Thursday, 13 September 2007

Democracy? Please explain

Coming across the attached graphic in “Time” magazine, September 17th, 2007, made me reflect on my understanding of the term “democracy”. Although the graphic purports to measure governance, as it bears on freedom, I wonder whether a concept which is at the same time as simple and as complex as freedom can be measured in this way.

As I see it, “freedom” is a great deal more than the capacity to participate in the election of my government. Amongst other things, it equates to quality of life, security, availability of choices, capacity to self-actualise, and capacity to influence my community.

I would also argue that having a say in the election of my government doesn’t necessarily guarantee these capacities. At one time I was a conscripted soldier in an army of occupation in a foreign country. I was told that I was fighting for “freedom”. The irony that I had lost most of my freedoms, to protect those of others wasn’t lost on me or my fellow conscripts.

I visit this same country (now coloured red on the graphic –indicating just about the lowest score on the freedom index possible) and when I do so, I see in the day-to-day life of the people, a range of choices generally available to me in Australia, which is rendered in a delightful shade of blue.

What I also see is physical evidence (flags – portraits) of an ideology which is the only one permitted. I don’t see a major connect between this ideology and the perceived lack of freedom from an observer’s point of view. My definition of freedom allows for economic prosperity to have a major influence.

In this country elections are held, where candidates are put forward much as they are here. The major difference is that all these candidates must subscribe to the accepted ideology.

What I learn from this is that not everyone has the same idea of what constitutes democracy, but most agree on what constitutes freedom. I’m sure that the combination of ideology and totalitarianism is entirely a bad mix, but I’m also sure that these conditions can co-exist in what many classify as democracies.

Perhaps the major enemy of freedom is ideology (either of the right or the left) combined with totalitarianism. The dispensation of “left-right” in the twenty-first century may well be a march to nowhere.

Incidentally, the USA comes out at 35th place in this graphic. Now that is fascinating…………..

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