Thursday, August 12, 2004
More thoughts on democracy and freedom
More thoughts on democracy, freedom, who we are and what we believe.
In the world we live in, one of the freedoms we least acknowledge are property rights. In a war on terror, what does this have to do with the likes of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and all the other despotic regimes out there?
One of the underlying philosophies of these tyrants (like tyrants before them) is to deny the absolute right of ownership of anything. What you own is allowed by the grace of the leader. Deny him, and you may very well deny yourself of what you thought was yours. The threat of having what is yours suddeny taken away is an ever present and powerful threat to human dignity.
That threat to human dignity is a rejection of plurality-- the notion that people can have different ideas and beliefs and still be secure in their rights and safety. America and the west defend that right and allow disparate views. Regardless of what we believe in, our dignity is our own and we remain free from the threat of being stripped of our property simply because our views aren't 'in line' with others. In other words, we live in an inclusive society.
Compare that with the regimes in most Arab countries. The mindset there is very different. They have constructed exclusivist societies that demand loyalty and tolerate no dissent or difference of opinion. Decades of such indoctrination and the current tidal wave of hate taught in schools and preached from the pulpit have resulted in the marginalization and inevitable, if slow, decay of those societies.
Democracy is a threat simply because in a democracy, there is no 'us vs them' mentality-- at least not in the real sense. We undertand that we can agree to disagree-- an inclusive society-- and need not threaten to take each other's dignity or property.
We respect each other's rights and we respect the freedom of dissent. 'Dissent is the truest form of patriotism', to paraphrase a Founding Father.
One needn't be a religious person or even believe in God to understand that tolerance is the lifeblood of civilized societies. If weren't so, none of us would be here. We accepted and tolerated differences to accomodate trade between nations. We learned the hard way that we all suffer greatly when tolerance isn't applied accepted and applied equally. Centuries of wars and empires, death and destruction have reinforced that truth.
We live in a society that has lively political debate. We have an independant media and a judicary that at times, has to remind us that there is a greater good than our needs and beliefs. That judiciary, while not perfect, is free and independant.
There is a distinction between an event and an experience. An event has a finite begininng and a finite end. An experience is different-- it stays with us and molds us and teaches us. We see the future through the eyes of of what can be, rather than through the eyes of what was.
Living in an open society is living an experience. We are not defined by particular events nor bogged down by our history (despite the attempts by some to do so). We move forward and thus, alway, 'our best days are yet to come', building on what we have learned and looking forward to tomorrow.
Contrast these ideas with totalitarian regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere. They are bogged down by the past, reminding us and themselves of former glories while they waste away their present and future, going nowhere. A recent UN report on the state of education in the world placed the Arab countries at the bottom of the list, only above sub Saharan Africa in terms of quality of education. Given that there aren't that many schools in sub Saharan Africa to begin with, the distinction of not being at the bottom of the list is moot. Did that result in any outrage in Arab society?
Hardly. It was ignored.
One pundit wrote something to the effect that Arabs feel humiliated. Not because they can't read, have real no real economies and have to send their kids to the west to get educated-- that was no cause for shame, mind you-- but because they see themselves as victims of a conpiracy by the west to hold them back.
The response? A few months ago, Syria came out with it's new Five Year Plan (really!). Remember those?
Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme
These regimes never accept blame or accountability. Abu Ghraib was met with outrage at the same time far greater horrors occur everyday at home. It is lost on much of the Arab world that we deal with our problems-- and they don't.
Why is it so? Well, these regimes and societies, in their hubris, see the world in an us vs them framework, as was mentioned earlier. They never make mistakes and thus are never responsible or accountable. Thus, we in democracies are looked down upon-- after all, it is only we who make mistakes.
Thank God/Mother Earth/Supreme Artchitect/Elvis/(insert diety here/ that we aren't as perfect as they are.