Democratic Traps: Solving them by Deepening Democracy

No democracy is perfect; we know this. Furthermore, some democracies are very imperfect; we suffer them. Democratic traps refer to a set of circumstances that generate or reproduce undesired processes inside a democracy. In the face of those traps there are not few people who, affected by the situation or frustrated by the inexistence of changes, disown democracy. Others address the democratic traps by deepening democracy. Which are the consequences derived from this basic choice?<emb131|center>

No democracy is perfect; we know this. Furthermore, some democracies are very imperfect; we suffer them. Democratic imperfection refers to a way of functioning that does not relate to democratic tenets; it entails inconsistencies or contradictions with respect to the nature of a democracy; it implies that there exist processes in the interior of democracies that distort them. For lack of another expression we call democratic traps to the set of circumstances that generate or reproduce undesired processes (1) inside a democracy.

The democratic traps are numerous, diverse and changing; they generally do not crop up in isolation but rather as a group that tend to be interconnected or are the result of the same socioeconomic process. Among others that readers might complete, we mention the following.

– Democratically elected governments that turn into dictatorships.

– Economic development geared toward concentration that reproduces inequality and poverty in which certain groups manage to establish, maintain or increase situations of privilege.

– Venal judiciary system, where social, political or economic influences corrupt the work judges, legal officers and the police do.

– Aggravated crime systems, such as people, drug and arms trafficking, that sometimes are reproduced within democracies with the complicity or negligence of the democratic authorities.

– Corruption that enables groups or individuals to illegitimately access resources that do not belong to them.

– Public opinion manipulation carried out through an oligopolic control of information, formation of values and creation of referential utopias.

– Educational systems that do not form free and democratic minds.

In the face of the multiplicity and weigh of democratic traps there are not few people who, affected by the situation or frustrated by the inexistence of changes, disown democracy. Truly, it is not easy to address the problems from within a context that made possible traps to emerge and be installed in democratic life. Yet by disowning the democratic system many other achievements that took decades to attain are jeopardized. Being aware of the difficulties but also of what a democratic order offers, the alternative we find is to overcome the traps by deepening democracy. In this effort pain and rage are also present, yet they come together with the ability and determination to pursue the constant process of democratic improvement. There will be ineffective or futile solutions but also other solutions that will manage to solve or abate specific democratic traps. In certain junctures, as with the current great global crisis, systemic transformations can be achieved that prevent the reproduction of a set of existing democratic traps or that, should new traps appear, make solving them easier by means of an alert and effective democratic action.

Tackling democratic imperfection

Working in order to overcome burdensome democratic imperfections has to do with a key aspect of the political development of contemporary democratic societies. In essence it is about making wills aware of what is going on and mobilizing them so that they can overcome the conduct of those other wills that are entrenched in the privileges and dominant position generated by a democratic trap. There exist antagonistic political fights whose outcome implies that a force must beat the other so as to solve the democratic trap, yet there are also struggles that manage to solve democratic traps aligning the own forces and those of the opponent by making each one’s diverse interests, needs and emotions converge. This will imply giving in certain aspects or spaces that are considered to be non-essential with regard to the aim of dismantling the democratic trap. The risk lies in making ill structured agreements that may end up being unable to transform the dynamics that supports the reproduction of the democratic trap.

Every proposal for change faces the resistance of those whose interests are affected or who believe, sometimes without foundation, that these will be affected. On some occasions, resistance to change plays a positive role by challenging our first reactions and forcing us to review solutions that could have been at first simplistic or little effective; in fact, a change implies adventuring into a future that is different, unknown, novel with respect to what currently exists. Thus and without willing to, resistance to change can help develop better solutions. On other occasions, resistance to change is so deeply entrenched in its privileges that it manages to abort or contain changes for too long, choking tensions that finally end up expressing themselves with violence or through criminal interstices that go against the security of citizens and democracy as a system.

In order to be able to solve democratic traps we need to understand how they were generated and sustained, which their real social, economic, political and environmental effects are, but also and very especially, it is for us to consider the different options that are available to tackle the resolution of those traps with the best possible result. The choice we will ultimately adopt will be based on our knowledge about processes and technologies, the specific correlation of social forces of the moment we are living, similar experiences tried in other democracies and our own referential utopia which, as such, orients our decisions despite being an eventual reality under construction.

