What if expertise and morality go hand in hand? What if people help politicians with difficult dossiers, and they learn to work together? I am sure it would put humanity and community in the centre and not profit… And refresh our democracy.
Man is a moral being, and we have more in common than our differences. I don’t know anyone who is not into moving forward, who disgusts clean air, a safe neighbourhood, good education, health care, inspiring stories, big fertile rivers or touching music… Like for example, the people in our village; we were invited in the haunting lodge on the ridge of the valley. There were only elder men, speaking Portuguese, among them a lot of contractors, laborers and of course hunters. You could ask yourself what a vegetarian and vegan Flemish couple are doing there. In a fire place beef was sizzling, chunks of chouriço were floating in melted cheese, in a bread made hollow, and a pig was being roasted… The political debate would divide us into huge cultural differences: conservatives and democrats, left and right, immigrants and natives, hunters and vegans. But you know what? It was a really nice evening. Because we also love the forest, to be outside, listening to music from an old transistor radio, drinking wine and talking about life and work. They arranged cups from cardboard instead of plastic because they’ve seen me using my own cup instead of plastic ones and I ate a piece of meat (prego no pão) because who am I to deny their traditions. But they even made a chickpea salad for Davy. That’s where we can find the power of people: enjoying community and embracing simple things.
“We’ve always thought we needed a technological revolution to save society, but we actually need a moral one,’ says Jacqueline Novogratz in On Being. She is the founder of Acumen, a venture capital fund that serves some of the poorest people in the world.
Also philosopher Michael Sandel mentions the moral vacuum with economists and politicians: ‘They talk fluently about growth and productivity but fear to mention community, civil rights or the environment. This is why we live in an economical state instead of a society in which economy provide in basic needs.’
This, because capital does not deal with external facts; it doesn’t match the consistent economic curve of GDP and everlasting growth. This is probably the reason why those economists and politicians keep on denying climate change and abusing our natural resources. Just like mankind with its colorful and unpredictable behavior. That is why our cultural differences are being seen as something inevitably problematic. While in fact, growth is not the answer: wealth is. Natural and human wealth.
We need to leave polarization from which fermenting demagogues rise, and start learning from the best of two worlds. This is what politicians (and media) can learn to accept from citizens.
‘Research (Peter Kanne) confirms that 9 out of ten politicians don’t have faith in their citizens,’ writes David Van Reybrouck in Against Elections. ‘Which means they are very skeptical in advance when it comes to participation.’
‘In Porto, an abandoned house was turned into a library by local residents. Older people from the neighbourhood helped out and felt useful. Three days later riot police (!) surrounded the building,’ writes Tine Hens in ‘t Klein verzet. Now the initiators are struggling to pay the high rent to keep on going. In an economical state humanity gets a financial value.
In Ghent, DOK was shut down last year. A place where young and old, families, poor and rich, muslims and LGBTS gathered, it couldn’t be a more diverse place. It was a socio cultural place like the one in Porto where citizens organized meetings to talk about the bigger questions because that is the way people are wired (when not in survival mode). But it is a long road if politicians put (real estate) profit in the centre of community and not accept public places and commons (social fabric) for the citizens.
It’s an absurd situation because the state proves every day that they need us. Belgian writer, Paul Baeten Gronda wrote this in one of his columns: ‘It’s about time politicians start to realize that we are subsidizing them, and not the other way around.’
Not only with money but also with knowledge. The pandemia proved again that the state with its highly qualified cabinets doesn’t work efficiently. Mouth masks came from the citizens and anyone who worked on a public tender knows that the higher bureaucrats get pretty nervous from transparency and participation.
To have our Portuguese papers in order, we got more help from the Facebook expat pages than from the consulate. We applied three times for our electoral letter and never received one even though we were obligatory to vote. The whole vertical system is cumbersome and inefficient, and counts more and more on civic resilience, but honestly we civilians are already operating on a shoestring so it’s time to work more horizontally instead of vertical.
This has led to the fact that politicians, in turn, not receive carrying capacity from citizens too. A process that started decades ago.
And yet, we need a state to keep economy separated from family life, a state with slow capital to foster public service through big investments, a (more correct) tax system and subsidy policy, (better) regulations, nudges, and the promotion of communal ownership.
The latter, communal ownership, is perfectly manageable for citizens, who represent the individual interest. It’s sad to see that only now, in 21st century, we still have to organize manifestations for basic rights… That you can only now, not be fired for your sexual orientation. An extra piece of human wealth thanks to people actively reprimand the state, and being heard. Imagine what would we could achieve together. President Macron with its Citizens’ Council is a big (so far, a symbolic) step in that direction.
Economy is not about profit, it’s about how we can live together as human species. Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and John Locke, the founders of classic economy, were moral philosopher who engaged in this kind of questions. How can we create an economy that supports the families? Instead of the other way around.
Citizens became much more engaged and articulated, we are more transparent (no need to cover face loss), not connected to gibberish party talk, or to power that corrupts. We can balance those things out and bring politics & people together.
Which means, working together and combine different worlds. It’s a very unexplored path. ‘And that is why we need a moral compass and not a technological revolution,’ Novogratz says. She talks and writes about ‘hard skills’ that we can teach to our children, at school or university, or on the workplace to become leaders.
- Understanding identity (as a tool to see how much we have in common, and not as a stick to beat someone into his box)
- Listen to points of view that that you typically don’t attend to.
- Cultivate moral imagination
- Cultivate courage by confronting underlying fears.
- Avoid the conformity trap, like ‘that’s how business is, learn the importance of rejecting the status quo
- Evaluate opposite values without rejection
- Use the market for doing good if you have a business (give more than you take)
- Tell stories that matter (yours or from those groups you can serve)
- Accompany each other and embrace the beautiful struggle (strategies to stay motivated, empowered during hard times)
- Write your own manifest.
I would like to add, to be satisfied with what you have, and share with who has less.
Courage and devotion
There are enough examples of citizens participation like the deliberative democracy of James Fishkin, or the multi body sortation with different organs, chosen by lot, and controlled with checks and balances. Belgian author Van Reybrouck is interested in a bi-representative model where citizens are chosen by lot and by vote. It’s looks like a very constructive, efficient and transparent system. Citizens’ Councils are as old as history. I preferred to emphasise on the fact that we are ready to work together. By trusting that we all are engaged to move forward in a transparent way and believing that we have so much in common, even if it’s a Portuguese hunter, a Turkish bartender, a Syrian refugee with three children or an Iranian smuggler… It’s or differences that make a democracy resilient and dynamic.
From that kind of cooperation, leaders and politics for the good, will rise. With love, a ‘soft skill’ but probably the hardest one because love demands courage and devotion.
Trust me, every damn couple that moved to Portugal in search for a better, honest life knows that ;-).
Don’t take kindness for weakness,
Intellect is so damn attractive, here you have some mental push ups: