#18: Democracy Breakdown Part 1: The Background Revolution
Subtle shifts in history that saved our lives and gave us Instagram filters
This piece is the first in an 3-part series about my favorite topic — Democracy. It explores how democratic thinking has definitively made our lives better. You can find Part 2: What’s Eating Our Democracy, here:
For most of human history, we sucked. No, seriously. We killed each other and other species quite indiscriminately. We didn’t know what caused dysentery and lost vast portions of our meagre population to it. We thought animals didn’t feel pain and inflicted mindless suffering on livestock. We were, truly, the WORST. For everything that was good and decent about prehistoric and pre-modern life (ample green cover, better posture, no social media), there was something about human nature that made it a wretched hellhole.
And yet, here I am, sitting on a cushy bed in a well-lit room. I am writing out my entitled opinions on a computer that’s capable of things that border on magic. I guess, things have gotten…better. Of course, problems still exist and we are far from solving some of the most wicked threats to our planet and humanity. But we are also far far away from so many things that made human life a curse.
Scientists have been studying positive trends like declining infant mortality rates, higher education levels, better nutrition among children etc. over a couple of generations. Among other things, they’ve tried to understand are the kind of social and political attitudes that contribute to improving the quality of life on a mass scale. In other words: what is the tipping point for things to get better. And according to my oversimplification of their findings, humans throughout history were of two kinds.
1.) Those who rationalized the needless suffering
A child died before his fifth birthday — probably the village witch. Famine this year — the gods are angry we didn’t do the ritual dance right. King is levying unfair taxes — god speaks through him so all is well.
You know, things happen for a reason. Let’s not get in the way with our stupid human reason and logic. Ppffff.
Biggest inventions: Religion | Caste System | Log kya kahenge
2.) Those who sought solutions
Solvers: If we slow down and observe a problem scientifically, we’ll eventually find a solution for it. Sure, it will be a slow process, but we can hedge our time and resources in the interest of long term returns. But let’s be clear, the answers we find could make us uncomfortable and can potentially upset our socio-political order. Are we ready for it?
Most of humanity: NO!
Biggest inventions: Penicillin | Electricity | Instagram filters
We spent most of our miserable years following rationalizers into devastating wars and pointless arguments. It took us nowhere. They even tried convincing us that our life on earth is a mere shadow of our glorious afterlife in heaven. But even that didn’t make things better. Gradually, we realized that if we want to live beyond the age of 30, we need to follow the solvers. We need more people to solve more problems on scale and make everyone’s lives better.
At first, it was really only just oligarchy. Powerful men made important decisions. Then, as more nation-states adopted aspects of this ancient Greek form of government, more people began questioning it. Why just powerful men, why not all men? If we have elected representatives, do we even need a king? Hey, what about women, they can vote and hold office too. And what about all the other weaker sections of our society? Shouldn’t we be working towards a truly equal society where class, caste, gender, money, religion don’t divide us?
Over the course of 2500+ years, we’ve gone from using indiscriminate murder to intimidate each other to setting up a welfare state that aims to protect the weakest in every society. We abolished slavery, set up girls' schools and laid down regulation for animal testing. Our democratic spirit forces even the most stiff-collared corporations to reveal their profits to their shareholders every year. And we don’t condone mob raids anymore — not even on Twitter. It’s been painstakingly slow progress and the pace of change continues to frustrate us. But we’ve made it so far.
In our experiments, we’ve discovered that democracy isn’t just a form of government, it’s really a school of thought and way of life. It’s the belief that’s been revolutionizing human existence everywhere: all lives matter, all lives deserve better. I keep seeing news stories about how democracy is under attack. If it’s in the papers, it must be true, I guess. But it’s a good time to ask what’s really being attacked: the form of government or the belief?
A Revolution in Four Seasons
In this award-winning documentary, we follow two politically opposed young Tunisian women on their journey to shape the country’s nascent democracy. It’s a thrilling and heart-warming adventure that leaves you with oodles of hope. If you are curious about democratic values, I reccomend watching this documentary.