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Writers Notebook
In The Jury Box;

By David Eide


"....when you decide a case you bring in all your experience, knowledge, and common are not a robot."
Instruction of a judge to a jury.


Democracy works at the local level. As it moves from the local it gets less and less democratic although all kinds of cultural signs reinforce the idea that the whole is a democracy. Habits of democracy are learned at the local level and if they aren't learned there can't be learned anywhere. All life could be said to live locally and it's why you'll never achieve a "world govt" or anything close to it. The local can be dominated by tribalism, religion, creed, race, industry etc. but there is where most people live and work. We are probably more aware of our common humanity in this age and so, insofar as we control things, aren't keen in destroying other peoples. Obviously much in our experience contradicts this but the level of resistance is higher than usual.

Democracy was important but I couldn't do anything about the system. If it is unalterably corrupt and too large for the authentic benefits of democracy while the people are totally alienated from it while pursuing their happiness or pleasure then time rolls it out. All I could do is try to find the ability to remain connected to the secular need to develop liberal democratic values or sensibility and spiritual values.

Freedom and its reality. Freedom and its great extensions. Freedom and its risks. Freedom and its obligations.

I don't think you can formulate a "theory of society" that is comprehensive or, at least, it would not be a good one since it would require so many exclusions and so many conformities. We have the freedom to develop a theory of society that can move people's minds. We have the freedom to live out principles, even in large communities. If I am gay I'm not staying in Alabama, I'm heading for San Francisco which exists in the same putative society, under the same Constitution. This is a privileged state and only exists because of the maturity of the democracy, its affluence, and its educational system and so on. However it is apparent that it is vulnerable to true believers who can develop a sense of community through its past. And ideas are thrown up to meet this challenge and the people decide. It's not pretty but it does have the valuable component of due process, due diligence in it, crazy as it appears sometimes. That said why not have more theories of society or of the individual by persons who are moved to do so? Isn't this the essence of trust that goes to the bottom of whether democracy succeeds or fails? If a clot of people in Troy New York live out a new theory of society that begins to leap out of the region and proves itself out in practice why not? So any original principle of society would have to guarantee that very thing. Since fundamentalism, to take an example, cannot fill that bill it is not a theory of society. Ultimately it can only be a destroyer of society if it is able to convince most people that its view is correct and all experimentation, all variety, all ideas should be cut down before they get started. If that happens then the whole first principle has been compromised and unable to check the one belief from consuming all.

The true American is that person who can experience the society fully, in all its dimensions and out of that experience create something new, profound, and enriched beyond anyone's imagination.

That doesn't mean any and all expressions. The test is whether it has fully embraced the complete society which includes religions, histories, ethnicities, regions, documents, examples of a variety of action and so forth.

The state or theory of the universe plays little or no part in the formation of society. If we are accidents it doesn't answer why we kill, band together, develop "politics" and a structure of law. You could speculate "well, what created the universe created ourselves, therefore these things emerge out of the universe's intention of itself, ergo God." But that would simply reproduce the formulas for conflict that have existed in the past and which the founding fathers guarded against by giving freedom of religion and separation of powers as base bottom principles. Pragmatism always held out as the answer since it said, whatever works to keep things on the up and up, productive, leaning toward the future is the right course. But then, pragmatic answers in one generation may be obsolete in the next because of these sweeping changes people like to talk about. So we are always a guinea pig not really certain that our solutions have any bearing on the future.

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The beauty and effectiveness of democracy should never be underestimated. The power of people given the ability to rule themselves should not be taken for granted. Democracy is intelligent action that knows the power of opposing views even when it despises the opposing view.

Democracy is always trying to evolve and get to a better place. The people are included in that and simply marginalize anything in their way. The fact that the vast majority of people see this in terms of their own economic progress it does make sense that a few step away and see it in a different way.

I felt that if democracy is not a "way of life" then it is superfluous. The fact that millionaires run politics says to the casual person, "you are irrelevant if you aren't a millionaire, don't even try to run for office. Participate only through your vote and your innocuous special interest groups. It doesn't matter if you are angry at the fact or if the fact alienates you to the breaking point. You are irrelevant."

One finally evolves to the point of view of, "well, if it doesn't bother the people, why should it bother me? They are the ones who will suffer the consequences."

In the race between cash and ideas, cash will trump mere ideas every time unless you get superb leadership. It's not an automatic process. The populist movement that gains the momentum of truth is the most powerful force in a democracy since the populism, to be successful, must cross many boundaries of the pluralistic culture.

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The tension in a democracy is between the powerful incentive of people to "be all that they can be," and the creation out of them of a powerful state necessary to maintain so that they may be all that they can be.

What real boundary exists in the democracy? Law is the ultimate boundary and people test it all the time. But as far as development I don't see many except for the fact that we are constrained by time and space. We are constrained by ignorance. And most especially we are constrained by fear. So that a free person would do everything in his or her power to overcome those constraints and live along some new horizon.

The skeptical view, even an honest skepticism, can do away with just about anything. It calls out the existence of the physical universe. But it cannot reproduce anything of the rich, profound experiences it tries to eradicate. People surrender to the inhuman because it protects them and gives them a sense of power. But without fail the inhuman is seen as a simple device to addict the person into something vastly inhuman that has them by the painful parts.

