The debate: Existentialism versus determinism

                One day I dreamt, destiny came and put me on a leash.
Then she made a loop out of its other end and put it around her neck.

Since then, I am the master of my destiny as well as her slave.
~ "The woods are lovely but..." Avinash Patwardhan

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Democracy in America- Revisited" By Avinash Patwardhan M.D., M.S., Fellow A.I.S.


Data suggest that with respect to our affluence we are not as happy as we ought to be. By the same token, data also suggest that we are not spreading happiness in the world as we ought to be. All of us are endowed with a right to be happy. Are we not so happy because we are not exercising our right well and full hearted or not allowing others to do so in their own right? Or is it because something or somebody is compromising that right- directly or indirectly, expressly or secretly, in good faith or maliciously? Or both, where the latter leads the former? This book is about how we construe democracy and its relation to happiness and our right to pursue it.

No matter what the scenario, it insinuates that our liberty, our very freedom must also be, and is getting trampled. If that is so, and it seems to be so, then one may ask in despair, what worth life is or a right to life is, if liberty is absent or sub optimal? This is quite a disturbing thought. However, before we rush hastily into a summary judgment to pointing fingers at terrorists or our own government (eavesdropping program) as the causal agents that threaten our freedom and happiness, can we take a pause and ask, could the above threats be a manifestation of some hitherto unexplored phenomenon? Could these be mere symptoms of a pathology that is something else and lies somewhere else? This book is a quest for that phenomenon/ pathology that is stealing away our liberty, and its relation to our view of democracy.

Our founding fathers assumed something as self evident (equality of creation) and then proceeded to assert some unalienable rights (life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness). Founding fathers made no mistake in the choice of their words. That assumption and those assertions made the bed rock of our democracy. Could it be that we misconstrued, misplaced, and mistook the assumption for the assertions? Are we fastidiously asserting and jealously pursuing inherently unachievable equality while simplistically assuming life, liberty and happiness as a given? Alexis Tocqueville, a visitor scholar from France surmised that we might be doing so. In recent times Francis Fukuyama has aired his similar concerns. This book is about our identity-identification crisis within our image of democracy.

Equality and happiness is not a promise of democracy exclusively. Many other forms of governments promise those and sometimes deliver their promise. However, freedom is a gift of democracy and democracy alone- only if we understood what freedom is. This book is about our notion of freedom in the context of democracy.

No critic or critique, no matter how sophisticated and convincing, can be complete unless it offers practicable solutions. This book in about the ways we may take back our freedom while still being just and democratic. Hopefully that will bring happiness which we may cherish and spread to the world.

Outline and the contents of the book

Book I: Terrain of Democracy
Chapter 1: Democracy: What it means to humanity?

Section I: Taxonomy, glossary and brief outline of various types of governments:
Scientists and scholars of politics and allied sciences use terms like democracy, republic, socialism, totalitarianism etc. with reasonably defined thoughts and words that average persons do not necessary understand clearly or comprehend well. Typically, many do not understand the similarities and differences between democracy and republic. Moreover, the connotations of these concepts have evolved over time through ages. This section will provide big picture architecture of these ideas, using diagram as well as text, giving their definitions and showing their relative alignment to each other, if and when. It will also elucidate these ideas with examples that a layperson can easily relate with.

Section II: Democracy through ages: A history of evolution of governance systems:
In this section the reader will get a brief tour of historical unfolding of government systems in human society through ages. Democracy did not emerge abruptly from monarchy in human history. For example, there are evidences, albeit in bits and pieces that suggest that some baby steps towards republican type of government were taken in ancient India. Drawing from Frederick Angels and other scholars, this section will touch on those references and then passing through the emergence of democracy in Athens around ~ 500 B.C. will talk about evolution of modern concept of democratic governance in England in the form of Magna Carta in Circa 1215. Thereafter the article will trace French revolution and arrival of American democracy. It will then discuss emergence of Marxist philosophy and its outcome into socialism-communism. In the end, it will touch upon the history of modern democracies like India, South Africa.

Section III: Nature’s way of Democracy:
In order to understand human social governance models-systems it is necessary to have a good perspective on nature’s way of governance, mostly in the form of auto regulation and with the help and input of all its elements- from small to big. The laws of statistical mechanics (Boltzmann) and entropy in inanimate world (physics, chemistry), the statistical normal distributions that are most abundant in natural and social phenomena, speak for nature’s democratic process. The modern science of systems theory explains so colorfully and vividly the importance, participation, and influence of even the tiniest element in a system. Modern researches suggest that the astonishing abundance of silent genetic material in life forms or the relatively overwhelming mass of neurons in brains of living organisms are a testimony to a fact that decisions, actions, and outcomes in biology are not governed by a handful of players but are syntheses of a vast input from these numerous contributors. Expression and regulation in biological systems is achieved through dynamic systems laws that can be aptly described under holistic principle. This section will give the reader a sample of these elegant scientific theories-constructs so that she is able to understand better the societal notion of democracy.

