In diets we all realize that what matters is what we do every day. The food we eat, the exercise we take and then the overall physical activity levels we manage to sustain. Our weight is a direct consequence of our habits.
The same naturally holds for our democracy. What we do to strengthen the public dialogue, how we participate in the public sphere and the time we invest in our own polity – the time we invest in becoming citizens – results in the kind of democracy we end up getting.
If we do want to engage in self-examination we could ask how many hours we used of last year to invest in democracy. Did we participate in a consultation locally, write our city representative or parliamentarian? Did we publish reasoned public dialogue in the form of comments or posts that seek a way forward rather than engage in emotive posing? What would your guess be? How many hours did you invest in democracy last year?
Adam Gopnik noted recently in an article that democracy is not our natural state of being. Human beings, he suggests, gravitate towards autocracy as their main form of governance. That means that if we do nothing the democracies we live in start to fall into autocracy – and the gravity of that regime is rather high.
How long before a democracy descends into autocracy? A decade? Surely not a century – and the way it happens is tricky – it is like Mark Twain describes bankruptcy: first very slowly, then all of a sudden very fast.
So, the take away? Is it a moralistic call to action for democracy? Vote? Do something? Well, perhaps not just that. But an honest question – why do we expect to keep our democracy if we do not have any democratic habits?