The perfect situation is "perfect integrity removed from total neurosis."

It rarely works except in a practical sense. When it is worthless, when it collapses we will know it.

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The problem I see in American politics is that it is not very distinctive. It is becoming something you constantly see in history; a thing people eventually rebelled against. If that is the case and American democracy is lost in history it will be saved by a few poets and scholars who saw, at some point, the true uniqueness and credit America with things we can hardly speak to today or credit today. "Its success, its hugeness and complexity, its complacency in the people and the arrogance of the leaders, its separation, each generation, each decade from the original point of its development, huge changes in the world all conspired to bring it down. It was, in truth, an oligarchy that had to prove itself to sleepy, distracted people from time to time.

The key in reading a democracy is to look at the people. Are they listless? Are they excited and passionate yet experienced? Are they taking up the cause of democracy which is to produce better and better men and women? Or, are they so exhausted by things that they need violence in their lives and are angry and frustrated at their lives?

It's an open ended question. True democracy is hard work and takes a large wedge of energy from people for it to be effective.

March 12, 2015

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No one likes government. Two original framers, Madison and Jefferson, didn’t like government. Jefferson hated it and Madison was only into it when he could act as Plato and help create a new system based on his abstract thinking on power and effective justice. Jefferson purely hated government, had a painful public life I believe and is the root source for most of the natural, instinctive distrust of government that the people have.

One excellent benefit from such an idea is that the burden of responsibility for carrying the idea of freedom and liberty goes to the private citizen. From the private citizen allegiance goes out to invest a "thing" with power. The government is the act of disestablishing a terrible burden on the people so that they may live and thrive. But all acts have consequence. “He who will take your burden away will also come later to claim his reward.” And it’s quite easy to see how a guy or group of people in power would see their positions as something other than the simple act of “relieving the people of some of their burdens.”

It sets up a lot of easy corruption.

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The only people who love government are those who are in love with its easy access to capital and law. They want it for themselves and compete with other types who “love” government to see who will possess it.

It does present a dilemma does it not? I don’t love government but I don’t want to dismantle it either.

It’s good government that is the transient prize for a generation of citizens.

  1. Know it as an original meaning
  2. Suffer through the humiliation of its corruption
  3. Get some reasonable understanding of the difference between good and bad government.

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Shouldn’t our “hatred” of government make us bigger, smarter, wiser, and more profoundly attached to the ground of our freedom and liberty? Where’s the proof of that??

Every time someone tries to define America it eludes them. It is not something you define; it is something that plays through and the few objects and words you capture make all the difference in the world. The ways of trying to define the American in my lifetime have all come to grief. They couldn’t hold an ounce of her tonnage. They wanted her riches without the sacrifice. They pass on behind her like an inelegant passing of gas when the drunk people don’t seem to care one way or the other.

Yet, the old beast is wrong often enough.

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On seeing our great cities the founders would have said, “do you use the leverages correctly? Is good produced out of the necessity of having cities like this?”

They would have been dismayed by the types that had formed the political organization early on and which the increase in the city simply amplified. In fact, made realer than real and so grew from those seeds familiar and unfamiliar roots and limbs. The educated types taught how to manipulate the people and their beliefs. The pure thugs among them killed with impunity. Deals were always expected. The very idea of a democratic man or woman became something of an inside joke.

I don’t think they would have been shocked how Europe and America reversed the polarity so to speak. But I think they’d be very concerned about our power and how that secures a better liberal democracy. I don’t think they would have resisted the varieties of expansion the U.S. initiated since 1800.

But they would certainly try to find the key to whether “what they set up” has any meaning left in itself, if it is “relevant,” and how, exactly, do you justify a huge nation state with principles of democracy? Every step is a treacherous one. And if “democracy” has failed then what do we have?

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America is too pessimistic when things are bad and too complacent and blase when things are good. And as in unhappy families the good and bad tend to individual cases. A man in poverty who gets a winning lottery ticket is going to feel a lot more optimistic than a rich man whose portfolio takes a dive whatever the macro environment may be.

America is an idea. It is not a tradition. It is an idea renewed each generation that men and women can rule themselves and can, by ruling themselves, get the full benefit of potential from the myriad communities that make up the whole. It requires, then, a fully developed citizen, non-alienable from his or her potential, a belief in the future, the resources to fend off bad times and prepare for good ones, the intelligent perception of the needs of the citizens, and as short a line from the citizen to those who have temporary power.

The idea begins to break down when ancient conflicts rise up; when the citizen is defined by the nature of class they inhabit by birth, or when old persistent irrationalities make their way into the public culture.

The question to ask if you are pessimistic is, “are they shooting at each other?” No? Then there are pessimisms worse than we know that we have somehow survived. Time likes different cubicles to nest in and out of.

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Time and Money are natural enemies for awhile.

Money manipulates life, Time transforms it.

The manipulations can be very pleasant. We love to surrender to a few of the pleasing manipulations of the day.

I have much more respect for money now then I did back 30, 35 years ago.

January 26, 2015

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