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We don't have the time to fix the eroding guardrails of our democratic societies. We need new guardrails.
Something historically new and massively audacious.
Two items caught my attention today. This morning on CNN’s New Day, S.E. Cupp, former Republican television host, political commentator and writer, was asked by New Day host Briana Keilar, where so-called moderate, or centrist voters like Cupp see themselves in a land too threatened by what Keilar called the “MAGA army”. Her response, that of someone I believe thoughtful and measured, resonated.
“This has been increasingly the project of both parties. It's asymmetrical - I see it far more on the right, but you see it on the left as well. This moving everything to the extremes… it's leaving a lot of us, a majority, in fact, unrepresented, orphaned. I'm in the majority on almost every issue - abortion, guns, climate, immigration - and I feel unseen, unheard. It's bizarre. …our political system of these two parties isn't rewarding comity, of coming together.”
And for those non-Americans who smugly see this as a uniquely American phenom, you are quite simply, woefully mistaken. US News and World Report rates Canada the #1 in Quality of Life, and #1 Best Country to Live In,1 neither of which are claims that I, as a proud Canadian, take issue with. But even in this fair land, generally simply not-thought-of by foreigners, The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason authored an opinion piece yesterday entitled ‘A dangerous rage is sweeping the land’ in which he writes:
“This country appears to have gone mad…
Something is afoot. Social media and the internet broadly have become cesspools of hate, and when you wallow in such toxic waters it is easy to become intoxicated by anger and bitterness. People feed off of one another, too, so it doesn’t take long before you have a mob organizing to disrupt one of the Prime Minister’s public appearances, or to occupy the nation’s capital as the so-called freedom convoy did earlier this year.
…In today’s highly charged world, that is a dangerous game. Leadership should be about easing people’s rage, not feeding it – especially since one day, it could well come at a horrible cost.2”
That '“horrible cost” is something that is on the minds of a great many people, with more and more references being made to the fact that the guardrails of our societies - our governments (and the instruments of power they manage in our name), our courts, our political parties and our businesses - are simply not up to addressing the myriad challenges facing us in this moment. It is inaccurate and unhelpful to say they are failing. It is a fact to observe that they are not sufficient.
For those of us who consider ourselves broadly centrist, where humanist values trump and reject reflexive ideology, it is as if we are watching a slow-motion car-crash that is about to engulf everything we know. And we are letting those on the fringes seize the steering wheel.
It is understandable that having spent millenia designing and creating our admittedly imperfect democracies - at a cost of blood and toil that is beyond imaging - our temptation is to persist in the evolutionary tinkering that has led to the civic institutions we rely on today. However, I submit that it will prove an existential failure for humanity if we continue to put our trust - our faith - in those institutions alone.
At a time when our senses tell us, show us - every day - that our guardrails are insufficient, we have no choice but to consider the alternative. And given that the common challenges to our democracies are systemic and global, the alternative needs to be systemic and global. I submit that it’s time for the humanist majority of each of our societies to unite and mobilize to create a new ‘guardrail’ that has the attributes of both a movement, an organization, an institution - a new entity, a new thing, comprised of those who broadly consider themselves center-left to center-right.
There is no paralel that I can think of for such an audacious entity. It must, to the greatest extent possible, be above politics. It must inspire and engage significant cohorts around the world. And it must have the nuanced eco-system of resources to assume and assert global-scale agency, not to subvert our democratic institutions, but to augment them, and assure that a new 21st century democratic model can prevail.
While there may be no paralel, there is something of a road map for such a venture. For four years, I was joined by almost 1,000 people from 35+ countries in an effort to design and prototype the scaffolding (values, processes, infrastructure etc.) for an organization that could scale to connect, empower and mobilize at least one million members in 10 years, to transform the world. That work substantively defined the mechanism of that new guardrail.
We can’t let our lack of imagination lead us to an avoidable surrender to rage, madness and autocratic mediocrity. The United Nations would have been an inconceivable construct to a statesperson of even 100 years earlier. The same technology that allows for Facebook and Twitter can unite and mobilize a global movement focused - and resourced - for the making of a new world, as opposed to sisyphean tinkering with pervasive institutional insufficiency.
The reality is that we have no choice but to trust to our current systems to address the immediate challenges of today while we create the capacity to conceive of and execute a roadmap for our tomorrow. We must be active informed citizens in the moment AND we must make possible an Age of Wonder. We can’t afford to pick one, we must do both. Humanity needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Of course it’s not that simple, but it is that needed. And it is feasible. We need a new guardrail, a Plan B for Humanity. We need a DEMOS Project.