This has been on my mind for months, and now that it's taken shape in my mind I feel the need to get on the Everything Soapbox to present my thoughts.
Looking around in my personal life, on the Internet and in E2 I find a lot of people in the same boat as myself:
Generally OK but more and more afraid to watch the news. It's the state of the world, where the country is going, what our leaders are doing. Which country? Any country, it doesn't matter.
Every day, we see our governments doing things which, according to common sense, are not in the best interest of the country or of the people. Some of us wonder why politicians lie. Others have stopped noticing, they take it as a given. Every week, a scandal exposes corrupt politicians. Discussions rage: Some people argue that the career politician is the death of representative democracy, and why the world is better off without politicians. A minority goes so far as to suggest the death sentence for politicians (if they fail to do their sworn duty to us).
Some say that the US of A is the cradle of democracy, others maintain that it was invented by the ancient Greeks. Whatever its origin, we are taught at an early age that democracy is the greatest thing since sliced bread. "Of the people, for the people, by the people", they say. When I Googled for this phrase, the first page I found offered to print it on a mouse pad for me, or on boxer shorts, for $16.99 . Is this a symptom of the sell-out of democracy? What went wrong?
My personal answer is that we're seeing Darwinism at work. "Natural" selection, if you will.
The people who enter high offices are selected for the abilities that got them there:
- to gain powerful support
- to raise enough campaign funds
- to increase their own popularity
- to make people trust and believe them
- to sell whichever truth best suits them
- to discredit and otherwise disadvantage their competitors
- to keep a death grip on their position under all circumstances.
These are the traits that mark a successful politician, at least by my reckoning. Politics has become a matter of networking
: Scratch my back
, I'll scratch yours.
Contrast these traits with the traits of philosopher kings, some traits we think appropriate for a good statesman:
You don't see a big correlation between the first list and the second? Right on - now you see how democracies perish
. The skills that get politicians into office are not the skills required to be good leaders
Worse, the system is propagating. Not just in the occasional obvious dynasty, viz. Bush Sr/Jr, politicians breed politicians. The system evolves; those who follow are selected by those in power, raised and empowered for succession. Individuals abdicate, but parties live on, their network a breeding ground for more of the same. It's not sex, but it sure is reproduction. And the evolutionary pressure brought to bear is intense.
What to do about it?
Figuring out the above was the easy part. But what to do?
I say that being aware of the problem is the first step. Once enough of us know, many of us will be thinking about a solution. Living in democracies, we have the right to vote. With that right, enough of us can make a difference. As part of Everything, we have the ability to write. With that ability, enough of us can make a difference. Our representatives claim to act on our behalf - make them keep their promise. Be advised that a well thought out letter, written on honest white paper and sent through the US mail (or whatever postal service operates in your country), will make an impact, have an effect. Given any political issue that strikes your interest, decide what you want to see happen. For your own good, for the good of your loved ones, friends, your children and their children. Then write. Speak out! Democracy is many small drops of water moving a large stone.
It's easy to gripe about what's wrong, but hard to do better. For a long time, this has kept me from writing. Today, I got my push from reading about Singapore. To be very honest, until today I wouldn't have given a rat's ass about Singapore. But figure this: Singapore is a booming trade center of the Far East; the GNP and literacy are up, unemployment and crime are down. The streets are clean and safe, people respect their fellow man (and woman, usually), and the government is considered strict but just. Corruption is nearly unheard of.
No, Singapore is not necessarily my model country. But they have a few things going for them I'd like to see in purer form elsewhere. Sure, this is from a blue-sky report, but I like to think there's some truth in it. So... how do they do it?
I don't know much about Singapore; what struck me in what I read was that allegedly, Singapore comes closer than most any other place to running a meritocracy. Go ahead, look at it, think about it: A society where rank and power are attained based on past merit, for service to the community and the state. Good deeds are rewarded. Those who do the most good (ideally, anway) have the greatest power. Is this conceivable in your country? Maybe. Maybe not today. But it's worth thinking about.
Achievements, not promises.
Service, not connections.
Merit, not money.