Chris McGown, a really cool guy I’d just met in person for the first time earlier that day, came all the way from Kentucky to be part of our recent Democracy Cafe: A System Unrigged, at Takoma Park, MD, public library.
Chris listened intently to all the views proffered, and only weighed in at the end, after carefully considering all that had been said so far.
Among the democracy matters we’ve been exploring at our many Democracy Cafe give-and-takes across the fruited plain, which bring in thoughtful impassioned folks from across the political and philosophical spectrum — giving me great hope that diverse people can engage one another with a deep commitment to learning and understanding from one another and achieving higher ground — is the connection between humane, affordable health care and democratic flourishing.
Chris clearly continued to chew on all that had been said, not just at our confab, but in a back and forth he and I later had, and that also he’d had with others, on the entire matter of how to unrig our healthcare system in ways that can make our society all that it can be — namely, one comprised of individuals who can achieve their fullest potential — and how having decent, affordable healthcare is an integral element.
Just a couple days ago, Chris put this thoughtful proposal, a fabulous work in progress, on healthcare on Facebook — it puts to shame all the closed-door policies and politicking concocted first by Democrats starting with Hillary Clinton all the way back when she was First Lady, to those in Obama era, and now to the Republicans.
So-called ordinary citizens of Chris’s ilk, I’ve come to find again and again, have the best ideas, the most imaginative yet workable solutions to our most intractable policy woes that keep our democracy, and the individuals comprising it, from evolving and keep it mired in stagnation and ossification.
Those with the clout and power, both within the formal system and without, look down their noses at people like Chris, no matter how much more adept he is at reimagining health care than they are. They suffer, alas, from ‘knowbetter-itis,’ and hence they see all those who see things differently than they do as ‘the other,’ and so they are closed to far more viable solutions than those they try to sell us.
We need to do away with the endemic know better-ism that exists among establishment players.
Across the board, whether they are puffily pontificating in the chambers of Congress or are ‘experts’ blowharding from on high on a stage in their cloistered panels at ‘ideas festivals,’ they simply think they know better than us regular folks.
They wouldn’t deign to include us as equals, much less solicit proposals from us — they might pretend to, if it leant to their cachet, but they’d never genuinely consider it.
Only if and when we the people can insist on being heeded and heard can we recapture and revive and make far better the kind of inclusive and enlightened democracy that existed in the Athenian polis all those centuries ago.
I’ve come across so many amazing enlightened generalists with a genuine social conscience like Chris in my travels. They defy easy political or philosophical labels. They are ‘open-ists’ who really care and really have workable solutions that could yank us out of the quicksand of despair we find ourselves in.
If given half a chance, they would extract us from the state and straits that those who run and steer the system have us mired in, and who won’t give any attention or credence to the views of people like Chris.
Let’s change that. Let’s all know more, learn more, from one another — and to do that, we need to engage with one another as equals, regardless of our academic and political pedigrees (or lack thereof), dispense with the disease of ‘know better-ism’ practiced by the putative ‘experts’ (who human history, and our nation’s history, shows again and again typically are most adept at making bad problems worse, yet consider themselves unaccountable).
What separates Chris McGown and most all those with whom I have the privilege to engage in Democracy Cafes is that they truly listen, truly care about their fellow actual and aspiring citizens, truly incorporate the ideas of those with whom they engage into their own emerging solutions.
They don’t engage in non-redemptive argument, don’t tear down the ideas of others; rather they encourage and inspire one another to construct something even better.
They are not snooty, they do not think they know it all or know better. Rather, they are the quintessential kinds of citizens our iconic Founders envisioned — citizens imbued with the Spirit of ’76 — we’d have when they created for us what was meant to be an intimate republican system – even as we became more vast geographical as a nation — that made it possible for bottom-up democratic inclusiveness.
Because those at the bottom have the most top-flight ideas and solutions.
Just at look at Chris’s. He knows better than to think he knows better. And he knows how to go about knowing better by listening carefully and being open to a wide range of carefully considered perspectives.
That’s what being a democratic citizen, ideally, is all about.