Volatility

June 19, 2011

Democracy

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History’s democratic movement has been humanity’s great hope. Wherever people have suffered scarcity and oppression, and wherever the human spirit striving to break its bonds has chafed at the stupidity and inertia, we have looked to the expansion of political and economic democracy as the vehicle of our liberation and the guarantor of this achieved freedom.
 
Concurrently with the industrial revolution and the rise of fossil fuels, humanity lofted the call to universal democracy as the logical and moral culmination of our political experience. But was democracy a trap? The rising movement was diverted to “representative” government. By now it looks like the goal was to misdirect the democratic impetus long enough for the elites to steal all the wealth produced by the oil surplus before restoring feudalism.
 
By now we who affirmatively strive cannot experience representative government, capitalism, elitism, as anything but blockages to our soaring, while all who aren’t rich and powerful increasingly experience these as oppressors and thieves. The poor always experienced them as such, and as we’re liquidated more and more of us are to experience what it’s like to be economically and politically poor, even if we’re not technically there yet.
 
So we experience the perversion of democracy as a negative assault, and as a blockage to our affirmative humanity. This is the basic political, economic, and psychological situation. In fact, the concurrence of the rise of mass democracy and fossil fuels is exact enough, while Peak Oil and the advent of neoliberalism have a direct causal relationship, that we have to ask if the democratic movement itself, not the ancient political idea but its efflorescence into mass politics, was really nothing more than an ornament of cheap oil. The criminals now want to prove that it was. Are we really going to let them do so?
 
Democracy is the logic of history. It’s our imperative to fight for it. A basic precept of the American Revolution is that liberty and concentrated power always grapple in a zero-sum conflict, and that to whatever extent a society allows power to concentrate, the citizenry must be actively vigilant against this power. This is an obligation imposed by freedom, and therefore an intrinsic element of it.
 
If the measure of freedom includes the measure of one’s will to be vigilant, then it follows that the measure of democracy itself includes the measure of one’s will to fight for it. This, at least, depends nothing upon oil or other material factors. All things start with an act of will.
 
This is fortuitous, since this same historical moment where we need this great act of will is also the moment where all conventional actions are blocked for all who lack wealth. So here again we find the concurrence of our affirmative and negative imperatives. For both self-transcendence and self-preservation we need to make the truly transformative action to redeem our democracy and restore it to its true path, such that it shall finally fully realize itself.
 
And what is the nature of this true democracy? I’ve written many times about the failure of representative government, about the fact that in its inception it was a sham, and (most recently here) about how according to the ideology of the American Revolution it has no necessary authority, but was only to be taken provisionally, based on how well it worked in action. I think the tenure of this provision has long since expired, and the results are in. Representative pseudo-democracy doesn’t work and is unworthy of us.
 
Instead the consummation of the democratic movement, and the only way out of the historical bottleneck in which we find ourselves, must be the achievement of positive democracy. I described it here:
 

What are the basic principles/practices? (In positive democracy, there’s never a clear division between principle and practice. There’s no citizenship other than through citizen action. The measure of one’s capacity for freedom is that one acts as a free citizen, as much as possible, and is always seeking to expand the bounds of freedom’s possibility.) Direct democracy, political freedom (meaning the opportunity to meaningfully participate), political participation itself, all of these on an equal basis. Material equality (defined as the absence of class stratification and wealth concentrations) is the prerequisite for equality of political opportunity. Food Sovereignty as a political and practical imperative. Land and natural resources are things of nature, and can therefore be the property only of sovereignty itself; Western political theory always recognized in principle with the labor theory of property that to gain a possession right on the land one must productively work the land. The things we call rights and enshrine in Bills of Rights. All of this arising from the people’s sovereignty and therefore the province of human beings only, while by definition other entities can only be servants with responsibilities, never persons with rights.

 
Economic democracy, worker self-management, distribution of, by, and for those who actually produce. All this as a self-actualization value in itself, as well as providing the material prerequisite for true political democracy, with the universal and equal opportunity for participation. This too is the realization of our humanity as well as the most effective way to attain wise governance.
 
