Tyranny as Teacher

You cannot order someone to be spontaneous – not if you want to make sense. When a state or corporation or institution tries to make people think in a certain way, it usually fails. Yet often, there are other more perverse outcomes: all unacknowledged intentions at last reveal themselves in action. Institutions may be laughable in their efforts to purposefully invade our thinking, but they are very good at doing it by accident.

Nothing breeds democracy so well as the experience of injustice. Undeserved privilege, casual cruelty and tyranny are the teachers of democracy.

There may be no other way to learn.


Night school, the free health clinic and her family filled the years so smoothly. She loved her children, they became adults and she was suddenly older.

Near the end, she walked each morning with small steps among the trees, thinking of her Namibian desert home. Eventually she fell. For a night and a day she lay buckled on the cold floor. When the doctor finally came, he found an old woman, hysterical, shouting and demanding a particular cedar drawer be brought to her without delay. He found the drawer and as instructed, pulled it out and handed it to her. She rummaged and then, triumphant, produced the dull metallic sphere of the Democracy Device. The doctor could not make out her words and grew alarmed when she brandished the Device, clearly imagining she could use it to pay for medical help.

Running our own parallel institutions, using Assemblies that use Councils, minimising representation, talking, deciding, avoiding corruption, rotating offices and random selection, practicing democratic leadership among polluted institutions, running with a teeming mind beneath the tyranny, we work and wait.

The Democracy Device subsequently reappeared in a charity shop in the North London neighbourhood of Barnet, labeled merely ‘Shot’.