Respect Is the Core of Democracy

Democracy thrives to the degree that the society adopting that system of government is made up of individuals who treat each other with respect. Without the voluntary agreement of the members of the population to treat each other with respect and to demand that their elected and appointed officials treat citizens with respect, all the tools of liberty–supreme courts, term limits, separation of powers, bills of rights, etc.–are worthless.

Respect is the core of democracy. Democracy is the political superstructure of a very particular type of socio-political system, a way of organizing society historically uncommon—both hard to achieve and hard to maintain. We can easily give it up, if we are too tired; it is not a logical choice for a tired, disenchanted population, and there are always vigorous self-promoters more than ready to drive, if you would prefer to curl up in the back seat and sleep. Be aware, however, that the decision to hand the steering wheel to someone else is a lifetime commitment: it is a decision to stop making decisions, to become a permanent follower. But it does have the wonderful benefit of permitting you to blame all your own shortcomings on a select list of officially sponsored “guilty groups.”

In this non-democratic way of thinking, there is no need to concern oneself with moral sensitivities toward these guilty groups…precisely because they are “groups,” not people. This is critical. These “guilty groups” do not contain “people.” What they do contain has many names. During the hot days of Bolshevik revolution and war against Russian “guilty groups,” Trotsky called the Russians in those groups “insects.”

This approach is carefully designed by those who wish to steer the vehicle of society to sound very appealing and comforting to the majority so it will permit the self-appointed saviors to slip smoothly into the driver’s seat. The problem with this tidy little package will only be revealed after it is far too late. Although Russians eventually buried their Soviet Union, the impact of that era’s excesses and outrages continues to plague the Russian people. Put simply, once the process of naming groups rather than individuals as the enemy becomes accepted, it takes on a life of its own. This seems to be inevitable, and a for very logical reason: the fallacy hidden under the Big Lie.

A group is almost never the real enemy. Real enemies are individuals who want to do bad things. Most of us are focused on living and don’t consider piracy the optimum way to enjoy life. A lot of us will follow a pirate, be he sufficiently smooth-talking, or be we sufficiently desperate, however. And once the pirate is empowered by society on the basis of a Big Lie blaming all the ills of society on, well, not exactly a scapegoat, but more precisely a “scapeherd,” then the new Pirate-in-Chief immediately faces a Big Problem: the fallacy of the Big Lie very quickly becomes clear for all to see. The consequence of this is the need constantly to add new “guilty groups,” and you may soon find that you, loyal follower though you may be, suddenly turn out to be a member of one of these “guilty groups.”

Historical examples are legion, the Bolshevik Revolution perhaps being the best known in Western society. First came that whole herd of White Russians, then “the West,” then in the purges all the old Revolutionary Bolsheviks (who were arrested on trumped-up charges and murdered by the state after fake trials), then various minority groups (e.g., a whole herd of relatively less poor farmers and the Chechens), that whole “group” of insects who engage in political dissent (including professors, independent-minded Party members, honest judges, inquisitive journalists, and sundry people who read books), and finally in World War II Russia’s finest generals.

These details don’t matter, except naturally to those implicated. The point is that this whole process can happen anywhere, any time, and the clue that this socio-political landslide is starting comes when authorities and voters start focusing their attention not on misbehaving individuals—which exist within any group, but on the groups themselves, as though the group were a thing, with a personality. Suppose a politician were to attack an opponent not by saying, “Your position on economic reform will harm us because…” but by saying “Your ancestors were…” The remark is idiotic because it makes no difference whether it is true or not; it is not relevant to solving the problem.

When you criticize an individual for doing something or advocating something, the point of your criticism is the act or belief, and that is a perfectly legitimate subject for discussion because it is in fact directly relevant to resolving the problem. If the problem is starvation, the behavior of a hoarder or an inefficient farmer is a real issue to be resolved. If the problem is dirty air, the behavior of a polluting CEO is a real issue to be resolved. In contrast, were one to criticize the race, sex, heritage, nationality, age of a person, that would distract from solving the issue, it would remove responsibility from the individual, make the individual irrelevant, and focus attention on the group: all “Westerners,” all “Jews,” all “Muslims,” all “immigrants,” all “critical reporters,” all “interfering judges,” all those who expose Emperor’s nakedness. When a politician focuses blame on a group, he is using the magician’s trick of getting you to look away; the politician’s purpose is, in short, not to solve problems but to distract attention…to distract you.

That is why respect is the core of democracy. Democracy is the very opposite of everyone marching in step and saluting smartly. Democracy is about different people making the effort to understand each other and make room for each other and working toward mutually beneficial goals not because they agree—the only person I never argued with was my mother, and even that was more out of love than because I actually agreed with every single idea in her head—but because they respect each other. If you choose not to “like” a group, so be it; that’s your choice. Don’t invite that group to Thanksgiving Dinner. Individuals, however, are a whole different matter. You can still talk respectfully to the individuals in that group about whether to drive on the right or the left. When it comes to individuals, make your choice on the basis of…the individual. And if the individual talks all the time about this good group and that bad group, watch out: you are being conned.

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