Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but not a day seems to pass in mid-2013 without at least one newspaper column declaring – as if the idea were original or insightful – that democracy is not the solution to all problems. The sentiment doesn’t even qualify as banal. Nothing is the solution to all problems: money isn’t; happy, loving families aren’t; excellent schools aren’t; perfect weather isn’t; even peace, love and understanding probably wouldn’t be; abundant and great food isn’t.
Exhibit 1 in support of this is shown here at the right. The North Indian thali at Woodlands restaurant in Tsimshatsui is a treasure. The culinary genius lies in enhancing the range of dazzling flavours and sensations by rejecting an entire class of ingredients (meat, as it happens). Does it follow that the culture behind this follows through with, say, decent graphic design? Still on a South Asian food kick, I recently grabbed a pack of popodoms. The product is fine. The packaging comprises a grotesquely horrible portrayal of a boy, a rabbit and a scary-looking meal. India: great food, and a democracy – more or less – but lousy commercial artwork.
The Global Times today assures us that democracy is not a panacea for Egypt’s woes. The Arab world seems to surpass even Africa (with which it shares the curse of artificial colonial boundaries) when it comes to being impervious to good governance. Tribalism, misogyny, authoritarianism, cronyism, an infantile inability among public figures to lose an argument, every bad economic policy you can think of, and then – as if you needed to add outright poison to the stew – Salafism, anti-Shiism and the other nihilist outputs of Islam. Egypt is better than many.
Closer to home we have South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo, who does a sort of Beijing-sympathetic-but-not-pro-Communist, pluralistic-but-not-pro-dem act (there must be a Bronze Bauhinia Star in it somewhere). Today, he gravely informs us that in neither practice nor theory does democracy guarantee calm.
Whoever said it did? If anything, democracy is designed to bring disagreement into the open and give a government with a legitimate mandate the ability to make and implement decisions. Why do the pro-Beijing crowd always blather on about harmony and consensus? Because they have to live in a fantasy land where the Communist Party is infallible, and any so-called problems are figments of malicious opponents’ imaginations, or the doings of their evil foreign friends. ‘Democracy doesn’t solve all problems’ is a code for ‘If we all shut up and sweep crap under the carpet, everyone will be happy and smiling’. One of these statements is true, indeed trite; the other false and a pale attempt to excuse bad and/or despotic rule.