Shawn W. Rosenberg claims that western democracy is devouring itself and won’t last. Rosenberg’s prognosis is that over the coming decades, western democracies will decline in number. Those that remain will become shrivelled pseudo-democratic incarnations of themselves. Right-wing populist governments will offer voters (and increasingly non-voting citizens) simple answers to complicated questions.

And therein lies the core of his argument: Democracy is difficult and requires effort from those who participate in it. It requires people to: respect those with different views from theirs and people who don’t look like them; process vast amounts of information and separate good from bad, truth from falsehood; apply thoughtfulness, discipline and logic.

While Rosenberg focuses his professional attention on what is happening, my amateur status allows me to fantasize on why. Once again, I will target the evils of conservative and libertarian economics, which has created a miniscule minority of winners, while it has also created an ever increasing mob of losers: People pressed into earning less than a living wage, whose time has been stolen from them, so they have little opportunity for rest (including proper sleep) and relaxation, let alone for the effort required to maintain a democracy.

Democracy is not a single, unified way of governing, but a family of approaches to government. American political scientist Larry Diamond, states that a democracy must fulfill four key characteristics: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. See: Larry Diamond and Morlino, L., The quality of democracy. In Larry Diamond, In Search of Democracy (2016).

Said another way, democracy can be operationalized in different ways, yet still fulfill these four basic elements.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories. This covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (microstates are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy ”; “flawed democracy ”; “hybrid regime”; and “authoritarian regime”. (p. 2)

My position is privileged, living in Norway, the country ranked #1, in the latest published (2018) Index, and raised in Canada, tied at #6. Altogether there are 20 full democracies of 167 countries, representing 4.5 percent of the world’s population.

This weblog post is scheduled for publication 2019-10-29, the day that celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Báb, born Siyyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází (1819 – 1850), the first of two prophets in the Bahá’í Faith.

The Báb declared His mission on the night of 23 May 1844 in the upper portion of His house in Shíráz, Iran. This photo shows that portion before its destruction in 1979. Photo: Copyright © Bahá’í International Community

The principles of the Baha’i Faith include: gender equality; the harmony of science and religion; the need for universal compulsory education; the need for a universal auxiliary language; an obligation to independently investigate truth; and, the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty. One of the appeals of the Baha’i Faith, when I first encountered it in 1972, was its administrative order, including its system of elections. Perhaps that is what Shoghi Effendi (1897 – 1957), Guardian (head) of the Baha’i Faith from 1921 – 1957, was aware of, when he implemented the current incarnation of a Baha’i administrative order.

This administrative order does not pretend to be entirely democratic. Shoghi Effendi stated that it incorporates elements of autocracy, aristocracy and democracy. His objective was to include “such wholesome elements as are to be found in each one of them…” while excluding the “admitted evils inherent in each of these systems…” so it “cannot ever degenerate into any form of despotism, of oligarchy, or of demagogy which must sooner or later corrupt the machinery of all man-made and essentially defective political institutions.”

Baha’i elections are at variance from standard western democratic practice. At the local, regional (uncommon), national and world level there are boards (Spiritual Assemblies/ House of Justice) each currently consisting of nine members. Nominations and campaigning are prohibited to guard against manipulation. Voters are discouraged from consulting with each other about the suitability of individuals. However, they are encouraged to study and discuss, in abstract, the qualities needed to serve, but without to individuals. Individuals should be voted for on the basis of their qualities.

Many thanks to Jeanette Livesay, who provided inspiration, and a link to an article The Shocking Paper Predicting the End of Democracy: Human brains aren’t built for self-rule, says Shawn Rosenberg. That’s more evident than ever by Rick Shenkman in Politico.

Made without Repression

The Human Rights Logo combines the silhouette of a hand with that of a bird, and a white thumb grabbing the bird. It is intended as a peaceful contribution towards strengthening human rights and as such is meant to be used across cultural and language borders. The Human Rights Logo was designed in 2010 by Predrag Stakić from Serbia.

