My opening statement in the song Endless Promise is the question, “Does Democracy work?” It is a genuine question, formed after a lifetime of unequivocal bafflement about the goings of the world.
Let me start with an anecdote which might show the origins of my bafflement. When I was eight years old, I was already acquainted with the fact that the burning of fossil fuels was extremely detrimental to our habitat, and that driving cars was a method of transportation that needed to be eliminated as soon as possible. I told my dad that when I grew up, I would send a letter to the President so as to address the problem, assuming that he (the President) would fix the situation. This was 1989, and George Bush Senior was the POTUS. My father responded, “You don’t have to wait until you grow up, you can write him now”. That evening my letter was prepared and ready to make its trip to the White House. Here are the (rather blunt) contents of my letter.
Dear President Bush,
I would like everybody to stop driving cars because it wastes gas and that is almost gone. Instead I would like to ride bikes and horses. If we find anybody driving a car then they would go in jail for two years but a police, if it is an emergency, then the police or firetruck could go in a car.
My name is Hebe de Champeaux
(I then proceeded to write my phone number, complete address.)
Looking back, my childish solution to the problem is laughable In its ridiculousness. However thirty years later, there has been no improvement in the situation that I then so astutely observed. In fact, this particular problem has been increased exponentially. I was naive to think, ten years later and reaching the end of my teens, and wearing my “Save the Whales” T-shirt, that eventually the auto industry and the population sustaining it would be forced in the direction of efficiency due to a dwindling supply. How bizarre was it to witness, while Europe had long since embraced smaller “eco” cars, that cars in the United States just kept increasing in size and weight. How frustrating was it to see that in the almost forty years of my existence, virtually nothing had been done to build proper infrastructure so as to wean the American population from their unnecessary and highly toxic oil addiction. Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are hardly better. How depressing it was to see the dwindling supply simply be topped up again by fracking. I guess that it will be no surprise that President Bush’s reply to my letter was a pacifying thank you for your concern accompanied by a picture of him with his wife and dog on the White House lawn.
Your question may arise, yes, but what does this have to do with democracy? Liberal democracy, with its focus on human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and a free market economy, has coincided not only with the enormous expansion of welfare and technological innovation, but also with uninhibited exponential population growth (due to the the previously mentioned) and subsequent ravenous use of resources. While the protection of human rights is an admirable achievement for humanity, I describe the ravenous use of resources as “you (also) have the freedom to be an asshole.” What is missing in worldwide constitutional legislation is the protection of future generations. You may even say that, in the case of the USA, the founding fathers never took into account that there may come a day in which the very existence of the human race would be threatened by its own success.
There is no doubt that we are heading for a full-on collision in the form of the sixth extinction. Those who wave this away as unimportant don’t understand that a great portion, perhaps all of humanity will die prematurely due to the forces (caused by our use of fossil fuels and exponential population grown) causing the sixth extinction. This imminent calamity has continually petrified me. I avoided a career in the sciences because the truth was too painful. Hiding away in the music industry was, for decades, an easier way to shut it out and focus on the positive sides of our achievements.
I cannot however, hide anymore. Liberal democracy, with its unhealthy marriage to the free market economy, is allowing too much “freedom to be an asshole.” It is stealing the future in exchange for the comforts of the present.
The time to lay the foundation for a new democracy, should a portion of us survive the flood, is now. First and foremost is that the continuation of the human race should be the first priority, meaning that sustainable use of Earth’s resources must be managed. Our advancing technology, which has enabled us to evade the natural forces of natural selection and to prolong life, also necessitate a worldwide population plan, based on the capacity of the Earth to feed the population without the use of fossil fuels. And lastly, human rights need to be paired with human responsibilities.
Can we do this? Can we use our immense capacity of the pursuit of knowledge to ensure our sustainable survival?