It often strikes me that there is only one thing that man truly covets. You would think that the right answers would lie among the choices of money, power or immortality. The truth however, is rarely pure and never simple, as Wilde would quip. The truth is, men and women want to be free. That‘s what you will find when you scrabble through the gritty layers of human desire and greed; the longing to be free.
Wars, murder, competition, struggle with sickness, it’s all manifest with the human urge to be free. At this point one might ask the niggling question, free from what? This is where the paradox creeps in. You fight and you struggle, but what are you fighting for? Through our struggles, we often lose track of what we set out to achieve.
To me, democracy is another one of humanity’s experiments to gain freedom. I could list quite a few freedoms that we wish democracy would give us. The freedom of expression, the freedom of choice, the freedom from tyranny, and the bullet points could go on. These are only the sub clauses though. We often do that; mistake the smaller parts to be representative of a Whole. The bigger picture behind democracy ultimately lies in a desire which is achingly human.
To me, democracy comes down to one primal need. It is the freedom to be free. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? We want to be free to be free. So it all comes down to this, the struggles, fights, the glories and the agony...all in search for a long lost idea.
Freedom, a long lost idea? This premise probably makes this essay self defeating. I am not talking of the freedoms that we vicariously extract from our lives. It’s not the freedom we think we gain through wealth, power or even knowledge. It is not the truth that sets us free. At the back of our minds, we are all striving towards an ideal. An ideal of pure and intrinsic freedom which comes out of nothing, draws its power from nothing and has an independent existence. A freedom which is created ex nihilo.
To me, democracy is the flint stone that humanity hopes will create a spark which in turn will lead us to be truly free. Make no mistake; I am not idealising democracy as this philanthropic thought experiment that man is carrying out in the hope of a collective enlightenment. Each of us wants to free from everything that holds us down. The artist creates a world of his own where he can exist freely. The politician manipulates because he hopes that his power play will emancipate him in such a way that one day he reaches a level where he will not have to manipulate and politicise anymore. That is his definition of absolute freedom. Each of us has something that holds us back, and ironically we wield that very thing as our weapon to fight for our personal definition of freedom.
Democracy gives us choice along with a voice. We choose our leaders and exercise our freedom through them. When their definitions of freedom clash with ours, we bring them down and elect new mouthpieces. The whole thing from start to finish is a process of using freedom and moulding it to suit our needs. What is the point, one might ask? How does the practice of free expression lead us any closer to the Eldorado of ideal freedom of man? What does the freedom to vote have anything to do with an obscure notion of being “absolutely free”?
When I looked at some of the fundamentals that lay behind the idea of democracy, I realised just how vital the concept of freedom is to the essence of being human. Democracy was never meant to be a mere political instrument. It was/is meant to create a new ideal, something which would free man and woman from the restraints that held them back from being truly and essentially “human”.
In today’s complicated political scenario, it’s difficult to trace what democracy truly means to me or to any of us for that matter. Even if you leave politics aside, there are other murkier questions that one has to answer. Like what it means to be “human”, for example. What are we, really? Little bowls of consciousness trapped inside vessels? Or living beings with bodies that matter? Perhaps we will never know.
Till then, democracy has to matter, to me and to everyone else. If humanity does get to a level where it can figure out what “being human” means, then maybe this human experiment will have counted for something after all.