For the past twenty years, most of our computers have been made by Taiwanese companies, mostly Asus and to a lesser degree Acer. Our first smartphone was also Taiwanese, made by HTC. After that, we have had two Chinese phones made by Huawei and Xiaomi, respectively. Until now, we have not paid much attention to where these products have been physically made. That has now changed, due to the treatment of Hong Kong citizens, threats made to the government of Taiwan, and the increased militarization by China. The time has come to consider whether products made in China, or by companies owned – even partially owned – by the Chinese government, are in the world’s best interest.

If the choice is between cheap consumer electronics made in a dictatorship, or more expensive goods made in a democracy, I will opt for the latter, every time – except when my selfish nature gets in the way of my selfless ideal. Even without human frailty, most choices are a bit more nuanced. Of course, there is also an issue of sustainability, where the climate crisis is a major threat to human survival.

In this post, one of the first questions to be avoided is, what is a democracy? Instead, I will simply use the Democracy Index, first published in 2006 and compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Despite its British (read English) bias, it measures 60 indicators (proxies) in five categories, from which it scores/ ranks/ categorizes 167 countries. The four regime categories are: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes. For further details see:

South Korea is the highest ranking flawed democracy, at #21 on the EIU Democracy Index, immediately below Costa Rica, but higher than Japan (#22), and the United States (#25). Taiwan is ranked at #32, between Belgium and Italy, and is also regarded as a flawed democracy. China is ranked at #130, and is classified as authoritarian, although not as bad as Saudi Arabia at #150, or North Korea at #167, the worst on the list.

A more long-term trend analysis of democracy is MaxRange. It offers a dataset spanning 1600 to 2015 that has over 90 000 country-year observations, and from 1789 over 600 000 observations in its monthly format. These rank political regimes on a 1 to 1 000 scale. A Swedish language summary concludes: 1. Democracy does not grow out of nations but spreads between them. Thus, all types of non-democracies can eventually become democracies. 2. Muslim countries are slower than others to embrace democracy, but this only applies during the post-Cold War period. 3. For the entire period 1789 to 2013, prosperity plays a much greater role than religion in democratization.

In an accompanying MaxRange video, mention is made that while established (strong) democracies are becoming less robust, because of political polarization, corruption and constitutional violations, more countries are transitioning away from dictatorship towards weak democracy. Between 2006 and 2014, this trend was strongest in countries in Africa and Asia, but weaker in Europe and the Americas.

Human rights are more complex. In part, this is because these rights can come in conflict with each other, and with the exercise of democratic rights. Again, I will avoid detail, and try to look at a bigger picture.

Kenneth Roth, in his essay, The Dangerous Rise of Populism: Global Attacks on Human Rights Values, appearing in Human Rights Watch World Report 2017, states: “Human rights exist to protect people from government abuse and neglect. Rights limit what a state can do and impose obligations for how a state must act. Yet today a new generation of populists is turning this protection on its head. Claiming to speak for “the people,” they treat rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils. Instead of accepting rights as protecting everyone, they privilege the declared interests of the majority, encouraging people to adopt the dangerous belief that they will never themselves need to assert rights against an overreaching government claiming to act in their name.” (p. 1)

Todd Landman, in Democracy and Human Rights: Concepts, Measures, and Relationships (2018) argues that despite many achievements, there remain tensions between conceptualisations of democracy and human rights over the degree to which one includes the other, the temporal and spatial empirical relationships between them, and the measures that have been developed to operationalize them. These tensions, in turn, affect the kinds of analyses that are carried out, including model specification, methods of estimation, and findings. He concludes that greater care is needed to specify, conceptualize and operationalize measures and inferences used in addressing democracy and human rights.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2019, writes the following about South Korea: The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a democracy that generally respects civil and political liberties. However, it maintains unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and foreigners—especially refugees and migrants—continued to be a major problem in 2018.

The 2019 report does not have a chapter about Taiwan, and it doesn’t seem to be specifically mentioned in the chapter on China. Wikipedia reports the following: “The human rights record in Taiwan is generally held to have experienced significant transformation since the 1990s… [It] has a multi-party democracy. The 2000 presidential victory of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) … followed more than 50 years of rule by the Kuomintang (KMT) and marked the first transition from one political party to another in the Taiwanese history. This followed gradual democratic reforms since the 1980s and 1990s…. Freedom House rates Taiwan as among the most “Free” nations in Asia, with a 1 in both Political Rights and Civil Liberties (scale of 1-7, with 1 being the highest). This represents a significant improvement, as the 1973 rating was 6.5, rising to 2.1 by 2000.

