When we grow up in modern western societies we absorb all of their values unquestionably and one of these values is equality. Sometimes it helps, other times it doesn’t, the jury is still out on how to proceed in Kali yuga but at least we should be aware of the dangers to our own spiritual progress and to the society in general.
Modern interpretation of history is that of a long struggle for democracy which is believed to be the pinnacle of human development. First of all, this assumption that democracy is the last step in human evolution is naive, secondly, it skews our understanding of what people who made the history happen thought of it themselves.
Modern democracy is based on the idea of equal, inalienable rights but to suggest that this is what people wanted for thousands of years is nonsense. Even Americans granted rights only to land owners. No land, no vote, and forget women and blacks, of course. In Britain to get a voice one must be accepted as a peer first, too, and their definition of a peer was very different from the modern usage of the word. Peerage there still refers to aristocracy, not to common folk, but then their public schools are anything but public.
The point is that the right to speak and be heard needed to be earned, it wasn’t inalienable, and it wasn’t birth given, so to speak. Actually, it WAS birth given to those born into the right families but they did recognize commoners’ contributions from time to time and granted them acceptance, too.
The idea was that birth rights weren’t fool proof anymore, they didn’t know it was Kali yuga but they noticed the deterioration all the same. People lost faith in the wisdom and authority of their rulers so they naturally decided that if the king doesn’t know what he is talking about then it’s better to ask someone who does, and so democracy was born.
In real life, when the first Magna Carta was written, it was a lot more prosaic – they just couldn’t control their greed and lust for power so they decided that as a group they could balance each other out and find some sort of an equilibrium. They didn’t trust their king, that much was true, but they didn’t trust each other, either. The brokered peace didn’t last very long, predictably, but the idea caught on and eventually found itself and became nascent democracy.
Personally, I can totally understand how they thought that whatever decisions kings made should have better be run by a council first. The collective wisdom of the peers was clearly better than decisions of one single person, often completely consumed by greed and power, so it worked. They observed that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s just how things are in Kali yuga, so absolute monarchy is unreliable.
We, in ISKCON, are following in the same steps with our GBC. When there is one luminous ācārya his authority becomes absolute and unquestionable, everyone accepts his incorruptible spiritual position and everyone accepts that Kṛṣṇa speaks through this mahā-bhāgavata devotee. When such ācārya is absent who is going to take his place? No one is qualified and whoever tries to take it without qualification is sure to become corrupted by his conditioning. He will be controlled by the modes of nature and in Kali yuga it means he WILL act in ignorance, dragging the rest of the society with him.
That’s why Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī insisted on forming the GBC so that decision making power was done in śaṅkīrtana, which is free from the influence of Kali. Of course GBC meetings aren’t expected to be all dancing and singing but they are expected to discuss the best way to glorify Kṛṣṇa and advance the mission of Lord Caitanya, of course it’s a genuine form of saṅkīrtana.
In pre-Kali yuga days it was the king who conducted huge sacrifices which benefited all the citizens but these days sacrifices need to be made congregationally to guarantee success. That’s why GBC, and that’s why democracy, too. Whatever we say about western societies they too once saw themselves as carrying out the will of the Lord and protecting their religion. When governing was done in the name of religion and when those peers discussed the best ways to honor the memory of their Jesus Christ it was saṅkīrtana, too. That’s why democracy worked – it was a prescribed form of a sacrifice for the modern age.
When atheism took the center stage, however, democracy as a sacrifice pleasing the Lord has lost all sense. Formally, it’s all the same thing – people still gather together to make decisions collectively but because the purpose of the activity has been lost it doesn’t bring desired effects. It doesn’t bring peace and it threatens to take away western prosperity, too.
Aristocratic birth rights complicate the matter slightly but the idea behind peerage was that it carried with it great responsibility and had to be given only to the most qualified people. Children of the peers were supposed to receive the best training and education but with time they naturally slackened and degraded to the level of commoners. It happens, nothing much can be done about it, but atheists took it the wrong way – instead of elevating would be peers to the desired level of discipline and maturity they dragged the standards down to the common folk customs. Peerage no longer needs to be earned, it’s just given to everybody and so it lost its value.
When common people, totally under the influence of the modes of nature and slaves to their minds and animalistic desires, play democracy it just does not work, saṅkīrtana does not happen, and the entire society suffers. These people can’t control themselves and when their desires overlap with those of others there are conflicts they can’t stop. Instead of serving spiritual goals they get lost in trying to fulfill all their fancies and eliminate their opponents, and that’s the stage we find the modern democracy right now.
Just like they did with peerage and aristocracy centuries ago they declare degradation of standards and the state of permanent disarray as the new normal – they drag the standards down again, either unaware of or flatly ignoring rules set down by the Lord. They might detest someone like Donald Trump but they still find the way to celebrate his rise as a power of democracy.
For them, the power of democracy lies in getting what they want and crushing their opposition, certainly not in congregational glorification of the Lord and not in collective effort to fulfill Lord’s mission. So, not only they want to defeat their political opponents but they also condemn those who say this process went completely off the rails as “undemocratic”, which is us, basically. It seems each their desire comes with a designated enemy and so their battles continue with no sign of peace ahead.
The same thing happened in science, too. A couple of days ago I said that first science journals were published by dedicated individuals who were alone responsible for the quality of the content (kings). As the number of submissions grew they delegated editorial work to their board, ie peerage, if we compare it to the development of democracy, and then, when even the boards were overwhelmed, they let outsiders to do what they then called “peer review” for them. Originally, these peers simply wanted to help out and even today most of this work is done for free but for journal owners it’s just business and they go for quantity, not quality.
No surprise then that their glorified peer review fails to do its job again and again and the label “peer reviewed” has lost its authority. It just means the journal accepted the paper for publishing, which could have happened for any number of reasons, including “it was paid by the corporation promoting a new drug”. It doesn’t mean anything about submission quality at all. Maybe later on someone would spot the mistakes there, maybe not, maybe they made a fuss out of it, maybe not – for the supposedly scientific process there’s an amazing lack of clarity and oversight there, it’s a total black box.
I think I’m done with peer review, in one word it’s useless.