In egalitarian societies, it is well-established that abortion is about the right of a woman to choose what to do with her body. Similarly, assisted dying legislation – being proposed now in Victoria, NSW, WA and SA – is about the right of a person to choose how they die. The proposed legislation won’t cover me, but I too want to be able to choose how I die, if possible.Read More »
I’ve always imagined that democracy was a critical element for a good society. But democracy is crashing all around us and we seem almost powerless to stop it. Then I learnt that fully participative democracy is quite fragile. Only a few countries in the world had democracy before WW2. Dictatorships are common in the world.
So what is it that makes ‘democracy’ valuable and stable…and how do we ensure we keep it and make it work for the good of most, rather than for the enrichment of the few?
What makes democracy strong?
A recent article in The Guardian (Capurro, ‘Can we stop the collapse of democracy?’, 5 Aug 17) suggested the following elements make a democracy strong:
– The rule of law
– An independent judiciary
– Freedom of speech
– Freedom of the press
– A strong civil society
– Firm civilian control over security services and the military
– A strong system of checks and balances on government
What about the importance of voting?
What’s interesting is that voting for a government is not listed. Because, when you look at voting, you see that China, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Venezuela, Singapore, Hong Kong, Rwanda and many other countries ‘vote’, but the results are simply unbelievable as being representative, because the voting system is somehow rigged. (Actually it is increasingly rigged in the US too – the nominal ‘home’ of modern democracy – via the gerrymandering of congressional electorates.)
And, where people do vote, increasingly the voting is so split that many parties are represented, making governing by any one, or even a grouping of, parties quite difficult. And if we are really after ‘strong leaders’, then dictatorships provide great opportunities for ‘strong leadership’…
But fully participative voting, based on independently or concensually-determined electoral systems, should be a bedrock of any democratic system. Clearly, proper vote counting and abiding by the results are also necessary conditions.
Why are these elements important?
Voting is important because it gives all votes the opportunity to directly participate and reflect their views in choosing their own representatives to make decisions on their behalf. Voting enables non-performers to be replaced. Rule of law is important because it provides rules for how society should work and – theoretically – treats people equally, over time. An independent judiciary is very important as it provides the ultimate check and balance on any government that tries to change the rules or misuse the rules for its own advantage. Freedom of speech is important because, for societies to improve, problems must be able to be raised and alternative solutions proposed and debated openly, so everyone can consider the issue and the alternatives. Freedom of the press is important because the press has generally been the communicator of different opinions and the place where open debate has taken place. (The role of the internet now makes the role of the ‘press’ less clear and freedom of ‘speech’ very easy – perhaps too much, given the trolling of some people which takes place.)
The role of a strong civil society is underplayed. A good society needs a civil service to weigh up the evidence on issues, regardless of what current government policy or philosophy may be and to communicate that, not only to government and politicians, but also to the people, to improve decisionmaking. Civil servants know the evidence, but are often unable, even in democracies like Australia, to get this evidence out to the people. (Australia’s immigration practices are one simple example.)
Firm civilian control over security forces and the military is another underplayed element. As fear of terrorism and crime are promoted, citizens feel afraid even when the evidence may not support that. Money is given to boost ‘security’ and the military, with little or no discussion of its value, compared to alternative uses, such as addressing the underlying social causes of terrorism or crime. If the government controls security forces and the military, it gains access to private information and the power to prosecute, jail or kill anyone they wish.
A strong system of checks and balances – to appeal decisions, to review and overturn bad policy – is another important element. As well as the role of an independent judiciary, having two houses of government, with differing views, requiring compromise and logic to get policy through, is another key element. The roles of the legal system, appeals systems and civilian processes (eg Omsbudsmen, whistleblower legislation, civil service monitoring of laws) are just a few mechanisms that slow or stop dictatorships developing.
Democracy needs to be fought for
I must say I thought democracy was well established and highly desirable for most countries. But experience of trying to impose western democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere suggests this is not necessarily the case. More so, the experience of 6 months of Trump in the US – following Putin, Erdogan, Zuma, Maduro and many other elected ‘strong leaders’ – shows how hard-fought, social equity gains are easily swept away. In a ‘good’ society, these proposed changes should be met with evidence, rational argument and good processes to get to a logical decision. But strong leaders, believing in their righteousness and personal importance, often brook no argument…and democracy crumbles, often slowly, incrementally, but crumbles all the same.
Who knows how long it will be before Turkey or Venezuela or Egypt recover, let alone Russia, recover from their current anti-democratic situations…if ever?
Which battles will we fight for, because there are so many unjust issues? Will battle fatigue overcome us, as more and more undemocratic solutions rain down on us? How many causes can we support, in the face of shadowy millions from unknown organisations, seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the people?
What seems certain is that fight we will have to, not only to preserve what we have or had, but to seek any new improvements for our ‘democratic’ society. The elements listed above are the fundamental, underlying elements to look at to see if a democracy can defend itself, or to see which foundations are being attacked. If only we had a dictator who could rule for the good of all…Read More »
Standing in the empty car park on top of Westfield Doncaster shopping mall on a cold, clear early morning while waiting for my car to be express serviced, I looked out to the Dandenongs to the east, the CBD to the west, the suburbs all around. I startled 20 swallows and two eastern rosellas. Melbourne lay below us (and the other Doncaster high rises), draped across the gentle rolling hills. It was a beautiful picture (mostly), appreciated by no one else.
I remember being surprised – and pleased – that Melbourne’s liveability was recognised several years ago. Being named the world’s most liveable city inevitably invites the Australian tall poppy syndrome. There’s only one way to go – down.