The Human Rights Watch Report 2019 states the following about China: China’s growing global power makes it an exporter of human rights violations, including at the United Nations, where in 2018 it sought to block participation of its critics. China again ranked among countries singled out for reprisals against human rights defenders, and in March successfully advanced a Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution on a retrograde approach that it calls “win-win” or “mutually beneficial” cooperation. In this view, states do not pursue accountability for serious human rights violations but engage merely in “dialogue”; moreover, there is no role for independent civil society, only governments, and a narrow role for the UN itself.

In terms of the climate crisis and sustainability, Greenpeace USA has written The Guide to Greener Electronics, an analysis of 17 of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies in terms of their environmental impacts, and where work still needs to be done. On a scale ranging from A (best) to F (worst), Fairphone is ranked best in the class with a B. This is followed by: Apple (B-); Dell, HP (C+); Lenovo, Microsoft (C-); Acer, LG, Sony, Google (D+); Asus, Huawei (D); Samsung (D-); and, Amazon, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi (F).

In terms of democracy, products produced in South Korea are preferable to those produced in Taiwan. Yet, the reverse is true if human rights are the focal point. In terms of environmental considerations, there appear to be no real winners, with the possible exception of Fairphone. Despite this, I will be looking much closer at where products are made, the human rights situation in those countries, and their democratic index ranking.

On Environmentalism

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with activist fashion warrior Katharine Hamnett at a reception at 10 Downing Street, in 1984. Please note the appropriate party shoes worn by Hamnett.

There are many different types of environmentalists. Most people’s involvement in environmentalism does not involve a full range of issues. Instead, there is a focus on just one, or a few. For example, some people are focused on nuclear energy, or policy decisions on bears and other carnivores, or preservation of the arctic fox.

For many, their most distinguishing garment is their hiking boots. Others are more comfortable in a lab-coat. There are even people who prefer tailored suits, to cavort with members of political/ business elites. Fortunately, many times increasingly more people simply wear their ordinary school clothes to protest outside their favourite democratically elected assembly each and every Friday. Personally, I feel most comfortable outfitted in protective clothing suitable for a workshop. One can never be quite sure what type of clothing evokes the best environmentalist image, except to refer to the stunning success of Katharine Hamnett, dressed in a rather long sweat shirt with dress sneakers, at a reception at 10 Downing Street in 1984, which is now 35 years ago.

The reason for all of these different fashion statements, is that people have their own individual environmental fashion style. Personally, I see a need for a flora of environmental organizations, each with their own approach. To help people understand this concept better, I’d like to use religion as an analogy.

There is a large segment of the population in Norway who are active – but more likely passive – members of a Lutheran church, still often – but incorrectly – referred to as the State Church. Many immigrant families are members of the Catholic church, while other immigrant families are members of a wide variety of Muslim organizations. There is also a variety of other religions, associated with other faiths.

Membership in a religion involves a two-fold declaration. First, a potential member must hold a minimal set of core beliefs that are known in advance, and the religion must then be allowed to adjudicate that person to determine if that person meets its membership requirements. It is insufficient for a person to make a declaration that they are Jewish/ Christian/ Muslim/ Baha’i, and for the particular religion to be required to accept that person as a member.

Bridge building between the various religions is not undertaken by having every religious person join an ecumenical organization, and then allow decisions to be made through democratic voting procedures. That would result in a tyranny by the majority. Instead, the different Faiths/ denominations become members, and areas of common interest are developed through consensus. There will, of course, be areas where these organizations agree to disagree.

My experience of Friends of the Earth, is that it – like the Church of Norway – has a large number of passive members, who pay an annual membership fee more out of guilt, than belief. Yet, it is also resembles The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities, hoping to foster mutual respect and dialog between a variety of environmental perspectives, and working towards their equal treatment.

