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Jul 22, 2013

Falling in Love with Democracy


China Peace, by Tim Holmes
I took a Stanford course recently from one of the world's experts in democracy, Larry Diamond. We students not only got a top-level education in the subject, but a lot of cool extras like Prof. Diamond interviewing Madeleine Albright and several heads of state. What's more, the student body was from all over the world, 21,000 of them! Oh, and through Coursera, the course was free. What resulted was not only a very good understanding of the health and welfare of democracy, but I fell in love with it all over again!

Though I have worried about it's health in the US over the past several years, the state of democracy is really better than I thought. It is hard from one point in history to see the arc of changes of culture, but it not only changes for the better but that change accelerates. Here are a few surprising things I learned:

As Churchill says, “Democracy is the worst form of government, accept for all the others.”  This is really true; there is no better form, as it is based on one incontrovertible truth combining two principles: government for the people by the people, and all people are created equal.  Any other form of government is a digression from that ideal. Democracy is the only legit form that respects human beings. Worldwide democracy has grown from 2 states in 1800 to 40 in 1972 to about 120 now out of about 190 nations on earth. 

Hunger for freedom and democracy is strong everywhere, even in the most unexpected places, such as the poorest, least educated countries of Africa and– hear this– even among those with populations with high radical religious fundamentalism, such as those of the middle east. No democracy is perfect, but we are all trying to improve it to be more responsive and open.

America has often been on the wrong side of democratic growth, succombing to the temptations to support our friends instead of the principles of equality that democracy requires, but we are slowly learning. Churchill also said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” Hopefully as nations like Egypt struggle with their democratic birth pangs, we will resist that temptation to pursue our own selfish ends and support real equality and democratic health for all.

(PS. I was recently asked by a publisher if they could use a photo of my bronze, China Peace, to grace the cover of a new book on the Chinese democracy movement, which, much to my amazement, is edited by the professor of my course!)
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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.