Democracy and the Public Exclusivists
Why democracies must restrict public exclusivists
I have found a more helpful story for addressing most of the problems our public media reports.
I know conflict is important in selling a news story, but after Paris, Western media struggled to find a stabilizing meta-narrative for what was going on. Western public media is essentially trying to combat ISIS with John Lennon’s ill-conceived sentiment best expressed in “Imagine.” But it’s been said that When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Since our public media’s hammer is Lennon’s shallow togetherness, the nail looks like “ISIS is trying to divide us.” Yep, ISIS’s cunning plan is to divide the world between Islam and everyone else to induce a world war. Wow! The diagnosis and the sentiments are both simplistic and ineffective (except at making the story-tellers appear nice), and so many threats to freedom around the world escalate while the public discourse fails to respond meaningfully at all.
A better story must be taken up publicly by all democratic sides of public life – politics, media, and civil service, etc. It still produces togetherness, but does so in a more credible way, less naive, and better at finding resolutions. It is the story of Democracy vs Public Exclusivists.
The story goes like this: “ISIS, you are invited to the public policy table, as soon as you stop excluding everyone else from the public table. And meanwhile, we will try to protect others from being excluded by you.”
We want everyone to be part of democratic society, but we can’t allow Public Exclusivists to undermine the democracy itself, in the same way that we can’t allow criminal behavior to undermine safety.
Public Exclusivism is the anti-thesis of democracy.
Public Pluralism is the way forward together. It is the implicit contract everyone in the democracy signs. That’s why we have separation of church and state, to prevent Christian public exclusivists from dominating (or being dominated by) the state. Likewise we need to be equally clear about any other public exclusivists: Islamic public exclusivists, from ISIS to Aceh. Secular Humanist public exclusivists, from North Korea, to Leftist anti-discrimination courts.
- Private Exclusivism is fine, because in private, every thoughtful adult comes to think that their view is the best. That’s the nature of every person’s search for truth/reality.
- Private Pluralism, although it is your right to believe it, is likely to make you a bit insane if you ask me. Believing that all ideas are the same, is self-contradictory anyway, but also fails to treat any truth with respect, and doesn’t lead to any useable conclusions for real life. Good luck with that!
In public life, public service, public schools, democracies ask all of us Private Exclusivists to live together in Public Pluralism.
With this new story, Western public media and policy can be much clearer about our democratic goal, and about diagnosing threats to it. “We want Islamists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, secular humanists, to join the public discourse, to participate in the democracy, in public pluralism. But XYZ wants to exclude everyone else. XYZ can join us only when they stop excluding everyone else from society.” And “That’s why we are stepping in to defend ABC, because XYZ is excluding ABC and everyone else from their seat at the pluralist table.”
This story makes more sense than “they want to divide us, so let’s come together.” It brings us together under a common goal of public pluralism, ie democracy. Not in a simplistic, sentimentalist way, but in an inclusive yet wise and firm way, clearly articulating both the threats and the vision.
And this same exclusive/pluralist thought process can be applied successfully to all other issues in public life to sort out what we will and won’t allow, on the basis of whether it is criminally harmful, or publicly exclusivist.
So, on to the more technical bits.
Criteria for discerning right/wrong in Australia:
Crime and Public Exclusivism in Australian Democracy
I’ve been reading some articles from sociologists’ describing how Australia has been subject to a big, failed, ideology-driven, sociological experiment. Despite a bad start to modern Australia, under a Judeo-Christian based democracy (1901), improvements were being made by every sociological indicator. Then during the 60’s a powerful push to overthrow Judeo-Christian ideology allowed an exclusive secular humanism to gain increasing influence in public policy. Since then we can track a worsening decline in societal indicators.
My point here is to consider how we might think clearly about the future. We can’t go back to past naivety. But we can learn from our mistakes, search for the baby we threw out with the bathwater, redress the current mess, articulate a better way, and move toward it.
First we need to recognize the role that ideology plays in our public policy and governance, which in turn deeply impact our social outcomes. Democracy has to be nurtured with ideologies that produce it. It can be undermined by ideologies that seek to overthrow it, as might happen if, for example, Sharia Law were ‘voted in.’ That would be the end of democracy in that jurisdiction. Some ideologies produce democracy while others destroy it.
Assuming democracy is what we want, we have to ask, how do we decide which ideas to encourage in the public domain?
Private Exclusivism and Public Pluralism
Miroslav Volf articulated some helpful distinctions. As we become adults, eventually, most everyone becomes a private exclusivist at heart – we all think we know the true nature of reality, in a way that reasonably excludes other ideologies. And in a democracy it is appropriate to concede that society is full of private exclusivists. We can still find plenty of common ground on our shared humanity. Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Christians, we can all still work together for the good of the people, and find cohesion in such community organising.
But problems arise when we try to be public exclusivists – when we think our ideology is the only legitimate one in the public domain. One ideology dominates to the exclusion of all others. That’s when we descend away from democracy toward totalitarianism. We see this happening in Australia as secular humanism is now the only ideology assumed in public schools, public media, and public policy. Other ideologies are now being silenced, vilified, de-funded, and even prosecuted, ironically in the name of “anti-discrimination.” What is discriminatory is now judged solely against secular humanist criteria.