Section IV: The undemocratic nature:
Nature works on the principle of dialectics (Hegel-Marx), antitheses, and complementarities of the opposites. Nature has a perpetual tendency towards uniformity, equality, and democracy. However, in its dynamics, there are always and essential diversions from this principle. The Dissipative systems (Ilya Prigogine), uneven distribution of matter-anti-matter in nature (Astrophysics), Catastrophe theory (Rene Thom), and Arrow’s impossibilities (Kenneth Arrow) are testimony to the nature’s violation of its own laws. Additionally, the science of Ethno-pharmacology and clear physiological-biochemical differences between the two genders suggest that nature has biases, even of racial and sexual kind. Biological as well as social evolution has used them freely and efficiently, even if many of them are disagreeable to humans. This section will take the reader through these ideas so that her mind is primed to accept and embrace certain paradoxes and puzzles of human government systems, including democracy.

Section V: Unsaid principles of Democracy:
The Bills of rights within constitution have made general population extremely conscious of individual rights. However, there are inescapable responsibilities that come as inseparable complement of rights. As it so happens, the responsibilities are tacitly assumed or very obliquely referred to in formal or informal documents on modern democratic governance . This section will talk about those responsibilities within democracy that come as an obligation on an individual as soon as she goes to exercise her rights. This section will also highlight that not to discharge those obligations eventually weaken the rights and lead to destruction of democracy and its principles.

Book II: Reflections of Democracy
Chapter 2: Democracy in America and the founding fathers

Section I: What it meant to them?
This section will take a tour through Federalist papers mainly elucidating the background thoughts of the founding fathers while they were articulating the constitution. Since much has been written on this topic, the section will draw only from critics like Charles Meister, Gillespie-Lienesch, and Robert Rutland to name a few. More than providing the expressed thoughts that has been already done by prior numerous scholars, this section will trace through the philosophical themes and undercurrents that guided and steered the thoughts. For example, this section will try to show that while George Washington and Thomas Jefferson instinctively trusted human nature as being basically good, Madison, Mason, and Hamilton thought of it as otherwise.

Section II: What their thoughts meant to later critics?
There are a few critics (for example Garry Wills) who posit that positions of founding fathers on many a lofty idea were not as charitable as they seem to be. Others like Sanford Levinson contend that our constitution has many flaws. This section will take a brief overview of those critiques so as to create a context to examine some of our existing challenges in the governance.

Chapter 3: Democracy in America and Alexis De Tocqueville

Section I: What it meant to him?
This section endeavors to examine Tocqueville’s monumental volumes “Democracy in America”. Though this book borrows its title partly from this book, and though the author wishes to walk again at least in part in the footsteps of Tocqueville, this book is not about Tocqueville or his book primarily. Therefore, this section will not examine the famous treatise under a magnifying lens nor take up every issue that Tocqueville addressed. This section will pick up references, arguments and observations, albeit with undoubted current author’s biases, to make a case that current author is trying make about contemporary democracy in America. For example, this section will delve more and primarily, if not exclusively on chapters XV, XVI from volume I and chapters I, V, XIII from second book in volume II, or Chapter VI from fourth book of the same volume. These references will elucidate how certain behavioral traits of a society, originating due to whatever antecedent reasons, tend to become permanent. Furthermore, if the environmental evolutionary landscapes change dramatically to demand some other traits and a society fails to adapt, the cost of failure can become calamitous. This section will not linger on the evolutionary adaptation thesis here, however it will provide the reader the context-foundation for those discussions.

Section II: What his thoughts meant to his critics?
Alexis Tocqueville has been in general, highly praised by his critics, the most famous of them being John Stuart Mill. However, including Mill, many have tried to show inaccuracies or weakness of argument in his work. This section will take a small overview of those comments. The purpose of this exercise, as already stated before, is not to venerate or criticize Tocqueville, but to achieve a balance of opinion about his work and therefore assist in strengthening the main argument of this book.

Book III: Dilemmas of Democracy
Chapter 4: America and today’s world

Section I: What it means to the contemporary societies of the world?
This section will take a very brief excursion through scattered data to paint a picture of America in the mind of global citizenry. Neither this section, nor this book tries to bring in floods of data to make their point. Many a good message or thesis has drowned in modern time under a barrage of data. Data is undisputed foundation of any theoretical construct but data is not that construct nor should it overshadow that construct. Aware of this flaw, this section will use references from diverse and uniform sources to paint a world-view of America- that seems somewhat negative at this point of time. The period chosen for this examination will be between the “World Trade Center” tragedy of 911 and today.

