Secluded away in our ‘safe’ antipodean island fortress, Terra Australis, it’s easy for our political leaders to bang on about democracy, pointing fingers at regional civil conflict.
Spain. Yemen. Chile. Syria. Hong Kong. Iraq.
These are just a few of the world’s conflict zones.
And in all of them, the revered “D-word” is often thrown around.
Lincoln defined the modern notion of democracy in his famous Gettysburg address: government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Democratic nations in comparison to others that offer alternative forms of government do, ostensibly, operate this way — anyone of a legal age has the chance to participate in the political process and elect officials to manage the affairs of the state for the betterment of all citizens.
The problem is, of course, that this ISN’T how it works, and ole Abe would be rolling in his grave thinking about how that pure version of democracy that sprung up in antiquity in Greece has become a sad, sorry shadow of what it was intended to be.
Communism is the same. Think about it — a briliant proposition, on paper…
a theory or system of social organisation in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.
And while it cannot be denied that 70 years of Communist Chinese rule has helped turn the country into a super power, in practice communism has also brought with it a range of social issues and ills
The common factor that has led to the corruption of both?
Yes, we imperfect human beings who, as actors in these potentially wonderful theoretical ideologies, refuse to act in the way the pure theory needs us to for that theory to work.
Which doesn’t mean these systems cannot work. If enough of us could fight fear and greed and hate — the three main elements that seem most to get in the way of any pure political or economic theory working — we might see democracy or communism or capitalism or socialism or whatever other theory you care to espouse (not fascism because it seems to work best with fear and hate at its black heart) have a chance of working in some form.
Chances of that are low.
While many strive to be understanding of difference; to offer empathy or compassion to others; to make their way in the world fully aware of those around them and understanding those others have a right of place also, there are just as many who are too caught up in fear or greed or hate, and act accordingly to protect their little patch of existence, no matter the cost.
This has all been very much front of mind watching the current events unfolding in Hong Kong.
On the surface, the world watches on and passes comment on how democracy must be upheld.
So many ‘tut tut’ about how the ‘evil’ (so bigly, bigly evil) Chinese communist government must not impose its totalitarian rule on democratic Hong Kong.
How unfair the whole affair is on Hong Kong’s citizens, who were promised one country, two systems, and are instead being expected to reintegrate into an authoritarian China that will stomach little dissent.
It’s difficult not to feel empathy for the the Hong Kong-ese who had the freedoms of democracy (I use the word reservedly) for a century before the hand back and do not want to give this up.
Dig a little deeper below that surface and let’s recall that this same special territory was FORCEABLY taken from China during the Opium Wars when tens of thousands of Chinese died at the hands of the British.
While this does not excuse how poorly the reintegration of Hong Kong into mainland China is being carried out, it does provide context for how we got here in the first place.
History aside, the turmoil and regional conflict we are witnessing might be seen in some ways to be having the reverse effect of its intention.
Rather than turning a spotlight on the strength of democracy, it is showing it to be the swiss cheese of political systems — full of holes and not as tasty as it purports to be.
Take Australia, for example.
Many Australian politicians have come out offering condemnations of uprisings and violence we are seeing all over the globe, defending democracy and human rights and freedom of expression etc etc
Australia currently has one of the least transparent government’s of modern times, and it’s getting worse as per this Guardian piece from earlier this in 2019.
We are seeing journalists intimidated and threatened with imprisonment for doing their jobs.
We have a Tamil family of refugees being held in detention at massive cost to the taxpayer but more importantly, at massive cost to the detainee’s health and our reputation as a nation that supposedly cares.
We have a PM in Scott Morrison who wants to crack down on protestors for ‘denying liberty’ to others, thus denying their liberty to protest as citizens of our so-called democracy.
Hypocrisy writ large.
This is not to say that those of us living in democracies don’t have good lives: we do and are incredibly lucky in so many, many ways.
But before we spew out flashy sound bites tinged with superiority chastising other nations for how they are managing their own political affairs, we should be looking into the shady recesses of our own democratic backyards and working on those aspects of democracy we are sadly letting slide.
And look up to the roofs of these glasshouses we live in to mend the cracks made by the many stones hurling back our way.