Democracy and the search for peace

Democracy and the search for peace

Tsepiso Mothibi

Last night’s sky was clear, and the waning moon, still almost full, shone bright where it hangs on the axis in the heavens. I took to watching the night sky from a really young age, and on many a night over this life have learnt how to plot the stars in their millions according to the patterns that they draw on the navy blue velvet background of the night sky. Questions as to their true purpose I have posed to myself and the answers have been many; from the real simple truths and definitions about their nature in astronomic science as balls of gas burning at tremendously high temperatures, to their actually being bigger than the sun though they seem just specks of blinking light at night.

Over the years, I have found other meanings attached to the stars, the planets, and the satellites: the simple night sky is not an easy element to fully comprehend unless one bothers to gain an in-depth understanding of its varied components. To one who does not understand the 28 day cycle of the moon, the moon is just a blob of fat that hangs in the night sky for a certain period and then disappears. Looking deeper into the waxing and the waning of the moon soon reveals to one how deep the knowledge of the astronomers of ancient times was; they knew that the moon’s crescent was directly related to the climatic changes on the earth below, and they knew that the stars and their patterns changed according to season.

From this cosmological and cosmogonic knowledge our lives and the lives of the entire universe came to be plotted and aligned, and from them life drew its patterns, thus the term or phrase, “fate in the stars”; what fate there is we do not know, but the fact remains: though high up in the netherworlds of the universe, the stars and the moons in a lot of ways determine the life we live out here on earth. They define who we are in more ways than one, and if one were to define the kind of life we live this day, one would understand that to live fully is to know in depth what meanings are attached to those aspects we live with in the everyday. I set out on an attempt to define those terms relevant to us these ‘politically correct’ days; the further meanings and definitions of these terms you shall add in your own space and time. For the moment, the focus is on getting as much of their meaning as possible, getting their full moon expression.

The commonest terms of day include democracy (which is little understood in my view), ‘rights’ (in parentheses because it is the most misunderstood aspect of our daily lives), the ideal (models of excellence), reality (known as ‘real-life’ issues), progress, basic needs, and the management of all of these aspects of our daily life. The two main words explain and define are not understood to their full, and this leads to many an individual committing the error of believing that that the two mean the same thing, that their depth of meaning is equal, or that they are relevant in similar conditions. Well, they are not similar, for one, that is, to explain, means to make plain and comprehensible; to reveal the outline and the superficial surface of the entity in question.

To explain how a gun works, one needs only show the firearm to the audience, point it at a target, squeeze the trigger and fire. There will be a report if there is a bullet in the chamber, and only a click if there is none. Defining how a gun works needs more than just a demonstration, it needs one to first teach the student the basic rules and laws related to the handling and use of firearms, the safekeep and maintenance of such an arm, to show sketches of the mechanisms of the firearm, the material used to make it, the cycling speed of its firing pin, the size of the of the magazine, the makeup of the cartridges, that is, the priming mechanism and the compounds used to make the powder, the calibre of the bullets, the type of metal used in the making of the jacket, then to take the student to the shooting range so they can get a full hands-on and practical understanding of how a firearm is operated.

The former, that is, explain, just reveals the outward and the superficial aspects of an entity, but in the latter, that is, to define an entity means that one gets to the core of its essence and being, and in the process reveals all the salient elements necessary to ensuring its peak performance. I guess that our existence is often little understood due to the simple fact that the necessary aspects related to it are often just explained instead of being defined in their full spectra of objectivity, value, quality, ideals, and activities. Let us attempt to define the terms aforementioned in their complete fullness and not just in their brevity so we can make better use of them.

Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274) in his Essence and Being puts forward the proposition that existence has to have a certain level of essence attached to it for being (to be) to be complete. He states solidly:

Essence is found in a second way in created intellectual substances. Their being is other than their essence, though their essence is without matter. Hence their being is not separate but received, and therefore it is limited and restricted to the capacity of the recipient nature. But their nature or quiddity (uniqueness) is not received in matter.

Intelligence is not limited at the lower levels, but such intelligence has to be controlled from above, that is one of the reasons why there are laws and acts, rules and regulations that ensure that the harmony of the social strata is maintained. One is not prevented from having ideas on the progress of humanity, but such ideas should not infringe on the well-being of the earthly society as a whole. It is good to see the possibility for change, and it is not wrong to present one’s ideas about what changes can be made, but such ideas should first be presented to relevant governing authorities to discuss the possible outcomes if such ideas were to be manifested in the real life sphere where the rest of human and earthly society lives. This is due to the fact that ideas have the potential to improve human and earthly lives if they are executed with the full consideration of their impact on other beings on earth.

