Democracy: From its Greek Origins to Modern-day
Main reading materials
Part 1: Warm Up Questions
- What do you think are the three most important aspects of today’s democracies?
- If you change one thing about your democracy, what would it be?
- How do you think wealth inequality affects people’s ability to participate in democracy?
Part 2: Conversation
Hey (name of speaker 2)! You look so happy. What’s up?
Haven’t you heard? Big Mouth just won the election and now everything’s going to change for the better.
Every 4 years, politicians make promises of how they’re going to change this and that, but in the end, nothing changes. Do you see anything getting better for the average person?
This time is different. Big Mouth promised to raise the minimum wage and lower the cost of houses for first-time buyers. Furthermore, we’re not going to have to worry about what we eat anymore, because Big Mouth says that he’s serious about food safety.
Hmm! That sounds just like what Big Mouth’s predecessor said when he was in office. He promised to narrow the income gap between the rich and the poor and make it easier for young people to buy houses. Has any of that happened? I don’t think so…
Wow, (speaker 1’s name)! You are such a pessimist. You should be thankful that we live in a democracy where people get to make the decisions instead of an emperor or a king.
I am not a pessimist or an optimist. I am just a realist. Moreover, just because it’s called democracy doesn’t mean it always works in the best interests of the majority of the people.
What do mean? Of course, it works in the best interests of the majority, that’s what a democracy does.
Yea, if it were a democracy of the people by the people and for the people, it might work that way. Unfortunately, in today’s democracies, money talks and...
Are you crazy? Anyone can become president and everyone has an equal opportunity to do so.
Really? Let’s say that both you and I want to be the president and I have five billion dollars in my bank and you have zero, who do think is going to win the election?
You would, I guess.
That’s correct and this is why the wealth-gap keeps getting wider. Because, when someone gives a politician a huge amount of money to help him or her get elected, that someone expects something in return, just a small favor here and there.
Are you saying that politicians are not interested in helping the average person?
It is not that politicians don’t want to do what’s best for the people. It is just that, in many cases, their hands are tied because, if they don’t look after the people who donated money to them, how are they going to get the money they need to get reelected?
You know what? I think our democracy needs an upgrade, one that takes money out of the equation. But, how are we able to change anything? We are just students.
*Complete the conversation (with your solution) and then practice it with a partner.
Part 3: Reading Passage
Democracy: From its Greek Origins to Modern-day
As far as most historians are concerned, democracy first showed-up on the scene around 508 BC. Athenians of Greece apparently came up with the idea that, adult-men should be the ones who made decisions for all of society. In terms of people's participation, this limited form of democracy was a step in the right direction of democracy of the people by the people for the people. However, as it only permitted adult male-citizens to participate in the decision-making processes of society, it was therefore not a democracy of the “people” of Athens, but a democracy of the adult male-citizens of Athens. Fast forward from the days of ancient Greece (wherein a minority made the most important decisions for the majority of society) to modern-day democracy and you will find that, our biggest problem in terms of democracy is still the absence of the ability by “all the people” to equally participate.
The Problem with today’s Democracies
The problem in terms of modern-day democracy is that it is out of touch with the people and out of touch with technology. Take for example representative democracy. What is this centuries old design of public administration still doing in the age of information communications technologies? Certainly, in the days of horse travel and communications by printed-news and word of mouth, this form of limited people's participation – wherein a very small minority make all of the most important decisions for the majority – perhaps made sense because it was not technology feasible to include all the people's voices in the decision making processes. Nowadays however, humanity has the communications technology and the infrastructure of the Internet, which enables us to instantly communicate with one another while openly sharing all information to enable all of the people to equally participate in a new form of democracy, open source and direct.
In which form of Democracy would you most Care to Participate?
Imagine that you lived in a community of 100-people enclosed in an environment (like earth, but much smaller) with the most modern information communications technologies and enough resources to sustain all of you forever as long as you all cooperated to manage all of the resources wisely. How would choose to participate in such a community; or more specifically, how would you as one of the 100% care to relate to the other 99% and how would you care to have them relate to you? Would you choose (A) to participate in a hierarchical-based system wherein one or a few live like kings and queens in control of most of the resources, making all of the most important decisions and all of the most important rules while the rest of the community spend their lives competing against one-another just to survive? Alternatively, would you choose (B) an equality based system wherein each member of the community is afforded an equal opportunity to participate in all of the decision making processes – within as many or as few as each one cares to participate? Take some time to think this about question and perhaps discuss it with your friends and classmates. Then, make your decisions as though your future and future of humanity depend on what you decide.
