Saturday, 23 October 2010

3rd Epistle to the Foxnewsians

Dear Foxnewsians,

I bring you greetings and salutations from the people of planet Earth. How have you been? Have you convinced your viewers yet that the time of the Rapture is at hand? For some reason I see Fox News ending on a day known only to The Great Leader, a day when all viewers will sit down to the O’Reilly Factor, ingest the capsules they sent $2 in the post for and unknowingly engage in the largest mass suicide pact ever known to man. “And you know when they do, Fox News will be right there bringing you all the exclusives.”

Anyway, I wanted to talk to you this time about democracy. I once read somewhere, in a book long since forgotten, that the first democratic systems sprung up among the Sumerian peoples of present day Iraq. Major decisions were voted on by the electorate, with a village Elder granted the authority to enforce those decisions. The Athenian Greeks worked this system up into a fully fledged democracy, with the electorate voting in a Popular Assembly on issues from an agenda set by the Council. Leadership of the Council was rotated amongst the 10 Attic tribes, with the equivalent of your President (the Prytany) chosen daily by lot for one day only. Once a Citizen had served their term on the Council, they could be called before a panel to justify their actions. Acts deemed to have been immoral or corrupt could result in jail or even death. The law applied to all.

Then the Romans invaded Greece and democracy gave way to Republicanism, which gave way to Imperialism. The empire fell (see Edward Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ for a clue to America’s future) and the Dark Ages descended across most of the western world. Empire was replaced by feudalism, mass tracts of land were grabbed by the most powerful (i.e. the most brutal) and by the dawning of the Middle Ages, Kings and Popes owned the world. Since that time, we the people have been fighting to reclaim what was once ours by divine right, from Lexington to the Bastille, Peterloo to East Berlin, Champaran to Epsom.

All of which, oh Foxnewsians, is an over simplistic overview of democratic history, but I have to know the limitations of my audience and, let’s face it, world affairs aren’t exactly your strong point. Besides, there is a problem with this potted history, a problem most succinctly stated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in ‘The Social Contract’:

“In the strictest sense of the term, there has never been a true democracy, and there never will be.”

A democracy is a utopian society in which the electorate takes equal responsibility for the running of the state, while receiving equal benefit. Now does that sound like the USA? It certainly doesn’t sound like the UK. What we find in both our countries is a system of elective representation. For the Sumerians and the Greeks it was irrelevant who enforced the will of the people, so long as it was the will of the majority. In a system of elective representation we chose only who, from a preapproved list, is to make our decisions for us, effectively giving away our democratic rights by proxy. We are tossed the gristle and accept it as prime beef.

Democracy is the epitome of the utopian ideal, by the very nature of its perfection it is unattainable within the human sphere. Consequently, public perception has been carefully modulated for centuries. In a true democracy wealth and power would be distributed equally among the electorate. That is not the system under which we live, but if we can be convinced that we already live under the most perfect political system that ever was devised, we are less likely to turn up at our respective legislative houses armed with pitchforks and burning torches demanding a more fair and equitable system of government. Democracy and its concomitants, Communism, Anarchism, Christianity, can never really be achieved and we should arm ourselves with suspicion and a plethora of questions for anyone who tries to tell us the opposite case is true.

You see, I’m an annoying guy, I know. If someone tells me that I live in a free, democratic society, I’m not just going to take their word for it, I’m going to investigate what those terms mean, read the thoughts of some of the great thinkers on the subject and then test that theory through real world analysis. And I find that we lost the trail quite some time ago. Absolutes are fine, so long as we recognise that we can never hope to attain them, merely approximate to greater and greater degrees of accuracy. That way we will never stop trying to improve ourselves and the world about us. “If there were a nation of Gods,” Rousseau informs us, “it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men.” We need to recognise this before we can start to address the flaws inherent in our ‘democratic’ systems (Come and see the violence inherent in the system).

George Orwell observed that while there were a number of political parties in Great Britain, essentially there were only two, the Conservatives and the Labour Party. However, the tendency of these two parties over recent years had been to resemble one another more and more. He said this in the 1940’s, when at least the Labour Party still pretended to represent the interests of the British working classes. I’m sure he’s been spinning in his grave for as long as New Labour has been in existence. In the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, two massive demonstrations took place on the streets of London. The first drew 600,000 Citizens, the second an estimated million marched, nearly two percent of the population of Great Britain. Despite this, despite every opinion poll showing a clear majority opposed to the war (ironically, there was greater public support in France), the British government followed you in like the good lapdog it is. And as I’ve have written elsewhere, it showed us once and for all what New Labour and Tony Bliar (as he’s affectionately known to most Brits) thought about democracy and due process.