Section II: What it means to us (insiders) today?
Lately Americans thinkers-scholars themselves have taken to criticize America more harshly than foreign thinker-scholars do. This at once becomes an instant of great worry, and that of a great rejoice. Great worry because it tells about the general unease and sentiment of doubt/mistrust among Americans about their own policies and actions at home and abroad. Great rejoice because it shows that American society is still free, vibrant and resilient and that there is hope that it will correct itself, as it has done in past. This section will draw from works by Levinson, Michael Scheuer, Barry Schwartz, Al Gore, Rees Martin, Robert W Fogel, Richard Florida, Thomas Homer Dixon and Chomsky to name a few. The section will try to extract a common theme out of these diverse commentaries to create a stage for analyzing what is the current state of our society in terms of its attitudes and its governance.

Chapter 5: Democracy in America An analytical perspective

Section I: From two-class society to three-class society:
This section will show that despite its deep yearning and herculean efforts to eradicate classes in its society, America was never a class free society. It had its elite and it had it’s the rest. The elites ruled, albeit democratically while the rest participated passively, democratically and yes happily. However, the section will show that recently it has grown into a three-class society out of which two are elites. It will also show that among elite the new elite class is sub divided into two classes, of which one supports the ruling elite while the other opposes it. This transition from binary system to triangular system has generated a huge stress, communication breakdown and disconnect in American society, and the section will show that.

Section II: End of isolation:
This section will elucidate how recent hyper accelerated globalization after world war II has removed the protective shield around America that it used to enjoy uninterrupted for three centuries. The section will show that this shield was the key factor for America’s rapid growth and progress and a detriment to a slide down in its societal coherence (Immigrant issue). This section will comment on this, relatively abrupt exposure, that has broken a status quo for American society.

Section III: The great disconnect and a case of self contradiction:
This section will talk about the paradox of increase in chatter and talk and diminishing dialog. The section will cover apathy towards voting, changed pattern in formal education, increasing emphasis for mere political correctness with growing disregard for true inquiry into righteousness or wrong, a generalized inertia to change (sluggish transition in emancipation of slaves, women’s suffrage, cling to gallon pound system etc.). This section will also highlight the lopsided objection to passive language, over emphasis on positive statements, an infantile dream of making a society of leaders that has no followers and a dearth in emotional vocabulary. The section will talk with examples how American society yields a heightened response to some national level issues of minor consequences, while playing almost indifferent to some issues of gravity.

Section IV: A typical American:
Though every human is unique and unequalled, there are grounds to generalization and great advantages in doing so. This section will try to portrait a typical, generic member of American society. It will suggest that a typical American is chronically anxious, perpetually mistrustful of socio-material environment, is emotionally handicapped, only thinks linearly, seriously believes in immortalities and infinities, is a narcissist, is a specialist sans general education, is obsessed with structure, is numeratized (hypnotized by numbers) quantadict (addicted to quantifying anything and everything) and is a box hopper. The section will make a hypothesis that American society as an entity suffers from societal ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome).

Book IV: Future of Democracy
Chapter 6: Democracy in America and its future at home and its shadow abroad

Section I: V-1 velocity, the gliding path, and point of no return:
The focus of this section will be to elaborate on systems theory and its crux, to show why urgent change is vital and essential. It is a sad phenomenon that a few phrases like postmodernism and holistic or systems approach have become very fashionable in day to day life of modern society but majority of the people (including many highly educated persons occupying high level positions) do not understand the deeper underpinnings of this topic. This section will note that there is a gap in current literature on the topic of this book, regarding systems theory and approach and then try to popularize the issue- again. This section will also bring in Dr. Wayne Gray’s work on micro-time decision errors and extrapolate the thesis on evolutionary scale application. This section will suggest that our society might have about a three quarter of a century long gliding path before our aircraft of civilization crashes fatally into ground (suggesting that all is not yet lost to pull out of a nose-dive).

Section II: Equality costs freedom and freedom is not free:
This section will be the most important section in the entire book. This will take the debate about trade-off between freedom and equality from where Francis Fukuyama left it about 16 years ago in his famous book “The end of history and the last man”. While Fukuyama raised the question about choice between the two and then left it open, this section will construct logic to show why at this point equality must be put aside and freedom must be sought fervently, lest the society should lose ultimately both. In doing so, it will borrow substantially from Alexis Tocqueville and Fukuyama. This section will also hint towards a possibility of America importing socialism-communism and eventually totalitarian system from back door.

Section III: The “Middle man” as a remedy for the “middle man” and for the future of democracy:
Philosophers like Hegel and Nietzsche have talked about first man last man concepts and Fukuyama has discussed them in his book. This section will first explain these ideas and then will suggest that there can be and always had been a “middle man” type and that “middle man” is the elixir of survival and hope for the future. This section after discussing this interesting concept provide some practical to-do-list for grass root level average common person or lay citizen to break the shackles of tyranny of modernity (post or otherwise) and its strangulating grip. The section will end with alluding to the key- active, willful enlightened (not merely informed or knowledgeable) engagement.