From a State of Nature to an Enlightened Society: Democracy Won't Survive if the People Aren't Involved. Let's Put our Ideas into Good Use!
Ideas are very powerful because they help form beliefs and motivate people to action. So, it's not a fruitless exercise to think, re-think, revise, and learn by observation. It's good and necessary! However, this activity takes a bit of courage since it may uncover truths that could make you uncomfortable. Once I asked myself whether my need to know is greater than my fears. The answer was, if there's something I should know, then I do want to know. Granted, we often don't have all the facts, but that's life. We make decisions using the best available data and by employing logic. How good our data and our logic are impacts the outcome. But that's why it's very important to keep the dialogue going. A strong theory is one that leaves room for amendment. Closed, de-facto, divine, or absolute theories are just baseless opinions, and not theories in the scientific sense.
Our world is a complex one, fast-moving, and ever-changing. Change for the sake of change is a foolish thing, but progressive change is necessary. A true conservative is a traditionalist who prefers the "true & tried" to the unknown. The resistance to the pace of modernity may be due to his inability to make sense of the new quickly enough. The sense of identity rooted in the past is being challenged by modernity and, yes, cosmopolitanism. Being "special" means to have some kind of exclusivity, and thus humans have shun others--especially those who believe in other gods, dress, speak, behave differently. Traditional culture to a great extend is repetition. Nationalism is similar to providing exclusivity and special status. An offshoot of this is nativism--which has been present as long as immigration to this country.
Liberals tend to be persons who welcome and can cope with change. They're more likely to be risk-takers, more tolerant, inquisitive, to explore what's beyond the horizon, and use a rational approach. Progressives always looks to improve society. We accept the scientific inquiry and the scientific method. Most of us like the ideas of Locke, Kant, Mill, et al, but we don't accept dogma and absolutism. In present-day US politics, we have to be partisan as the Republican party with its neo-cons, prudes, religious fanatics, authoritarians, anti-science (and proud of) views, power-grabbers, and non-democrats, is beyond hope.
A liberal democracy offers the best chance for the individual to reach self-fulfillment because of the rights it confers upon every person and for the opportunities if affords. Democracy cannot exist without the demos (the people) and without opportunity! Regrettably, we are in danger of losing our grasp on the political system that has made our country great. When others were struggling with authoritarian, backward systems, the US was pushing ahead. We had the best of the three Tees! Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. We're not as good as we used to be, at least not in relative terms vis-a-vi the rest of the world.
The Gilded Age has return and the income (wealth) inequality is as great as it was some 100 years ago. The stock market is going up but real wages have stagnated since the 1970s. We have to ask, what's the benefit of having such a huge economy that produces so much wealth if the distribution of wealth is absurd! Wealth is being accumulated by the very tiny elite at the very top. I think this is not healthy for a society, nor do I think it's good business. We know that power & wealth are closely related.
If the American middle class doesn't receive most of the wealth, power will also accumulate to the very top of the economic elites. And, all socio-economic elites want more and use their means to that effect. This situation is not good for us. Unless we act today, it may be too late tomorrow, or, it we may have to go through a traumatic shock.
Being rewarded for one's efforts is a moral thing--I agree with Adam Smith on this. But, no one achieves everything by himself. He usually stands on the shoulders of others. The self-made successful business people depend on the resources & the conditions that exist. They do not operate in the vacuum of space! Public transportation, educated work force, police, fire, EMT, the armed forces, and the law that secures their property are some of the benefits this country provides.
What should the benefits be for being a member of such a rich country? Is health care, for example, a right or a privilege? And--if I may push it a bit further--we can't analyze everything on a profit basis. Certain things aren't supposed to be profitable, like public libraries, national parks, etc. But, they are necessary for the quality of our lives.
Unless the majority of Americans start to pay more attention to what's going on, and are willing to participate in the affairs of our country, then the situation is going to get worse. This is an investment all of us should make. I think many Americans haven't realized this as yet. They sense that it's a good thing to live in this country--and it is! But, this is not enough, nor it's the result of divine order. It took many years of effort and leadership. The genius of the Founders was this: to create a system that allowed popular participation, minority rights, separation of church-state, economic opportunity, and it provided a way to amend it as the country moved through the centuries.
I don't believe our democracy will continue to function if we're to rest upon the achievements of the past and the occasional wise leadership that may come along. I think people's participation is necessary today more than ever. But, the people have to know enough to make reasonable decisions. We can't afford leaders like Bush any more--not in the highest leadership offices of the land anyway. We don't have another grace period; we have to hit the ground running.
I'm an optimist, but also a realist. I know that for all the hoopla, the necessity for reversing the present disastrous course, and the excitement of electing the next leader of the free world, etc, only a small percentage of US citizens will show up to vote in the months to come. How small you ask? Well, in our first contest in Iowa, only 6 to 10% of eligible voters will vote!
Americans may dislike their politics, they may find the political process unappealing, and definitely complicated. On the other hand, they still believe that "we're number one!" In the past, we looked around the world and we compared favorably. But, look how the world has changed since. Even totally destroyed countries (Germany, Japan) have rebounded.
I think the dissatisfaction hasn't reached the tipping point yet. It may come sooner than later and it may produce another wave that will bring a new New Deal. The "great middle"--the middle class ever so important to a stability of a country--is not gaining as much as the corporations. Now the latter are not only getting exceedingly preferential treatment but are increasingly capturing our government! Public services--once thought to be a main reason to have a government--are disappearing, being outsourced to corporations whose main concern (and obligation) is to make money, often by denying services! [such as the case with the health insurance companies]
We're privatizing our own government. Profit is good. Wealth is desirable. However, we have to create & maintain conditions for a good life; to keep a country where a progressive culture of life prevails. Creating wealth has to be done smartly not with savagery. For example, if you're in the business of logging in a competitive unregulated environment, then you cut down the last remaining tree standing! In the end, you're out of business (if rich) and all of us suffer. There's got to be a sane, more practical way than this approach.
Who's to care for the commonwealth then? If not the citizens, who? There's no one else but us.... Benevolent dictators are no more; hopefully, we've matured enough to assume responsibility for ourselves; to confer high offices to capable leaders who won't stroke our passions but motivate us to make the world a better place to live in. We cannot afford not to be people of the Enlightenment.