Yet if British politics is bad, our ‘special relationship’ with the US (a relationship which largely seems to involve us bending over a barstool while you fuck us in the arse), means that you can at least be relied upon to make us look good. America essentially has one political party with two barely distinguishable factions (it used to be called the Democratic Republican Party, how much bigger a clue do you need?). As Noam Chomsky points out, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is like the difference between Coke and Pepsi: They may taste slightly different, be packaged with different primary colours, but they’re both cola. Or as a comedian I saw in a New York comedy club in 2005 put it, “I didn’t vote in the last Presidential election. For me the choice seemed to be between one Harvard educated rich fuck and another Harvard educated rich fuck.” Or, in the words of Bill Hicks (I have to crowbar him in here somewhere):

“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!' ‘Shut up! Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control’.”

As we have examined previously, the terms left and right are political anachronisms, yet the likes of Fox News manipulate their audiences by claiming adherence to one side, while vilifying the other. It heightens the illusion of choice. In reality all political parties are essentially the same, serving the interests of the ruling classes the world over. Under Dubya, American politics became an international laughing stock. The lie had rarely been so badly maintained and with the spawning of Fox News, American politics has descended into pantomime (Oh no it hasn’t, etc.). Low electoral turnouts are dismissed by politicians as either apathy or contentment with the status quo, because the alternative would be unconscionable. And yet large numbers of Americans and Brits don’t vote precisely because they see the choices they are offered as hardly any choice at all. Like any good conjurer, western ‘democracies’ force on us the card that they want us to take or else the trick wouldn’t work. Democracy is the lady we are never permitted to find.

However there is good news (for we the people that is, I’m afraid you’re screwed) and it is this: Political parties have no actual power and when compelled by great force of public will they can be made to do things they don’t want to. Do you think either of our sets of politicians wanted to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade or give women the vote or impose a minimum wage? No, of course not, acceptance by government is the last stage in a long chain of events and the likes of banning the slave trade only become law when the opposing voices are so voluminous that they can no longer be ignored. Politicians stick the finished article in a box and claim credit for the entire production line.

A population largely gets the government it deserves, but these days it seems there is little choice at all. We have a word for that kind of government and it certainly isn’t democratic. We have bought so completely into the lie of democracy that no matter how low we slump we can still cling to our smug superiority over less enlightened, totalitarian countries. How long I wonder before China is referred to as democratic. After all, the Chinese people get to vote. What’s the difference? None that I can see.

If we are to start the long march back to a better approximation of a democratic system then we need to throw out the old terminology and invent a new political language. It’s time to rotate our definitions by 90o and evolve them into something more positive. Keeping it simple (and because I know how much you like cleaving the world in two), I say away with left and right and let us instead talk of uppers and downers. This is how I shall refer to the people of the world from now on. To decide which side you’re on you need only consider your attitude to your environment. If you back bite, making only negative statements, having little or nothing good to say about anyone else except the least deserving, if you believe that humans should take no action whatsoever to redress the damage they have done to the planet or think we shouldn’t clean the place up a bit before we hand it over to our children, well then, you’re a downer, simple as. However, if you possess an idea of community that is not only local, but global, that extends to people who don’t quite look at you, if you campaign for something that doesn’t affect you personally one way or the other and yet you do it, if you work to break down traditional cultural barriers, or work tirelessly for community projects or fight prejudice or believe in more subtle forms of government or in taking pre-emptive action to replace fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives, well then yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and - which is more – you’ll be an Upper, my son. And I can’t stand that poem, but it seems to fit.

Well, in the words of Stewie Griffin, I should wrap this up before I start to ramble. Nothing is ours by right, divine, or otherwise. Moreover, there is nothing in this world worth having that is easy to attain. To form a society worth being proud of will take hard work and determination, as well as a tectonic change in thinking and direction. We need new political parties, or at least to elevate the more progressive smaller parties into the mainstream political arena. I shall probably vote Green in next year’s UK elections. This is for a number of reasons, but largely because they stand outside the current established order and so the inevitable corrupting of their ideology will happen at a slower rate than any of the major British parties. And who knows? In the meantime something might actually change for the better. It could hardly be much worse than what we’ve got now.

You shall here from me anon.

Amused, Manchester.

PS: I was reading the US Constitution the other day, like you do, and I noticed something very curious. You’ve made much of the question of Barrack Obama’s place of birth and whether he is eligible to be President, as only a person born in the United States may take the oath of office. However, this is incorrect. What the constitution actually says is, “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” Meaning that every president born after June 21st 1788 has been ineligible to take the oath. Also, if I’m understanding the wording correctly, anyone who was either born in the United States or is a naturalised Citizen is eligible to the Office of President, ‘cause otherwise it’s saying the same thing twice. The worrying thing is this means Arnold Schwarzenegger could actually be President! Still, your constitution has been obsolete for two centuries, isn’t it time you got a new one? And do you see what happens when you actually investigate something before you pronounce upon it? In the words of John Connor in Terminator 2, “Are we learning yet?”

Greek Democracy

No comments:

Post a Comment