10 June 2007

This is Percy Small of Bournemouth, calling...

On Radio Four's seven o'clock news I just heard a young Albanian woman say:

"We are so proud that President Bush is coming to Albania, because he is president of the world..."

Note that word "world". Not USA but world. Sadly, it's very easy to understand her mistake.

Wasting bandwidth, from Thinking Through My Fingers, comments that we consume news instead of coöperating in its creation. He references Dr C's The Young - the corrupt - the forgotten. Sadly, they're both quite right.

Over the past week, BBC 4 (a TV station, nothing to do with Radio Four) has been rerunning Mickery & Percival's conspiracy thriller The State Within over five consecutive nights. In the final episode, the writers have one of their characters say something to the effect that "When Mom fills up her SUV at the gas station, with Junior in the back, she doesn't give one thought to how many people died for each gallon at the pump." Sadly, he's right.

The word "democracy" has its roots in Athens, at a time when every citizen (however inadequate their definition of "citizen") could go to the town square, hear the voices of other citizens, and make his own voice heard. We live in a time of mass communication; the word "democracy" cannot mean very much unless everyone of us has both the means and the will to hear and make our voice heard on that hugely larger stage.

Some mass media make more of an effort in this direction than others. Still not enough ... but then, those who make such attempts get very little support from us, the mass. The internet, the web, personal publishing, provide a means to place an individual voice in the public arena (the global village square), and that is important but not enough on its own: the chances of it being heard are tiny.

When significant numbers of citizens unite in a single voice, their significance depends on their geography. Roughly a million British citizens (roughly 2.5 percent of the total electorate, 4% of a typical general election voter turnout) taking to the streets against the invasion of Iraq, for example, slowed the rush to war by a fraction. The same number turning out in the US, had it happened, would probably have had a greater effect despite representing only 0.5% or 0.8% respectively. The same number of citizens in Arab or other Moslem countries doesn't even make the news in western liberal democracies.

Nevertheless ... until both populations and power structures address the need for every citizen to have a voice which is in some effective way heard by both sides, there will be little in principle to distinguish mass democracy from luxurious feudalism.

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