However, such ideas uncontrolled could also have adverse effects on the harmony of the world if their execution is an uncontrolled affair. Governance was created as a control measure to the promulgation of human ideas in the public sphere, because at the end of it all, one aspect of the human race is universally paramount and appropriate: we should always be in pursuit of the ideal elements that make harmony a part of our daily living. As seems to be main reason democracy was adopted as a tool of righteous governance in the world.

John Dewey (1859-1952) deems democracy a political form and method of conducting government and administration that is much broader and deeper than it is usually conceived of as; it is a way of life adopted for, in his own words:

the participation of every mature human being in formation of the values that regulate the living of men together: which is necessary from the standpoint of both the general social welfare and the full development of human beings as individuals.

Democracy grants all the individuals in society rights and freedoms which should be used to promote the harmonious living of all individuals living within society. One of the basic rights the mature individual has is the right to be involved in the decision-making processes that affect him or her and the community within which they live. They in my opinion have this right by virtue of being citizens in a state where the decisions of the government they voted or did not vote into office have a direct or indirect effect on their lives. Attached to these rights, therefore, are responsibilities attached; like the responsibility to ensure and to value the safety and well-being of other members of society and their property as much as one would value their own.

Democracy does not just grant the rights and freedoms without responsibility being attached, because if it were not, it would in my view be one sided, it would be a wheel without an axle that would spin out of control. The post-independence view in many states across Africa is that the masses have rights and the freedoms to take action where they feel their rights are being infringed, but the question remains: should the exercise of such a freedom to ensure that the rights are respected lead to revolt, mass violent protest, and total chaos?

One is led to believe that many acts of demonstration (disguised under the mask of expression of ‘freedom’) often have no regulations governing their execution. That freedom of expression is a basic right does not mean that one should resort to violent protest, to burning and looting public and private property, to inciting violence amongst lesser concerned members of society who may or may not have vested interest in the activities related to the expression of interest. Recent developments have seen schools and private property burned in neighbouring states in the name of education which is a basic right. The weak defence has always been, ‘this is a democratic state’; what democracy is that which considers only the needs of one side and not the whole society? What then happens to the equality which forms the basis of the legal and the political aspects that govern society?

Democracy was  conceived as a form that promotes the ideal, and the idealists of our time have used it to benefit whole societies, and their ideas have gone on to become models for proper governance. Think of King Moshoeshoe I whose ideals of forgiveness, and of a sense of unity ignorant of tribe or clan formed the Basotho nation, think of Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi whose ideal of passive resistance (Satyagraha) got India her independence, think of Nelson Mandela’s ideal of racial equality, Botho/Ubuntu, and reconciliation; think of these icons and their impact on the world and you will begin to understand what the idealistic really means. It is ideal that we should live together in harmony, because it is necessary for the progress of all individuals in terms of both talent and endowment.

Where there is chaos due to lack of legal or political administration, the wealthy cannot make their lucre due to the violence,  and the poor cannot make use of the means of subsistence they have at their disposal to eke livelihoods. What is ideal in a democracy is what is beneficial to the whole society and not just some sector of society, because where it is limited only to the ‘superior’ few, the human race loses the basic ideal tenant in the basic principles of democracy: democracy holds a strong sense of faith in human intelligence and always strives to pool it so that life can become a ‘cooperative’ experience.

Without cooperation whatever realities we want to change and to achieve in our lives as a society become fantasies that will contribute nothing to the harmonious progress of the human race. In a cooperative democracy the basic needs are of paramount importance and their management is a shared affair. Where the democracy is non-cooperative supplementary wants are presented as core and the decisions are impractical, it is just like demanding a seat of power and then inciting violence in the process of its attainment, like burning a school and looting while demanding free education, in short; being unrealistic and impractical.

What counts is clear understanding by all individuals concerned (and unconcerned) that democracy should be geared towards the attainment of progress and not regress. Believing that autocracy exists only at the top is sheer fantasy, it can also exist at the bottom where those ruled believe that their word counts far more than that of the elected government, that their citizenship grants them the right to rule the government, when the inverse is true and logical. The moon may be smaller than the earth, but the moon controls the tides in the earth’s oceans, and just because she controls the tides of the oceans’ waters, the moon should never believe she is stronger than the earth; because she has no waters of her own and no gravity. Universal peace in a democracy is attained by us all understanding our limits and our responsibilities. Expectations we should have, it is true and good, but they should not sour the present moment to the extent that the future becomes an uncertainty. That, we should always strive to define as citizens (and non-citizens) living in this lovely kingdom

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