So both politically and economically, positive democracy shall both achieve the best practical result as well as, in its very exercise, constitute the ultimate human process, the ultimate realization of our humanity itself. This is the horizon which beckons. This is the promise which dawned with the first rising of the democratic sun. The enemies of humanity have sought to obscure this sun with their clouds of menace and confusion. Today they wish to bring down the veil of blackest night forever.
 
But while they, in their typical elitist way, believe they obscure the sun from the eyes of benighted, earthbound wretches, it is in fact we the people who are the sun. And so it’s our choice to burn away the fog in front of us and bring infinite clarity to the world and to life.
 
In the end, we each must choose, and we must choose as a whole: Are we in fact wretches groveling in the mud under a darkening sky, or shall we be the soaring sun?
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20 Comments

  1. The US has never been a democracy and was never meant to be one. Before, during, and even after the birth of the US Constitution, America’s rulers were enslaving Africans, murdering native Americans for their land, and denying women the right to vote. Until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 was passed, many US children worked in factories and coal mines, living the lives of indentured slaves or even outright slaves.

    Until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed, coolie labor , and the fear of Chinese workers taking American jobs that came with it, was widespread in America. Coolie labor had little to do with democracy. The Chinese coolie laborers were later replaced by Mexicans, within the US, and in China, the Chinese workers, living in coolie labor-like conditions, still labor away for Americans in much the same manner as did the Chinese coolies of 19th Century America. In the early 1880s, racist fear monger and hater of the Chinese, Denis Kearney, would rally crowds with slogans like, “To an American, death is preferable to life on a par with the Chinese.”. When it comes to fear mongering in the US, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Don’t believe me? This is from the Daily Paul:

    “257 Foreign Trade Zones across America”

    “Each and every one of our state governors has approved and allocated a certain amount of acres of their U.S. state land to be inhabited by Chinese communists –communists straight from China! ”

    http://www.dailypaul.com/155091/257-foreign-trade-zones-across-america

    Russ, politically, America never has been a democratic country. Economically, cheap oil and humming factories built what became the American middle class. Today, it is more the silenced factories than the rise in oil prices that has squashed middle class America.

    Comment by black swan — June 19, 2011 @ 7:20 am

    • All that’s part of what I meant in writing about the sham that pseudo-democracy has been. It’s why I say representative government and capitalism have failed in their democratic promises, and in fact were lying when they made them.

      But unless one wants to turn to authoritarian solutions (also already proven to fail, most notoriously in the Soviet Union), or remain mired in the vain faith that somehow “next time” liberal government will work (the subject of my post yesterday), the only remaining path is that of true political and economic democracy.

      Comment by Russ — June 19, 2011 @ 9:43 am

      • There is probably little chance of ever seeing a “true political and economic democracy” in a world run by social Darwinists. Those holding all the aces do not readily or voluntarily change the card game.

        Comment by black swan — June 19, 2011 @ 10:38 am

      • Here is a great example how the US Government works with giant US corporations. This is truly sickening.

        http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/47893

        Comment by black swan — June 19, 2011 @ 11:52 am

      • Nasty, and typical.

        Comment by Russ — June 19, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

  2. In his book ‘Notes on Democracy’, Mencken argued that democracy is a system naturally prone to be taken over moneyed class. He analyzed mindsets of ‘democratic people’ and ‘democratic states’ to make his point. To provide evidences, he went over 150 years of US history (the book is written in early 1900) and showed how democracy continued to make the country worse over time. He also said that people in 1890-1910 felt that something was wrong with the political system, but instead of recognizing that democracy was the diseases, they came up with cures that applied more democracy (he was talking about referendum and initiative process in the Western states).

    Here is a good review of the book –

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/AVZYWRPRR6838/ref=cm_pdp_rev_more?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview#RZRWYSTP7EZPJ

    Any thoughts?

    Comment by greenie — June 19, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    • “taken over by moneyed class”

      Comment by greenie — June 19, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

    • That also refers to the false democracy of the 1788 setup. Adding referendum and initiative within the corrupt pseudo-democracy doesn’t help much, and is likely to hurt as those things, like everything else, are perverted by the same criminal forces which control representative government.

      Comment by Russ — June 19, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

      • It’s amazing how the perversion of terms like “progressive” and “democracy” is overlooked by so many people. There’s a reson you say “true” democracy . . .