The Norwegian name of Friends of the Earth is not Verdens Venner or even Jordens Venner, as could be expected with a literal translation. Instead, it is Naturvernforbundet, which is officially translated as the cumbersome, The Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature/ Friends of the Earth Norway. For linguists, one could cryptically add: natur = nature; vern = protection; forbund = for-bund = together bound = federation/ association/ society; et = neuter direct article = the, which is put at the beginning of the phrase in English. Note the general absence of norsk (adjective, not usually capitalized) = Norwegian, or Norge (noun, in Bokmål, spelt Noreg in Nynorsk or New Norwegian) = Norway. However, the name sometimes begins with Norges (possessive noun) = Norway’s, if there is a need to distinguish the organization from something in other countries.

Because of the structure of Friends of the Earth, there is no need for the organization to build consensus. Instead, individuals can position themselves to become representatives attending bi-annual national meetings, and voting on policy decisions. In this internet age, this 20th century approach means that a determined few, can decide policy that could be offensive to a more passive majority.

Some of the more radical and active members are able to capture the votes of this passive majority, and to use it to change/ uphold policy decisions. What appears to be consensus, can be more properly be described as a tyranny by the few. This problem can be remedied by replacing a representative democracy, with a direct democracy – one member, one vote. This is attaining using today’s internet technology.

Unfortunately, Friends of the Earth cannot be both dogmatic and ecumenical at the same time. If it opts to take a more ecumenical approach, then instead of communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists and Sikhs (all groups not mentioned previously), there would be place for different views of environmentalism: field naturalists, species preservationists, workshop activists, to name three. Each group would then be allocated an agreed upon number of council members. A (bi-)annual meeting would appoint a board, which again employs a secretariat, and the organization would work towards consensus building.

Despite my role as leader of Friends of the Earth, Inderøy there are days when I contemplate leaving the organization. It is related to one significant flaw with Hamnett’s photo (above), and that is the negativity of her message. One never wins friends by telling people what not to do. Instead, there has to be a positive message that can be periodically reinforced.

Friends of the Earth, Norway, is on the warpath again against imported plant species, including those grown in private gardens. Instead of making positive suggestions to grown some under-rated, beautiful, endemic species, they want to induce guilt in people who chose immigrant species.

I think, in particular of the sand lupine, Lupinus nootkatensis, which thrives on sand and gravel-containing areas, growing to about 50-70 cm high. The species name originates from the Nootka Sound in British Columbia, Canada. It is a place I am intimately familiar with. The species was first listed on the Norwegian Black List 2007 (SE). Yet, the species came to Norway with The Norwegian State Railway (NSB), which used it to tie the slopes along the then (1878) newly constructed Jær Line, south from Stavanger for almost 75 km to Egersund. From there, the plant has spread along the railway and the road network to large parts of the country. Today, it is found in 16 of the country’s 19 traditional counties.

The species started its expansion from Jæren in the Southwest. It was observed in Stjørdal in 1911, which means it has been found in Trøndelag for at least 108 years. In a very short period of time, lupins grow densely, and where not limited by droughts, large, barren areas can be reclaimed quickly because of its nitrogen fixation abilities. It can also extract phosphorus from compounds in poor soils. In spite of these good qualities, it has a tendency to become dominant and overtakes the natural flora. Of course, the reason why lupins were used by the railway, is that there were no native Norwegian species capable of taking on the reclamation duties required: to combat erosion, to speed up land reclamation and to help with reforestation.

The reason for my despair, is that many environmentalists do not seem to understand that the world of 2050 will be vastly different from the world of 1950 or 1850. Unfortunately, many of the species previously thriving in Norway will be totally unsuited for continued life in Norway in thirty years time.

The Crowther Lab at ETH Zürich has examined expected temperatures for 2050, and found that Oslo will experience a 5.6 degree increase in its warmest month, and a 2.2 degree increase annually. This could significantly weaken the viability of many species, including Norway maple, Acer platanoides and strengthen an imigrant, Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, which was introduced to Norway about 1750, and has become naturalized. There are suggestions that the Sycamore is replacing species devastated by disease such as the wych elm, Ulmus glabra, and the European ash, Fraxinus excelsior, which is at its cultivation limit at Trondheim Fjord.

NB Information about Lupinus nootkatensis has been updated. Aparently, it was already placed on the Norwegian black list in 2007.