Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?

December 31, 2009

What is Democracy?

What is democracy?  In the narrowest definition it is popular self-government.  It is political, it involves many people, and it requires tallying judgments to record popular decisions.  Elections are the crucial element, with the rule that majorities can never eliminate minorities from the electoral process.  However, voting is not enough.  To make political participation effective citizens need information and public associations to give them access to the system, and they need elected officials to respond.

Democracy is not everything all the time anywhere.  It doesn’t favor capitalism, socialism, or any other -ism.  It does not mean two-party politics, constitutions, a vigorous press, or voluntary associations.  Democracy does not contain cures for cruelty or oppression.  It has no exclusive claim to compassion or social responsiveness.  It has affinity with liberty, equality and fairness, but it doesn’t give reliable support for any of these.  Democracy, as Robert Wiebe writes, “reveals our humanity not our salvation.  We may not like it.”

The risks of the modern world make us realize that a collective life defines democratic citizens. Democracy can’t rely on private interests and private rights.  It is about shared purpose, community and public lives and duties.  As we realize limits to growth, we begin to understand that IT must go in SOMEONE’S backyard. “Democracy,” Robert Hiskes writes, “presumes a set of ideas about what it takes to accomplish things together and voluntarily as a matter of faithfulness and engagement – not out of force.”

The way we understand ourselves as a public is our most critical issue today.  There is widespread frustration that money rules, not citizens.  Has our American public become a myth? Our democracy was formed during colonial days when people decided what to do about common problems and acted together to implement their solutions. Citizens are powerful when they act collectively.  While we may despair of the national picture, we still act locally.  When citizens do, they are willing to act at a higher level.

Of course, local interests can be unrelentingly selfish.  Well-intentioned leaders, self-styled as “the public’s agents,” can be very contemptuous of people.  It may be because they see the “big picture” and the public through a lens of idealism, which blinds them to community interests. Yet, no argument for self-rule is as compelling as what people experience and how they cooperate with those who hold different values within local communities.  If we want democracy to flourish, we need to encourage people to grow where they were planted.

“Society in every state is a blessing,” Tom Paine wrote in Common Sense, “but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer…our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”   Functioning as private consumers and private property owners, rather than as public citizens with common or community interests would seem to make his point.  The state or a few of its leaders do not exercise public reason.  It can only occur through deliberative action, and deliberation is a joint social activity.  Thus, in the fullness of its meaning, democracy is we the people, acting together to reform or improve our shared public sphere.  Increasing participation is its indispensable goal.  As Langston Hughes wrote:

“O’ yes,

 I say it plain,

 America never was America to me,

 And yet I swear this oath –

 America will be!”

John Legry, December 28, 2001

Executive Director, (ret.)

Citizen Involvement Committee

Multnomah County, Oregon

RUN YOUR CURSOR OVER TYPE BELOW TO PICK OUT HOTLINKS.

Take Your Money Out of the Hands of the Banking Oligarchs Arianna Huffington, Rob Johnson, Move Your Money

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Monopoly Capitalism Is the Root of All of America’s Problems Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet

Politics: Monopoly capitalism exemplifies everything that’s gone wrong with American politics, and we need to do something about it — soon.

Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Brands? Take Another Look — They May Not Be What They Seem Andrea Whitfill, AlterNet

Health and Wellness: One of AlterNet’s most popular articles: Confident that you are buying good, socially conscious brands? Find out the real story.

 

Thomas Paine - Author-Patriot, 1737-1809.

"The world is my country. To do good is my religion."

 

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HOLY GRAIL, BABOON HEART

July 10, 2009
Pastiche Der Nibelungen.

Pastiche Der Nibelungen.

Ammunition for discussions, harangues and loud debates

BEYOND DAN BROWN: The DeVinci Load. The so-called Holy Grail is the object of legendary quest for Arthurian knights and may be a “wide-mouthed or shallow vessel,” although its precise etymology (in the true literal sense of the word) remains uncertain, and small wonder. The Grail was probably inspired by classical or Celtic mythologies, which abound in horns of plenty, magic life-restoring caldrons, and the like. In Finland, the pre-Christian Kalevala features the sampo, which might be a pillar that holds up the sky, or a mill to produce salt, meal and gold, or a talisman of happiness and prosperity. Take your pick.