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 19, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

      • There’s a lot of work to do to get people to understand the difference. For years I thought I despised democracy as such because I confounded it with the “representative” capitalist version, and had no concept of true democracy.

        Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 2:46 am

  3. “Democracy is the logic of history.”

    That’s a great line. And I would go so far as to say that democracy is the logic of nature, and of Universe therefore too (though “too” is superfluous).

    What is freedom? It’s “the opportunity to meaningfully participate”. That rings true for me, but I would add Jung’s “Free will is doing gladly that which one must do.” I don’t believe there is any such thing as ‘freedom’, however there is elitist oppression and repression, which is most definitely the enemy. It’s in us. It is something we must battle against. Being a parent I have a microcosm experience of being a member of my family-of-4’s elite. I do in fact ‘know’ more than my children. I have power of life and death over them, for multiple reasons. This dynamic is biologically inevitable. Hence vigilance. To keep society shaped along some repressive Adult-Child axis is to stunt its real growth. And it’s no coincidence that in place of natural growth into social maturity we have the fake Perpetual Growth of the economics of usury keeping us infantile and bewitched. We need the political and social and economic infrastructure, plus vigilance, so that the natural stage of youthful dependency leads naturally to emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity. This would not be the end of dependency, but the beginning of what Charles Eisenstein calls interbeingness (unless he borrowed the term from someone else).

    Stirring stuff Russ! I didn’t realize how romantic you are… 😉

    Toby

    Comment by Toby — June 20, 2011 @ 1:40 am

    • Thanks, Toby. I was fearing some people are starting to consider me a romantic. 🙂

      I would add Jung’s “Free will is doing gladly that which one must do.”

      That’s true where it comes to the things we truly must do. In that case the action is a necessary part of the project, and doing it as vibrantly (if not precisely gladly) as possible is a measure of how synched into life we are.

      I’ll add that true inner freedom is finding the path of one’s existential logic, so that freedom and necessity become one. Nietzsche often wrote of this paradox of the highest freedom being the highest state of unconscious confidence such that every step feels predestined.

      I think this can also become true at the political level. My highest ambition is to help the people find their way to this sense of free and necessary sureness where it comes to the democratic logic. From there, every subsequent step shall take itself. (Most confusion over strategy and tactics, let alone principle, comes where people haven’t yet found the fated path, or see it but are resisting it.)

      Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 2:42 am

    • Interesting comment, Toby.

      The parent-as-elite analogy is a a good one because it helps focus what kind of “parent” the current elites are. Whether “conservative” or “progressive,” the modern elite is the kind of parent who has the masses eating at the kids’ table so the grown-ups can talk as grown-ups do. There is no sense of responsibility or stewardship towards their charges. Rather, the modern elite expects his authority to be respected, for the children to do as he says, not as he does.

      I’d love to see the rise of an elite class that respects the right of others to fuck-up, to not be as “smart,” or exercise the same judgment as the elite would. Those who can’t “compete” with the elite shouldn’t be despised or preyed upon but celebrated for being able to find happiness without all the trappings (and angst) that the elite seem to demand.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 20, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

      • I’d love to see the rise of an elite class that respects the right of others to fuck-up, to not be as “smart,” or exercise the same judgment as the elite would.

        Did that sentence come out the way you intended? I myself would love to see prevail intelligence and wisdom far in excess of those of the “elites”. Any group of average people, left to mind their own business, ought to suffice. And who on his own could possibly fuck up as much as the elites have?

        Comment by Russ — June 21, 2011 @ 3:03 am

      • “the modern elite is the kind of parent who has the masses eating at the kids’ table so the grown-ups can talk as grown-ups do.”

        That’s a nice analogy. I might steal it one day. 😉 (I’d reference you if I only knew you’re real name!)

        However, as Russ asks, I must also ask if you aren’t merely softening the snobbery of elitism, assuming that some people are a priori better than others? Do you take a ‘human nature’ position, than some are born genetically advantaged (forgetting mongolism and other conditions for a moment)?

