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Commentary: Re-Examining Our Democracy

By Gavin MacFadyen

Buffalo, NY – In the past century, one of the world's ideological "isms" established itself, flourished and saw its end. If it can happen with communism, with monarchy, with any of the forms of social order we learned about in junior high, who is to say it could not happen with democracy?

Perhaps a kind of self-examination is in order. What prevents us individually, and as a collective, to question the form of government under which we live? We may just arrive at a better understanding of its strengths, limitations, and areas for reconsideration. This would be especially true at a time in our history where young men and women are being asked to serve and sacrifice in order to establish a democracy in a foreign land.

Communism failed in the USSR because ordinary citizens rejected it and a tidal wave of resistance swept that system away. Democracy should be subject to no less a review - what works, what doesn't and what can we do to improve it? A nation which ceases to examine itself on a regular basis is condemned to become a parody of itself - a bastardization of an original intention.

Democracy depends on at least three things: One - the will of the military and those already in power to submit to a vote. Two - the participation of a representative number of people in the population. Three - confidence in the integrity of the result.

However, we need to go further and say that a successful democracy also depends on an informed and engaged electorate.

Ironically, the ability to deliver a single message to millions instantaneously via television and the internet may be counterproductive. Technology allows for manipulation because, without the ability to deliver a message en masse, it would have to be delivered piecemeal - from railroad stops to town squares. Such fragmentation allowed for inaccuracies, exaggerations or outright lies to be challenged, researched and rebutted before taking hold in a pop-culture consciousness.

The question to be asked is this: Did democracy - like any number of products - come with a built in defect that is subject to discovery? Does it translate well to a world of instant information? In any event, the questions we raise are a privilege of the exercise. No one - or at least very few - would trade the messiness of democracy for the clarity of dictatorial rule.

However, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about the society in which we want to live. There is no need to start large but consider a block by block microcosm in our own communities. Whatever street in America one lives, it should suffice as an effective mode.

What manner of contribution would we expect from the twelve houses on our block to the collective? How would we enforce agreed upon rules and punish or correct transgressions? How would we set out to educate our children, protect ourselves from the next block and care for our sick?

If we can answer these questions then there really should be nothing to prevent us from extending our arrived at mini-society to the nation as a whole.

If we cannot do that then it's time to ask ourselves why not'? To be true Americans means to embrace the legacy of the founding fathers and always look at America as a work in progress. To view it as a finished state - perfect in perception alone - is to allow our hard-won democracy to stagnate, mutate and atrophy.

Our history has shown both an intense reluctance as well as an easy acceptance of nation-building - providing of course that we are speaking about another nation.

Perhaps we can turn that same enthusiasm inwards and allow for that least common of American traits to be indulged - introspection and self-evaluation.

Whatever course we decide on, it will have the benefit of being the result of sober, reasoned examination of ourselves and our place in the 21st century.

Listener-Commentator Gavin MacFadyen is a freelance writer and lawyer in Jamestown.