What democracy?

I am a frequent reader and sometime contributor to the Guardian online’s Comment is Free section. It’s as big a time waster as other addictive behaviours but let’s just say I think I’m handling it.

The site is usually more interesting than the news section, not particularly because of the original pieces that launch debates but more because of the astute posts that follow, though there’s a lot of rabid garbage too.

Signing up to post was a tentative first step into blogging, and a way to find my feet for this book/journalism project.

Various posts I’ve since made, under the name of “hotairhead” (Yes, a bit dumb but the first thread I posted to was on climate change), have been about democracy.

Usually I have been stumped when confronted with questions about what exactly I am banging on about.

This is where my thinking’s got to as of today.

Firstly, you’re generally lucky if you live in something called a democracy, the alternatives are invariably worse in terms of your personal freedoms.

Before we get too excited though, the conventional democracies we have are pretty rubbish. An occasional vote to choose between a handful of barely distinguishable parties is no great shakes. Those parties each present us with a shopping list of policies/promises which they tend to lose as soon as they get elected. For the Swiss sorts amongst us there is the chance of building enough momentum for a referendum every now and then but it’s hardly that much better. None challenges the fundamental economic system under which we now live, which is basically Wild West global capitalism.

And none of the national democracies, as they stand, offers much prospect of tackling global poverty, hunger, environmental damage or economic inequity. Most also do a poor job of serving their citizens.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure in detail but I hope it lies somewhere inside the Zapatista project, the efforts of a southern Mexican rebel group to revolutionise their democracy.

They have stirred things up since their armed uprising of January 1994, with effects that have already gone way beyond their borders.

This link gives as good an English language summary of what’s been happening as I’ve found.


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