Wednesday, August 21, 2013

FDA Discourse Series--Perspectives on Global Democracy

The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) conducts interviews of volunteers twice a month. Prior to interviews, the FDA does initial screening. Below is a response from an interested volunteer to the FDA screening questions.
In its initial screening of new volunteers, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) asks for written responses to the following questions:
  1. How do you feel about democracy advancement? 
  2. What does a people-based democracy mean to you?
The responses to the questions allows the FDA executive to screen candidates who may have skills and/or education, but lack a passion for democracy and its advancement. Secondary, the FDA learns from the responses about democracy issues and how people think about them.

Due to the quality of the responses, the FDA has decided to make some of them public so that they can be part of the public discourse on democracy. In addition, you will get an idea of the type of people involved in the FDA. Below is an interesting and hopeful response from Kwame Owusu who has a MBA degree and who agreed to the publication of his response.

  • How you feel about democracy advancement?
Kwame Owusu:

History is littered with oppression and violence. From Adolf Hitler to Mao Zedong, Pol Pot to Saddam Hussein, the atrocities committed by these men could have been prevented and stopped had their constituents had a say in how they were governed. We are now in the 21st century and it seems little has changed. Entire populations—both in developed and developing countries—are still tormented by those who see nothing wrong with imposing their will, despite outcries against their actions. Yes, effective democracy has proven to be a solution to such societal parasites; unfortunately, the system remains a thing of myths in many parts of the world.

While it can be argued that democracy may not be the be-all and end-all system of government, I do believe that people must at least be aware of it and must be presented with the option to choose it if they deem it appropriate. All around the world you have incidences of political oppression, but this freedom to choose is a basic right that no institution should be able to tamper without reasons as deemed acceptable by the people.

I admit that while I value and reap the benefits of democracy on a daily basis, I have not done enough to promote it. I respect life and with the world seemingly becoming crazier by the day, it is about time I became more engaged in making it a better place to live.

It is abundantly clear that those in power do not always serve the best interests of their people, with some going as far as to deprive them of such basic rights as the freedom to choose how they are to live their basic lives. With history providing us with so much to learn from, this is not acceptable today, nor will it ever be. I live to the see the day when unjust oppression is nothing more than a distant memory, a day that I helped create.

  • What does a people-based democracy mean to you?
Kwame Owusu:

An important element of democracy is having each person play the deciding role in the governance of society. And in order to craft a well-functioning democratic society, there must be a sharing of mutual tasks for the orderliness and welfare of the collective, as well as for personal interdependence.

The legal construction we know as the corporation is not a person and doesn’t understand this key facet. It lacks conscience and empathy. With only one thing on its mind—money!—it has demonstrated time and time again a lack of respect for human dignity, often deceiving and destroying its way to more wealth. It then uses its billions to lobby [buy] the supposedly democratically-elected governments, insuring that its interests are first met and, thus, relegating the needs of citizens to the back burner. Under this system, how much say does each person have in the way they are governed? Not as much as we have been led to believe.

I believe that in a people-based democracy, the influence of corporations, or any other entity for that matter, on the government should not be so strong as to be detrimental to the well-being of society. So long as they are able to exercise their power in such a manner, true democracy is not possible. Nothing should ever get in the way of the collective demand of the people.

We would like to hear from you; share your perspective on Kwame's thoughts below via the 'ADD and SEE Comments' link.

Related:

FDA 'What do you think?' Series on Reform of the Canadian Federal Government 



3 comments:

  1. I agree with Mr. Owusu that corporations would have a much smaller -- perhaps non-existent -- influence on government in a people-based democracy. This would be due to corporations not being people (in a moral sense, despite the fact that they are persons in a legal sense in some countries (e.g., the US -- are they also legal persons here in Canada?).

    But we need to keep in mind that corporations are legal fictions that provide an organizational structure for groups of people (including shareholders, management and employees). Since a people-based democracy will include the voices of those people, along with their participation and interests, corporations will continue to exert power indirectly through them. The more strongly people identify with an associated corporation (e.g., 'I'm part of the Acme corporation!), and / or the more deeply their interests are aligned with that of an associated corporation (e.g., 'If Acme folds, I'll become destitute!'), the more influence that corporation will be able to exert through those affiliated people.

    Thus, to achieve a people-based democracy, society will have to find alternative ways for people to meet their need for a sense of identity and promote their interests. Active participation in community decision-making (i.e., people-based democracy) could achieve this. It can provide a sense of identity independent of one's employment / corporate affiliation ('I'm a democratic participant' rather than 'I'm an IBM-er'). In addition, if we choose -- as a community -- to ensure that peoples' basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met regardless of the success of affiliated corporations, people will be better able to divorce their interests and their society's interests from the interests of corporations ('Acme may fold, but I'll be OK, and my neighbours -- both near and far -- will be OK; what's best for our community?').

    Ironically, it is such security in the provision for ones basic needs that provided a basis for restricting voting rights to propertied land-owners: because they had financial / material security, they were (allegedly) better placed to make decisions based on what was in the genuine best interests of the community rather than on their own self-interest.

    And this raises a parting question: is a people-based democracy good intrinsically (i.e., because of its nature, and regardless of the consequences)? Or is it good because it promotes the good of the community (i.e., simply because of its consequences)? If the former, then why would it matter if it promotes the good of the community? If the latter, why should we think that it actually will promote the good of the community (rather than, say, the interests of the majority at the expense of the minority)?

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    Replies
    1. You raise a lot of interesting issues and make sound points.

      It is important to keep in mind that there is no perfect system of governance. Consequently, there will always be ways to criticize a particular system of governance. In addition, the contention at issue is not what are flaws with a particular system, but what is the better overall system and for who etc.

      Intrinsic goodness or badness may not be the better way to evaluate systems of governance, due to the relative nature of good and bad, and intrinsicality.

      Evaluating inherent value may be a better approach, because it focuses fundamentally on what the systems offer.

      People-based democracy is rooted in the voice of the people as whole, which is tied to the democratic tenent: government for the people, by the people, and of the people.

      Tyranny of the majority is always a possibility when majority rule is the defining democratic decision-making approach. However, sound constitutional and legislative human and political rights, in a country with rule of law, offset the possibility of tyranny of majority.

      So to answer your parting question: people-based democracy may be preferable to the people because theoretically it is true democracy. Alternatively, what other system governance is better for the people as a whole?

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    2. You write:

      "Thus, to achieve a people-based democracy, society will have to find alternative ways for people to meet their need for a sense of identity and promote their interests. Active participation in community decision-making (i.e., people-based democracy) could achieve this. It can provide a sense of identity independent of one's employment / corporate affiliation ('I'm a democratic participant' rather than 'I'm an IBM-er'). In addition, if we choose -- as a community -- to ensure that peoples' basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met regardless of the success of affiliated corporations, people will be better able to divorce their interests and their society's interests from the interests of corporations ('Acme may fold, but I'll be OK, and my neighbours -- both near and far -- will be OK; what's best for our community?')."

      Response:

      In a people-based democracy, people would be empowered politically during and between elections, and the influence of special interests would be reduced. As you say, the political influence of corporations through people cannot be eliminated due to mutual dependency that exists. Perhaps more politically empowered people can at least overcome excessive influence of corporations on government policy and legislation. And as you say as well, people through a people-based democracy may be in a position to think beyond their survival needs through having a substantive political impact on their communities, quality of life, future etc.,

      Note:

      Like in the United States, Canadian corporations are legal persons

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Thank you for sharing your perspective.