Democracy isn’t dead. It’s resting
Democracy is like insurance. You don’t appreciate it until you need to use it. And like insurance, it sucks when the system you have been paying into refuses to cover your ass when you need it the most.
It may be tempting, in our darker moments, to accept the idea that democracy was a temporary privilege, a snapshot of an era where there was enough food on most tables to afford us the luxury of time & resources to invest in our own virtue. A fleeting moment where full employment suited the needs of financial self preservation.
It was a time where economic security and national security were basically the same thing, the rewards of which would go only to the victor of the military industrial complex, which hit puberty during two World Wars and required continual human input. A growling teenager whose hunger could never be sated. Humans had value because they were all that stood between victory or defeat. Even in recovery, our obligation to the economy once again put the developed population to work.
There was therefore a connection, we were told, between our output and our virtue.
We were free because we had the right to work and be fairly compensated for the fruits of our labour. We could choose where and how to support ourselves and our loved ones. We were free because we had the right to elect our own leaders to legislate in the best interests of the people keeping the economy afloat. Because we were free to spend how we liked and live how we liked and associate with whomever we liked within the confines of a justice system designed to protect its citizens from molestation, harassment, theft and corruption.
And even for a nation under god, the First Amendment mitigated the Church / State balance, mandating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Likewise, Section 116 of the Australian Constitution provides that: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”
Democracy is a virtue machine, a coin operated robot that can only continue to work if we keep cramming cash into its coin slot.
Our output defined our sovereignty.
Democracy defines itself in contrast to tyranny.
Liberal democracies like North America, Australia and Europe allied themselves in rhetorical virtue, defining their ‘goodness’ in direct opposition to the growing autocracies in Germany and Japan.
But it is important to remember liberal democracies have not been without their contradictions.
Democracy, in many instances, has been an illusion and a privilege of the elite and the middle class whose wealth and freedom has often come at the cost of the underclass.
America fought a Civil War to bring an end to slavery, but Lincoln had to sell out the slaves he sought to set free. To even get the concept across the line with Congress, reconstruction legislatively exclude former slaves from the social contracts which would go on to endow the country’s middle class.
Australia too was a ‘free country’ which literally had its own White’s Only policy (known formally as the White Australia policy) which structurally and legally mitigated the “threat” cultural enfranchisement posed to white supremacy by creating laws ensuring they remained a permanent underclass.
In 2017 Indigenous Peoples still do not have constitutional recognition.
For centuries ‘virtuous’ missionaries would look upon Africans, Aboriginals, Filipinos and Asians as savages in need of civilising.
Our goodness was our freedom.
And our freedom was the almighty dollar.
Women and African Americans and Asians were not allowed to work or study until the late 19th century. Some ‘experts’ of the time went so far as to suggest an education would tarnish the virtue and reproductive ability of the female student.
Nobel prize winning scientists claimed African Americans were intellectually inferior and incapable of self-advancement.
Tenured Professors and politicians alike attested to the threat of Jewish and Asian superiority and proposed structures, rules and laws to restrict their influence and control their behaviour. Heck, even Nixon’s war on drugs was driven at least in part by his paranoid racism & anti-semitism:
And in 2017 lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transexuals, intersex and queer people are still forbidden from marrying in Australia and at least a handful of states in America.
Democracy is not for everyone and progress does not happen in a straight line, (no pun intended). One need only look to countries such as Iran, Venezuela, & Turkey for examples of nations whose democratic structures are crumbling.
And our pursuit of financial security necessarily has conditioned us to accept the contradictions.
Our safety means we have to go to war. We can deal with sweatshops if it keeps the cost of the clothes on our back relatively cheap. And imported fruit & vegetables if it means not paying $5 for a piece of fruit, even while local farmers are putting shotguns in their mouths.
But for a while there at least, our sovereignty was defined (at least in theory) by financial enfranchisement and elected government designed to protect the financial, legal and national security interests of voters.
Slowly but surely, the structures that once made up the framework of civilised society have come to be seen as a new form of tyranny.
The bile rises as the mewling beneficiaries of the greatest expansion of the public sector in living history proselytize the virtue of free-market neo-liberalism and of rampant individualism to a working and middle class as their factories are being shut down, their livelihoods ‘disrupted’.
The irony is the wealthy and powerful continue to benefit and are greatly reliant upon the public sector, for subsidies, loans, write-offs and bail outs, and to sell them government bonds.
The global economy is orbiting the drain after more than three decades of free trade, tax cuts, deregulation and the liberalisation of finance which, in the words of author Travis Fast, “unleashed a Tsunami of of forces, both economic and political.”
He writes: “The liberalisation of finance and production allowed for the national gutting and then global whipsawing of labour. As the profiteers profited and retired workers slept while the assets they had built were being systematically stripped and the fortunes being amassed were then turned to the seedy business (although a time honoured practice if one cares to actually read Smith) of buying off the government.”
Avoiding tax is the only way to get rich. Being rich is the only way to avoid tax. Only those who turn on their employees, refuse to pay their bills on time – if at all – and who are comfortable living in perpetual mounting debt will reap the rewards that only wealth can deliver.
Weary with the knowledge that hard work is no longer rewarded, voters might naturally feel they have but three options: beat ‘em, join ‘em, or burn the motherf**ker to the ground.
Nihilism is the only refuge for the hopeless.
But we would be wrong to accept polarities as our only options. As the last two-and-a-half pages have ironically highlighted: democracy comes in many forms. Its benefits reward those who invest in it. Of course the system is predisposed to the whims of the highest bidder.
But instead of fighting for an expansion of the same public sector which endows the wealthy, we often knowingly and unknowingly vote in favour of our own enslavement. Even if it means we don’t vote at all. Good thing our votes matter less than they used to, thanks to gerrymandering, redistricting, voter suppression, preference deals that counterbalance any real change a popular vote would deliver, and the electoral college.
So desperate are we that we are prepared to vote in a clown car of lunatics and fascists led by an orange billionaire buffoon.
Or the reanimated corpse of Margaret Thatcher.
Or a millionaire populist Prime Minister with so much money he can afford to sell his principles down the river for a job title.
Or a celebrity footballer turn conservative democrat turn fundamentalist despot.
Or the daughter of a lunatic Nazi. (Dodged a bullet there. It’s frightening to think about what could have been).
But nature abhors a vacuum, and like history ad infinitum across Europe and the Middle East, the voids are inevitably filled with whichever crazed opportunist can get there the fastest.
In the words of Hunter S Thompson: “The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.”
It is no wonder that so many studies have concluded that democracy has gone out of vogue.
Though, as the Washington Post rightly points out, arguably the studies demonstrate a keen awareness of how democracy has failed us, rather than a will or preference for authoritarianism.
Though after watching Trump supporters praise Russia for their involvement in the recent elections it is hard not to feel otherwise.
The contradictions stack up against each other and so we end up turning on the system that has seemingly turned on us.
Since the 2000 election of President Bush, a parable making has been making the rounds, incorrectly attributed to Scottish historian and Professor, Lord Woodhouselee, Alexander Fraser Tytler who in 1787 is purported to have written that “democracy is always temporary in nature”.
He is quoted: “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”
The excerpt is attributed to a work entitled “The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic”, a book he has no record of ever having authored.
And though the material attributed to him is likely apocryphal, it hasn’t prevented writers and academics from using the text as “representative of 18th-century opinion”, to the extent that it has become modern-day lore in popular culture, which is largely resigned to the fact that they are powerless to hold back the forces of change.
That is might go some way towards explaining why 18th Century fake news is being accepted as real. So disenfranchised are we with the system at hand that we are prepared to try literally anything else. And we will cling on to ‘facts’ that suit our vision of the world and the social order.
