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Re-building Babel: Collective Thinking, Democracy, Environment and Health

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A democracy designed to address the needs of all individuals in a small local population does not readily transfer to 6 billion people and the entire planet. The difficulties are well illustrated in attempts to combine the many interests in the interrelationships between human health and global ecological integrity. The situation is comparable to the story of the city of Babel. Once the citizens were no longer a single people with a shared language, they could not understand one another and the city collapsed.

Two pathways for re-interpreting issues of democracy and global ecological integrity offer a solution. The first is to accept that each issue is a wicked problem, that is, one that falls outside the current thinking of the society that produced it. A fresh approach is required. The second is to use the experiential learning cycle as the basis for collective learning among the interest groups that make the decisions, namely, key individuals, community, specialists, organizations and holistic thinkers. Decisionmaking then becomes the pursuit of a collective inquiry. Preserving the contributions of each of the interest groups while interpreting the whole replaces the past reliance on a single language. The conclusion is that Babel can be re-built as a democracy, once we learn how to approach the issues collectively.

As other chapters in this book argue, it is time to re-examine the practice of democracy. Such a re-examination is by no means unusual. Democracy has been mutating ever since the idea first appeared in ancient Greece. Given the basic paradox that democracy is the rule of the governed (Plato 1991), we need to ask how that ideal is translated into practice under the conditions of life of today. Issues central to a democratic state include how to achieve equitable access to health and a sustainable environment. In each of these fields, the marginalized and disadvantage are at far higher risk than the rest of their society.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2010

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