The first extant text (or more aptly invention) about the Grail is Chrétien de Troyes’ late 12th century unfinished romance Parceval or Le Conte du Graal, which combined the religious with the fantastic. In the 13th century Robert de Borron’s poem extended the Christian significance of the legend, linking the Grail with Christ’s cup at the Last Supper and with Joseph of Aramea whom he said used it to catch Jesus’ blood as he hung on the cross. In the same century, Wolfram von Esenbach’s Parzival* gave the Grail profound and mystical expression as a precious stone fallen from Heaven (sampo, anyone?). Malory’s late 15th century Le Morte D’Arthur transmitted the fanciful Grail essence to English-speaking readers.

In the story-telling invention, the quest itself became a search for mystical union with God. Through various permutations by many different writers over several hundreds of years, the Grail theme formed a culminating point for the Arthurian romance. It’s a good story device; it doesn’t really matter what it really is, as long as it stands for truth, justice and the “right” way. Its physical presence is just like the True Cross, Longinus’ Spear, St. Michael’s pickled peritoneum, or any other “holy” relic: e.g. entrepreneurs started fabricating bits of the true cross as soon as they noticed a market for it – in fact, selling bits and pieces obviously would part the cross out, so they invented the miracle of overnight renewal; as we’ve seen from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the DeVinci Code, and Newsweek, people are still making big bucks selling new baubles to hang on the old artificial tree, which is patently, the Grail’s only real value. When you get right down to it, it’s buying a box of air, isn’t it? That’s the way faith works, so have fun with the storyline.

Incidentally, Christ is the Greek Chrestos – a mystery cult popular with the poor and lower middle class of the 1st century C.E. Working people infected their middle class masters with it. Female heads of households were particularly susceptible to its egalitarian message. Self-proclaimed “Apostle” Paul of Tarsus cobbled Chrestos with the historical Jesus movement as a sales package for Gentiles (infuriating the Jesus movement because he co-opted and lied about their guy; of such petty human foibles are great religious movements conceived), but that’s another story.

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* Parzival by Wolfram Von Eisenbach, 13th century C.E. Much ado about fabrics, flags, one’s place at the table, head-busting by foolish men for foolish ladies, and the romantic search for the fabulous grail – the holiest snipe hunt for the silliest prize: the Americas-Stanley-Wimbledon cup of immortality available only for unblemished boobery.  “He’d paid his debt to joy, his life was but a dying.” – Wolfram Von Eisenbach, Parzival.

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MOURNING IN AMERICA: In time, the plastic fantastic mourning that passes for genuine grief will dim.  Society’s itch to have its heroes, even if it has to lie like hell to make them, will be satisfied for the time being.  It will be trotted out again with the next “must-vent” crisis, and we shall have walls of flowers, teddy bears, and balloons – everything in short, nothing short of a full Super Bowl extravaganza – and many blathering speeches shy of substance and dripping with hypocrisy and crocodile tears, mindless chest thumping and blubbering, murmured prayers and homilies, all accepted as available.  Flags will fly.  Guns will boom.  Vendors and trinket salesmen will profit.  Blimps will display large advertising messages and rockets will light the night sky with red, blue, green, yellow and, Lordy loo, who knows what color pyrotechnics?  The body politic will sleep steadier, enervated and expended by a good old-fashioned group grope and mope. This has to be one of the silliest societies on record.

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REVERY: We’ve come a long way, you and I.  Thousands upon thousands of miles, and yet we’re still far short of our destination.  Where are we going anyway?  Haven’t we already been there?  The universe is a big round circle in a dimension so large that we poor mites cannot see the curve.  It looks like a straight line to us, but so does time, and time is a repetition of itself, always telling us the same thing.  As each generation is born, the next arises, and each of those, and all of those millions more, grows by the same learning process, through the same biology, give or take a tiny percent of one gene, which seems to specify skin tone and what we call racial differences.  It’s the same as classifying men by the size of their nipples and finally as insignificant. We all begin as fertilized eggs.  We are one with the chicken and the salamander, the fish and the spider. There is not one atom within us that is remarkable for being unique.  There is nothing unique in the universe, except individual discovery.

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SOME LINKS WORTH VIEWING:

Washington Diarist by Leon Wieseltier, Accommodationism: “One of the most troublesome qualities of reason is that it is not always reasonable.” http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=cf4e433c-60bd-4184-abc3-fc372c7f8304

Broken Promises: Health Care Deals Struck in Secrecy http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/07/10-1

Law Will Let Afghan Husbands Starve Wives Who Withhold Sex http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/07/10-4

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FINAL WORD: “We’ve never done it with a baboon‘s heart!” Hector Elizondo, ER, 9-29-94

Robin the Old: One Brunch Only