Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What is "Participation?"

During argument, she pours
soda on his hamburger,
he rubs it on her face.

Just what is “participation?” I always thought this meant something like “take part in,” or be part of a larger enterprise or something like that. In recent years I have become somewhat confused over this seemingly simple word. For example, decisions are sometimes made in various cultures, certainly in some American Indian cultures and other relatively small scale societies, by consensus. Consensus means that whoever the participants are who are trying to make a decision keep discussing it until everyone involved agrees to a solution. A couple of years ago we had an interesting example of this. There was a committee formed to make a decision about the future of a particular species of fish. Several different groups were involved in this enterprise, representing different parts of the community. They decided their decision would not be widely accepted unless they also included a group of environmentalists. So they invited such a group to be represented. All went well for several months, many discussions were had, the issues were debated from all sides, everyone had their say, and they attempted to reach a consensus. They failed to do so because the environmentalists held out for something all the others disagreed with (or at least did not want to accept). This led to the resignation of the representatives of the environmental group. It was then announced that a consensus had been reached! In other words, the definition of consensus was changed to mean everyone was in agreement after those who were not were eliminated. Simple, no? People were asked to participate but when they offered their opinion they were no longer participants. The rules were changed.

I began thinking about this because I think a somewhat similar situation exists regarding the Republican Party. You may have noticed in the past year Republicans whining fairly regularly about not being able to participate in decisions being made by Democrats who now hold majorities in both houses of Congress. Leave aside for the moment the fact that when Republicans were in charge they systematically denied Democratic participation on important decisions. Leave aside also the fact that it is not strictly true they have been denied participation as they have at times offered amendments and such, many of which were accepted. In a democracy (such as ours is supposed to be) decisions are not made by consensus. Majority rule is supposed to be the standard. Immediately upon the election of President Obama the Republicans made it known they wished him to fail and they were not going to cooperate. They rather proudly proclaimed they would be the Party of “No,” and they have faithfully followed this strategy, no matter what it was Obama and the Democrats wanted to do. It seems to me this is changing the rules. If you are part of a democratic process where the majority rules, are you not obliged to continue participating even though your side or your particular position lost? How can a viable democracy continue if the losers simply no longer participate? Is this not what Republicans are doing, opting out of the democratic process? If you announce that your position is going to be “no,” no matter what the issue is, is that really participating? I guess in a sense you could argue that it is, you are participating by saying no, and saying no might be interpreted as a way of participating. This seems to me to be a weird claim of participation and makes little or no sense. Thus, in my opinion, Republicans have changed the rules of democracy, claiming that you do not have to abide by the majority will. By announcing they wish Obama (and by implication his administration currently representing the nation) to fail, and by refusing to participate, are they not perhaps committing treason? Is there such a thing as a little bit of non participation, something maybe like being a little bit pregnant. Or is it the case that you are either a participant or you are not. I have not previously heard of a case where one party to a democracy changed the rules, took their ball and went home. Oh well, it’s just a matter of running the country in a dangerous world and a dangerous situation. That can’t be as important as how many lovers Tiger Woods had, or whether or not Lolita has a new tattoo, or whether 40 million Americans have health care. Bravo Republicans! I am currently touting a Palin/Lieberman ticket. Let stupidity and egomania rule!

Even he, to whom most things that most people would think were pretty smart were pretty dumb, thought it was pretty smart.
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Chows have purple/black tongues and cannot swim.

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