        I was just contemplating this issue today, and may post on it shortly. The hierarchy-anarchy dichotomy fascinates me. When I wrestle with dichotomies I always, true to my youthful exposure to Jung’s thought, seek to unite the opposites. Not easy in this case. However, practically speaking I’m becoming more and more convinced that these opposites can live side by side and ‘synergize,’ to get corporate on yo’ asses. Anyway, one of the things that occurred to me today was how anarchy/egalitarianism becomes harder to sustain as society increases in complexity, and people specialize more and more. The first technique hunter gatherers use to prevent alphas from becoming leaders is, as I understand it, teasing. This works when the information generated by the cultures’ attempts to understand their reality is low-scale, and specialization non-existent. But as the amount of information one has to process to really understand the system/world one lives in increases, ‘expertise’ creeps in. The ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ card can be hurled at teasers increasingly effectively. Thereafter hierarchy emerges, specialization increases, more and more is discovered about reality and more and more information is generated. The elite secure the good info for themselves, and egalitarianism has no chance. We The People can be kept dumb.

        Early days with this idea, but one corollary of it is the inevitability of great diversity of ability and interest when the pool of knowledge around one is unendingly vast. There’s no way, regardless of genetics, education system, general environment, etc., that, in a complex society, everyone can know everything equally well. Does this mean hierarchy? Yes, but perhaps not institutionalized if it rests on, or emerges from, a healthy, democratic, anarchic soil. The basics of the core system need not be complex, and can certainly be kept transparent. So, as I see it, in terms of our sense of there necessarily being an elite which ‘knows best’ and therefore should make all decisions, I believe we are obliged to reject this on grounds of the subjectivity of value itself, and for moral reasons. For example, why is intelligence better than a friendly disposition? Why is ability at dance less valuable than financial wherewithal? Valuing these qualities draws both on the system valuing the skills (say capitalism which lauds profit), as well as on individuals’ predispositions. We don’t have to chisel the answers in stone. Of course there will be enormous variety of ability and interest, but that does not mean we need elites in the current sense, nor should we do anything but ensure best efforts are made, systemically, to help people develop themselves as far as they can, including emotional and political maturity. Only anarchy/egalitarianism can provide the right soil.

        And then of course there’s swarm intelligence, something else I must look into. That produces evidence that the elites aren’t as wise as the ‘ignorant masses.’

        Comment by Toby — June 21, 2011 @ 6:49 am

      • I liked Tao’s analogy too. It’s not only precise, but it captures the exact psychology of many among the flunkeys of the elites, especially in media and among the Dem party and NGO cadres.

        So much of the specialization we have today is superfluous – pointless where it’s not destructive. I think that as we go beyond fossil fuels and revert to historically normal levels of energy consumption, this ornamental specialization will largely wither away.

        But to whatever extent we do still have specialization, you’re right about the basic idea that it need not go along with any kind of coercive hierarchy. If humanity could ever get serious about democracy, then everything would come under its authority. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, so everything is too important to be left to the “experts”. At any rate democracy is too important to let anyone carve out anti-democratic niches.

        Comment by Russ — June 21, 2011 @ 8:15 am

      • Hi Russ,

        Time to confess that I’m something of a progressive. 😉 Probably that’s pretty clear to all, but explicit statements are sometimes good, even if redundant. I believe in progress both in the way I believe in beauty; as a subjective impression which nevertheless has deep validity, in fact the subjectivity is the justification; and from my brief exposure to ecology and C. S. Holling’s Adaptive Cycles. Complexity can and does increase over time; homo sapiens sapiens, rain forests, planet earth, etc., are manifestations of this. To call increases in complexity progress may well be a subjective judgment, but the very act of making that judgment is something Universe has become capable of, is itself therefore part of progress. We are not outside the Universe looking in, we are Universe self-exploring, and that self-exploration is itself part of change and progress, a multi-faceted process which throws up enormous amounts of information.

        So I’m a techy too. But in the sense of that which is sustainable (at a time scale we can manage), and within a paradigm that places environmental and human concern at its heart. In the end, being humans, we are going to be concerned with ourselves and how to live and survive on and with the planet which birthed us. Technology will always be a part of that.

        So I don’t know what ‘normal’ is, what level of energy use is historically normal. Listening to people who’ve studied city design and civil engineering it seems an 80-90% reduction of energy consumption could be achieved simply by building houses, cities and transportation networks intelligently for energy efficiency. If we did such I believe things like refrigeration, warmth, cookers, etc., will be sustainably possible in terms of energy consumption via renewables.

