We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Sunday, May 25, 2014

No Way Out But Democracy

Ongoing events in Thailand point to one incontrovertible fact concerning modern societies around the world: the best way, often the only way, to achieve a measure of social peace and justice in any given nation is through a democratic political process.  This is proving to be true in the nations of northern Africa and western Asia, however painful the process itself is.  In the United States, the influence of tea party movement is apparently receding because it is losing its power at the ballot box.  However one might view the tea party's agenda, it has been important in getting past its influence to give that movement all of the voice it could muster in the public arena.  Whenever a military takeover silences popular voices, it only postpones the democratic resolution of political divisions; winners at the ballot box must be allowed to rule, so long as the rights of the losers to keep talking and keep trying to turn things in their direction is protected.

It has become commonplace to quote Winston Churchill's famous observation in 1947 that,"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."  The fact that his epigram is commonplace, however, does not make it wrong.  Democracy is a sloppy way to do things.  It is always open to manipulation and corruption.  The return of big-money politics in the U.S. is but one example of how apparently fragile the process can be at times.  Even so, it remains the one way we have to ensure long-term political and social stability however chaotic it can seem at times.  Whether it was Abraham Lincoln or someone else who first voiced the thought, it does remain true that politicians can fool us all some times and fool some of us all the time, but they are hard-pressed to fool all of us all the time.

Each time the military intervenes in Thailand, the nation is denied the chance to work out its differences in the only way that will ultimately resolve them—open public debate leading to free and fair democratic elections.  Here is one more epigram: you can't win if you aren't willing to lose.  As in all competitive sports, so in politics losing is in fact an important part of winning.  Losing is a teacher.  It is a test.  It is a foundation, usually indispensable, to eventually coming out on top.  Until the yellow shirts in Thailand learn this lesson, they cannot win however often they are able to frustrate the will of the majority.  Winning by forcing the other team off the playing field is not winning.  Amen.