Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Democracy Matters

A Farewell to Politics 2016
(Or an elections pre-post mortem?)

“What you DO, speaks so loud I cannot hear what you SAY.”
—Native American saying


Dear friends, consider this letter my farewell to politics, in the electoral sense.

About fifteen years ago I made the decision to abstain from voting.  So, right away, let me address the fallacy that claims that if one doesn’t vote one forfeits one’s right to freedom of speech, or the right to comment on politics or anything else.  This is false.  Most rights, except perhaps inalienable rights, do have an implied right of abstention.  And in some cases, it may actually be a duty dictated by conscience to abstain from the exercise of that right.  Such is the case with the “right to vote”.  The so-called “civic duty” to vote would be no more than a tyrannical imposition without the right of conscience to abstain. Therefore, a right to vote is also a right to abstain from voting.

In fact, as recognition of those facts, some countries offer “none of the above” as an option in their ballots, for those compelled to vote.

For further disclosure, I will state that my political sympathies for most of my life were on the side of the Democratic Party (having worked in that party for a Democrat president and “liberal” causes).  I am now a democrat, small “d”.  So why have I abstained and will abstain from voting? It is largely a professional decision.  As an analyst of international politics (American foreign policy to be exact) I’ve found that detachment from having to justify my thinking in light of my voting, or vice versa, have given me greater analytical freedom; as one of the greats of Greece believed, we humans are great “rationalizers” and self-deceivers.  Other reasons may include the deterioration of our politics into an “either/or”, “black and white” sense of politics that I find too shallow and actually “anti-politics” in the real sense of the political.  Party politics requires of the average voter to selectively deal with facts. I cannot do that because I deal in facts.  There’s more to real politics than just voting.

So even if I were to vote in these elections I would still have matters of conscience selecting either of the two presidential candidates, because moments like these demand more clarity and less passion, without sacrificing principles.  Hopefully, we have learned from the last few years that there are differences between slogans and reality. Whether they’d be “Hope and Change”, “Stronger Together” or “Make America Great Again” slogans are not going to solve our problems. 

I must also say that I am terribly disappointed and in some cases even somewhat hurt at the low level of political discourse we have descended to in the current elections.  It is especially painful to see it more so among friends.  It does not forebode well for the next years, regardless of who wins.

But it is especially disappointing to see how people in education, in the arts, in professional life, and because of that with a high degree of social responsibility, have fallen into it also.   So before I suffer any further disappointments, or even lose respect for some, I will not comment today or henceforth on the results of the elections.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing to see is the use of memes by intelligent and educated people, even when most of memes are totally illogical, incoherent falsehoods.  Memes have now replaced good manners and even basic logical thinking.  They have become the virtual “in your face” shouting, a forced “foot in the door” to our conversations.  They are used not only without serious paucity as for their accuracy, logic and truth but what is worse without any consideration to the beliefs and sentiments held by others in our circles of friends.

To see serious people, past and current academicians, fall for and so uncritically accept one-sided narratives, memes, scurrilous websites as if they were actual news sources and selectively ignore matters of hard facts, has been most disappointing.  Somehow the cyber space of social media has broken down what we used to think of as the basic functions of good manners, urbanity and conviviality.

Another disappointment is seeing how the “anti-establishment” generation became the establishment.   My generation once the anti-establishment generation has now become THE establishment, perhaps, more emblematically obvious in Bob Dylan awarded the Nobel in literature as the epitome, or should we call it as our “apotheosis” of that realization.  The hippies became yuppies and then became the establishment, nationally and internationally, and as corrupt as the generation it once criticized.

We have now come to accept a culture of lying, as long as the lying is done for “the greater good”, without any conscience over the great contradiction this entails. Lying for political purposes is now politically and morally correct.  If it was up to me I would issue a national apology to younger generations, especially the so-called “millenials” for what we are leaving behind for them. 

So where are we? 
We are in unusual elections where most voters, according to most polls and social media, are voting not “for” their candidate as much as voting “against” the other.  And they proudly proclaim so.

The leadership of both parties have parted ways with the bases of their parties and have demonstrated that they are one and the same party at the top of the elite of the country: members of the elite of the GOP supporting the Democrat candidate and opposing the choice of their party base, and on the other side, the Democratic DNC colluding with the campaign of one candidate against a candidate of their base.

What now passes for critical thinking is actual lack of critical thinking. The use of  the term “fascism”,  defined in old paradigms and symbolisms, while failing to see its true new form in the form of state capitalism through crony capitalism, and the marriage of a professional career class of politicians supported by trans-national interests and capital that includes influence over our press and other means of social communication, all in one-package,  is but one result of that lack of serious critical thinking.  Perhaps the true greatest scandal on these elections is not the salacious charges and counter charges between candidates, but the scandal of a free press not doing its job. Who polices the police?

So we have set aside critical politics, radical politics, for identity politics.  We now vote “not for” but “against”.  And we are told we need to vote for X candidate because he/she is a member from Y identity group running for office for the first time as representative of that group. The next time we will have to vote for the first Hispanic because he/she is the first Hispanic to run for office; after that for the first Asian because he/she is the first Asian; after that for the first one-eyed pirate because…and on and on, until all identities are taken care of and satisfied.

