I wanted to make this short but important post on what Miriam Solomon refers to as Cacophonous Democracy. A large part of my thesis hangs on her argument and I recently contacted her. She was more excited than I was I think as she was shocked that someone had taken an interest in her work.
Anyway, the argument goes along the lines of, modernity as we know it (in the enlightenment sense) is plagued with dualisms. These dualisms necessarily place one above the other, be they local/global, black/white, male/female, human/environment and so on. They are also exclusionist as they down allow for elements outside this dualism. Therefore to create a just society we just deconstruct these dualisms. (is this the lesson we’ve learnt from Postmodernism?) If the forces of injustice are hung on these dualisms then it is surely the job of global civil society to attack them in order to create a more just world.
Thus, civil societies goal must be not to privilege difference over commonality but to develop a more democratic world to enable greater access to resources be they participatory, material, political or financial and so on. This new model of democracy needs to be looking at the connections and interdependencies between the poles, as well as searching to see what categories and agendas are occluded or excluded by these frameworks. Often these categories and agendas contradict each other and take different levels of primacy depending on your personal circumstance.
So a paradox exists between Justice and Democracy. If democracy is the rout to justice then this can only be achieved if a level of justice is available to be part of the decision making process. Presumably those suffering injustice don’t have the privilege.
Justice has two key forms, as mentioned above, equality of opportunity for material, cultural, political etc resources and a justice conceived in relational terms of empathy, solidarity, communicative processes etc informed by both commonalities and differences. In short, the societal and the personal – with both interconnecting and of equal primacy.
NGOs (or INGOs as Solomon refers to them) are therefore in a unique position because in many ways they embody these contradictions and so forth. INGOs exist across all spheres of existence. They operate on a local, state, federal, regional and multilateral to the individual and from society to economics. Plagued by these paradoxes NGOs clash as we all know, most typically with regards to the reformist vs the radical.
However there are those that operate outside these dichotomies and operate on an organising level by doing things like training people in both camps in group facilitation and conflict resolution.
Enter Cacophonous Democracy. A cacophonous democracy requires INGOs to leave there previous positions and come to the negotiating table to explore the areas that have been freed up by keeping an open mind and being enthusiastic about the experiences of deeper engagement with civil society. It is in fact these conflicts that can the the energy source for these campaigns.
“It calls for dynamically flexible and intersecting relationships within and between institutional nodes of power, and networks located variously at different distances for these nodes. This would seem to necessitate a continuous state of creative tension between some sense of stability within boundaries and the justice of claims of outsiders, who tend to be excluded by such boundaries. Informed by a nonconstructive approach to all the relevant binaries, this model calls for justice on the basis of both commonalities and differences, for both ‘generalised’ and concrete, both distant and proximate others, in a ‘cacophony of unequal voices clamoring for position’” (p 71) This global cacophonous democracy requires INGOs to play a central role in addressing the contradictions between moral principals and realpolitik. The paradox of democracy is approached from both ends. Through action aimed at justice which opens up more space for democracy and enhanced democratic forms.
Solomon concludes with cacophonous democracy’s two primary requirements. “Firstly, it should reveal how openings may be created for the expressions of justice demands in all their forms, including demands for distribution of material resources, demands for equality of representation and demands for recognition of difference. Secondly, it needs to identify ways of responding to the disruptions occasioned by these challenges, in a manner that raises new possibilities for our conceptions of world order, beyond the states system and beyond the order/disorder dichotomy.” (p 73)
I’m extremely interested in peoples thoughts on this one.