How Policies Can Invert Democracy
Up until now, in the context of recent modern history (circa 1933 – to date) the BY spaces have been known for the sum of their problems, not for their abundance of hospitality, gift-giving capacity or associational life. Nor have they (citizens) been viewed as the primary inventors of a preferred future for all and the planet. In part, the reason is that consumer society obscures the small, local everyday exchanges that so delicately, so imperceptibly knit us and our well-being together. The popular culture renders that which is most abundant invisible.
In equal measure, political policies have inverted democracy in four ways. First, the role of citizens is now defined as what happens after policy makers, politicians and professionals have completed their expert functions. I have argued for the opposite: the roles and functions of public servants should be defined as what happens after citizens complete their irreplaceable work. The state’s civic professionals should ensure they provide support to citizen’s efforts and then find a place as an extension of civic capacity, instead of a replacement for it as they often currently are.
Second, modern societies since the New Deal have defined helping as relief, rehabilitation, and latterly advocacy and, even then, almost exclusively within the parameters of programs and services. The modern shift that takes the state closer to a civilised role and duty towards its citizens has been progress. However the same formula for concentration of power is carried out. Modern citizens are relieved from fear of state subjection but placed in the position of institutional dependency. Modernity takes the citizen from angst over misuse of state power to anxiety over abandonment by the state as funding priorities change.
Third, the units of change up to now have been limited to two: individual behavior and lifestyle change, and institutional expansion. Both of these change measurements come from top-down and distant perspectives, which act upon social policy of managing deficit behaviours and look to use deficit-based planning that bolts on costly extensions to established institutions. This view fails to recognize a third more essential unit––the neighborhood or village––as the primary unit of change.
Fourth, regardless of whether they are Left or Right leaning, in ideological terms policies are in accord with the belief that people who are economically isolated or negatively labelled cannot be trusted to self-determine their futures or navigate life’s vicissitudes. The only points of disagreement among them is as to whether such people should be rescued or policed, and by whom. The Right supports business interests, through privatization of services, while the Left advocates for the human services side of the economy as deserving pole position in helping the “needy.”
These are in fact economic, not political debates, which mostly fail to relocate money and authority into the hands of the people who are being supported. Instead, the lion’s share of resources goes towards maintaining the institutional infrastructure and salaries of those who are providing the help. This is to say, in economic terms, that the helping institutions need people’s needs, often more than people need their services. This debate reduces human beings to bundles of eternally defined deficits, wilfully refusing to recognize them as citizens, with invaluable contributions, to be liberated in rekindling democracy. For those receiving such help, one wonders how much of the salaries of those who are helping them in this way would they use to purchase similar services?