Sunday, March 13, 2005

On Democracy

Ruling People

Democracy presupposes everyone is equal in the most fundamental of ways. That we all have equal capacity to discern what is right, what is wrong, what is best for everyone else. As one scholar says, “to be a democrat means having faith in people.” While ‘rule of the people’ and the ideals of democracy, the empowerment of the individual are certainly worthy and noble values to strive for, is it really practicable? Realizable? For in truth, not everyone is created equal. Are we?

‘Created’ of course might be a controversial word in that…what conditions and factors ‘create’ people? The environment? Genetics? Social structures? History? In truth, aren’t human societies fraught only with inequalities? Of the powerful and the powerless? Of the systematic disenfranchisement of certain groups of people? Like women, children and non-Caucasians?

The model of Democratic Autonomy puts the principle of autonomy/liberty as the rationale for effective rule of the people and active participation in government. It is highly idealized in that every single ‘citizen’ is capable and literate in political involvement. Already, this idea is problematic. How can one partake of government when one’s energies are completely consumed by providing for one’s basic needs? When one is eking out a living, literally subsisting from one meal to the next, how can one even think of the society’s concerns? Herein lies the opportunity for the ideals of democracy to be corrupted. Certainly, in states wherein citizens are far from achieving their full potential as individuals, then the system of equal opportunities and rights may well be abused, as is the case in the Philippines where votes are bought and sold at a pittance.

Liberal Democratic theory in general has little to say about socio-economic or other forms of structural inequalities either within states or globally because it presumes that they are unimportant for the exercise of citizenship. But the experiences of the Third World suggest that equal citizenship cannot take root alongside extreme income inequalities.

Is true Democracy ever possible? Or is it more of a vision? A lodestar? Not quite of this earth?

Theories arise out of historical conjunctures. They do not drop out of the sky like manna from heaven. Theories are not objects divorce from subjects. Humans make theories. Humans are products of their collective experiences and are necessarily shaped by their interests and biases. Theories are versions of truths. Theories are peddled to interpret truths.

What is the Moral of the (Hi)Story?

My History teachers have failed me. In my learning experience, history has generally been portrayed as nothing more than facts, dates and figures, as though the events of the past were an artifact displayed in a museum somewhere, to be ogled and viewed like an ancient relic divorced from the now.

The period of colonialism is similarly dismissed as though it were a terrible nightmare from the past best forgotten, and that the best way to do so would be to move on as if nothing happened. There was never an acknowledgment of the impact three and a half centuries made on the Filipino psyche, assuming of course that there is even one. If nothing, the story of the colonial experience is much like a Filipino soap opera, one of a perpetually tearful, oppressed and long-suffering protagonist being victimized by the much stronger villain for no other reason than s/he could do so. The script ran from one tearjerker moment to the next. Boohoo. So what??? I don’t believe this question was ever answered by my history teachers.

“History is both contextual and constitutive.” History is not a relic displayed for us to view behind the glass casing. History is not a rupture between the past and the present. Much the same as the colonial experience did not end just because the US declared it to be true in 1945, or in 1898 even. These dates were markers, dividers, separating the Before and After as if there was no continuity in between.

Periods in time both encapsulate and perpetuate. Periods in time are characterized not just by events and actors, but by the events’ impacts and the actors’ intentions. History reflects the human condition, humanity’s story. It is reflective of who we are, and boy, the mirror reveals spectacular moments of atrocity. I wish my history teachers taught me that.

Of Gods and Monsters

In a world that is increasingly ephemeral, where symbols and ideas now more than ever proliferate the globe, penetrating artificial boundaries, Realities are being created and destroyed, meanings transformed. In today’s world, these Realities are shaped willfully and consciously to advance the interests of those who have the instruments to do so.

Democracy is one such commodity being refashioned in the image of hegemony. It is marketed and advertised as a global good. The values of so-called ‘Freedom’ and ‘Rule of the People’ are the popular tag lines attached to this abstraction. ‘Otherness,’ whether indirect or in direct opposition to Democracy is re-cast as its antithesis, the Evil versus the Good.

Depicting non-democratic societies and cultures as the ‘Other’ necessitates delineation from democratic societies. Making concrete the boundaries between, emphasizing the most obvious of differences and overlooking commonalities in social structures underlying.

Images and identities are hewn in the superficial and what is easily identifiable. In a supposed global village, ethnicities, religion and cultural identity are in the forefront of explaining away conflict. Projection of Hegemonic Democracy as a must in every society calls for the annihilation of ‘Otherness.’ Values differing from those imbued in Democracy are ascribed as incompatible with this global good and therefore seen as obstacles to a now universal goal of democratization.

Humankind is being made into the image of Good, all wise and all knowing.

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