Reinventing Democracy

BBC: DEEP CIVILIZATION – The long view of humanity

When politicians fail to look beyond the next election – or even the latest tweet – they are neglecting the rights of future generations, argues public philosopher Roman Krznaric.

Roman Krznaric argues that we need to reinvent democracy because “politicians fail to look beyond the next election – or even the latest tweet – neglecting the rights of future generations.” Krznaric’s proposed solutions range from benevolent dictators to giving voice to future generations of voters, failing to answer the question: what’s wrong with our educational system which promotes individual self-interest at the expense of the Common Good?

If the educational system doesn’t change, we’ll keep producing generations doomed to be slaves of material values, worshiping the narrow present at the expense of the emerging future, neglecting the spiritual dimension of human beings. It’s in this (nonreligious) spiritual dimension — preserved in the Ancient Wisdom of past generations — that a set of values can be recognized by present and future generations to fix democracy.

There has always been a minority of visionaries in each generation warning about the danger of neglecting the future impact of our current decisions. However, the savers have always been in the minority compared with the spenders.

Democracy seemed to work in the past because we were able to elect the right mix of savers and spenders for political leadership. But no more. On average, most people want to spend their most precious resource – their own lives – in the pursuit of the narrow, materialistic present. Therefore, this majority elects politicians serving their narrow self-interest.

The democracy of self interest, also known as unregulated capitalism, is doomed to failure, collapsing either into chaotic anarchy or into despotic authoritarianism. The wise middle way is the democracy of the people, by the people and for the people devoted to the Common Good. And this object of devotion can only be accomplished when the spiritual dimension is restored to the education of present and future generations.

True, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has inspired schoolchildren to protest and strike against climate inaction. But does Greta Thunberg represent the majority of her generation? Don’t we already have Greta Thunbergs in our current generation? Why are their voices drowned, as Greta”s will probably be when she reaches voting age? Because, I think, the educational system will keep producing a majority of individuals looking after their narrow self interests. We need to fix the educational system causing the syndrome of temporal exhaustion.

Short-termism is civilization’s greatest threat. Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding once said.

As long as the myopic media of short-term news cycles sets the educational agenda, democracy will fail to accomplish its lofty purpose of self-government.  We can’t regress to despotic authoritarianism, even if apparently benevolent. In order to avoid anarchy, a new democracy must be founded on a new educational system.

A spiritual democracy — an ethical democracy in which what’s good for one must be good for all —  can be invented, not as a state religion or theocracy, but as an instrument for the Common Good: past, present and future. The selfish gene must mutate to an altruistic gene in the genome of humanity, not as a result of chance, but rather, by the thoughtful planning of humanity facing the dire consequences of inaction.

Much of the debate surrounding the contemporary political realignment is dominated by a purely rational conception of politics. However, our political system, Julian Göpffarth writes, is based on the transcendental idea of the nation and the redemptive character of democracy. Failure to acknowledge this will further strengthen far-right parties and movements.

As a society we have forgotten how to talk about the benefits of hierarchy, expertise and excellence. It’s time we remembered.

Let’s heed the voices of the few in the past, the current and the new generations warning us of the imminent danger confronting humanity. We must correct our course now, or else.