If you chose (A) the hierarchical-based system wherein a few live like kings and queens in control of most of the resources, making all of the most important decisions and all of the most important rules while the rest of the community spend their lives competing against one-another just to survive, congratulations you’re in luck. Because, on a much larger scale, you are just where you care to be in terms of modern-day democracy in the community of humanity in an environment called the biosphere on the planet called earth. However, if you chose (B) an equality based system wherein each member of the community is afforded an equal opportunity to participate in all of the decision making processes (within as many or as few as each one cares to participate), unfortunately, you’re not so lucky, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept the status quo.
The Quality of a Democracy = the Equality of Opportunity to Participate
Debating what constitutes real democracy is like debating what constitutes real air and real water. Like the air that we breathe and the water that we drink, what really matters is the quality of the components in the air and water that contribute to the quality of life. Likewise, when it comes to a system of democracy of the people, what really matters is the quality of the democracy, i.e., the degree to which the democracy provides each member with an equal opportunity to expressly participate in determining the quality of life within the collective. Herein, just as the quality of air and water is determined by their components in relation to one another, the optimal state being relationships of equality - as in an ecosystem - so too is the quality of a democracy determined by its constituents in relation to one another, the optimal state being relationships of equality as in an equality-based system.
Democracy as the Collective Expression of Equality
Accordingly, we can say that, democracy of the people by the people for the people is simply a collective expression of equality, the equality being each constituent’s equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes that determine the collective expression of the democratic community. Therefore, when it comes to assessing the quality of democracies around the globe, the determining factor (within the population) is simply the equality of each constituent’s opportunity to participate. In other words, a higher level of equality within a population corresponds to a higher level of democracy. Question: What single aspect of day to day living do you think, more than anything-else, determines and/or limits the extent of people’s opportunities to participate in the decision-making processes within a community, city, state, nation or all of humanity?
Equality of Opportunity to Participate
If you guessed money (or one’s financial resources) to be the one aspect of day-to-day living that, more than anything else determines and/or limits the extent of people’s opportunities to participate in the decision-making processes, then you guessed correctly. Why money? Because money is what defines and binds all of humanity’s systems (such as transportation and education) together into and as one dominate system called the world system of money or money system. Consequently, the extent to which one has an equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes is limited by his or her access to the financial-resources or money that he or she needs to survive and participate in the world system. For example, imagine there are two identical twins of the same physical strength and the same IQ who both want to participate in the democratic process of the community. One of them has millions of dollars to play with, while the other one has to work ten hours a day just to pay the bills. Which one do think is going to have more opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes? From this example, we can see that, the wealth of an individual is the one-aspect of daily living that, more than anything else, enables or limits a person’s opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Accordingly, if wealth-inequality within a nation decreases (as the gap between the rich and the poor gets smaller), the quality or equality of that nation’s democracy will also improve due to more people having greater opportunities to participate in the democratic process.
In understanding that, democracy is the collective expression of equality, we as global citizens are now able to design solutions targeted at upgrading democracy while also reducing the level of inequality within societies. As for the question of which comes first, democracy or equality? It does not really matter because, real democracy and real equality are the same. Therefore, as equality within a society increases, so too will the quality of its democracy and vice versa. Question: How are we able to utilize modern technology to upgrade democracy by expanding the decision-making processes to all of the people?
Part 4: Vocabulary
a person who held a job or office before the current holder
The new president is different from her predecessor.
growth- hormone (n):
A hormone that stimulates growth in animal or plant cells, especially (in animals). Ractopamine is a growth hormone that is used in animal feed.
One who has a tendency to expect the worst in everything
Thomas is not a pessimist; he just does not ignore the negative.
a person who can look at things as they are and deal with it in a practical manner
Bernard was realest who saw things as they were, not as people imagined them to be.
a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority
consider (one thing) to be the same as or equivalent to another
100% equality of opportunity to participate equates to 100% democracy.
suppose that something is true without having evidence to confirm it
We can surmise that nations with higher inequality also have a lower degree of democratic participation.
a particular part or feature of something
There are many aspects of a problem to consider when designing a solution.
the regions of the surface and atmosphere of the earth
A healthy biosphere is critical to human life.
