The Conversation of Democracy
1998 Summary

Copyright 1998 © by Barnabas D. Johnson

The ecology of life has over time given birth to an ecology of ideas. As there is a fundamental coevolution of physical, chemical, and biological phenomena on our planet, so too — starting with the dawn of civilization — there has been a coevolution of information, ideas, and ideals concerning those physical phenomena and the metaphysical "life of the mind" that they support.

As genes are the basic building blocks of biological life, so memes are the basic building blocks of mental life; and as all living (past and present) has formed the biosphere, so all thinking (if shared and propagated) has formed the memesphere. Both the biosphere and the memesphere are by order and dimension experimental, open-ended, unfinished, evolving.

The genius of constitutional democracy — majority and coalition rule balanced by minority and individual rights — is that it is based on the Rule of Law and has, as its principal object, the goal of keeping the Conversation of Democracy ongoing, unfinished, still young. The "good society" is not a supposed utopian plateau of perfection that can ever be reached, but is instead an unending process of reaching, of becoming, of perfecting. A good constitutional democracy does not guarantee happiness, it guarantees the pursuit of happiness.

Utopia gained is, by definition, utopia lost. Failure to understand this lies at the root of all theocracies, dictatorships, and "absolute" states, and leads to their eventual intellectual, moral, and material collapse.

Fundamental human rights such as freedom of inquiry, expression, and association are fundamental precisely because, without them, we cannot be "fully human" — conscious carriers of evolution, conscious participants in the coevolution of matter and mind. We are participants in co-creation; we "play God"; and we have to get better at it. As President Kennedy said, "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own."

We build, maintain, improve, and "grow" constitutional democracy as a tool, a vehicle, that can carry our memesphere — our experiment in participatory co-creation — to loftier heights of self-reflection, new dimensions of self-governance, improved realizations of the democratic ideal. We seek to know ourselves better that we may govern ourselves more wisely. That is the Conversation of Democracy.

Keep the Conversation of Democracy alive!

Go to Full Essay: The Conversation of Democracy

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