Redefining Democracy Part I
Kind of hard to talk about this democracy stuff when no one seems to know what it means. Obviously people in the US have a hard time as they have been lied to for so many years that nothing makes sense. The 2016 elections ending up with an idiot loser like Trump in the White House clearly shows a failure of representative government although perhaps worse than many it is not without precedent even in the US.
On a broader basis the US was established as a very limited representative republic. Without going into historical detail and basic political science, the system was predicated on domination by anglo-saxon male property owners. Despite the contemporary attempts to manufacture something different the one thing the US founding fathers did not do was establish a Christian nation. In fact they made what they, obviously, thought was a reasonably non-religious governmental system alluding to an 18th century watchmaker divinity that could be described as a prime cause within their limited knowledge of the universe. Bad move but who knew that the antiquated religious stuff that was already well on its way out in their day would manage to cling to life in their new country and come to be a major force for evil and the collapse of even mildly representative government. More on this in a bit.
Through the twentieth century limited representative government both expanded citizenship by fits and starts to white males and, finally women, and then, reluctantly to people of something other than pasty white skin. There was hope that with a majority of countries having a general variation of parliamentary government by the late 20th century that we could pat ourselves on the back as a species. But then in the 21st century it started to fall apart. What happened?
As I and many others have written, we disrupted human social organization with technology. The problem is, of course, much larger than that as we have done many other things. These, of course, include polluting our planet’s atmosphere, reproducing to almost eight billion people, developing a working economy predicated on endless growth, endless resource extraction, and endless hording by a smaller and smaller group. From the first quarter of the 21st century, combining all of these things has allowed us to just about put ourselves out of business on this planet. Within the next four or five decades, without a complete reorganization of human society and total commitment to sustainable economics, we will be dying at an accelerating rate. Without drastic change by that point life will be, for most people, miserable enough we may not much care anymore. Of course, based on continuation of our already failing model, there will be a tiny group of people who have managed to hoard everything of any value and build themselves a fortress or two that will withstand the steady attacks of starving people.
Ok, that’s the worst case scenario. It’s understandable that the majority of moderately educated and thoughtful people, faced with the surge in stupidity and fascism, will take the the worst case as a given. But there is a completely different view of this, much to the dismay of the neo-fascists, Brexiters, and dead eyed white supremacists, not to mention the diehards of the US Republican party and some Democrats, too. While most people don’t seem to understand this yet, the technology that has triggered post-industrial political collapse, has also made actual representative government and rising minimum standards of living available to everyone on this planet. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times . . . As more and more people realize that we are fighting against brutal authoritarian rule by idiots in the short term and teetering on the brink between ultimate disaster, in the medium term, we are also the verge of incredible potential. And, as usual, this is because things have gotten too far ahead of our slowly, plodding mass awareness. We are seeing the old problems, being deluded by old bullshit but missing all of the new opportunities that are all around us.
Using the original American Experiment as a model for the post industrial world, most people seem lost and following very bad advice to fix things. The problem is that there does not really appear to be any workable fix for the old systems. The variables that we are living with have changed drastically and, though we seem to know that, we are still living in the hope that someone will make it all work they way it once did. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked at all well for about forty years but was able to run on momentum from the peak success in the 1950s and 60s. People deal with the day to day and don’t realize how bad things are until they are hit so hard in the face they lose some teeth. Even then the normal reaction is to to turn around and smack the person next to you, preferably the one who looks least like you to avoid hitting a relative, and blame everything on them. Then find someone big and loud and mean to get rid of all those nasty trouble makers who caused this shit. Stupid, but that’s pretty much what we are.
But what is really happening and how do we get out of this mess? Take a look around. Semi-representative political systems throughout the industrialized and post-industrialized world are facing almost complete loss of confidence. They represent only the economic elite and the most corrupt of the politicians who have fed off the system their entire lives. That has been done by working tirelessly to bullshit the population into feeling endlessly threatened so that all of their resources (money) can be taken to prevent the ever shifting and impending disaster. Whatever it is. An unfortunate percentage of the population has continued to buy into this but the majority are finished, but they are still not represented by anyone.
Everyone is certain that free trade is terrible because only the rich got richer. That is not a product of the world economy as international trade is actually very stable. The open trade component of neoliberalism has worked very well in that respect. The economic problems that have triggered resurgent nationalism and neofascism are tied not to open trade but to late stage capitalism as a national economic model. Capitalism is great for growth when markets are maintained in relative balance but greed is the essence of capitalism and that inevitably concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The neo-liberals were correct. Give it time and open trade spreads wealth around the planet. But capitalist economies distort this by allowing a small oligarchic elite to cockroach the wealth and then to buy the political system and thus corrupting it. Sound familiar? it is basically the same story everywhere there is a surviving pretense of representative government based on pure or, in the US case, hyper capitalism. The package of unhinged capitalism and very limited and, often, racist representative government worked very well for the parts of the planet most like western Europe and America. But it’s life span is limited by structural unsustainability, corruption, and limitation of political power in too small a group.
The issues that we are facing are issues of scale and complexity. Economically capitalism works very well to martial limited available resources for rapid exploitation to produce new wealth and growth. It does not scale to limited growth societies. These economic problems are greatly exacerbated by the changes to our climate that are destroying our available time. But capitalism is not dying because we are running out of time but because our societies are changing at a rate that makes both capitalism and the old forms of “democracy” irrelevant. The disaster of the neo-fascists is that they know only the old game and are, obviously, trying to return to something that is already past. And we even know what it is changing into, a redefinition of value from capital to intellect and innovation. The old 18th century nation states are finished. In the US the federal union is politically redundant and too simplistic to support very diverse and increasingly virtual metropolitan communities. Those diverse, virtual, urban communities are the true source of value now.
Part II Figuring out the future . . .
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