Our political issues and candidates are now marketed to us like so many other products in a consumer society.  Issues?  What issues? So now we have the candidates we have.

How did we get here?  We got here by way of partisan complacency coming to a head.  “Old” and “new” moralities met in the partisan political field where each side attempted to legislate morality and control the social behavior and ethics of the other by recurring to the state as the arbiter of morality, and we called that “culture wars”.

We have the politicians we have because WE have made them. WE have tolerated them. WE have enabled them. WE have chosen partisanship over truth.

What we may end up with is state-capitalism not only at the expense of a shrinking middle class but at the expense of democracy itself.  We will have a government not of the people, by the people and for the people, but government at the service of a new class of rulers who will give us the appearance of democracy by the appropriation of populist language and political goodies.

At the beginning of the campaign we had two competing views: national capitalism (Trump and Sanders; Sanders' socialism depends on national capitalism) vs. globalist, trans-borders crony-capitalism (Hillary).  The better political debate in these elections, politically and sociologically speaking, would have been between Bernie Sanders (national socialism) vs. Trump (national capitalism).  What we have now is Hillary (crony capitalism in populist rhetoric) vs. Trump (national capitalism in popular resentment). 

Bernie and Trump represented the "outsider" politics that the bi-partisan elite is so afraid of because they cannot control it, and they didn't want to have that debate, while with Hillary they could control the narrative better.  Both Bernie and Trump are anti-globalists (they both, from their respective views are against big trans-national, trans-governance schemes). Hillary is tied to the Davos/globalist axis.  It should be no surprise why the globalist Wall Street/political elite is de facto one political party to stop Trump. They stopped and derailed Bernie already.  So now they have their shallow ping-pong partisan political game to entertain us with, where they have control. 

I really feel sorry for all those people who work so hard and sent their money to Bernie Sanders; all those young people, like my students, who were going to vote for the first time!! (It is hard to analyze how anybody who supported Bernie's anti-NAFTA, anti-TPP, also Trump’s position, could now vote for the globalist, banking industry, Wall Street, anti-American worker, open borders candidate who colluded with the DNC to derail his candidacy).

And of all things, now ironically, the left, especially the academic left, is on the side of international capitalism because gender trumps class and economics?  So excuse me for the mumbled cheap “pun”, but when a critique of the left cannot be made from the left, there is nothing left.  All is left is suds, self-popping, political rhetorical suds.  The lack of serious depth, analysis and real criticism from this sector is stunning.  Only applying class analysis to their own comfortable middle class interests can come close to beginning to understand their political transactions.

Can we expect most voters to understand these dynamics? NO. Not while the debate is about sex, whether from the double-standards of the left or the moral snobbery of the right.

In the last analysis, we (the rebels of the 60s and 70s) became the establishment. This gave us room and social stability as middle class to take on social causes (gender, environment, etc.) as radical politics over the radical basics of "bread and butter" issues that were once the political staple of the Democratic Party.  But it also left the field wide open for eventual working class discontent; fodder for populist, demagogic or people’s politics.  The intelligentsia on the left has nothing left to offer.  Our leadership in that party went from internationalists to globalists. They became not only the new establishment but also a new social class.

When the political process, of electing the highest officers of the land, is corrupted by the collusion between a complex web of corporate media/political party machine/foreign donors and one particular campaign to derail a candidate not of their preference, we no longer have a democracy but the makings of a totally corrupt almost totalitarian system.

But what seems acceptable to some of us at the moment because it benefits the candidate of our choice will, eventually, come to bite us all. 

We need new paradigms.  The new paradigms must be the “there are no easy paradigms”.  One thing we can, and must begin to do is to be aware of “operative identity narratives”, that is, efforts to co-opt and intertwine out of distinctive events or legitimate issues a created single fabric, for the purpose of political manipulation and political identity homogenization. 

The politics of political homogenization goes against the politics of pluralism and real diversity.  Therefore, I believe that we won’t be able to recover a true sense of politics, of nationhood, unless we start with recovering politics at the community level.

In that sense, I believe in “communitarianism".  And in that sense, “I am” also a democratic republican (small “d” and small “r”).  A healthy democracy needs both a left wing and a right wing. The absence of either one in the dynamic process of  “the polis” goes against the harnessing of all creative forces necessary for a truly progressive society.

If we agree to start conversations on issues from the basis of the principles we agree on we can overcome slogans, memes and other tools of those who wish to divide us or manipulate us, or both.  The building of the “polis” (the “city”, the community) is what real politics, in its most humanist sense, is all about.

Yet the greatest problem to our life in community is the current trend to isolate ourselves even within our community from those we don’t agree with on political or other matters that affect our community life at large.  This trend stems from the fact that we have come to equate character and virtue with political opinions. This is dangerous.  When this happens we label, classify, tag and discard people. In the process we become self-righteous and eventually zealots.  The step from there to becoming Madame Defarge, in Dicken’s “A Tale Of Two Cities” is not a long one.