        But, as I’m coming to understand it, the far larger problems are bio-diversity, soil fertility, water table levels and water cleanliness, ocean acidity, fish stocks, etc. In comparison, the energy problem is a walk in the park. So the way we live with the ecosystem-webs which support us is the central battle ground, and, therefore, how to establish a socioeconomics and new set of stories about what we are that together motivate and inspire us to behave wisely and think long term. We could ‘solve’ the energy problem with some new technology, but in this perpetual growth paradigm that would be suicide. Hence, in dealing with consumption, with consumerism, with the money system, economics, etc., we deal with the energy problem too. (That’s not to belittle the enormity of the challenge. Talk is cheap. What I’ve laid out here is just my way of looking at the issues, and where my focus is.)

        I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t know what’s going to be sustainably possible in terms of energy production and consumption, but we are an inventive species. If we don’t destroy ourselves, my bet is that we will continue to produce marvels.

        Comment by Toby — June 22, 2011 @ 2:55 am

      • Thanks for the profession of faith, Toby. I should point out that your conflation of increasing complexity with some kind of moral progress is similar to the pretensions of Social Darwinism. (Darwin himself insisted that things don’t get morally “better” along the vector of evolution). What you say about our being the universe self-exploring is excellent, but it’s no reason to award ourselves some special moral ribbon, unless we’re going to strive for our full human actualization. We don’t deserve special respect for existing, but we could earn it by striving to be as fully human as we can. That’s my idea of progress: We become truly human as we strive for the fullest democracy, political and economic. The measure of our striving and fighting is the proof of our self-respect, our willingness to take on adult responsibilities (free of “elites” to “parent” us), our will to freedom.

        So for me, human progress is measured by our political action.

        That’s a good stat on energy use. It goes to how Peak Oil and energy descent don’t have to mean a great degradation in the material conditions of our lives, if we accompany the changed energy situation with a changed political situation. (Because that kind of revolution in applied architecture would almost certainly require the social revolution as its prerequisite; it sure won’t happen under neoliberalism.)

        The same goes for dealing with most resource limits. As you say, it’s not a decent material baseline which is physically threatened by resource limits; rather, this baseline is politically threatened by the continued insanity of “growth”, which when it fails once and for all will crash us to a condition far lower than would otherwise have been necessary. Here too, our road to saving ourselves from the worst is primarily a political one.

        Comment by Russ — June 22, 2011 @ 4:19 am

      • I agree with you. That was no conflation, I did not mean moral progress. My point is about subjectivity itself. “Progress” as but one way of perceiving increasing complexity. As to desert, that is another topic entirely!

        And I share your sense of work and effort as the sources of self-respect, but that is probably subjective to some degree. For example my wife is far more ‘catholic’ about such things, more laid back. Self-respect is a measure, a value judgment. It exists in a societal context, requires self-awareness and socialization. Feral children can probably not develop a sense of self-respect, for example, and I doubt lions etc., can. Interesting would be a study, to the extent it could yield useful information, on self-respect among primates and great apes. I watched a documentary once which explained how high alpha baboons lived shorter, sicker lives than their non-alpha cousins, who were far less stressed. Perhaps this is an indication of something like self-respect, a sense of relative social position. Tough call, but interesting to ponder.

        Comment by Toby — June 22, 2011 @ 6:04 am

      • One point of clarification in what I said about work. I don’t mean the “protestant work ethic” of blind, brain-dead slaving. On the contrary, my ideal for the good life would be a human mix of self-managed work and expansive leisure. (Such a lifestyle would easily have been attained, at least during the Oil Age, if any of the promises of capitalism and representative government hadn’t been lies.)

        The pivotal quality of truly fulfilling work is that it be self-managed, self-ruled, and that the produce be self-distributed. Of course, this may be so-called hard work, but it’s not half as hard as labor which may be a fraction as physically arduous but which is done in servitude to a boss.

        Finally, there’s the democratic work of citizen vigilance on behalf of freedom. This didn’t need to be so hard today, if earlier generations had lived up to their responsibilities. Unfortunately, today redeeming all that’s ours will be hard work indeed.

        Comment by Russ — June 22, 2011 @ 6:51 am


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