Deconstructing Democracy Co-Creating Eco-Governance
Part 1- Democracy: The Mindset
Democracy and the Domination Mindset
Despite the often brutal consequences of democracies to people and planet we have been led to believe that democracy is the optimal form of governance to which all countries should aspire.
Democracy can be seen as the most evolved form of modern governance. It was created with the intention of giving voice to the people, protecting their rights and offering equality in the name of the law. It evolved in opposition to other forms of governance such as monarchies, dictatorships and oligarchies where absolute power is held by individuals or a small group of people. But history has shown that most democracies have become contaminated by the very same dynamic of abusive power, oppression and corruption evident in these other forms of governance. While democracy legitimized the issue of individual rights to equality, freedom and justice, democracies have for the most part failed to deliver on these basic values.
Over the last centuries, democratically elected governments have participated in some of the most devastating activity against humans and the environment. We can no longer rely on the promises of the democratic system to bring about a better world.
Democracy, has given people a political voice and an opportunity to experience how we use the power that comes with it. However, being given a voice and a vote is not sufficient to ensure we use it to create a more just and healthy world. While democracy was conceived in order to right many of the wrongs of other systems it was nevertheless rooted in the same mindset of separateness and domination. It is only when we move beyond this mindset, learn about our interconnectedness, and learn from life how to cultivate life that we will able to develop a healthy form of governance and heal and transform our damaged world. To move beyond the mindset of domination it is important to first step outside of it, question its assumptions and acknowledge its limitations and consequences.
Our experience with democracy has provided us the opportunity to reflect on how we have chosen to use power within an hierarchical framework. What we have done with our democracy confronts us with the consequences of the choices we have collectively made. In this sense democracy has been a powerful catalyst for human evolution, and the evolution of how we govern ourselves.
We are now facing the consequences of how we have taken up our roles as citizens with a voice and a vote and how we have co-created the reality we currently live. Unlike in dictatorships there is no-one else to blame. This is a big step forward in our maturation process.
The history of democracy is often reflected in stories of the painful struggle between our capacity for ruthlessness on the one hand and compassion on the other. In the overall picture, like other systems of domination, democracy has led to the destructive power of a ruling group over all other groups, and of humans over other species and the environment.
Domination: the framework of separateness, hierarchy and privilege
The domination of life mindset is a mindset based on the notion that the world is comprised of separate parts with an intrinsic relationship of superiority and inferiority among these parts. A superior status is seen as bestowing the privilege to dominate that which is considered inferior to oneself for one’s own benefit.
While the democratic ideal emerged in opposition to a system where one or a few have power of all, we are to a large extent blind to the way in which the domination dynamic is at the core of the democratic framework itself.
Rooted in a human centered framework, the democratic worldview colludes with the notion that humans are superior to other species and the environment. It privileges humans over other species and legitimizes exploiting them and the environment for human benefit. The dynamic of oppression is thus an integral part of the framework, and where there is oppression of one part of a system by another there will inevitably be conflict and disease.
The pyramidal leadership structure and the majority vote are examples of how the democratic system encourages dynamics of power and privilege of some over others, a class based society and a rule of the financial elite.
While democracy came to give an equal voice to all people, the history of democracy shows that this concept is still not fully applied in most countries.
Hierarchy is a hallmark of most patriarchal societies. In modern western culture hierarchy takes many forms such as: humans over other species, men over women, races, ethnicities, cultures and various identity groups over others. Within these groups there are further and further fragmentations and layers of perceived superiority, inferiority, privilege and oppression. With the notion of hierarchy, we have even learned to perceive the mind as superior to the body and the rational mind as superior to other intelligences. These concepts generate cultures severely in conflict within themselves.
The idea of separateness and superiority, leads to the investment in ones individual and group status privilege and entitlement. It cultivates the notion that one’s own self-interest is achieved at the expense of others. Governance systems based on privilege and exploitation produce cultures of ruthless competition, corruption and violence.
Rooted in the human-centered mindset of separateness and domination, democracy is a framework that lends itself to the abuse of power. Now, the stakes have never been higher. The system has become an exceptionally sophisticated tool for implementing brutal agendas. Democracies are complicit in leading and spreading war, poverty, disease and terror across the globe. Under the guise of promoting freedom, equality and justice they have been used to promote domination and exploitation. The corporate elite have hijacked democracy, and are imposing on the malleable system a culture of life-threatening consumerism and conflict. Democracy has been used to control human and planetary resources in ways that go violently against life.
Democracies claim to offer a different ethos to dictatorships. They claim to right the wrongs of previous systems, but while the patterns of domination in democracy are more camouflaged, the essence of suffering and destruction are essentially the same. Even the most well-meaning and competent leaders find themselves helpless in the face of a legalized, technocratic corporate monstrosity that has permeated governments worldwide. When one looks closely at the framework – the language, principles, structure and process we can understand the devastation we witness today as an inevitable outcome of the democratic system itself.
Given that democracy is built on the paradigm of human domination of life, it cannot bring the healing we so desperately need. When the mainstream mindset is one of separateness domination and privilege, with a structure of a class based society and majority rule, even more direct democracy and greater citizen involvement is not the solution.
As Einstein said … “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”
The domination dynamic: The Victim - Persecutor - Saviour Triangle
With the hierarchical domination mindset people perceive themselves in relation to each other as superior and worthy of privilege, or inferior and unworthy. The comparison inevitably leads to feelings of envy, shame, fear, arrogance, greed and guilt that in turn generates conflict and violence. Leadership is outsourced to those with formal authority who are positioned in a hierarchically superior way and are given power and privilege.
This hierarchical mindset produces the victim-persecutor-saviour dynamic in which people fall into these archetypal roles and experience others through this prism. The result is a perpetual struggle in the triangular dynamic over who is the ‘real’ victim, the ‘real’ persecutor and the ‘real’ saviour.
The narrative of democratic systems can often be understood in terms of this age-old, patriarchal dynamic and locks democratic culture into these three self-defeating and destructive roles. The dynamic exists in the relationship among different identity groups as well as in relation to those in roles of leadership and authority. While all may technically have a voice in democracy, the psychological power of that voice is experienced very differently among these different roles.
Democratic elections generally portray candidates as the ‘ultimate saviour’ of the public, portrayed as a ‘victim’ of what the other candidate, portrayed as the ‘persecutor’, stands for. The ‘persecutor’ can take many forms such as an ideology, the current government or an identity group such as a nation, religion or immigrants depicted as the ultimate threat to those lobbied for their vote.
The saviour role may offer a sense of power and righteousness, but it is lonely, vulnerable and a set up for inevitable failure and blame. It evokes burdensome expectations and dependence from those who perceive themselves as victim. It evokes rage from those branded as ‘persecutor’ whose image and power are threatened by the ‘saviour’s’ role. Many leaders who have been seen as ‘saviours’ have been assassinated.
The victim role comes with a deep sense of helplessness and suffering but also with the secondary benefit of self-righteousness which is hard to relinquish. Many groups try to gain power by positioning themselves as the underdog.
The persecutor role comes with a sense of power and privilege but is not a role often consciously owned. It is a role generally projected onto the ‘other’. Of course, the ‘victim’ and ‘persecutor’ roles switch depending on perspective. One’s own persecutory behaviour towards ‘the other’ is often justified by seeing oneself as ‘victim’ in a self-perpetuating spiral of blame and trauma.
The dynamic of persecutor-victim-saviour typical of hierarchical societies create fragmented cultures fuelled by fear and distrust of the other. And so in so many democratic societies we see repetitive cycles of different groups playing musical chairs with these different roles with no real resolution of key issues or transformation of the narrative itself.
The paradox is that as long as we look at reality from within this hierarchic paradigm, the conflict will never be resolved. And as in monotheistic mythology, we will continue to wait indefinitely for the omnipotent messiah who can save us from ourselves. It is pointless to try and locate any of these roles solely in one person or one group because we all hold the capacity for each of them, and move between these roles in different contexts. The only way to get out of this loop of suffering and destruction is to change the entire story.