And those who get upset early one are "rocking the boat".

This is how your rights get chipped away.

Indifference is without a doubt the biggest danger to democracy. Most people are not involved in the decisions around them. Some don’t care. Some don’t have time. Some have learned you can’t fight city hall, and have given up.

What I find most interesting is how true this is, whether you are talking about a municipality deciding on whether to allocate a plot of public land, a neighborhood committee deciding how to utilize the community coffers, or whether you are the Prime Minister trying to force through a vote that doesn’t have a majority.

There must be a better way to prevent these small abuses, because that is where the biggest dangers and threats to democracy lie. But I am at a loss to think of any.


Neshama said...

I see it like this, democracy allowed the Jews to settle in the US after the wars in Europe, capitalism allowed the Jews to build up their communities, Yeshivos and Bnos Yaakovs, and in general allowed for survivors to create families and to prosper. Democracy and Capitalism were tools for the Jews to prosper. And not to be forgotten, prosperity in the US enabled Eretz Yisrael to be built up. Now that it is a healthy country with much to offer the entire world, democracy and capitalism are no longer needed.

Anonymous said...


Okay. From a standpoint of evolutionary time, we are all fragile.

On the other hand? A piddling group of unhappy colonists, turned the powerful British Crown on its head. The actual fighting broke out around 1765. And, in less than a dozen years the world saw the birth of democracy.

That you'd notice it was a White Man's birth? YES! And, produced by the Enlightenment's BODY. YES. Did religion and aristocracy take a back seat? YES.

And, in evolutionary terms, if you don't bring in new blood you're gonna suffer from in-breeding.

So score one for democracies, everywhere. Today the people interested in freedom reaches deep into countries that at one time got no light shining inside at all.

Languages, too, have dropped by the wayside. You'll see antennas and Dishes, reaching to the waves in the sky, even in places that have no plumbing. And, electricity is a "sometime thing." Where you must own your own generator.

How effective? Look at the corpses! The "twitter" is a hand held device! And, even when it speaks Farsi, it's translated and read in other languages. All you have to show is interest.

That it's not overnight? A man's job, when he impregnates a woman, is over within seconds. The process, however, gestates.

This is true for ideas, as well.

If you need to understand, let's say, Iran, right now ... For all you know Islam died. And, the populace aren't as beholden to their priests; than Italians are to those who dance around in the Vatican. The power has really shifted.

Doesn't even matter if you see it or not. But if you want to define "democracy" at its best; it now includes foreigners. And, especially, half the world's population of women.

Who knows? Even the Pill began setting women free. Cows, however, which must be pregnant to produce milk, are artificially inseminated. They're always pregnant. And, then they die.

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