Scale of Democracy

Thanks to Jon Lebokowsky I found Adina Levin’s post discussing the dynamics of scale and democracy. She writes that “The “lobbying-and-marketing” approach isn’t just an elitist power-grab by special interests. It’s a practical response to a scaling problem. Representative democracy is a solution to the problem of aggregating decision-making power. The “lobbying and marketing” strategy is a solution to aggregating the power to influence decisions. The Sierra Club and the NRA can get hundreds of thousands of people to donate, vote, and contact representatives.”

Social ecologist Murray Bookchin has proposed a democracy of the municipality which would shift decision making away from Washington D.C. It’s a radical proposal and calls into question our acceptance of the nation state as a required entity. His idea, greatly simplified here, is to think of democracy as a participatory process which begins in the neighborhood and then builds up to the city level and from there to a regional level through a process of confederation.

It’s interesting to think about in these times when many would argue that citizenship is dead or dying and has been replaced, to a great degree by consumerism; a gradual, but fundamental shift that is not healthy for democratic process.

What Bookchin and others have called for is actually a deep cultural shift as well as a political shift. The machine as it currently functions is not democratic and I’d argue that it’s incapable of democracy. It would be like asking a common kitchen toaster to fly accross the room. That’s not going to happen because toasters are not designed to fly. Similarly, the social, political, and economic systems of the U.S. are not governed by democratic process nor are they designed to cultivate it. It’s really about the management of people and resources by a fairly small group of people who function behind the facade of “representative” democracy.

Of course there are times when it’s pretty obvious that we’re not living in a democracy, or even a democratic republic. If we want a democratic society we will have make fundamental, radical shifts to the many layers of our lives. It’s not just about government. We need to examine the purpose and practice of our “educational” systems. What about the influence of corporations, which are private tyrannies, over public policy? How does car centered city planning affect the use and experience of public space? How is techonolgy being used? Who decides which technologies are used? Is the corporate media system really informing people or selling to them? Who controls the media system? What does it mean to be a citizen? What are the responsibilities that go along with citizenship? Is it possible to have a more direct relationship to public policy? Should democracy extend into the economy?

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