Where, O’ Where, Has Democracy Gone…?
Before we begin, I want to make it clear that I am the product of a fairly comprehensive education at the hands of the New York State public schools, and despite the fact that Latin was removed from our high school curriculum the year before I entered, and, incredibly, despite the fact that I am guilty of never having done a day’s worth of homework in my entire pre-college career, I am an educated person and I remember things that I learned sitting in the classroom. I even remember getting a 95% on an English exam about The Old Man and the Sea despite my never having read the book. I tried, but by the end of page one I determined that I wasn’t a huge Hemingway fan, and so I just paid attention in class and got my 95% on the test and that was the end of it.
I also remember sitting in 7th grade Social Studies class and having the differences between Communism, Socialism, Totalitarianism, Dictatorship, Fascism, Monarchy, Constitutional Monarchy and Democracy explained to us. (Of course we were supposed to read the textbook to supplement and reinforce those classroom lectures, but it turned out that for me, at least, Social Studies textbooks seemed to work as some sort of soporific, and by the end of the first page, I would be fast asleep.)
Which is not to say, of course, that I didn’t somehow escape from high school with a Regents diploma in at least five subjects, and far more credits than I needed either to graduate or to get into college, but I didn’t work for any of it and still, somehow, I seem to be educated far beyond many of my peers and many of the students who are currently in school, aiming for good grades, studying day and night, getting all As, even in AP Calculus, and then graduating without the ability to make a decent omelet or iron a shirt or write a single paragraph about anything without using the reflexive “myself” as the subject of a sentence. But there you have it.
In any event, the subject of this essay is Democracy and I want to tie up the first three paragraphs with it. The fact is that Democracy is as old as ancient Greece, whence the name (Greek: Δημοκρατία, The term is derived from the Greek words demokratia, demos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”) “rule by [the] people”) is derived. It is directly responsible for our Constitutional intent: Of the People, By the People and For the People. Yet somehow, the People in this country, people who go to school, who do their homework, who get good grades and graduate and go to college do not remember any of this, and therefore politics in this country have become a jumble of misinformation mixed with religious ferver. We have lost sight of what, exactly, democracy is, why we should appreciate it, why our founding fathers insisted on it (although technically, the US is a democratic republic), and what, exactly that has to do with today’s sorry state of affairs.
Let’s first address what a democracy is SUPPOSED to be. According to the Constitution, we each – that is people of majority age (18) – are supposed to get one vote in an election. That means that when election time rolls around, we each troop off to our local polling place, register as having shown up, go into the booth, and select the people whom we think will best represent us: from city council to mayor to state representatives and senators, to governors, to congresspersons and senators, to president. Each of us gets to have our say, at least once every four years; but local jurisdictions and primaries being what they are, we generally go more often. And in this way, presumably, the majority prevails. If I vote, for example, for a city councilperson who wants to put a traffic light at a dangerous intersection, and enough other people who also believe that a traffic light ought to be put at that same intersection also vote for that person, then presumably that councilperson will win and will suggest in city council meetings that that is a dangerous intersection and that a traffic light should, in fact, be installed there. If enough members of the city council have also been elected based on their belief that a traffic light ought to be installed at that intersection, then when they vote on it, if the majority of the councilpersons vote to have the light installed, that will be enough to enact that rule/law and next thing you know, you will see a traffic light being installed at the intersection and the number of accidents decreasing.
Now all of this is based on two things: 1. Democracy. As you can see, it is by voting and the win of the majority that an existing problem is resolved; 2. Information and research. If you live in another state, the goings on at that particular intersection may not be an issue for you, but if you live in the jurisdiction in which the intersection exists, then you may have seen more than one accident occur there, or you might have been a victim of an accident at that location, or you might have seen on the news at least once a week that an accident has occurred there, or you have heard from several neighbors who have seen or been impacted by accidents that have occurred there OR you could go out of your way and consult your local government about a statistical analysis of the number of accidents that occur at that location based on traffic accident reports submitted by local police officers and in context with population information and state population information. If you find out that you are the only person living in that jurisdiction and that you had one accident there that year and that no one else had, but that no one else lives there or travels that route, then your accident statistic is 100% and you may feel that a statistic of 100% is sufficient to require a traffic light there, but no one else might see spending the money to install a traffic light there to be of value. They might insist that you take a defensive driving class to improve your own driving ability and knowledge, but this is not a statistically significant reason to put a traffic light at that location. And this is where context comes into play. And this is the value of research and knowledge and fact versus fiction.
