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What is Democracy?

by
Jon Twigge

Here is another contribution by Jon Twigge, ardent Spiral Dynamics Integral enthusiast and supporter of the Centre of Human Emergence – UK. Jon wrote the piece for his own blog and has graciously consented to it being published here as well.

Most people here in the West seem to think that Democracy is a good thing.  Even those people who don’t think that voting is worth bothering with would probably rather live in a democracy than under a brutal dictatorship.

I would say that there are some key aspects of a democracy.

The first aspect is an emergent behaviour in a society that arises when a significant proportion of the people believe in rights and fairness.  This belief leads to behaviour that supports law and order and moral codes rather than “may the strongest win” or “survival of the fittest”.  Britain holds a long tradition of Democracy, at least at home here in the UK.

You can’t really create a democracy in a country by simply imposing it if the people in that country don’t yet live by social rules that embed rights and fairness in them.  The values of rights and fairness only really come into their own when a society has been stable for some time and has had the space to allow them to flourish and become embedded in its culture.

Attempts to create democracy before a country are ready is going to take a very long time and will involve building a long lasting security to give the space for a change of values to occur.  It almost comes down to creating an infrastructure both physically and socially and holding that in place, with physical force as required, until a new generation has grown up with it.

But that is another story; back to my aspects of Democracy

The second aspect of Democracy is that all important feature – choice.  I would argue that it is not really about choice in any detailed sense – everyone knows that we, as individuals, cannot possibly vote on every issue that arises in the country – but rather it is about representation of our general values.  We sort of get choice by accountability: we don’t vote for those politicians that let us down.  Of course, the process is fraught with problems because the number of choices we get are actually quite small and accountability generally only kicks in every 4 or 5 years as we elect new leaders.

It is worth noting that the only reason that Democracy works at all is that you can group together political opinions into some pretty general themes.  Funnily enough, these themes follow social groupings and class structures in society.  Political parties, therefore, tend to have large elements from members of similar social groups and class.

Even across national borders you can see commonalities between parties; but the alignment is not always so strong as it is in a single country.  You can see this commonality, but with differences, played out in the European Union blocs of parties that are normally aligned but whose relations are often strained.

With a values based perspective, drawn from Spiral Dynamics, it is quite clear that different parties and their associated political views are essentially drawn from different vMEMES.  Now, vMEMES are the underlying value strategies that we all hold as our primary way of interacting in the world and we learn these as ways of coping with the world and society.  3 of these value strategies could be summed up as:-

  • structure and order
  • motivation and success
  • equality and rights

It is not hard to see how these underlying strategies are played out in our political parties and politicians with different priorities in different cases.  If we remember that these vMEMES are underlying strategies and values, or vMEMES, are based on and evolve to embody them, then we can also see how different parties in different countries develop slightly different policies (values) than their neighbours.

Politicians’ views and policies are based on their own personal experiences and values.  Political parties therefore employ social strategies that are aligned with their own social class, beliefs and values.  These policies are, therefore, aligned, if the politicians implement their policies well, with people and organisations, in the general population who hold similar values.

So, now for the problem, and it is quite obvious really.  People who hold different values to whoever is in power at the time don’t tend to like the policies of politicians with different values.  In practice, because of the complexities of society and the way in which politicians try to say the right things all of the time, it is not exactly black and white most of the time and some voters switch between parties depending on the issues of the day and the state of the country.

In fact, putting things even more strongly, the policies derived from one value system are not even appropriate for people with different value systems a lot of the time.  For a very clear example, only some of the population are inspired by tax policies designed to incentivise entrepreneurial companies.  Other portions of society cannot work out why some people should be well off while others are in poverty and there is a crime epidemic.

All pulling in the same direction?

All pulling in the same direction?

So, we have a problem.  But, what is the answer?  In broad terms, the answer is to provide a mix of policies designed to provide an environment across the country that provides what all of the different value systems need to prosper.  And that is not something that a number of different parties all shouting we are right/you are wrong is ever going to manage, even if they do get to take turns at having a go.

A values aware political system may well see the end of national democracy in favour of a more collaborative representation system.  But, you cannot impose one of those on a country where there is not a significant proportion of people who have a conscious understanding of the benefits of all of the values systems rather than an unconscious belief in just their own values.

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