Now, many residents are querying whether the city is in fact becoming unliveable – citing traffic congestion, population size, multiplying high rises and government planning failures. Yet our personal international visitors invariably enthuse on discovering Melbourne’s delights on their short visits. I wonder myself now, just how ‘liveable’ Melbourne is. Do I even want to live here myself? Read More »
Australia is a great country for tourism. And I love to travel. And tourism boosts the economy. But I’ve had enough. There are too many tourists. We don’t want any more.Read More »
To be cool, we are supposed to use Apple, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb , Amazon, eBay, Google, IKEA, bookings.com, wotif, expedia and many other online-centred organisations. But there’s just one small problem. These, and no doubt many other similar tech-based organisations don’t pay any tax in Australia. What should we do?Read More »
As the UK and Afghanistan reel again today from yet another terrorist bombing (and who knows who it will be tomorrow?), the awful thought occurred to me: perhaps Trump is right. Perhaps it is a Muslim problem that we face.Read More »
With a group of friends the other day, I was attracted by the bright hair colours of the women. One had a shock of blue and platinum, another red-brown, two were rich black, two were blonde and only two were natural shades of grey. Those men who had much hair at all appeared to be grey-white – fully grey-white, mostly grey with a sprinkling of the old brown or black, or greying at the edges of wispy black or brown. On average, the men looked at least 10 years older than the women, though they were in fact all of similar ages. Why do only women get to colour their hair?Read More »
Recently, journalists at The Age went on strike for a week in protest at yet another large cut in staff numbers, claiming that independent journalism was at great risk if this cutting continued. Though I sympathise and value some of The Age journalists, particularly the commentators and analysts, I’m afraid they are like people promoting sailing ships when steamships arrived. The time of newspapers is over. Let me explain.Read More »
‘I love you’. I hate it. Not love, but the phrase. I hear it so often. It’s used so frequently it’s virtually meaningless. A phrase used to fill the gap, make the hearer feel good. But real love is fundamental to a good life. What can we do about the phrase?
Degrading the Language
Part of the problem with the phrase ‘I love you’ is that it represents just a small – but very important – part of the general degradation of language. The use of increasingly superlative words for ordinary actions. ‘Amazing’, ‘fabulous’, ‘fantastic’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘great’, ‘the best’ and so on. These words are used endlessly each day. ‘What an amazing cup of coffee’. ‘You cooked a meal. Fantastic.’
Garrison Keilor, the great American storyteller, ended his weekly story from Lake Wobegon with ‘…and all the children are above average’. It used to be a joke, but now it seems all the children – and everyone – is apparently above average on almost everything. Wow, isn’t that fantastic! Unbelievable. Well, actually, it is unbelievable. It’s simply not possible mathematically.
And so ‘like’ has been replaced with ‘love’, increasingly followed by XXs and now by several emojis. Everyone ‘loves’ everybody they know. ‘Admire’, ‘respect’ and similar words have gone. But in reality, this (respect, like, admire) is what we feel for most of the people we claim to ‘love’. Similarly, ‘best wishes’ and ‘sincerely’ have gone from birthday and celebration cards and FB (actually they never even reached FB!) to be replaced by ‘love.
What’s wrong with ‘love’? It’s fake news.
But isn’t ‘love’ positive? Isn’t positive good? How could I hate this wonderful phrase ‘I love you’?
What’s wrong is that it is an example of fake news. I’ve always been a person who tries to tell the truth, to say it how it is, to call it as I see it. And I don’t see ‘love’ everywhere, I don’t feel ‘love’ for everything, everyone I know. I want to reserve this very special phrase for very special people in my life, for very special situations.
People say ‘But you must love everyone in your family? Well, actually, no I don’t! Some I love, some I like, some I’m neutral towards and some I actually don’t like’. And, if you are honest, this is almost certainly how you feel about your family. (I blogged much earlier on preferring friends over family.)
Actually, I use ‘love’ more now than I used to. Isn’t this contradictory? No, its not. I’ve actually felt ‘love’ for a lot of my friends, but been afraid to express it, for all the reasons above. Now I go out of my way to use ‘love’ more, but only for those for whom I mean it. Sometimes it feels odd, especially when sending ‘love’ to a male friend, or an attractive female friend. In this respect, I agree that there should be more love in the world. We could certainly do with more making love and less (or zero) making war in this world. What I don’t agree with is expressing love where it isn’t meant. Which seems to be most of the time.
So, dear readers, I thank you for reading my blog. Some of you I may indeed ‘love’. Some I may ‘respect’, ‘admire’ or ‘like’. Some I don’t even know and I might not even like you…but thanks for reading and I hope the blog continues to be thought-provoking. Perhaps you will rethink your use of the word ‘love’
and perhaps we can recapture the wonderful value of this simple, but so powerful, word.
As most of us despair the deceit, wilful blindness, self-centred arrogance and corruption of many politicians and leaders in all of our countries, I wondered how do we find a new way to reconfigure the process, create a genuinely new framework for rethinking our societies? We’ve had capitalism, centred on the power of money and markets. We’ve had communism, centred on making everyone equal. We’ve had socialism, centred on protecting the weak. We’ve had dictatorships, centred on a few powerful people making decisions for the rest of us. We’ve had democracy, centred on equal rights to speak and vote. We’ve had religion, centred on the basis of blind faith in the mystical. We’ve had royalty, centred on the power of a specified family.
All of these have their weaknesses, as we are too painfully aware. I propose a new political philosophy of ‘peoplism”. Peoplism focuses a government on what people actually need. Let me explain how it would reframe our priorities and decisionmaking.Read More »