The resolution of democratic traps

The resolution of democratic traps starts by analyzing -with a systemic vision- the circumstances that make their appearance and reproduction possible. Some circumstances are evident, such as the play of economic and political influences, and others subtle, such as through values and ideological control. Each set of circumstances reflects a specific correlation of interests, needs and emotions, which translates into a socioeconomic dynamics by ways, modalities, procedures, norms and institutions that consecrate them. Understanding the dynamics of the democratic trap opens the door to identify solutions, conceive strategies to materialize those solutions and carry them out by means of adopting batteries of complementary measures.

Solving a democratic trap entails having transformed the circumstances that made its existence possible. In that effort it will be necessary to differentiate the relevant from the subsidiary, figure out interests, take the perspective of those affected and the different vision of statesmen and operators into account, address the values struggle. We will have to see how to tackle social and individual selfishness, avarice, envy, greed, violence; and work on values that may enable the democratic deepening, such as the culture of hard work, entrepreneurship, fair compensation for the effort made, social and environmental responsibility, peaceful solution of controversies, emotional adulthood, firmness and courage before threats, social cohesion, political participation, and overcoming alienated behavior, among many others.

As we need to operate within the context of the already existing democratic regulations, the resolution of democratic traps is seldom achieved through a confrontation of ‘all or nothing’ but rather, many more times, through conquering inflection points that can gradually adjust the course of the processes. However, it is clear that each situation will demand its own transforming measures implementation strategy and that there will be occasions where a head-on confrontation will end up being inevitable; but even in those cases it will be necessary to pick which the best moment and the most appropriate way are so that the resolution of one or several democratic traps deepens and does not harm the democratic flux. Certainly, this is not about replacing one trap by another or one fundamentalism by another of opposite sign, but of enabling that in the course of that effort of democratic improvement each individual and organization develop or strengthen his or its own democratic conscience.

Crises as an opportunity to solve democratic traps

In this 2010 that is beginning we are going through different and hurried exits from the global crisis. Some of them aim at reconstructing the pre-crisis world instead of transforming it; other exits intend to implant a better systemic course. The pre-crisis world contained a diversity of democratic traps both in the financial system that was the one to trigger the crisis and in other dimensions of the tremendous wealth concentration process that characterized the decades that preceded the great explosion and made it possible. The struggle of interests and perspectives will determine, on a global, national and local level, if our course and way of functioning will adjust for the good of all or only of some.

In Opinión Sur previous issue we pointed out that our audacity and intelligence deserve a better fate than profits, social and environmental destruction, the substitute alienated happiness where we hide; that we are far from having managed to process and confer meaning to the flood of information which we have suddenly accessed; that it seems that the avalanche of news, knowledge, multiple superficial relations, whirled so as to increase our vulnerability to manipulation, homogenization of thought, the loss of strategic orientation.

In spite of still being immersed in that tide, we believe that it is possible to transform the exit from the crisis in opportunities to deepen our democracies. It is not an easy task to align such diverse and oftentimes opposed interests but we will have to do so; we need to rise above the confusion and adopt measures that are based on a new referential utopia that may serve as a goal for all; to propose great mobilizing projects that are capable of providing the various actions with orientation and meaning. This is truly about summoning us once again to act, to a way of doing based on vigor and compassion, creativity and firmness, using the impressive contemporary knowledge we have accumulated, which remains growing exponentially, without leaving the left-behind and excluded out. With the resources that are now available this is possible; it will be necessary to check whether our values, determination and the leaderships we might help emerge will orient the course in that direction. It is an ecumenical summoning rising from various places and players that, at an individual level, can only emerge from the assaulted deep interior of each one of us.


1) It is worthwhile to make explicit who “do not desire” certain processes that take place inside a democracy to happen; we could avoid a clear answer by indicating that it is the democratic society as a whole or the majority of its population that identify which the “undesired processes” are yet the topic remains open and transcends that generic answer.

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