So, you see here how I am tying education into democracy. No democracy can work properly without an educated populace. And, I would like to add here that our founding fathers were all VERY well educated men (and, yes, I know I said men, but back then the women were home raising the children, dragging water from the wells, starting fires in the kitchen stove without the use of matches, and not directly participating very much in government; but they did very much participate in government in that their husbands were aware of what they had to deal with at home and legislated, partially, at least, based on that). “I cannot live without books…” – Thomas Jefferson. John Adams, whose biography I am currently reading, was a lawyer. His wife was as supportive as she could be and they made a team that influenced how President Adams made many of his decisions. Benjamin Franklin was mostly self-educated and opened the first library in the Country in Philadelphia. Granted school was not what it is now, but, on the other hand, they didn’t have Donkey Kong to distract them from reading. They got up early, helped with the family chores, read and studied, helped with the family chores again, and went to bed early (“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin).
Quite honestly, there are so many issues today that we cannot each delve into all the research we should do before an election. We’d be up 25/8/366 and never be able to accomplish anything else in our lives. So we need to depend on other sources – newspapers, television, radio news, magazines, Internet news – to get our information. First, we get information as to whether an issue exists, then what about that issue we need to know to make an informed decision. And, of course, this is where the value of a good education comes into play. Reading comprehension and language skills are needed to understand and evaluate the information we have been given, and enough background knowledge of a given subject is also helpful. That is why, as a Biology major (5th grade, 7th grade, 10th grade, 720 on my Biology Achievement test with half my cerebrum tied behind my back, 95% on my CPE, college), I feel that, at least among the majority of my friends who did not major in Biology, I am uniquely qualified to listen to and understand what the experts are telling us about the Novel Coronavirus (CoViD-19). I understand enough about Microbiology and Epidemiology to make sense of what Dr. Fauci says (despite the fact that he has to temper (pi) his language so as not to have a certain president-in-his-own-mind fire him (which he is as likely to do as to eat a McDonald’s meal at least once per day). And, believe it or not, I was telling my friends about a second possible outbreak of CoViD-19 even before Dr. Fauci mentioned it. Notwithstanding, and not to say that I am some kind of genius or that I should work as a bookie in Lost Wages, it is simply a fact that my education – and, mind you, I have not yet finished college! – has enabled me to understand this particular medical issue. And, I have found, that it is the very lack of this education and specialized knowledge that has enabled so many scammers to convince people that they need not wear masks or need not get whatever vaccine is eventually developed. And it is that same lack of education that may turn some voters toward supporting candidates with the same lack of knowledge, who also revile the notion of wearing masks and getting vaccines. And, as it turns out, though in some jurisdictions they may well be the majority, they do not really speak for the public good, nor do they represent those who have already died from CoViD-19. And it is their lack of knowledge coupled with their majority vote that threatens our democracy. And if that is not ironic, I don’t know what is.
Now, I want to delve briefly into religion to explain to some – and aggravate others – exactly where this fits into the aforementioned commentary regarding education and democracy. Though you may not initially see it or contemplate it or give a rat’s furry behind, this is an important component because of what religion represents and because of how it has evolved – especially over the last century and a half – that has adversely affected our democracy, and, again very ironically, by countering education.
Again, I want to introduce this by saying that I was brought up in a non-religious household. We did attend Ethical Culture Sunday school for a while, but I hated it and finally convinced my parents to stop forcing me to go, even though they continued their friendship and acquaintanceship with many of the members. Not bad people, for the most part, but struggling conscientiously to provide their children with some of the religious ideals and principles they had learned as children without actually bringing G-d into the equation. For myself, I had somehow been introduced to Judaism – which is my background anyway – through accidental means when I was about four, and remained curious throughout my life until I started attending a synagogue at about 21. I’ve been going ever since, voluntarily, if not actually regularly, and I go largely because for me it is a cultural imperative, but also because I believe in the principles we are taught (though not so much in Perkei Avot, which I see as unnecessarily sexist). Yes, G-d is up there, or around there, or permeating everything, fine, but there are also principles of education – technically, no Jewish householder is illiterate because we need to be able to read and study the Torah – and because, I, at least, view the Torah as a book of history, sociology, law and religion, though not necessarily in that order, that I continue to pursue it. It teaches us how to treat other people, and actually enacts laws – though they are G-d given – to keep us on the straight and narrow. And, again, apart from some laws about how to eat, there are liability laws, laws about marriage and divorce, laws about what to do if you find someone’s lost something lying on the sidewalk, and laws about what to do if a priest discovers you have leprosy. Of course, general education, as we know it today, did not exist, but in order to survive, people learned from the Torah. They learned not to steal, because if everyone stole from everyone else, there would be no point in ownership of anything – even the bowl from which you consumed your Manna. Of course, G-d just handed down an edict, as it were, written in stone and minus the sociological and philosophical wherefores, yet providing detailed information on the punishment for stealing. They learned, also, about how to look for leprosy, when to consult a priest about it, and to remain quarantined, if the priest said they must, until the priest examined them once again and declared them disease-free. Again, these detailed instructions, enumerated by Moses after getting them directly from G-d’s hand or mouth or inspiration, were for the public good, although G-d never actually explained the medical or epidemiological whys and wherefores. He only made it plain that a person with leprosy should not be walking around in public infecting his/her fellow citizens. Period.
