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Published on 21/5/2008

You know the saying, don’t ASSUME, as it can make an ASS out of U and ME! This is very clearly true when we measure our reaction to other cultures and civilizations. We believe we have the ultimate system in democracy, and assume that this paragon must be what every other country really desires. This is not even nearly true.

I agree with the great Winston Churchill when he said, “democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I vividly recall the shock I received when working in various countries in the African continent. Their attitudes were extremely localized. Sometimes narrowed beyond the tribe to the village their extended family occupied. Most of the conflicts in Africa have their roots within these parameters. The genesis of such conflict is impenetrable to the liberal Westerner as our societies are totally different. Not better or worse, but incompatible.

This difference was demonstrated to me when my driver murdered the husband of a woman he was having an affair with. He felt no remorse for the killing but did feel he let me down; as he was being arrested he apologized. The man he had murdered was from a different tribe and his life didn’t matter to him.

Another example transpired when one of our trucks had a terrible accident and ran over a small boy in one of the country villages. The boy was about seven or eight years old and we were all saddened and upset. We were summoned to meet with the village elder to straighten the matter out. We went to apologize and do anything we could for the boy’s family. It was soon made clear to us that we had to pay a certain sum of money and that would be an end to the matter. We did so and there was no further discussion.

I want to make clear that I don’t think any particular society is superior but just a simple statement of historical fact. We see things differently. This reflection was sparked by a question I was asked yesterday. That was did I imagine that China would one day evolve into a democracy. That’s a bit like asking whether a bear will grow up to be a monkey. They’re both animals, and have fur and power, but there the similarities end.

China has a history of generals, hard work, cleverness, and feudal, provincial barons, which we’d now call big local businessmen. Nothing has changed and nothing will change, just the names by which this same power elite is known.

In Russia there has been a Tsar for many hundreds of years, and there still is, but now his name is Mister Putin, and he was the President and now he’s the Prime Minister. As my mother used to say when watching a cowboy film, same man, different hats. The Russians seem partial to a strong man at the centre of power.

Every society has its own way of doing things, and it may well be that it’s a sign of affluence that we can afford democracy. How free and democratic was Britain during World War Two, when total war dictated a strict limit on personal freedom in order to win.

We now face the War on Terror and again our freedom is being limited, with progressively more laws being enacted so that we might win. Yesterday it was suggested in Britain that all phone calls, e-mails and entire electronic footprint be retained automatically on an annual basis. If the authorities then believe you were suspicious they could then appeal to a judge for permission to delve into that record. Big Brother has truly arrived. If you believe, for one moment, that this will not be abused then you are entirely too trusting and naïve.

Other countries will continue to evolve along their own lines. Therefore Russia will always seek a Tsar, and the Chinese might politically implode against the Communist system but will still have some feudal, regional warlord at its core. Each to their own. Aberrations like the German’s Nazi tyranny will, unfortunately come along every so often, in different parts of the world, but will be a reaction to, or an exploitation of economic catastrophe.

America, the World’s number one country over the last one hundred years will have to re-adjust to not being its pre-eminent power. Its economy is sliding down the league table and it just isn’t tenable or supportable to run an economy long-term with debts in the trillions of dollars. That self re-evaluation could be very painful to the States and could well be defined by whomever the country elects in the upcoming battle.

In Britain it will be our prosperity plus defining the balance between our personal liberty and our self-protection that will decide just how democratic our society is going to be over the next century. Hang on tight everyone; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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