By contrast, we need public pluralism – in which we allow a plurality of voices and ideologies into the public discourse, media, policy, and governance. We need not only a “separation of church and state,” and “separation of Sharia and state,” and “separation of secular humanism and state.” But also we allow people to come with their whole being, including their ideologies, to the public discourse. We encourage them to contribute their insights from Islam, Buddha, various sciences, and so on. We encourage them to add their insights to public media, government, and policy. But we don’t allow any motifs to exclude the others.
However this begs a question – what if they come with ideas that undermine the democracy?
Any motif within an ideology that seeks to exclude all other ideologies from the public discourse, undermines democracy. Therefore democratic leaders are wise to discourage such exclusive motifs from the public discourse.
Judeo-Christianity did this to itself by articulating “the separation of church and state.” It is not that Christian insights be deleted from state affairs, but that they cannot be allowed to exclude other insights, nor dominate or exclusively direct the state, nor can the state direct the church.
A mature democracy must develop this sort of filter, to discourage exclusive motifs from gaining influence in public policy. It would do this, not by criminalizing their free speech, but by quickly identifying and articulating the danger in the motif, and then excluding that motif from the decision at hand.
The restriction of public exclusivism is similar to the way we restrict crime. As much as we value freedom here, we also value safety. We know that human beings need some restrictions on their conduct or they descend into the Law of the Jungle, where the strongest wins, not the truest or most loving. So we openly practice a degree of discrimination against criminal behaviours of harm to other people.
Criteria for restricting and encouraging
Crime and Public Exclusivism therefore give us a framework from which to restrict any given conduct or ideological motif.
- Freedom fighters killing civilians – Crime
- ISIS – Crime and Public Exclusivism
- Sharia Law – Public Exclusivism
- Removal of Religious Education from secular schools – Public Exclusivism
- Mis-use of anti-discrimination legislation to prosecute dissent from secular humanist morals – Public Exclusivism
Australia has often been criticized for not coming of age, for being unclear as to its own identity. There is some truth to this, and unless we incorporate this healthy criteria to discern what to exclude or restrict, we will remain reactionary – like a rebellious teen lurching away from parents toward self-indulgences – at our own peril.
It is legitimate for kids to go through a period of “separation” from their family-of-origin to discern their personal identify, but after a while they must be unafraid to return to their parents and agree with them where it is right to do so. Remaining reactionary is to remain immature. Likewise Australian public discourse needs to grow up, and recognize that maybe our forebears had some things right after all. We can’t go back to naivety, but we can learn from our mistakes and adopt a way forward that benefits from as much real-world wisdom as we can.
Maturity requires that we publicly admit the unjust invasion and evils done to our Aboriginal tribes, repent from continuing that mentality, and listen and learn better ways forward. Likewise, we of different ideologies can agree on much that the state got wrong, and much that it got right. And that which remains in dispute we can assess using the criteria of crime and public exclusivism. And then these criteria must become part of our public language and ability moving forward.
What emerges from such thoughtfulness is a more grown up ability to say no to the bad, and yes to the good. Better decisions will be made, and people within society will benefit.
“We must become wise and discerning about which motifs build up, and which destroy democracy via crime or public exclusivism. Then we must act with public pluralism, organizing ourselves to achieve mutual community development.”
Post-script: Democracy itself
That democracy is the preferred system of government has so far been an unquestioned assumption. But why do we value democracy above other social orders? Why is it any better than an exclusivist state? In a sense, perhaps the idea of democracy itself is exclusive, since it excludes other social orders from taking over. When we choose democracy, we are discriminating, so what is our basis for that? If we don’t know, we’re likely to give it up too easily.
In answer to this, some people are content to conclude that at least democracy doesn’t exclude other ideologies from having their positive influence, and from living freely (within the boundaries of crime and public exclusivism). We can’t say that for any exclusivist form of government.
But other people want to follow the logic to first principles. And at this level we must examine the motifs and values that provide the foundations for democracy. This is what leaders of a democracy must do. Which motifs and values do we affirm and use, and which must we be able to identify to disuse?
Perhaps one reader thinks that a theocracy will be better than democracy, that God knows better than mere humans do, so lets just submit to age-old wisdom from the Holy Book – hence Christendom or Sharia is better than democracy. But looking deeper into the Bible we see that, in this life at least, God grants freedom for people to accept or reject his rule. In this way theocracy and democracy are in common: if God allows many people in the society to reject God, then we mere humans must also find a way to allow for dissent. This is the type of Judeo-Christian motif that has given rise to democracy.
What motifs do other ideologies contribute to democracy?
– What motifs come from Islam? Potentially the Bismallah, and the teachings of Isa, and of early Mohammed. It depends which caliphate and imam one submits to.
– What motifs come from secular humanism? Inclusive definitions of “secular” will help, such as those first coined in relation to early Australian schooling to distinguish between exclusive denominational schools, and inclusive schools that allowed people from any religion to attend. But exclusive definitions of “secular” are not democratic, such as those more recently employed to distinguish ideologies without reference to deities, from those with.
– What motifs come from poly-theistic worldviews? One supposes that the “poly” suggests a plurality that must be incorporated into society. However, modern Indian Hindutva is becoming violently exclusivist, so this cannot be assumed.
Ultimately, our leaders must decide for themselves on what basis they believe that democracy is worth defending. Indeed so must we all. Then, if we do decide for it, we must become wise and discerning about which motifs build up, and which destroy democracy via crime or public exclusivism. Then we must act with public pluralism, organizing ourselves to achieve mutual community development.
Everything may be permissible but not everything is beneficial. This is a more mature way forward than our current trajectory.