Let me make it clear, also, that education – the concept of someone telling you a fact and then you knowing that fact – is not complete unless you assimilate that fact and apply it. You need to think about it and add it to that store of knowledge that can help you navigate the planet safely, and avoiding passing on a contagious and deadly disease is part of that. First, passing around a contagious disease is not an example of being kind to other people; then, of course, it can pretty much decimate a given population. G-d, I believe, had this in mind, though He couldn’t quite put all of this in the Torah or no one would have wanted to read it. If you think the combined Tanach (Torah plus prophets, plus Kings, plus Judges, plus Psalms, plus assorted other writings) and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and the other basic Judaica is heavy, try reading all that on stone tablets. You’d have multiple hernias before Leprosy took you down.
Anyway, I hold by the principles of Judaism insofar as being literate, educated, and assimilating my knowledge into something useful. I also hold by the principles of treating other people as I would want to be treated and not stealing and not lying and not passing around contagious illnesses.
Some religions, it seems to me, have bypassed so many of these principles, and/or distorted or disfigured them, so that they are currently unrecognizable. A priest or a minister or a rabbi or an imam says something and everyone who listens takes it as “gospel,” as it were. No questions asked. No, “well, he said this or that, but he’s not a medical expert, so should we accept it as is, or should we consult our physicians?” No, “well, I think wearing a mask might be to my advantage; it’s not nice to get other people sick, and that can happen without one.” If their preacher claims he can vanquish a disease simply by blowing it away, then the masks go in the garbage and parishioners begin to experience symptoms. No, “well, I might not like wearing a mask, but the (temporary) law says I must and this is a law that is important to follow, so I will wear my mask.” No questions. No questions of a medical nature, no questions of an epidemiological nature, no questions of a legal nature, no questions of a biblical nature (“…love thy neighbor as thyself…”). No questions. Nothing learned. No new knowledge acquired; no new knowledge assimilated.
Further, of course, is the track in which democracy is currently running (remember I said I’d tie these things together). Again, democracy is rule of the people, by the people and for the people and voting should result in wins by the majority. However, that does not seem to be the case these days. Some religions, it seems, are okay with cheating. None of this “thou shalt not bear false witness” stuff. It’s okay to cheat to win. None of this “…love thy neighbor as thyself..;.” stuff; it’s okay not only to lie to people, but to lie to them about something that is bad for them. The Torah takes time to explain about determining whether a person has leprosy because it is an easily communicable disease, and then about quarantining people who have symptoms so that they can’t pass it on, but modern-day religious followers campaign against quarantine as a violation of their rights. Notwithstanding that they are a minority, that they are protecting themselves and their loved ones (should they have any) from becoming ill with another easily communicable disease, but they are violating the “golden rule.” And our modern leaders make no effort to provide people with the truth, but deliberately “bear false witness” and endanger the lives of their fellows when they endorse unproven, and potentially dangerous, remedies. And some of these “leaders” are actually in office not because of having won a majority of the popular vote, but because they cheated by misleading members of the Electoral College. And so we have the decay of democracy in our very viewfinders, and cannot muster the koäch (חוכ) we need to strengthen and reinforce it.
