There are several ways to look at the recent Democracy Summit initiated by US President Joe Biden. Yet what is hard to deny is that a summit like this is an acknowledgment of the harsh reality – all is not well with democracy amid the rise of authoritarianism and all manner of totalitarianism. in different parts of the world. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident,” Biden said. Yet, as he said, “we have to renew it with each generation.” Biden is right. However, the debatable question is: how do we do it?
Democracy needs our vigilance and our courage – and this requires the light of a critical pedagogy.
Four points deserve special attention. First, the democratic spirit of freedom or the ability to choose one’s life plan requires a reasonable degree of socio-economic empowerment and decolonization of consciousness. As we remember the brutal history of colonialism, its policy of cultural invasion and economic plunder – how the masters of the “democratic” / “enlightened” West deprived the colonized of the principles of “freedom” , equality and brotherhood ”, we realize that hypocrisy of“ Western democracy ”. And who can deny that the much-publicized “American democracy” is inseparable from neocolonialism and modern-day war history? No decolonization, no democracy.
Second, a society like ours, characterized by heightened class inequalities and oppressive practices such as patriarchy, castism and religious bigotry, is inherently against democracy because it does not allow a large portion of the population to deploy its creative potential and to live with light. of decent work and a liberating education. In fact, we only see the facade of democracy through the ritualization of periodic elections and routine deliberations in legislative assemblies. But then, democracy is not simply an act of voting, of “electing” one’s master and of existing as a passive receiver of “pro-popular” promises. Believe it, it is not entirely impossible to have a “democratically elected” anti-popular government that primarily serves the interests of the privileged classes.
In contemporary times, neoliberalism (with its attack on shared / public concerns and the resulting promotion of market-based / privatized solutions) is a major threat to the egalitarian principle of democracy. While he promises that everyone is free to make “choices”, to buy or consume any “product” or “brand”, whether in the field of health, education or fast food, the point is, most of us don’t have the economic capacity to make those choices. Even if, to take a simple illustration, when nothing would prevent a construction worker or a marginalized Dalit woman from entering a spectacular mall, it would be absurd to think that they could buy a cup of Starbucks coffee, or send their children to a chic “international” school! In addition, the growing cult of narcissism, the growing anti-intellectualism and the gigantic propaganda machinery (endlessly invading our collective consciousness through the imagery of large and spectacular “development” projects, or achievements in war and military might with the euphoria of assertive nationalism) pose a serious threat to what democracy needs – the ability to think critically, to hold the leader accountable, and to distinguish development as pro-popular endeavors / ecologically sustainable / socially empowering market driven needs of tech-business global capitalism. Democracy can be in real danger, even in the midst of a “popular mandate”, multiple TV channels and countless consumer “brands”.
Third, think about the growing gap between words and practices. In his summit speech, Prime Minister Modi said that the democratic spirit or “pluralistic ethics” is ingrained among Indians. If we dare to keep our eyes open, and delve deeper into the cultural landscape of this patriarchal / caste / fragmented society, we realize that there is not much substance in a statement like this. Instead, we are becoming more and more undemocratic. Think of the powerful affirmation of majoritarianism, the constant humiliation of minorities, the epidemic of FIR and accusations of sedition, the demonization of dissenting voices, the growing attack on the culture of protest and resistance, to the encouragement of intellectually impoverished and toxic television stations, the monopoly of resources by the rich, the aggression of hyper-masculine nationalism and the growing insecurity of women, Dalits and tribal communities. Is it therefore surprising that today India is often considered a site of “electoral autocracy”?
And fourth, the spirit of democracy cannot be renewed without the enchanting power of emancipatory education or critical pedagogy. In our time, this is precisely what is at risk. For all intents and purposes, education has been reduced either to an exam-centric, formal curriculum-oriented, regulated academic consciousness, or to a kind of “skill learning” to reduce human subjects to mere resources for learning. techno-capitalism. This type of education does not free the conscience, does not encourage sharpening the art of debate, dialogue, creative awakening and critical thinking. Instead, it breeds the ideology of hyper-competitiveness, selfishness, and reckless consumerism. She abhors the ethics of care, cooperation, sharing and justice. No wonder critical educators like Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Bell Hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) and Henry Giroux have advocated with so much passion and conviction for an emancipatory education – the spirit of learning and unlearning that empowers the raises and allows him to see through the speech. of power, resist oppressive / regressive social practices and understand the distinction between organic needs and market-induced false needs or wants. It is only through this type of education that we can nurture a democratic generation which can hope, dream of a better world, activate its action and refuse to be fooled by authoritarian figures, neoliberal techno-fascists, militant nationalists, sexist and Stalinist fundamentalists. revolutionaries ”.
Democracy cannot be saved simply by the ritualization of periodic elections; nor can it be saved by the occasional delivery of “relief packages” to the poor. Democracy needs our vigilance and our courage – and that requires the light of critical pedagogy.