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Meet Your Neighbors: The man making us think hard about democracy and our place in it | Forest Hills Connection |

Meet Your Neighbors: The man making us think hard about democracy and our place in it | Forest Hills Connection |

by Marlene Berlin

One cause Politics and Prose is a neighborhood treasure is because of its courses… and the individuals you meet there.

This spring I enrolled in a category on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. There I met a neighbor who is worried about the way forward for democracy within the U.S., in his house nation and worldwide. And his work includes encouraging us to assume deeply and critically about what democracy means and its value.


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Who are you, what is your organization and how did you land in DC?

Ashok Panikkar

My identify is Ashok Panikkar and I based Meta-Culture ( as a conflict management and significant considering middle in 2005. After working in Boston for 10 years and Bangalore, India for 12, I noticed that I could not, in good conscience, proceed my life as a advisor with liberal democracy crumbling in front of my eyes. Even with the fairly good work that I used to be doing it all of the sudden felt like I used to be fiddling while Rome burns.

I left India and moved to DC in January 2017 due to a stunning lady, Stacey, and because I consider that the West is the last bastion of open societies. If we don’t maintain the fort here, these open and free societies will just about disappear for a era, if not more. I got here to DC because Stacey needed to seek out work in worldwide improvement, and it’s nearly as good a place as any to attempt to work on saving democracy.

This seems nearly as good a time as any to elucidate that Ashok additionally makes use of art in his work. And it’s on show by way of Sunday, June 2nd at Lapop in Adams Morgan.

What led you to create Inconvenient Questions and Unreasonable Poster exhibition?

I traveled across the northeast intermittently for around 18 months, making an attempt to interact individuals in complicated discussions across the crisis of democracy. I ran workshops, gave talks and carried out facilitated dialogues (all informed round 30 to 35 periods). Nevertheless, two things occurred:

1) I discovered individuals immune to anything aside from bashing their opponents (be it this administration, conservatives, Republicans, men, ladies, white people, immigrants or the police). Few seemed to have any appetite for reflection or crucial considering.

2) Without any institutional help or funding, I ran out of steam and saw that, whilst I used to be out there doing all this, the climate was getting even more vitiated. People have been preventing over getting MORE RIGHTS for themselves, whilst we have been destroying the very political system that gave us probably the most comprehensive set of rights ever out there to human beings.

Given my worry of despotic societies and sensitivity to democratic vulnerabilities, virtually in desperation, I resorted to the poster equivalent of yelling “Hearth” or the “Barbarians are coming.” I by no means thought I might return to design once more. The last time I held an exhibition was in April 1998. But this appeared to be the time for some visual awakening. You possibly can see a few of my work on democracy right here:

Panikkar’s posters are designed to challenge us and spark dialog.

A BIG THANK YOU for an ideal opening night time! You possibly can view our poster exhibition on #democracy now by way of June 2nd at Lapop DC! See following tweet for details.

— Meta-Tradition (@MetaCulture2) Might 6, 2019

Has being from a special culture been an advantage in taking a look at our democracy?

I never thought it might have been an advantage. Nevertheless, with hindsight, I now understand that growing up in India I used to be capable of study early on how weak democracy was. Additionally visiting the UAE and Kuwait every year from the ages of 13 to 25 and the lack of Indian democracy once I was in school for a few years (during Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s “emergency”) taught me what it will imply to stay in a non-democratic society.

People have had the posh and the tragedy of taking their democracy without any consideration. Outdoors the Western world that was not given to us, so we’re much more appreciative of it and probably excruciatingly conscious of its tenuousness and vulnerabilities. Having stated that, most people, even in India, it was straightforward to develop into complacent, as lots of my associates have been. Having had to battle for and pay a worth for all my very own private freedoms, I was in all probability notably delicate to their tenuousness.

Given the Civil Warfare, Andrew Jackson, Prohibition, and 60’s upheaval, aren’t these occasions simply “regular” bumps along the best way in making our society more inclusive?

