Lately I have been thinking about resistance to democracy.
By democracy I mean people exerting citizenship (that is, making choices and acting together on shared challenges), starting in their communities (the places where people make decisions and act), supported by governing institutions (such as government, NGOs, businesses, and other organizations).
Three problems can fundamentally interfere with the functioning of this democracy: when people don’t exert citizenship; when they do not work together in community; and when the work of institutions and that of citizens is out of alignment.
There are many possible reasons for these problems, and some of those reasons may reside in the other problems. For instance, maybe people do not exert citizenship because governing institutions treat them as clients instead of as producers.
I also believe there are psychological elements behind some of these problems, which in my own thinking I collectively term “The Resistance.” (An adaptation of Steven Pressfield’s thinking.) Thinking about these sometimes allows me to better understand behavior of people in a democracy.
What is behind The Resistance?
These are not the only ones, but here are three inbuilt psychological elements of The Resistance:
- Fear of Agency. This applies to individual citizens in their informal capacity as well as professionals in their organizational capacity. As an ordinary person, I can tell you there are many situations where I actively seem to shun freedom. Think of all the times I have been asked, what would you like to do? And then, terrified of the choice, I instead wonder: What do they want me to answer? Can’t they just decide what to do? Deep down, sometimes, some part of me wants to be told what to do.When it comes to the professional realm, the fear is then inverted: What would actually happen if everyone had freedom? Wouldn’t my job become ten times more difficult? What if they (people in the public) decided they didn’t need me?
- Drive for Homeostasis. In other words, equilibrium — lack of disturbance. Human beings crave homeostasis and are constantly acting in ways to keep things as they are. This often manifests itself as denial of problems. I refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of climate change because, if I did, then I would be obligated to change what I do.
- Hatred of the Other. While we can and do express love, we are all also indeed built to mistrust those from other groups. We are programmed over eons to search for and identify potential enemy groups. Today, in modern life, I think about all the ways that we seek to categorize people in our day to day lives, and to separate the world into people we do care about . . . and people we don’t. We live in a world where all the different groups are very much in alignment and so these boundaries are reinforced.
I think these are elements that are within all of us, that they are common and shared. That suggests that those who are trying to improve democracy should remember these headwinds that lurk in our human hearts.