Sunday, May 17, 2009


Democracy is a strange ball of wax, more talked about and fought for than actually practised and desired, IMO. For if the 'will of the majority' is what we're really after then political democracy would be the exception to the rule of our lives.

  • democracy is not sought in the family (especially Asian families) - here its seniority first

  • democracy is not sought in corporate organisations (even today, peer reviews are rare) - here its meritocracy, qualifications and seniority

  • democracy is not sought on the road or in the airport - here it's first-come-first-served or the 'will of the bold' (especially if you're driving a Kancil challenging a truck carrying trees)

  • democracy is not sought in restaurants, cinemas or parks - here the customer is either momentary king ('will of the dollar') or visiting pawn ('will of the venue manager')
  • democracy is not sought in the classroom or the educational institution - age, role and qualification (and the syllabus) decide
  • democracy is not sought in cyber-space (although one could argue that cyber-space is a new kind of democracy) - here technology, connections and conversational skill top the list, and ideas that spread win (a'la Godin)

  • democracy is not sought in the Bible(!) - it wasn't present in the OT nor the NT nor church history nor churches today; needless to say, here the will of God reigns (or should)

For (almost) all of the above, democracy would be a destabilising and frightening event, even if its 'alien-to-Asia' origins were accepted (there's a strong argument that Japan is a sad case of Western institutions being imported and off-loaded onto Japanese culture in the name of modernisation, without the accompanying spirit of individual liberty, see Michael Zielenziger's book, Shutting Out The Sun)

For some of the above, democracy is outright blasphemy.

So is politics a whole new world altogether, somewhat unrelated to the way we run the rest of our lives? Or is it the domain of democracy which allows other institutions to remain non-democratic?

By all means, take injustice, greed and manipulation down. But raise up the banner of democracy? I'm no longer very sure - are you?

[The above means no disrespect to those fighting hard right now for the rights of minorities and the marginalised (notice how 'minority' and 'marginalised' are almost at odds with the definition of democracy?). We certainly need more people like them; the very issue in fact is whether a 'liberal democracy' would be the best system to cater to the needs of those whose needs are not being met.]


discordant dude said...

hey alwyn, interesting thoughts. you are the first person i come across who have been trying to inject some caution into those who thinks that democracy is m'sia's panacea (aside fr some BN bigots who do it for different reasons). hope you will write more on the subject, like how do you understand democracy and if democracy is not the best form of political organization for m'sia at this stage, what alternatives do we have? cheers!

Alwyn said...

hi DD,

in fact this post wasn't meant to be a 'political' one at all (unlike the ones of creative peace-making which I *do* feel passionately about)...i certainly didn't mean to jettison political democracy, only to inject some irony into our intense longing for it despite the many non-democracies we live in/for each day(!)... also, let's agree there are good democracies and bad democracies, 'free' democracies and 'not-so-free' democracies; i guess i'm just fascinated with our fascination w that word. *political* alternative? none for now. but if democracy is the free-market's twin brother, then yes I'd propose socialism as ONE alternative, see