It’s tempting to see these as “normal” bumps. Nevertheless, what that doesn’t take into accounts is that this time around there is a good storm brewing. When you take a look at the ecological, economic, technological and cultural headwinds, there isn’t a approach that our sluggish and inefficient adversarial electoral political system can stand up to it.

All the other situations you point out have been troublesome moments for the US, nevertheless the nation still had lots going for it – unlimited land; few overseas enemies that would genuinely threaten the nation; and as for the so referred to as “turbulent 60’s,” the USA was the undisputed superpower. Its many generals – GM, GE, Basic Meals and Basic Dynamics – bought whatever they produced globally with out much competitors. Think about, the richest and strongest country on the planet, robust labor drive and highest standards of dwelling – their elite might afford to concede much to the protesters, politically and culturally, with out dropping dominance. The pie is far smaller now and the dominant white male population isn’t just nervous about supremacy, they are nervous about their survival. This time the revolution won’t be set to John Lennon, LSD or swaying hippies.

What do you see as the Achilles’ heel of democracy? Is it fixable?

The problem with democracy immediately is manifold. But if I needed to isolate an Achilles’ heel, I might decide the standard of the citizenry. We can’t have a citizenry that features with the entitlement or detachment of subjects, shoppers or spectators. Democracy is a critical contact sport involving everyone – on a regular basis. Sadly, we have now gotten used to the concept, having delegated our selections to elected representatives, we have to solely show up once more at election time – or if we’re really pissed off, on protest marches.

Democracy requires a civic culture that is informed by hard-earned and even troublesome virtues and tendencies comparable to generosity, endurance, caring for neighbors and strong reasoning). Finally, democracy lives or dies by the maturity of the citizenry. We can’t blame our leaders and institutions beyond some extent, that’s the magnificence and the ugly fact of democracy. If our democracy is a multitude, nicely, every considered one of us is, ultimately, culpable.

Does the invasion of digital and telecommunication know-how in our lives make it worse or better for our partaking in a democratic society.

What know-how did was to make it potential for those with no voice (together with whistleblowers) to be heard. It additionally allowed individuals to attach with similarly minded people throughout the globe. Having stated that the web influence of digital know-how has been to shake the very foundations of democracy. Deep focus, consideration, essential considering, the power to read books and a capacity to build face-to-face group and develop intimate relationships usually are not aided by our digital world. These have been extra more likely to be an attribute of a pre-global, analogue world where robust communities offered a basis for a slower life with sufficient time to read, chat with neighbors on stoops and through that to contemplate, mirror and introspect. All of these virtues are at a premium now.

What’s your prognosis for the longer term?

Not being an American and therefore not weaned on a food plan of positivity and eternal optimism, I would have to say, turbulent!

First the excellent news: The approaching good storm is more likely to significantly shake up our world – though only fools would predict how things may ultimately shake out. One factor is for certain. We’ll, on the very least, see lengthy durations of social instability adopted by political turbulence. If on prime of that there is an economic collapse (nevertheless brief time period), it will be catastrophic.

A lot for the excellent news, now the dangerous: The worst-case state of affairs is that all the above, are exacerbated by giant scale ecological devastation brought on by local weather change. Attempt not to think about a whole lot of tens of millions of climate refugees converging on nations which might be in the midst of a civil warfare. Full ecological, economic political and social collapse.

But you’ve provided a venue to discuss issues dealing with our nation and democracy. This must come out of some sense of hope and optimism. What do you need to accomplish?

Personally, I discover optimism and hope to be distractions. Older societies appreciated the thought of duty and obligation in a method that we, within the 21st century, typically don’t. In any case, when in an existential crisis, it is incumbent upon us to do every thing that we will, whatever the probabilities of success.

At this time’s international crisis of democracy cannot be overcome merely by altering the administration, packing the courts with liberal judges, or by means of laws alone. This is also a crisis of citizenship, the collapse of group and important considering. What I’m doing immediately is offering citizens with the chance to assume, deliberate and introspect – collectively. This is under no circumstances enough, but is important to assist create cohesion and build group, something that can’t be achieved by doubling down into our snug tribal bubbles.

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