The basic physical and organizational structures and facilities such as buildings, roads, and power supplies needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.
America’s infrastructure is in serious need of repair.
be (a part) of a whole
Each human constitutes an equal part of humanity as a whole.
a part or element of a larger whole, especially a part of a machine or vehicle
A system is composed of two or more components.
being a part of the whole
There ten million constituents who are eligible to vote in the election.
a cooperative project or enterprise
Democracy is the collective expression of the population.
tie or fasten (something) tightly together
The hierarchical money system of inequality binds all of humanity’s other systems to the same corruptness.
extremely poor and lacking the means to provide for oneself
I have never seen a president who was destitute.
a system of voting secretly and in writing on a particular issue
This year, there were three names on the ballot for the presidency.
a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment
We call the rainforest an ecosystem because of the relationships of equality that exist among the plant life.
open source (adj.):
denoting software or information which is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified
All of the information is open source; thus you can use it as you like.
The equal opportunity to express/participate in the democratic process is a key component of real democracy.
Status quo (n):
state of affairs, regarding social or political issues
Some politicians may want to keep the status quo in order to stay in power.
Part 5: Supplementary Materials
Questions and Activities
Part 1: Comprehension Questions
- In the reading passage, why do you think the author states that, today’s democracies are out of touch with the people and out of touch with technology?
- Why do you think some people would prefer to live in a hierarchical-based system wherein a few live like kings and queens in control of most of the resources?
- In terms of humanity today, would you say that we live in a hierarchical based system or a system based on a foundation of equality? Why?
- What aspect of the world system most determines how much one is able to participate in the democratic processes?
Part 2: Vocabulary Questions
Choose the most appropriate word from the list of vocabulary to complete the sentences.
- How you could have forgotten? I ____________ asked you to remember to buy groceries.
- The new CEO is much kinder to us than her ____________ was.
- In nature, the ____________ maintain a balance that supports life.
- From the evidence so far, we can probably ____________ that equality and democracy are directly correlated.
- If you do not want to pay for an upgrade, you can probably download some ____________ software on the internet.
- Don’t be such a ____________! Look on the bright side of things for a change.
- High levels of ____________ in meat products have been known to cause cancer in humans.
- This year, there were several candidates on the ____________ running for mayor.
- In designing solutions to the problems of humanity, we should try to look at as many different ____________ of the problem as possible.
- He used to be ____________, but now he has loads of money.
- If we do not care for the ____________ of earth, humanity may not be able to survive on this planet.
- With roads and bridges falling apart, the ____________ of the USA is in serious need of repair.
- As mayor of the city, I represent the one-million constituents living in the city.
- A democratic ____________ can be as small as a local community or as big as all of humanity.
- We are the ____________ that make up the world system of humanity; therefore, in order to change the system, we first require changing ourselves.
Part 3: Answer the following questions with short answers.
- What is one way we are able use technology to improve democratic participation in societies?
- Why do you think that some people would prefer to keep the current form of representative democracy rather than upgrade it to include more people in the decision-making processes?
- When it comes to global citizens’ abilities to upgrade democracy, would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?
- How do you think humanity would change if all the information of humanity were open source and available to everyone?
- What form of democracy do you live in?
- What single aspect of day-to-day living do you think could or would more than anything else determine and/or limit the extent of a person’s opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes within a community, city, state, nation or all of humanity? Why?
- In terms of the wealth of most politicians in the USA, which category do you think most of them would fit into, lower class, middle class or upper class?
- In terms of the wealth of most politicians in your country, which category do you think most of them would fit into, lower class, middle class or upper class?
- How does the amount of money politicians have access to, affect their ability to get reelected?
- If you were running for president, what is the first thing you would promise to do as soon as you became president?
- What is the second thing you would promise to do once you became president?
- Do you think that it is possible to reduce inequality without improving the quality of democracy? Why or why not?
Part 4: Group Discussion Questions (Activities on Global Citizens’ knowledge and Literacy)
- What would say are the biggest problems facing humanity today?
- If you could redesign democracy, which aspects would you keep and why?
- Which aspects of democracy would you get rid of?
- Now that we understand that, wealth inequality limits the democratic expression of a nation, how are we as global citizens able to go about redesigning the democratic system?
Part 5: Online Reading: