Monday, October 18, 2004

this is what democracy looks like

I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here; 'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.'

'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.'

'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!'

- Bill Hicks

The US Presidential election looms large and still there's not a lot of difference between their ratings. They present themselves as being different to one another, but it's basically just a Pepsi/Coke branding choice. Do you want your cruel unsustainable consumer capitalism served up in Bush's preacher-style or Kerry's lawyer-style?

As George Monbiot pointed out, if Kerry's selling point is that he's a safe pair of corporate hands only he's not President Bush, then in four years time it'll be the same thing, only we should vote for the new guy cos he's not President Kerry, and the cycle will continue for as long as both candidates are undemocratic servants of corporate interests.

As in 2000, it can hardly surprise us that the votes are split pretty much 50-50 if the two candidates are so similar. And, given the Soviet-style electoral choice between two candidates effectively from the same party, it's not surprising that half the electorate stay at home on polling day.

So I still question the assumption that all Nader's votes really belong to the Democrats. Nobody voted Nader thinking he'd win, they voted cos he stood for something different, something humane and refreshing that the two big parties studiously ignore or assault.

So surely, if he'd not been on the paper, many Nader voters wouldn't have voted for anyone in 2000.

Tactical voting, and voting per se, is one of those issues like free speech versus anti-fascist action where I agree pretty strongly with both opposing sides. So don't expect any strong coherent message in this posting, it's gonna ramble around a bit.

But at the end of the day with voting I usually grudgingly end up going for the lesser evil. Fuck, imagine if we'd not kicked the Tories out where they'd have had us by now.

However slight, there is a difference between the two main candidates and one of them will be president. With all those Reagan and Nixon lunatics in the Bush team, I have to say if I were in the USA then, despite fully knowing that Kerry's a big business scumbag, despite hating the idea of voting for anybody ever - do you really trust anyone in politics with your life? That's what electing them is doing - I'd still vote Kerry.

It's no solution, nobody should sit back and think he'll make everything alright, but there are clear quantifiable differences between him and Bush. Anyone who says different needs to go to one of the hundreds of African AIDS clinics that can't give out condoms anymore cos otherwise the Bush Administration will take away funding.

A step in the right direction is worthwhile change. Legalisation of abortion, recreational drugs or homosexuality are not in themselves egalitarian anarchist utopia, but they're clearly beneficial and are worth the struggle. So it is that it's worth getting anyone in who'll remove Bush's administration and its insane friends from power.

If tactically voting for Kerry, Americans would do well to take a tip from the French. Due to the bizarre French presidential electoral system, in 2002 it came to a choice of smug right-wing crook Jacques Chirac, or the fascist Jean-Marie le Pen.

(Supporters of the British first-past-the-post always hold the French system up as proof that proportional representation doesn't work, when the French one is actually first-two-past-the-post then another round to choose between them).

All across France people of all persuasions bar fascism mobilised to ensure le Pen had no chance. Posters went up, marches were held across the country. On election day people in protective overalls were outside polling stations offering disinfectant to those who'd just voted Chirac.

Some in the establishment decried it, whilst others - applause for the mayor of Villemagne, please - personally offered rubber gloves for the hands and pegs for the noses to those who'd vote Chirac.

All of it shows once again that representative democracy doesn't work. People talk of the 'failed experiment' of Communism after 70 years of the Soviets, but what about the failure of all other governments? Nowhere on earth is there a competition between people genuinely loved by their electorate, nowhere can people look at their leader and say 'this is the best our country can produce'. Cos wherever you create power you attract those who love power and discourage the humane ones who hate it.

As Lenny Bruce said, the only people fit to rule would never do it, you'd have to drag them kicking and screaming to the White House and barricade them in.

But more than that, proximity to power makes them even worse. Hence the cliche of election promises betrayed, hence the startling repressive drive of anyone who becomes Home Secretary.

Power itself is the problem, so any entrenched power, be it Labour in the Welsh valleys or the Orangemen in Northern Ireland or any of the more revolutionary leaders elsewhere in the world, once they have power over you they'll betray you. Going to the ballot box and giving them your mandate reinforces the power that keeps them fucking you over.

How do you get the bus to Utopia when your connnecting service is the Fuckup Circular? You've gotta get off the bus and find your own way.

For all the enormously powerful arguments against the political parties and economic systems, they are not the problem, merely superficial symptoms of a deeper truth. Centralised power and mass societies fail us spectacularly. Despite people flocking to the cities for a better life, the worst living conditions are urban. Despite being surrounded by people, it's in cities that we find the most isolation from others and from our own spirit.

But - and here's the twist - as a species we love familiarity and so if all we've ever known is life within these systems of alienation, then it's where we feel most at home. The more you're a part of mass society the more alienated you feel from it.

As I've said before, mass societies are too much for humans. They make us feel too small to make any difference individually and so they make us feel useless and pointless. The idea of millions of others is literally unimaginable, so we readily ignore the plight of those who need help.

This disconnection, this rootlessness leads to the restless emptiness inside, makes us ripe for anything that promises salvation, particularly a salvation that - unlike the religious afterlife tales - comes incrementally, that gives us a little something right now. It makes us ripe for consumerism.

It's further proof that, put simply, there are just too many of us.


Anonymous said...

I was having this argument with a friend yesterday. He wants to persuade Nader to stand down, and I think that voting for Kerry would be a compromise too far.

However, I did have an alternative plan to unseat Bush: We should do it the CIA way! What we do is this -- If we don't like the outcome of the forthcoming election, we should get us a ruthless puppet dictator, preferably one who's already been trained by the USA. Perhaps we could persuade Pinochet or Suharto out of retirement. Then, we sponsor a coup to overthrow Bush, and provide weapons and training to vicious death squads to 'disappear' anyone who doesn't like it.

Oh, the poetic justice! My only regret is that Pol Pot died already. The sight of obese Big-Mac-fed American children being worked to death in the rice paddies of a neo-Maoist Deep South would make me laugh until tears rolled down my cheeks.

Let's have a whip-round.

Kirk x

Anonymous said...

Kirk's comment about how Big Mac fed American children being worked to death would make him laugh til tears ran down his cheeks is despicable. I am sure he finds himself devastatingly witty, but he is in fact just being unutterably crass. This opinion is symptomatic of the type of dissociation from the plight of fellow humans in mass societies Badger is actually writing about just a few lines above. US kids are innocent victims of the consumer culture they, through no fault of their own, are born to. The type of preening, self-serving, ironic humour Kirk's comment epitomises is fast becoming the substitute for honest political debate in the UK and worldwide. There are countries in the world where children are being worked to death, not just in fields but as prostitutes, construction workers, factory workers and slaves. This does not make me laugh til the tears roll down my cheeks any more than it would if they were American. Get real or shut the fuck up? I think so.

merrick said...

To take Kirk's comments literally about obese American kids being worked to death seriously, you'd have to have taken the rest of his post seriously.

I don't think he's seriously suggesting he'd like it to happen any more than he's seriously suggesting bringing Suharto out of retirement to be running the USA.

I wonder why you picked him up on the American kids bit rather than the Pol Pot, Suharto, Pinochet, or death squads thing?

I don't think it's part of something that's becoming a substitute for political debate - satire and caricature have been prominent integral parts of such debate for centuries.

In the light of the American 'how dare you interfere in our government' reaction to polls around the world saying Bush should go on November 2nd, Kirk's comments are given even more power, satirically pointing out that the USA has used murderous force on other governments and nations in order to achieve the gluttonous position it holds today.

It's no more despicable than the laughter in the cinema during The Day After Tomorrow when Americans are seen tearing down the fences and swimming the Rio Grande as refugees.

Nobody in the room actually wished that appalling situation to happen, it's just a clever way of pointing out the unfairness of America's present position in the world.

I very much doubt Kirk actually wishes cruel death upon individual children, to me it's pretty clearly a comedic metaphor for American culture, and simulataneously making the point that if the kind of children you mention were American it would not be tolerated, that Western tolerance of the existance of child labour elsewhere is racist.

tasha said...

I think that Badger has made some really salient points about democracy and the nature of society, but I'm not sure bemoaning the size of the population is a solution. Although returning to the days of small self-contained communities might solve some of the problems of society, it wouldn't tackle the cause of the crisis in democracy. As badger clearly demonstrates, the cause of the problem is that age old chestnut: power corrupts. I agree that power seeking individuals are the last people you actually want to have power as they will often be concerned with their own agenda/careers rather than representing the interests of their constitutents. The ancient greeks countered this trend by rotating those that held office so that you could only hold each position for a set period (of say a year) - this is mirrored in the US election system which does not allow a candidate to stand for president for more than two terms. Interestingly there are no such restrictions in the UK (which of course enabled Maggie to rule with impunity for such a horrendously long term.)
Anyway, not only was this time limiting considered an essential part of democracy, but the original Greek system would seem to imply therefore that anyone could do any of the jobs once elected to office.
This belief, combined with the fact that power corrupts etc has led me to contemplate the idea of government by lot. This is obviously not my idea but basically involves parliament being made up of members of the public drawn from the population in a similar way to the way that jury service works now. This would remove the power seeking element and, I feel, truly democratise the electoral system. Now, I know that there would be problems with this system and I think your instinctual response is to think "oh my god but that means the plebs would be given power and they'd bring back hanging etc etc" but this is of course what the proponents of the present liberal democratic system believe. The historical reason why we elect representatives to a parliament is because there is a deepseated liberal elitist belief that if you give power to the masses it is dangerous and so they need delegates who can make decisions on their behalf. This does not constitute democracy as far as I'm concerned.

tasha said...

Oops, didn't mean to save that as I hadn't finished.
but what I was gonna say was that this brings me to my final point is that we are essentially scared of genuine democracy because it all too often leads to the tyranny of the majority.
I'm not really sure where this leaves the discussion but I thought it might provoke some debate. What do you think?

merrick said...

"didn't mean to save that" - it's OK by me, it artificially bumps up the comments-count and makes this thread and the blog look more popular than they really are.

"I'm not really sure where this leaves the discussion" - you're in good company - the blog post was hardly a clearly ordered line of argument, it was a self-declared ramble around sometimes contradictory points.

"I'm not sure bemoaning the size of the population is a solution" - I didn't suggest it was a *solution*, I was saying it is the root cause of the problems of power, and that while we live in mass societies we will never overcome that. Our brains simply cannot empathise with more than about 150 people, so anyone in charge of a greater number is inevitable unfair and cruel.

Of course there are ways to curtail that cruelty, there are degrees of it, and any benefit is better than none. But the fact is that any power will lead to such abuse.

Indeed, your final point - "we are essentially scared of genuine democracy because it all too often leads to the tyranny of the majority" - is actually a paraphrase of my point that all mass power systems are inherantly cruel.

There's something very appropriate about responding to an 'I agree with opposing ideas' ramble by having your conclusion agree with the point that you began by taking to task!

"the original Greek system would seem to imply therefore that anyone could do any of the jobs once elected to office"

That's cos the only people on the electoral roll were aristocratic men! I'm sure the toffs of today would find it easier to agree to such a system if they too could limit the lottery to them and their mates, ignoring the overwhelming majority of the population.

The idea that reducing the size of community wouldn't solve the crisis in democracy is a bit of a cart/horse thing. Finding a different system of mass government won't solve that crisis either, merely scale it down a bit. Life under the pipe dreams of small-scale community living are something that would negate the need for the mass democracy by any system.

You're dead right about the opposition to power by lot being elitist. The example you give, of bringing back hanging, fits with most people's impulsive response to certain deeds but as a sensible sentencing policy it doesn't stand up to any serious examination. I trust that my fellow citizens would undertake serious examination before legislating, and so would reach that conclusion.

People are not as vicious and bigoted as the media and the soap operas would have us believe. I love the way that on Big Brother and similar shows people all just find ways to get on with each other and end up saying 'we don't care who wins'. They've had to introduce artificial nastiness in recent series to stir things up.

And on the viewers, if we were really all these horrible scumfucks then you wouldn't get massive votes going to people irrespective of their race, sexuality, gender, etc.

It was a lesson I learned through doing loads of hitch-hiking, that almost everyone is basically decent and once they're pretty sure you're not out to rip them off they'll want to be sure you're treated decently, for no benefit to themselves but just because it makes the world a better place.

Unfortunately, I suspect the coming energy crisis is going to test that to destruction. There are going to be far too many of us chasing far too few resources.

A family of chimps may get on very well, but lock ten of them in a room and put in enough food for five, see what they do to each other.

That is basically my vision of humanity in the second half of this century.

This by no means we shouldn't keep working on more humane ideas. If the people who follow us are to have the best chance then they need the widest range of ideas to be up and running, thought through and where possible tested.

