Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society
Questions and Concerns
C. Are the Five Obstacles Enumerated the Real Obstacles to Positive Change?
1. What about Other Obstacles?
Philosophers and activists have posed many other obstacles to positive change. In your list of the five main obstacles, why don’t you include obstacles like people’s stupidity or their fear of change?
The dumb things that people do are amazing. However, foolishness is not limited to certain people: we all make mistakes and act stupidly at times. Unquestionably, this does hinder positive change, but I do not see this as a major obstacle.
Human beings have incredible intellectual abilities, and most of the time we think remarkably well. In a good society, people would be squelched much less than they currently are, so I expect even more of everyone’s intellectual capacity would be available. Overall, I believe we are smart enough to create a good society.
Clearly, some people are more skilled at thinking about issues or solving problems than others just as some are more physically or musically adept than others. But when people want to work together cooperatively, these differences enhance the process. In a cooperative atmosphere, those people who have less knowledge or understanding turn to those with more knowledge or understanding for guidance. In a cooperative group, when someone is able to come up with a good solution, everyone is happy to endorse it.
A cooperative society would draw on those who can easily perform mathematical calculations when that is required, and it would draw on those who can make music when that is desired. A cooperative society would thus function at the level of the smartest and most skilled rather than sinking to the lowest common denominator.
There are many other obstacles — like hopelessness and fear of change — that I see as subsets or combinations of the five main obstacles I described. In choosing obstacles, I tried to choose ones that were broad enough to encompass every other obstacle and that did not overlap with each other. I believe these five cover all the significant obstacles to positive, fundamental change.
2. Is the Power Elite Monolithic?
Is the opposition from the “power elite” a single unified force?
Members of the power elite are not monolithic in their composition or perspective, but the interests of the elite frequently overlap and their efforts often coalesce. There is not a secret conspiracy, but there is a confluence of affluent and powerful interests who find it to their advantage to cooperate in such efforts as restricting government regulation and lowering taxes for the wealthy. These in-terests are centered in the corporate community and the social upper class. Institutions like the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the American Enterprise Institute, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Bohemian Club help to solidify the perspective and culture of the elite and align their actions.
Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. — Paulo Freire
One sign of widespread agreement among members of the elite is that seldom does anyone in any position of wealth or power criticize capitalism, competition, property rights, wealth accumulation, or U.S. military domination of other countries (protecting “our national interests”). Most members of the elite agree on these important, fundamental tenets. Their disagreements usually involve only the details of when and how to apply these basic principles.
3. Are Some Cultures Better than Others?
Do you assume that some cultures are better than others? How do you decide which ones are better?
I do not assume that any particular culture is bad or that any culture is better than another. I suspect every culture has dysfunctional and destructive aspects, as well as useful and empowering parts. For example, the perfectionism that I got from my German and English ancestors has some positive aspects, but it mostly makes me feel like I am worthless unless I do everything perfectly — which is not particularly useful. I hope that we can develop a variety of interacting cultures that draw on the best of all current cultures but have fewer destructive and dysfunctional parts.
As a social change strategy, I think it is generally best to let people criticize their own culture rather than attacking others’ cultures. Most people are defensive about their culture and do not want other people to criticize it publicly. Moreover, people often already know the parts of their culture that are irrational and oppressive since they have been bludgeoned by them all their lives. When I find it necessary to criticize someone’s culture, I try to put the criticism in a constructive context by listing the positive as well as negative aspects of their culture as well as my own.
4. What Knowledge is Essential?
There are many kinds of knowledge. Who is ignorant and of what are they ignorant?
For a good society to exist and persist, I believe people need to know how to practice democracy and cooperate with each other. They also must know how to overcome their dysfunctional cultural and emotional conditioning. Moreover, a large number of people (progressive activists and advocates) must know how to change society in a positive way. Parents and those who work with young people must know positive childrearing practices.
It would be useful if everyone were knowledgeable about nature, technology, psychology, sociology, history, culture, art, and all the other fields of knowledge, too, but this is not essential.