Another installment of Reinventing Democracy must include my basic conclusion that today, for many reasons, democracy is a myth.
For starters, in Rethinking Survival, I draw on the key observation made by legendary comparative religion expert Joseph Campbell.
In his opinion, current myths (meaning creation stories and paradigms of how the world works) no longer serve us well. He called for a new paradigm, one that allows us to recognize the humanity of people living on the other side of the hemisphere.
Anticipating the Positive Paradigm of Change as the embodiment of Einstein’s long-sought Unified Theory, in The Power of Myth, Campbell wrote, “I’ve often wondered if some of the notions coming out of quantum physics, quantum interconnectedness, don’t express that.”
Historically, a belief in democracy is fundamental to the American world view. However, what I inadvertently proved in my dissertation’s statistical research study is that the existence of democracy in America is also a myth in the slang usage, meaning “false and fictitious.” Excerpts from Rethinking Survival explain.
THE SELECTION PROCESS: Democracy is a Myth
Graduate school years were another mixed blessing. While earning a Ph.D. in Educational Administration didn’t lead to career advancement, it was highly therapeutic: another opportunity to divest myself of unconsciously held programming.
One day I would read in the research literature about the mistakes women new to administration make, being unable to read the hidden cues of old boys’ club colleagues. The next day, I would fall kerplunk, right into the same traps. Ouch! I would read about female stereotypes, and almost immediately find myself playing them out. Aha!
Another upside was the presence of exactly the right people in the right places to tell me what I needed to know to survive. . . . Howard Wakefield, the Department Chairman, took on the role of thesis advisor. His sense of humor and down-to-earth attitude saw me safely through the Ph.D. credentialing process. We spent long hours talking philosophy. Howard was a practicing Christian. He gave me a pocket Bible from the stash he kept in his center desk drawer. I treasured this gift.
The dissertation topic was as challenging for him as for me. Stereotype issues literally hit home. He began to see relationships with his wife and teenage daughter in a new light. But, he told me, it worked both ways. The job of his dreams had been to be a school district administrator.
But he was a short and small-boned. With thick glasses, he didn’t exactly project an athletic image. Muscular football coaches capable of nailing unruly teenage boys to the gym wall were the candidates of choice. He became a professor because, like it or not, that was stereotype he matched.
Ethnology was ruled out for thesis projects. I was required to use statistical methods in my 1978 Ph.D. dissertation, “Women Principals in Wisconsin Elementary Schools: A Support-Success Theory.” With 99 percent statistically significant results, this study proved that public schools in Wisconsin are an inbred, insider’s closed shop.
No one enters the selection process who hasn’t first been identified and groomed by current school administrators. No one enters graduate school to earn a school administrator degree or applies to the Department of Public Instruction for credentials who hasn’t already been promised a job. The unwritten, informal rules of the pre-selection process require that job candidates mirror the values, beliefs and interests of current power-holders.
Dissertation research surveyed four distinct groups with the same set of questions. Each population had radically different perceptions of the same selection process. Men principals, those who benefit most from the process, responded with a remarkable 98 percent return rate, insisting the process is fair and unbiased.
Men teachers, however, those whose expectations and ambitions had been thwarted, were angry and cynical, certain that the process is stacked and unfair. In one respondent’s words, the chief qualification is “a willingness to screw teachers.”
Women teachers were oblivious to the existence of a selection process. Their mantra was, “I am not aware . . .” Only women principles were ambivalent. As boundary spanners, they had succeeded in being selected, but still recognized bias and injustice in the selection process.
What separated principals from teachers, regardless of gender, was the combined support received in their personal and professional lives. Those who got the most support succeeded accordingly. Those who received little support were least likely to succeed.
Interestingly, my research of the literature found that convenient myths are easily forgotten when they suddenly become inconvenient. A paradigm shift occurs, for example, during war time. When the men are away and there’s work to be done, then women are suddenly seen as perfectly fit to function as factory workers or school principals.
By extension, it’s only when the times make skewed rules of the knowledge and power-distribution game sufficiently inconvenient that the public will become receptive to the Positive Paradigm of Change and Positive Action ways to identify and support more effective leaders.
Applications: the I Ching view recognizes that patterned events repeat smallest to largest. Thus my research findings can be applied to the selection of government officials at every level. It applies to the selection of the CEOs in leadership positions within businesses and corporations. It also applies to political leadership, even on an international scale.
Conclusion: the American dream of a democratic, meaningful choice in leadership is but an illusion. In an informal process that proceeds the formal one, candidates are pre-selected and effectively owned by insiders. The sorry absence of innovative, effective leadership is explained by the documented filtering process which for the most part excludes creative, natural leaders.
What are the long-term survival consequences? To our detriment, the Western linear progressive theory of history puts in-bred leaders operating on dysfunctional paradigms at a loss to foresee cyclical down-turns in order to prepare for them in time.
Ancient Egypt’s pharaoh had his Joseph to interpret warning dreams and oversee the timely storage of grain during seasons of plenty to off-set famine during seasons of drought. Who prepares or listens to such boundary-spanning advisors now?