The dangers of identity politics as partisan identities should be already clear for all to see.  There are differences between believing “I am a Democrat” or “I am Republican” and “I am a democrat” or “I am a republican”.  In the first, we make a party sympathy, party affiliation, a question of self-identity, an existential matter: “I am”.  In the second, we practice politics in the best sense, politics as virtue. In the first, we risk exclusion of others and isolation into political parcels; in the second, we practice inclusion and openness to the dynamics of true democratic politics.  In the first, different political opinions are a personal threat to our egos.  In the second, different political opinions are welcomed questions and challenges to our creativity.
The work of democracy is hard. It is the work of talking with each other, not the practice of shouting each other out. 

We need to recover and value the American tradition of civic tolerance.  It is perhaps the one single asset and reason why millions of people from all over the world, or all kinds of races, gender and religion have crossed oceans at great peril to become American citizens.

We need to practice politics at a more local community level.  The cyber communities in which we participate are after all are just fictitious communities.   In either case we need to make tolerance, conviviality and neighborliness the coins of our realm.  We need to visit with each other more.

Spend more time living in your real community than in virtual “communities”.  Support each other, uphold each other, listen to each other. Work for everything that builds your community. Watch against everything that destroys community.  Nobody said democracy would be easy.


Whichever candidate wins, I hope you have survival and coping plans. Don't let the "megachine" eat you. I will make no comments on any posting on the elections results regardless of who wins.

(For further reading, as if this has not being enough, I leave you with excerpts from “The Revolution of Hope” by Erich Fromm, where n 1968 he presciently prognosticated where we are now):
We are we now? 

It is difficult to locate our exact position on the historical trajectory leading from the eighteenth- and nineteenth century industrialism to the future. It is easier to say where we are not. We are not on the way to free enterprise, but we are moving away from it. We are not on the way to greater individualism, but we are becoming an increasingly manipulated mass civilization. We are not on the way to the places toward which our ideological maps tell us we are moving. We are marching in an entirely different direction. 

It is characterized by the fact not only that living energy has been replaced by mechanical energy, but that human thought is being replaced by the thinking of machines, Cybernetics and automation ('cybernation') make it possible to build machines that function much more precisely and much more quickly than the human brain… Cybernation is creating the possibility of a new kind of economic and social organization. 

A relatively small number mammoth enterprises has become the center of the economic machine and will rule it completely in the not-too-distant future. The enterprise, although legally the property of hundreds of thousands of stockholders, is managed (and for all practical purposes managed independently of the legal owners) by a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. The alliance between private business and government is becoming so close that the two components of this alliance become ever less distinguishable. 

If society could stand still — which it can do as little as an individual — things might not be as ominous as they are. But we are headed in the direction of a new kind of society and a new kind of human life, of which we now see only the beginning and which is rapidly accelerating.What is the kind of society and the kind of man we might find in the year 2000, provided nuclear war has not yet destroyed the human race before then?

If people knew the likely course which American society will take, many if not most of them would be so horrified that they might take adequate measures to permit changing course. If people are not aware of the direction in which they are going, they will awaken when it is too late and when their fate has been irrevocably sealed.  Unfortunately, the vast majority are not aware that the new society toward which they are moving is as radically different from Greek and Roman, medieval and traditional industrial societies as the agricultural society was from that of the food gatherers and hunters. Most people still think in the concepts of the society of the first Industrial Revolution.

They see that we have more and better machines than man had fifty years ago and mark this down as progress. They believe that lack of direct oppression is a manifestation of the achievement of personal freedom.  Their vision of the year 2000 is that it will be the full realization of the aspirations of man since the end of the Middle Ages, and they do not see that the year 2000 may be not the fulfillment and happy culmination of a period in which man struggled for freedom and happiness, but the beginning of a period in which man ceases to be human and becomes transformed into an unthinking and unfeeling machine.

It seems that great minds a hundred years ago saw what would happen today or tomorrow, while we to whom it is happening blind ourselves in order not to be disturbed in our daily routine.  It seems that liberals and conservatives are equally blind in this respect.  There are only few writers of vision who have cleary seen the monster to which we are giving birth.  It’s not Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, but a Moloch, the all-destructive idol, to which human life is to be sacrificed.  This Moloch has been described most imaginatively by Orwell and Aldous Huxley, by a number of science-fiction writers who show more perspicacity than most professional sociologists and psychologists.

A profound and brilliant picture of the new society has been given recently by one of the most outstanding humanists of our age, Lewis Mumford.  Future historians, if there are any, will consider his work to be one of the prophetic warnings of our time.  Mumford gives new depth and perspective to the future by analyzing its roots in the past. The central phenomenon which connects past and future, as he sees it, he calls the “megamachine”.

The “megamachine” is the totally organized and homogenized social system in which a society functions like a machine and men like its parts. This kind of organization by total coordination, by “the constant increase of order, or power, predictability and above all control,” achieved almost miraculously technical results in early megamachines like the Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies, and it will find its fullest expression, with the help of modern technology, in the future of the technological society.


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