Alternative Editorial: Democracy as a Creative Act

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This is an editorial from our Alternative Weekly Newsletter (sign up here, and previous newsletters here) which begins to pull together the many strands of socio-political change reported in our Daily Alternative blogs and give some shape to the emerging politics of the future.

By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK

Democracy is an idea that appeals to a great many people, but not everyone. From within our cultural and political bubbles, we might make the assumption that we are in a majority. The rule of the people, demos + kratia – manifested through representative, parliamentary systems - seems beyond argument to those of us raised under these conditions. Yet the truth is that, while half of the world lives under a democratic system of some sort, only 15 percent of countries exercise full - one person one vote - democracy and nearly a third of the world's nations are ruled by authoritarian regimes.

Again, from within our bubble, we might look at the other 50% – 85% of the world as benighted, or oppressed by an elite – which many undoubtedly are. But others are pursuing social good in ways we can’t understand. When looking at China for example, we only talk about the conflict in Tiananmen Square and the absolute power of the Communist Party: we rarely talk about Confucianism and its philosophy of self sufficiency that makes challenging authority less likely. Would it surprise you that China considers itself a democratic project

We might laugh – or grimace: after all, aren’t our projects so very different that we cannot compare them, ours right, theirs simply wrong? Meantime, we are constantly questioning the inadequacy of our own system to deliver fairness, justice, equality or security at a personal, social, global or planetary level. One that Occupy described as empowering the 1% to rule over 99% of the people. 

Of course, some would say that is the very essence of a democracy that people should be free to question and critique: but at what point does that indicate systemic complacency? Not just an unwillingness to challenge, but the inability to challenge – unable to see how we are managed and thereby limited by the system we grew up in? Like the 6,000 kg elephant chained to a sapling, we can’t see that the we have outgrown, not so much the idea as the democratic system that once contained our energies. 

How might we uphold the democratic principle – rule by the people – while also using the best ideas, practices and cultures to change the system? What we have seen in the nine months we have been doing the Daily Alternative is multitudinous perspectives, initiatives and new theories of change intent on transformation of our democratic system. But what we have seen less of is the capacity, or desire, for bringing it all together – success in joining the dots so that we have a coherent force for change, operating at many different levels. We are more intent on our autonomy than on our collective agency. Yet, as George Monbiot articulated so well in his book Out of the Wreckage, our yearning for belonging is strong too.

Are these apparently contradictory needs present because the need for complex new systems is unique to this time? In the recent past we accepted that society would be ordered from above – because only those with access to information and resources would be in a position to see the bigger picture and act for the greatest good. Today, many more of us have access to many of the requisite resources – information and the means of organising. With so many individual and groups of non-state actors today, how can the bigger picture be seen? Especially when the owners of the internet and data are inclined to limit our access to each other, increasingly trapping us in our bubbles so that we are unable to recognise our commonalities? 

In these increasingly complex conditions, we may need to consciously develop our capacities for a more effective democracy – meaning the ability to co-operate and co-create in ways that maximise the outcomes. After all, diverse communities can often come together around an event, or an emergency – why not around a common interest in democracy?

As individuals, we all experience the growth of our ability to manage ever more complex challenges, from childhood into adulthood. Becoming an effective actor in a public space – a creative citizen, capable of delivering an adequate democracy on a daily basis - must be an aspect of continuing adult development. We should factor this into our idea of a life-long education.

Similarly, the structures and constitutes we build and the systems that help them work together dynamically will reflect those new capacities. If we feel we are learning and becoming more capable of complexity, let’s not settle for filling the same roles and structures that were developed for us in 1928, with the advent of universal suffrage?

Next year The Alternative UK will launch its political laboratories across the UK. In those spaces we will be actively awakening our individual and shared democratic capacities and playing with what is released to begin to create something quite new. If you are interested in contributing to project design or inviting a laboratory to your town contact us on