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It is certainly true that there comes to be an urge to acquire the modern. At its roots this urge is desire or greed -- the grasping onto the outer, the material. It is driven by change -- newness. That, often subtle, pang of wanting to have something new that my friend has just gotten. Associated with modernity is the notion of prosperity -- a higher standard of living, that is a life with more things that provide not just shelter but comfort, a physically good feeling. Comfortable interior lighting, temperature, indoor plumbing. There's also the leisure time that comes from a 35 - 40 hour work week. The dream of the middle class.
- Advertisement -But note well that most of the planet isn't middle class and that the means of sustaining rising prosperity, i.e. low-cost energy, are precarious at best.
So while there is indeed an urge toward modernity there is some considerable evidence that this urge will not be met on current energy economic grounds.
Even if the material expectations of modernity are met in the short-term, there is a much greater question as to whether liberal democracy is a by-product. Democratic institutions, i.e. ones in which the adult population are able to discuss, debate and decide in a popular manner on the matters of how they as a group are organized, are not obviously feasible in large groups. The examples in nature that Thom Hartmann likes to cite are relatively small groups (no more than a few hundreds). When we scale to millions and billions of persons the dynamics of the popular manner tend toward a hierarchical form.
Combine a basic itch to acquire that is fueled by advertising and you have a population base that is driven to acquire and with increase in prosperity can scratch the itch endlessly. Add this to any well meaning hierarchical organization and as the leaders become more and more separated from the masses they acquire greater material wealth or access to control of the flow of wealth - political power.
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Given this ground - the grasping, clawing human - liberal democracy is not a by-product it's a false hope . It won't happen without a fundamental change in the way that the individual values themselves and the reality they are enmeshed in.
Such fundamental change is possible with a long-term commitment over many generations; however, it is necessary to engage in concurrent short and long term programs. Political, social systems that permit and encourage the long-term commitment are necessary. James Q. Wilson and others who try to play short-term only or long-term only solutions to social organization are missing the point that people as a they are organized are intrinsically holistic in a social process no matter what ontology may be imposed by the intellectual.
Without fundamental change at the level of individuals we will find increasingly a world in which most humans are just meat in the market and a very few enjoy a bountiful material life. Education of ourselves and our peers regarding how to effect the fundamental individual change needed over the long haul is the greatest obligation of each of our lives. We must learn to re-orient our values and to reduce our instinctual reliance on judgmental thinking rather than discerning thinking. We must teach our progeny these values and the techniques of training the mind so that patience and discernment are second nature in the vast majority of the population.
With the dynamic of this fundamental change in place through the agency of supportive social structures in the near-term there will be a true increase in the flourishing of human life and all life on the planet. Maybe we'll call it liberal democracy or maybe we'll end up not calling it anything because such labels will have fallen by the way.
Christine Tomlinson is publisher of Bush Watch www.bushwatch.com
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