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Chapter Four: Autocracy and Democracy

Section 6: Democracy and Competence


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 "Bulgarian Rechenitsa" performed by the Lysaya Dance Emsemble during the Russian Festival at the Jewish Community Center, Palo Alto, California, June 14, 1998.



As indicated in chapter three, the world is proceeding away from simplicity, stagnation, national independence, and international disarray. Autocratic systems tend to be rigid and less able to cope with change. The cognitive capabilities of democracies are higher so that the critical mass of intelligence needed for rapid technological innovation is more readily available. Technology is a form of power, particularly in the age of information, so that democratic organizations will become relatively more effective at achieving objectives and victories (Criterion two).



Technological revolutions change people in both dramatic and subtle ways. Democratic decision making is better attuned to these changes, and so decisions are more likely to be satisfactory in reforming society to take advantage of these changes. Since people in democracies tend to be more flexible, they are better able to revise beliefs and values when the situation demands.



Autocratic systems will have less information on what changes are necessary, and the more rigid people will be less able make required changes. There will be a greater danger of social disintegration within the autocracy -- so that a democracy will be better able to maintain its internal environment in the face of the changes wrought by innovation (Criterion one). The same arguments apply to the changes required by the expanded exposure to new cultures.



Roger Fisher describes three means for achieving system objectives: 1) self-help; 2) influence; and 3) education. Self-help means bringing about a result through one's own physical effort. A nation can accomplish objectives within its own boundaries effectively with self-help. Outside these boundaries, the effectiveness depends on superior power and the lack of organized reaction.



In a world where no nation has a monopoly on power, and where the misuse of power can lead to long-standing and concerted negative reactions on the part of the international community, self-help is less effective. Influence and education become much more important because they rally others to your cause. Democracies, which are more tolerant and respectful of diversity in general, are going to be more understanding of the perspectives of other parties and, thus, more effective at wielding influence and using education wisely.



Influence is used to accomplish objectives and is a form of power (Criterion two). Education can be used to enhance one's position in the world by communicating that one is "strong, reliable, credible, competent, consistent, law-abiding, and so forth" (Points of Choice, p. 16); thus, democracy has the edge on Criterion three.



As to Criterion four, either political form can contribute to the world order by merely following the established rules. However, the real problem is to contribute to the restructuring of the rules so that one's own, as well as everyone else's, interests are advanced. The difficulties this task presents are discussed subsequently. In short, the skills involved in making creative decisions benefiting everyone involves receiving and coordinating culturally diverse information. These skills are part and parcel of a democracy, but alien to autocracies. It is possible, but improbable, that an autocratic leader would be a major visionary in forming the complex world system described in chapter five.



Furthermore, of Fisher's means, education is the most important for revising the world order, since one not only wants others to act in a given way once, but to adapt their customs to conform to the emerging world order. However since democracy seems to be the direction desired by nations (the UN is structured on democratic principles, and the Declaration of Human Rights lists traditionally democratic freedoms and rights, especially Article 21, paragraph 3: "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. ."), autocrats are less likely to be respected and trusted. Thus, generally, democracies will be rated much higher with respect to Criterion four.







Book Contents

Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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Change as the Status Quo

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Levels of Democracy