Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 6, Part 2
"Different parts of the land have different means to govern", Damini replied. "But all of us think that democracy is the best way to govern. My society is a democratic society." "What is democracy, girl?", the old turtle demanded. Damini looked unsure. Was this old turtle testing her or did he really not know? "Democracy is a way of governance where people decide on their representatives." "How do you choose your representatives in a democracy?", the turtle wanted to know. "There are various mechanisms", Damini replied. "But all of them are based on the principle of elections. The people vote on who should represent them. The individual with the most votes represents the people." "Oh! You folks have come up for a new name for populism. That is all", the turtle said dismissively. "What do you mean by that?", Damini demanded.
"Well, if you have a majority that wants to oppress the minority, then it elects a representative that can make laws to oppress the minority. What prevents a majority from ethnically cleansing the minority groups living there? Why is this method, then, so different from autocracy?", Aris Turtle demanded. Damini understood Aris Turtle's concern. She thought for a while and then answered, "The rights of the minority, in fact of all humans, are guaranteed in a democracy. Even so", she added, "there have been many instances where we have failed." She could think of a number of occasions in the recent past where the rights of the minority had been violated by the majority.
"What do these representatives do?", Aris Turtle changed his line of questioning. "These representatives make laws and govern the people in the land. They decide on economic policies and trade policies and what the laws of the land are and whether the country should go to war." "But, do the people have any say in the laws? Can they make some laws for themselves without having to go through representatives?", the old turtle asked. Damini hesitated. She knew that different democratic nations had different laws. In some places, people had referendum to decide on some laws but representatives usually made the laws. She said as much.
The old turtle guffawed. "You mean to say that all you can do is find a representative? After that the representative decides everything? Then, it is not much better from an autocracy. Is it not obvious that whenever power is restricted to a few, these few will be influenced by those with the greatest power." The turtle was quiet for a while. Then in a sudden change of tone, he added "Oh yes, your people have evolved. But there is more to be changed. I hope you find people with vision to build a society with greater freedom - not just for a few but for all on Earth."
Damini was rather taken aback by the sudden humility of the old turtle. That he was a wise turtle was not in doubt. And that he had little patience was also very clear. But the wise old Aris Turtle could not be called humble by any stretch of imagination.
Before she could be any further affected by his humility, the turtle questioned her again. "Do not mind my questions, girl. You will understand why I ask such questions soon. How does your society teach its young?"
"In schools", Damini replied. "Brevity might be the soul of wit, girl", Aris Turtle retorted, clearly not pleased with Damini's short answer, "but they certainly do not help me understand your system". Damini took a deep breath. "Children in human societies spend most of their time in rooms where they are taught by older men and women on how to speak correctly, how to write well, the laws of nature, and about the Earth. They are instructed on the history of their people and of civilization in general." "What about how to live?" the turtle interrupted. "What do you mean?", Damini asked back. She was confused. Why would anyone have to learn how to live? "Where are you taught how to live?", Aris Turtle asked. "Where do you learn what your choices are, how to make decisions, how to resolve conflicts, how to organize yourself into societies, how to listen to each other, among many other things?"
Damini was at a loss. There was no real place where one learnt all of this. And she said so. "That is rather weird", the turtle opined. "You live in a democracy where everyone is supposed to make decisions about their lives and their societies and yet the importance of these responsibilities are not made clear to you. Your society does not teach its young about the choices they have and who makes those choices. You live in a society that claims to make its decisions by taking every voice into account. Ostensibly, such a society must value every voice and every individual must be taught to make their opinion known. Yet, all through out your childhood you are driven around and instructed by instructors. How can a civilization breed adults who can understand choices and make decisions by training its children to listen to authority over twenty years is beyond me."
"Well, yes, the situation does seem paradoxical, now", Damini replied. "In fact, if children were constantly trained to listen to authority and follow instructions, the adults who would emerge would not be good citizens in a democracy. They would be good citizens in an autocracy."
"That is not all", the turtle replied. "In an autocracy, people do not have to be responsible to resolve conflicts. Conflicts are resolved simply by following the voice of authority. Even if the orders result in injustice. In a democracy, as you describe, resolution of conflicts must rest with the people. Conflicts in such a situation can only be resolved if one realizes that different people have different perspectives. In fact, I will claim that true resolution of conflicts will occur only when you respect those with opposing views and treat them as equals even as you critique their opinions. You may disagree with a person but you cannot hate that person. Yet, that is how people in your civilization behave today. When they argue against each other, they first ridicule each other. As if, ridiculing the other makes that person's opinion untrue. What then is the difference between your people and those painters of the elephant?"
Damini had nothing to say. This was indeed true. "I challenge you to name an institution where children - the future of your civilization - can learn and practice the very traits that are necessary for a democratic society. Such traits would include the ability to make choices, the freedom to disagree, dissent and decide for themselves, and the opportunity to resolve arguments, conflicts or fights making sure that they do not humiliate their opponents."
Again, Damini's silence told Aris Turtle that she could not think of any such institutions. But then a change happened. It is difficult to say what went through the wise, old mind of the Turtle. He sighed and then said quietly, "Girl, you are very wise for your age. Yet, I do not expect you to answer questions that greater minds have struggled with. Human civilization on Earth has indeed come a long way. A lot has changed and yet it has stayed the same. Technological feats have taken away from the fact that there is inequality, that humans have still not resolved how to tackle conflicts without killing each other and the rest of the Earth. Indeed, you have advanced greatly. But tell me how hollow claims of reaching the moon must sound when children die for the want of milk?"
Damini did not answer. She was not expected to answer. There was nothing to be answered. The odd twosome moved along slowly. Damini understood the turtle's tone was a result of frustration that the human civilization was unwilling to tackle the questions most important to it self.