Literacy and Democracy

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by qsaark, Sep 3, 2009.

  1. qsaark

    qsaark Regular Member

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    QSAARK
    Sept 03, 2009.


    Many anti-Democracy folks argue that democracy is a system that is only workable in a country that enjoys a high literacy rate. Before addressing this issue, let’s start with following question:

    What is Literacy? Is it simply the ability to read, gained from the formal education one receives in schools? Does literacy imply the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, true and false, truth and lie? Another term, Functional Literacy, is also used which simply means whether a person's educational level is sufficient to function in a modern society. Here I would argue that it is not literacy that is necessary for a functional democracy, but rather access to information. An informed populace can be entrusted to make the proper decision, and with the advent of broadcast (i.e. radio and TV) media, literacy is less a prerequisite for access to information than in the past.

    I am sure you have met with many older folks who are unable read or write yet talk very intelligently. And I am also sure that you have seen highly educated who apparently are unable to distinguish right from wrong. But, if you look a little deeper, you’ll realize that they indeed knew what was right and what was wrong, but they deliberately decided to act in what was their interest. Were not Hitler, Mosoulini, and the Emperor of Japan all educated? And yet their actions resulted in the loss of life of millions of humans. Why go that far, what about Bush and Cheney? Both were educated from the best private institutions in the United States, but you’ll find very few who would like to support their actions.

    So I think there is very little if any connection between literacy and judgment or literacy and wisdom. Allah says “Laqad khalaqn al insaan a fi ahsin e taqweem”, the humans beings are created at their best. What role does a formal education play in improving the basic judgment of a person is questionable? A dumb person with an IQ score of less than 70 (like me) can be formally educated or trained to carry out a specific job. Practice makes the man perfect, and indeed it does. Even animals for whom we really don’t have any real IQ score chart can be educated or trained to do specific tasks. A person may hold a Masters in literature and may know all the names and the work created by certain figures, yet unable to produce his own original piece of work. A person may hold the degree of MD, knows all about Medicine yet proves to be a bad doctor. It is an everyday observation and I am positive that you have also come across such examples.

    If you find yourself in agreement with what I wrote above, how fair do you think is the notion that democracy can only work in countries that have high literacy rates? The oldest democracy that we know of took its roots in ancient Greece back in 400 BC. The philosopher Plato was perhaps the first person who clearly demarcated between the system of democracy (rule by the governed), with the alternative systems of monarchy (rule by one individual), oligarchy (rule by a small élite class), and timocracy (rule by the wealthy). Another ancient democracy that we know of was India mentioned by Diodorus, a Greek historian in the time of Alexander the Great. Even though the Roman Republic was not fully democratic but its contribution to the certain aspects of democracy is highly significant. During the Middle Ages, democracy existed in various forms in a number of places such as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Althing in Iceland, certain medieval Italian city-states such as Venice, the tuatha system in early medieval Ireland, the Veche in Novgorod and Pskov Republics of medieval Russia, Scandinavian Things, the states in Tirol and Switzerland, the autonomous merchant city of Sakai in the 16th century in Japan, and the Cossack republics of Ukraine in the 16th-17th centuries. First elected parliament was De Montfort's Parliament in England in 1265. Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 and in the United States, nearly all white adult male citizens could vote as early as 1840.

    Even though not many details are known, it would be safe to assume that the masses of ancient Greece, India, and Rome were not all formally educated. Similarly, the literacy rate of Middle age Europe is anybody’s guess as it was strictly controlled by the church which was responsible for virtually all education. Yet the lack of formal education of the masses did not deter the establishment of Democracy in any of these countries.

    The Indian National Congress and the Muslim league were established in 1885 and 1906 respectively. The percentage of literacy among the Indians, especially Indian Muslims, was very low. Yet, the leaders and the members of both parties decided that the best way of struggling for an independent India was through democratic means while remaining within the constitutional boundaries. India becomes irrelevant at this point because India continued the legacy of its great leaders and continued to improve democracy both as a system and as an institution. We, on the other hand, have totally ignored the legacy of our great leaders and deliberately decided to go against the guidelines that were set by the founding father of this nation.
     
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  3. ahmedsid

    ahmedsid Top Gun Senior Member

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    Some valid points raised my friend, really thought provoking article you wrote there! The sad part is that, We all know the facts you mentioned, I am sure the Pakistani people know of it too, but they are taken for granted by the Army and the Politicians to a certain extent, some of whom I am sure, have had links to Army Coups. Correct me If I am wrong.
     
  4. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    Nice article Qsaark.

    As you pointed out, there is no strong correlation between literacy and democracy. Though I believe that high literacy can be correlated with enforcement of better democratic principles and accountability. I would also like to add few points to your assertion that access to information is important for democracy to take roots or sustain.

    If you look at all the non-democratic, communist, autocratic, military regimes in different countries (China, Burma, North Korea, Cuba etc); the common theme that emerges is that either people don't have access to information or even if they have access to information, the information is strongly biased and propagandized and thus keep the masses away from true information. This lets such regimes to sustain their rule over the people and prevent taking roots of democracy.
     
  5. qsaark

    qsaark Regular Member

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    Yes you are right... But lets see what Alfred E Smith says:


    All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.

    Alfred E. Smith
     

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