Monday, November 24, 2008

Chaos and Democracy

When I was very young and first encountered History, the concept of Democracy seemed the obvious right choice to me. After all, who could argue with everyone having an equal say in matters of power and responsibility? It seemed that it was just a matter of getting evil people who had power to let go and for regular people to rule themselves.

Then I grew up. Oh, I am still a big supporter of Democracy, in so far as we mean self-governance, the duty of a man to rule his mind, heart, words and actions. That’s hard enough to do for anyone! But I am less confident that Democracy is really a functional plan in its true form, not least because it appears everyone is eager to take the power, but not carry the responsibility that comes with it. Over and over again, I run into people who want someone else to do the hard work and they only want the benefits. I first noticed this in work situations. When I worked on the floor in retail, many of my co-workers hoped for promotion to management, where they assumed they could relax and just make money off someone else’s work. I noticed many situations, especially in unions, where the more senior employees took advantage of and sometimes cheated the junior employees, and considered it their “right” to do so. Amway runs that way, I discovered, and so do many corporations. After I graduated from college and started working as a manager, I discovered that the managers were the same way – some worked hard while others schemed ways to gain money and promotion off someone else’s work. I also noticed that when it was time for hard decisions, when a crisis emerged, many people hid from participation, from the duty of making a suggestion or trying to address the problem.

This, I think, explains the popularity of kings. You get a highly visible figurehead who can take all the criticism and attention for the business of making things work. As he is one person, he cannot possibly have all the answers, and so at some point he takes on advisors to find the answers he needs, and this is where the ambitious men aim their efforts. That way, they get money and power and maybe a few honors when things go well, and they can hide and deny when things go in the sewer. You might think that just because the United States does not have a monarchy that we are different, but don’t be hasty. Presidents are often treated as the focus of attention and criticism, and many a CEO is targeted, fairly or not, when their company goes south. In the end, it’s a rare individual who is willing to take on the whole package of true leadership, and being willing to face a hostile environment of press and activists is just as tough as any medieval quest.

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