We are bearers of seeds that we will almost certainly never see come to fruition, never even see planted, but to give up and bin the seeds now is to make that chance less likely for future generations, and we have no right to damn them like that.

This isn't a vanguard of the revolution holding out a little red book, merely being sure to pass on the feeling that we don't have to fuck each other over, and in fact one of the most important ideas is that there are no one size fits all solutions, that to work properly a system should be visioned, developed and maintained by those who live under it rather than imposed prefab from outside.

tasha said...

Here here.
As I'm sure you can tell, I'm not really sure what the solution is either. I basically agree with most of what you say and I suppose one of the solutions is to form your own small community within a bigger one. I could start warbling on about chomsky but that's for another day...

gruftyjim said...

Hey Merrick,

The more I think about this particular election, the less it seems like "basically just a Pepsi/Coke branding choice". There really is more to it this time round: it's the difference between possibly four (yup, FOUR!) faith-based appointees to the Supreme Court... or not.

In that light, it starts to seem a little different. These are *lifetime* appointees. Interpreting the US constitution for a generation. I say more about it here:

Monbiot is plain wrong if he thinks we'll be in the same position 4 years from now whether or not Bush wins. It really is a remarkably naive position from a generally wise man. The opportunity to appoint a single Supreme Court justice is rare enough. There's talk that as many as four could pop their clogs in the next 4 years. Imagine 4 Bush appointees (hardline neo-conservative / christian fundamentalist judges; opposed to all manner of civil rights and liberties) on the bench! You think US policy - for the next 30 years - won't be adversely affected by that?

There's no hope in Kerry. None whatsoever.

But this time it REALLY matters just who *doesn't* get the presidency.

Anonymous said...

no pain... no gain...

i'm voting for bush... i believe that he will banqrupt the country and then the people will be able to drag the politicians and corporate bastards out into the streets and shoot them like the dogs they are... hell... might even crucify a few christians just for the fuck of it....

go bush!


merrick said...

gosh, a real discussiony thing on my blog. How exciting.

Tasha - "I'm not really sure what the solution is either" - yeah, that's what I love about blogging though, you can just throw around all those pertinent points that don't have a clear conclusion. Certainly there is also a place for clearly defined, solidly constructed arguments leading to a single robust conclusion, but that's never the whole story with issues and ideas is it?

Grufty Jim - like i said, it *is* partly a Pepsi/Coke thing in that it's two faces of unsustainable lunatic consumer capitalism, or as your piece called it 'two slightly different flavours of the same corporate icecream'. But I do totally agree that there are enough differences to make it really fuckin important that Bush loses.

It puts me in mind of the story of two children arriving at the beach to find thousands and thjousands of starfish stranded by the high tide. One child starts to throw them back in the water.

'Why are you bothering?' asks the other, 'there's thousands of them, you won't make any difference'.

The first child, casting another one into the sea, says 'it makes all the difference to this one'.

Thanks for the nudge to your blog - once again you've written a sharp and eloquent piece about something I didn't know.

Ron - heh heh, oh if only there could be such poetic justice. But sadly I feel certain that, even if you're right and your vote directly causes the collapse of American corporate capitalism, Bush and the guys he's mascot for would flee to opulent safety, just like Idi Amin or Ferdinand Marcos.

We could expect nothing less from a nation that jails Roky Erikson, James Brown and Sly Stone whilst leaving Richard Nixon, Oliver North and Henry Kissinger at liberty.

ron said...

"hold on to that horse mista..." as u may or may not seen, none other than mr usama b. laden of afganistan has seconded my comments of the pending USA bankruptcy...,2933,137313,00.html

the most incredulis comment in the article was: "Evan F. Kohlmann, a U.S.-based counterterrorism researcher, said it was as if bin Laden were following the news from the United States, perhaps on satellite TV, and drawing shrewd assumptions about what concerns Americans."

NOooooo.... it's like he's (ubl) watching european and middle eastern news and being able to make the same assumptions that i have come to... and regretfully that in the usa, we simply are not getting the full truth from the capitalist media...

i did mean to say in my previous post that Tashia's suggestion of everyone serving much like jury duty certainly has some merit and deserves more consideration...

and Merrick u forgot Tommy Chong (jailed) and Ken Lay (free)...

believe that it's getting closer to the time for us long haired nature lovin' boyz to re-establish the pecking order...