‘If Trump can be President, I pretty much do whatever the fuck I want’, seems to be the general consensus of people whose doors aren’t being kicked in by the modern day gestapo, whose businesses and places of worship aren’t being vandalised or burned to the ground, whose social media feeds aren’t being flooded with threats and encouragements to shuffle off this mortal coil with haste.
It is the political wild west. And while The Right tends to believe the market can solve all the world’s ills, The Left doesn’t know what it wants, can’t work it out, doesn’t have a coherent message for people, or get their shit together, which is, in truth, part of what led us to this god-awful moment in history.
But we are about to throw the baby out with the bathwater when the future is ours for the taking. So disenfranchised are we with government that we turn our attention to the microcosms we can control. It is amazing what people are prepared to do & sacrifice to simply stop feeling uncomfortable.
Institutions of progressive liberalism like Berkeley adopt the violent strategies of their former enemies to literally stamp out hate speech and any other dangerous ideas they consider a threat to their perception of reality. Segregation is back with an edgy, new rebrand called Safe Spaces. Tech bros think they can disrupt democracy with an algorithm and use the capital to continue the time-honoured tradition of purchasing politicians. And foot-soldiers of The Left patrol the internet for micro-aggressions, hate speech, political incorrectness and cultural appropriation.
Meanwhile, the public sector is being stripped for its parts by far-right governments everywhere, while far-right governments advocate for closed border policies.
In the US the Executive Branch is being dismantled, granting Trump’s inner sanctum sweeping powers nobody voted for them to have.
Australia enacted its own Muslim Ban of sorts with little resistance.
In Turkey, voters were duped into to imposing dictatorship on themselves, granting President Erdogan sweeping new powers.
More than 34 journalists have been killed in Russia since the year 2000, while the population has pretty much accepted that Putin will always be President
The Trump administration is dismantling the health insurance Americans had for all of five minutes. Australia has fended off at least two attempts to privatise Medicare. In the UK, the future of the NHS hangs on the outcome of the upcoming election in which the Tories have promised to further privatise a public health system into which the private sector has already made inroads. Meanwhile, far-right night jobs from Greece to Australia from Germany to the US are being elected in increasing numbers, the ironic outcome of our disdain for the entire political process.
Australian Parliament hasn’t had a majority government for the better part of a decade and our next best hope for Prime Minister is a potato running a PR campaign off the back of his tremendous work overseeing the privatised offshore gulags housing those with the audacity to flee civil war, political & religious persecution.
And the world has pretty much been at war in some way or another since the end of the first Gulf War.
When is WWIII coming? Bitch, it’s already here. We are living it.
It is totally rational to feel exhausted, disillusioned and fucked off by it all, but while we are arguing on the internet, the balance of powers is shifting beneath our feet.
It’s the US and its allies vs Russia, China and South East Asia, with The Middle East the front line of the global battle for political supremacy.
Europe and Australia must think carefully and strategically about the decisions they make over the coming months. Voters are the anchors which will guide these respective ships, whether through our vote, or through sheer, bloody public outrage. As citizens, we have a responsibility not to let irony and apathy leave a permanent scar on the history of civilisation. And if you’re feeling discouraged about the difference people power makes to the political process, check out any one of Turnbull Government policy propositions that were market-tested in the press before being summarily dumped the following day once constituents kicked up a fuss.
In reality the wheels of ‘progress’ will keep on churning whether you care or not. Whether you are involved or not. Whether you are engaged or not. Both capitalism and democracy will continue to exist in some form or another with or without you.
Giving up, or voting for the starkest opposite you can think of, or simply not voting at all means there is one less wanker to ensure the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people, in the most efficient & affordable manner possible.
Democracy only works as well as we make it work.
In the words of a very wise person, now is the time PUSH.
Persist. Until. Something. Happens.
Don’t give the bastards what they want by giving into your darker instincts.