“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” — Thomas Pynchon
Let’s all wave a flag for
D * E * M * O * C * R * A * C * Y !!!
It’s a sacred cow in our society. Everyone believes in it — even most leftists — and everyone will get mad at you for objecting to it. But I am objecting to it. And the problem is not just good institutions run badly, as so many believe. Rather, the problem is bad institutions, based on bad principles.
Democracy, if we could get one, certainly would be better than oligarchy or plutocracy. But (i) we can’t get a democracy, and anyway (ii) we may be able to get something better, as I’ll explain.
Democracy is a sham in several different ways.
- Democracy is a sham in the present. Contrary to what most people believe, we do not have a democracy in the USA. The 2014 statistics of Gilens and Page proved that, regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t. We have a plutocracy (rule by the rich) or an oligarchy (rule by the few) — those are actually the same, because money and political power are interchangeable. I often hear people saying “we are in danger of losing our democracy,” but it would be more accurate to say “we are in danger of losing our illusion of democracy.” If we do lose that illusion, things could get a lot better or a lot worse, depending on what worldview we replace it with.
- Our history of democracy is a sham. Contrary to what most people believe, the USA never was a democracy; the “good old days” never happened. The USA was “founded” on slavery and genocide by a wealthy ruling class, a band of crooks and con men who aspired to look presentable. James Madison, the chief author of our constitution, wrote (though not IN the constitution) that it was important “to keep the spirit and form of popular government with only a minimum of the substance,” and he wrote that the primary goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”
- Any vision of democracy, including the future, is a sham. The USA can never be a democracy, at least as that notion is understood by most people. As I will explain, it is simply impossible, like assembling a single picture from several different jigsaw puzzles. They cannot fit together. If you do put together such a “democracy,” it won’t look like or do what you expected. And the pursuit of “democracy” is a waste of time, a wild goose chase, a distraction from the more important and more possible things we ought to be pursuing. (I don’t know whether this distraction was intentionally contrived by our ruling class, or simply developed by accident.)
To understand all of this, we need to step back and look at a bigger picture. We need to look at hierarchy, property, and human nature.
For 200,000 years, humans lived in egalitarian tribes of hunter-gatherers, sharing everything of importance. But then 10,000 years ago the climate changed, and we took a cultural wrong turn. Some of us developed a culture based on exploitation. That culture spread, over most of the world, wiping out most hunter-gatherers. It was self-perpetuating, because the people at the “top” used either lies or force to persuade everyone else that exploitation was a good system, or at least an inevitable system. This new culture caused war, poverty, cruelty, and many other kinds of misery, as I will explain below.
Our culture of exploitation is about to destroy the ecosystem. We need to change culture or we’ll soon be extinct, along with most other species on the planet. The collapse of civilization will NOT save us or the other species, because it will not halt the feedback loops of global warming that we have set in motion. If we’re going to halt those feedback loops, we probably need to do it using civilization, before civilization collapses.
I am advocating that we go forward, not back. Hunter-gathering and exploitation both developed by accident, but we are capable of intentionally developing a third way of life — an egalitarian, sharing way that uses technology wisely, so that we may enjoy some of its benefits without war, poverty, cruelty, ecocide. I don’t have all the details worked out; I’m just advocating that we start talking about it. And I’m not the only one saying things like this, so I’m not claiming credit for these ideas.
I need to explain the special roles played by hierarchy and property in the exploitative civilization.
Authoritarians have been taught that any group of people must have someone “in charge,” someone at “the top” of a hierarchy. If three authoritarians were shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, their first priority — before searching for shelter, food, or drinkable water — would be to elect a president.
Hierarchy concentrates power, and power really does corrupt. We can see that all around us. Authoritarians beat their families, bosses bully workers, guards torture prisoners, police shoot the poor, and elected politicians abuse all of us in all of those ways. So we need to restructure our society to eliminate hierarchies, including so-called “representative government.” We should replace hierarchies with horizontal networking.
“Direct democracy” — voting on every issue — is unworkable too. To make wise decisions, every citizen would need to be fully informed about every issue. That requires far more time than any of us have. And even if the public were well informed, would the decisions of a majority necessarily be “wise”? If a decision is agreeable to 51% but cruel to the remaining 49%, is that “wise”? If the majority vote for practices that are unsustainable in the long run — i.e., causing the death of the ecosystem — is that “wise”? Democracy does not guarantee wisdom. I want cultural change.
And property corrupts too, in several ways:
- Money IS influence, and so plutocracy is inevitable in our present economic system. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class, but that will require a vastly different economy.
- If we don’t share, we trade. But that gives greater profit to the trader who is in the stronger bargaining position, and thus makes him stronger still, increasing inequality, which is now enormous. This creates poverty and plutocracy. The only way to prevent plutocracy is by sharing.
- Trade is between buyer and seller, but unconsulted third parties bear unmeasured side effects. Some of these are enormous — e.g., war, poverty, and ecocide. Thus, the “wisdom” and “efficiency” of the market are lies.
- Separate property creates separate lives, so competition kills empathy. The homeless on every street corner are a constant visible reminder of how little our society cares about anyone. That’s why some loner shoots up a school ever few days.
- Your boss is not a hundred times more hard-working than you, or even three times more hard-working than you; he gets a hundred times more money only because he’s standing between you and the money. But even if we were paid according to what we are able to produce, there is no correlation between that and what we need, and that’s insane. That’s why Marx recommended allocating “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” with no connection between those two quantities. That’s the only logical system if people care about each other. And if we don’t care about each other, then we are insane, and it’s no wonder we are killing everything.
Now, concerning human nature:
Sociologists in recent decades have determined that humans are, by nature, the most social of all animals. What we need is not independence, but harmony; we prefer to live in community and cooperation when we can. But we are prevented from doing so by our present culture, which is making us fearful, greedy, and selfish. Many people, familiar with only their own culture, have been persuaded that it is universal, and that greed and selfishness are human nature.
Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century philosopher, believed that too, and he said the consequence is a “war of all against all.” He said that universal bloodshed can only be prevented by a strong central authority that people would fear even more than they fear each other. The authority would force a ceasefire in the mutual war.
For the central authority, Hobbes favored monarchy, an idea liked by the monarchs of his time. In more recent centuries the central authority has been a democracy and/or republic — i.e., the people would fear punishment from armed forces controlled by “representatives” that they themselves elected. But ceasefire is unstable, and power corrupts.
What we need is not just ceasefire, but an end to the “war of all against all.” We need peace, understanding, caring, love, etc. To achieve that, we’ll have to put aside hierarchy and property. Then the only way you “get ahead” is when the whole community gets ahead. In Robert Fulghum‘s terminology, that’s “share and don’t hit.” We need a culture in which we actually care about others, and no one is left behind. If we achieve that, we’ll have consensus, which is better than majority rule anyway.
The first step is to get more people talking about it.
2018 Sept 2, version 2.07.