First published in The LIP magazine, February 2003
Democracy should be the champion of diversity. The word conjures in our minds the image of a Greek city state, where each citizen has his own, considered and educated opinion. They talk, they listen, and then they vote. A decision prevails, and we progress.
However, some things have happened to our world over the past thousand years. First, the democratic system has been clogged by the powerful and the ignorant, who are often the same people. The economic system, however amoral, has allowed some people to buy louder opinions. Second, we have created an education system that manages to yield citizens who have no discernable opinions of their own, nor the tools of imagination, inquiry and logic that will allow them to form some.
Now, then, the ‘tyranny of the majority’ has become manifest. Instead of a constant stream of dialogue between people and between groups, we have a partially-elective oligarchy that itself exists only to influence the opinion of a single mind. If that mind is already made up, all dialogue is pointless.
Other opinions are voiced, but even if they are heard the very nature of the system ensures they cannot be heeded. Democracy has switched sides, and instead of being the shield of diversity, it has become the tool of homogenisation. We have a rubbish excuse for democracy, and it is not something to be valued, or fought for.
The politics surrounding the war in Iraq, and the protests against it, illustrate these points—if we have to resort to massive direct action, why have democracy? Our opinions count for nothing, because those who didn’t have an opinion at election time are happy to let the oligarchy think for them now.
What has been forgotten at every level of the debate is that democracy should be more than just voting for a president. ‘Democracy’ in Zimbabwe means just that, and it has created grotesque results. In Iraq we send our brothers and sisters to kill and to die in their thousands, in the name of that same confused ideal. We do not know what we are fighting for, and so our humanity is eroded in the deserts of Arabia.
What is to be done, then? Democracy should be reclaimed. Once again, it should be about engaging in rational, critical and political discourse at every level, not just in Westminster and Washington. Debate should not be run by the national media but by every group of people in the country. The group of souls who label themselves students are not doing this, despite being seeped in the diverse and many subjects they study. This is shameful. Only when democracy has be reclaimed, and real plurality of thought is really considered, can true diversity flourish.
We cannot ask for a simple paradigm shift. Such a change in the way we conduct our lives, our interactions, will take generations. But the seeds must be planted now, for our grandchildren will reap what we sow. This is our project, and with this modest offering it begins.