🦋 A specimen drawer to capture the evolution of democracy

Democracy is more than words

As long as there is the need to make choices affecting others, different decision-making forms appear. A dictionary containing various definitions of democracy (and what is not democracy), can, in simple terms, help us locate distinct practices along the continuum between democracy and authoritarianism. Yet, beyond that, a dictionary of democracy might help us realise that democracy is, in fact, more than just a word. It is a living entity, like a butterfly.

Humans and the evolution of democracy

The documentation of specimens and their environments is crucial to understanding their evolution. However, that ‘natural evolution’ can be affected by humans. For instance, scientists have documented the effects of human activities on the environment and evolution of selected specimens. These activities include intensive agriculture, hunting, commercial fishing, and others. Our preferences for specific characteristics of the livestock and crops we put on the table have triggered genetic changes. The effects of industrial development in certain regions on butterflies’ colour and shape, for example, are known as ‘industrial melanism’.

The need for collaboration and uses of a specimen drawer

The collection and creation of specimen drawers are time- and money-intensive. It needs hands to catch specimens in our time and others to dig up the ground to find fossils. This task of compilation is probably never-ending. A good start, however, might be to begin by focusing on regions, like north, south, east and west. If we sample and map democratic practices in different territories, we might start accounting for the effect of context, actors, and interests within a territory and across others. Mapping every practice and type of democracy might be exhausting. But starting at the regional level might be more feasible and less tiring.

Variation and change across time and regions

The ultimate goal of a specimen drawer of democracy should be to explain its changes, and the causes for that change, in the same way that there are explanations of butterflies changing their colours with industrialisation and urbanisation. In the case of democracy we would be looking for the impact of contextual changes. Such changes include urbanisation, economic inequality, or technology. Besides, the mapping and construction of a database containing different democratic practices can inform us about the complementarity of different practices to achieve desired democratic ideals such as non-tyranny, political equality, and making fair and just decisions.

Beyond the democrats’ bubble

Democracy theorists and practitioners stand to profit not just from sharing their dictionaries and specimen drawers with each other. They might find new perspectives through collaboration with other research areas to enhance their understanding of democracy and its practices. For instance, lepidopterists explained the intergenerational migration of the monarch butterfly, its routes, and where it roosted and mated, by collaborating with other research fields. These fields contributed with insights on the role of hormones and genetic information in coordinating intergenerational migration and navigation biology.

Preserving the colours of democratic specimens

A global understanding of democratic practices and democracy is necessary to preserve and improve it. It is therefore necessary to analyse democracy’s textures, geography, genetics, habitat, etc. Democratic theorists and practitioners can best do this by collaborating among themselves, and with other researchers from other disciplines, to enhance the study of democracy. That type of collaboration would complement the use of the dictionary or specimen drawer of democracy and democratic practices. It would facilitate a more thorough understanding of democracy and the influence of external factors on its emergence, development, demise and, most importantly, its preservation.

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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”