PS—as in prescript now, but postscript from the September posting: My house is in escrow, my life thrown into chaos. I’ve no idea how this will turn out. Sometimes the abyss is the beginning of a mountain top? Or is this about soul-snatching delusion? Perhaps, but one way or the other, I’ll find out.
The checks and balances is a way to prevent government from either devolving into an autocratic tyranny or an autocratic mob mentality. Beau Willimon
Checks and balances are not just institutional best practices, but individual ones as well. Hoo-nōs
There is lots of flag waving by folks who say they believe in and are promoting democracy, but who seem to have a political stance completely at odds with democratic principles. For instance, just because an aphorism seems correct and examples can storm the mind to support it, doesn’t mean individual questioning—checks and balances—is not in order. “Don’t tread on me” or “No Trespassing” surely has its place. So does the requirement to see if one is treading or trespassing on others. “I’m misunderstood” certainly is in play, but does one also seek to understand? A sense of belonging is a critical facet of human development, but is such development well-served by an “us versus them” stance? Do we need to ask with whom do we seek to belong—or why are others recruiting members? What gets our attention, like things that go boom (including individuals who “boom” on others), may seem natural, after all, how out of it does one have to be to not notice “boom”? But a life of something getting our attention can be devoid of us directing our attention (it takes a stimulus to get a response, otherwise we simply sit about?). However, relying only on directing our attention can be devoid of things that rightly demand our attention (“I was looking for beauty and peace and didn’t see that train coming”). In other words, what about nuance, what about checking to see if we’re balanced, to see if we actually have an equation? If we don’t check and balance, we may think we’re on the right side of things when we’re actually part of the problem.
I realize it feels good to get clarity, at least I like it. I endeavor to remind myself that clarity, however accurate it seems, can be like an imprint that captures and doesn’t let go of one’s mind. I realize how much trouble and energy it is to have a sense of uncertainty and how much we want to find some sense of certainty. But landing the plane of ourselves just to get on the ground is not a stellar plan, though the likely death or injury be certain. I’m guessing good pilots, pilot as long as they are able.
Personally, I’m not fond of commands—it seems so authoritarian. But when folks are unruly and waving their one-sided signs like it’s written in stone by the Almighty, it might be appropriate to say “stop it!” And it might be appropriate to stop it. A strident individual stance is itself authoritarian, not in-line with democratic principles. In fact, the principle of an authoritative structure, as in the practice of a more nuanced examination, is a basic principle of a democratic structure. That structure has nothing to do with “going along to get along,” it’s about the courage to see in more than one way, even if it’s upsetting and upending to learn that one’s equation was not an equation at all.
As I’m in the middle of uncertainty, I’m forced to ask and try to answer the very same nuanced questions, the very same checks and balances I’m espousing. An individual’s life for sure, but think about the uncertainty of living in a democratic structure with so many attentions to deal with, something that is not ever going to change. We’re not going to assist democracy by getting everyone to think and behave in the same way. The principle of checks and balances applied by individuals as well as organizations is an example of how we can manage differences and recognize similarities, not how we can homogenize ourselves or the world. Now, having said that, are we really homogenizing folks if we have standards that apply to all? How about agreements about safe traffic, neighborhoods, food, air, water, medical practices, etc.? Are such standards genuinely beneficial as opposed to autocratic? Personally, I cannot afford my own doctor, or hospital, or airplane, or road, or school, etc. “Timeshare” might be appropriate in such matters. And yes, no one is going to be happy about such standards all the time—there is simply no political structure in the universe that can accomplish such a thing. Therefore, we also have to manage our unhappiness.
The work of being democratic, as in both an individual and an organizational practice, can be overwhelming. But to trade it for tyranny, whether autocratic or mob, is to keep the blinders on. Ask if we’re on the side of resisting or assisting? Perhaps the answer lies in how hard the practice and discipline is. It seems easy to denigrate and vilify and shout slogans and espouse unexamined or mis-examined notions—frustrations come to boil. It’s another thing altogether to check, to balance, to shift with the fulcrum, to shift the fulcrum, to minimize harm, to maximize help. The latter practice is not fool-proof, the former can be proof of fools. It seems to me we’ve all been in both categories at one time or another, and likely will be again. And certainly the guarantee is we will be fools as opposed to we will not be. But we can be fools with dignity and we can decide which category we’d prefer. Perhaps that’s the second test of whether we are really assisting or resisting democracy: is our address the proof of fools community or the not fool-proof community; is it about discipline and freedom or just freedom?
The Bumper Sticker Corner
The paradox of well-known aphorisms:
The early bird gets the worm. The second mouse gets the cheese.
Too many cooks spoil the broth. Two heads are better than one.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. When the cat’s away, the mice will play
If you need something done right, you have to do it yourself. A brain surgeon needing brain surgery, might need another brain surgeon.
Note to the two or three who may occasionally read this stuff: Any comments and replies appear below the blog in question, usually about a month later.