Finally, of course, is the frightening direction in which the world is headed. The post World War II world had learned the dangers of Fascism, Totalitarianism (often incorrectly called communism) and Dictatorship, all of which robbed people of their rights and suppressed education and truth. This is still going on today, though to some extent we have managed either to isolate those governments, or they have isolated themselves, and we were, with minor hitches, running along toward a better planet. China (the PRC), Russia, North Korea and Viet Nam, are the most egregious practitioners of these brands of governance (?), but we kept them at bay through negotiation and sanctions. But we have, again, not as a result of the majority of the voters, but as an Electoral College mishap, a “leader” who admires the dictators in these countries, who doesn’t negotiate with them, but praises them, whose ignorance of foreign affairs is going to be the death of us all if he is not soundly defeated in November, and who is supported by a vast number of very religious people who seem not to understand that he is against everything they stand for – he lies, he cheats on his wives, he is uneducated and he praises the very dictators to whom religion is anaethema – and who is actually physically endangering their lives by not quarantining us, by not setting an example and wearing a mask in public, and by advocating their consumption of legal pharmaceuticals that are ineffective in preventing or curing this disease, as well as their consumption of cleaning solutions. One person has already died from taking hydroxychloroquine on the non-professional advice of this would-be dictator, and the poison control center hotlines have lit up with people asking if it’s okay to drink bleach if they have symptoms of CoViD-19.
So, we have an uneducated populace, claiming to be religious, but not caring if they have to cheat to win the election of a would-be dictator who will, if he gets the opportunity, burn the Constitution and go full steam ahead with his dismantling of American and world democracy. Despite his calling for houses of worship to be considered “essential” in the time of CoViD-19, he cares nothing at all about the parishioners who attend those churches, synagogues, mosques, temples. He does it for the votes. He thinks that by advocating in favor of opening those venues, the parishioners who attend them will vote for him. That’s probably true, pending, of course, on their survival rate. He thinks that by denying the number of those who contract and/or die of Coronavirus, that the facts still won’t be true. That people who are mourning the loss of family members from Coronavirus won’t notice that they’re missing a few people at the Thanksgiving table. That voters appreciate being lied to by the people they have chosen to represent them.
That is how democracy declines and dictatorship and totalitarianism begin; by ignoring the facts, by ignoring majority rule, by ignoring the wishes of the people whom they SERVE – not rule, but SERVE. And this is happening world wide. America – the United States of America – is supposed to be a light among the nations, but right now our light is turned off, we are in the dark, and a vicious, evil, dictator-wannabee is leading us by the hand to our destruction, and the rest of the world with us. What on earth do you think happened in the UK with the election of Boris Johnson? That is yet another man not fit to lead, and he is, in fact, being given more leeway than his due because he is following the example of the US and the Prevaricator-in-Chief. People in the UK figure if it’s okay for the US, it’s okay for them, and rather than revile Dump, they copy him. You’d think they could see from afar just how dangerous he is, but they think that if they can’t, themselves, lead, they can at least be attentive followers. And Boris Johnson, even after having had CoViD-19 and being hospitalized for it, is still being lenient about opening the UK. You’d think he, of all people, would know better, but he is just following Dump.
And so goes the rest of the world. We sit idly by while Turkey and Hungary and Iran and Saudi Arabia and others become more and more dictatorial, and don’t say a word. We are supposed to waltz into the UN and tell them to sanction those governments until the people have democratic elections, and to kick China the hell off the Security Council. Instead, we idly watch as one country after another tilts toward dictatorship and the dreams of those democratic founding fathers of ours fall by the wayside.
At this point, we have many significant issues with which to concern ourselves: we want a clean planet for our children and grandchildren; we want economic equality (which, by the way, does not mean “communism”); we want excellent education (please see above); we want world peace; we want all the freedoms and rights given to us in the Articles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; we want our leaders to lead by example and to serve as representatives of the people who elected them. We cannot, and should not, be telling other governments what to do; that’s not our bailiwick. We should, however, lead by example. We should have the best and most democratic government. We should have excellent health care. We should have excellent education. We should each have a home and groceries in the pantry and hot and cold running water. We should each have the ability to compete, fairly, for jobs for which we are well qualified. We should have a squeaky clean environment (for the religious folks among us, think Garden of Eden!). And when the citizens of other countries see that it can be done, they should be able to vote for leaders – representatives – who will help them achieve these goals also.
But until we come to our senses, educate ourselves and start making it easier to have free and fair elections, without worrying about hacking and cheating, none of this will occur and we will descend into the pit. And, believe it or not, religion can still play a part in this IF it is not distorted by those who find they can take advantage of using that which should be sacrosanct as a kind of shell game. Cheat the sheep and profit and lose your humanity and your democracy. I weep merely thinking about it.
© 2020 MyPoliticalSelf / S. Schimek