Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The People's Republic of Us

Once again – and as always – the presidential candidates from the major parties are claiming to represent “the people” -- and not just any people, but those they have selected out of the citizenry (or non-citizenry) as being the real people... those worthy of the name. In Romney's case, this would include the Tea Partiers, the besieged middle class, small businessmen, churchgoers, and conservatives in general (but not libertarians – heaven forbid!). In Obama's case, it would include the Occupy crowd, minorities of any and all stripes, the “disenfranchised” (like illegal aliens, for instance), and liberals in general (but not libertarians – heaven forbid!). Neither wants to embrace the anti-war contingent, you'll notice; that option has been left off the table... permanently, I fear. And they of course both embrace Wall Street – or are embraced by it – but it would hardly do to admit that. And as for the “rich”, well... then it becomes a matter of semantics. Romney would defend the rich's right to be rich – and to stay that way. Obama, on the other hand, is all about “sharing” -- not him sharing his own wealth, but him forcing others to share theirs. But a fine distinction is made here: What Obama means by “the rich” is, basically, anyone who has enough money to pay taxes and not be on welfare; this is pretty much the same definition Clinton used. But if you take a closer look, you'll find that all of Obama's important supporters and boosters are really rich, I mean like... “rich”, OK? Not just middle class or even upper middle class, but “filthy rich”. So his attitude toward the “rich” is not so much ambivalent as requiring fine parsing. It would never do to bite the hand that feeds him... and he doesn't, merely providing occasional lip service to the notion of keeping big business and Wall Street under control. And they let him get away with it, the way a dog owner will tolerate the occasional playful nip from his prize pooch.

But in any case, the theme is always “the people”, however defined... however that idea is constructed (or deconstructed) in order to leave some actual people out, and let others in. Every politician in our time claims to be a man (or woman) of “the people”; can you think of any exceptions? I can't. Even in foreign lands, the worst sorts of tyrants will always claim that they have the full support of the citizenry. Saddam Hussein did... the Kims of North Korea did, and do... Bashar al-Assad does... Mao certainly did... Pol Pot did... and so on. So what winds up happening is that every war, every insurrection, every revolution, you name it, is fought between "people" (type A) and "people" (type B). Even Adolf Hitler, tireless promoter of the “master race” concept, claimed that he was doing it all for the sake of the German people – not for himself, or the party, or the regime. It's just that some of the people – as Orwell said – were more equal than others. And after all, hasn't every communist dictatorship from the Soviet Union on down called itself a “people's republic”, or something to that effect?

I'm trying to think, if fact, of the last time someone stood up and claimed that they had a right to rule because of their own superiority, and through sheer force. I suppose it still happens in Africa and in some parts of Asia, but Europe and the Western Hemisphere have long been characterized by “republics”, in name at least, regardless of how dictatorial or oligarchic they may have been. It's been said that “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue” -- and there is certainly nothing more hypocritical, historically or in the present day, than the pretenses of “republics” and “democracies”, and of anything in the political realm being done on behalf of “the people” as opposed to the further accumulation of raw power and wealth by the ruling elite. And one might say, cynically, isn't it at least better to live with this sort of hypocrisy than to live under a regime like that of Genghis Khan, or the Ottomans, or the emperors of China or Japan? I'm not sure. The problem with comforting words like “democracy”, “republic”, “representative government”, “rights”, and so on, is that they blind and anesthetize us to what is really going on.  They also serve as hooks, in order to achieve "buy-in" on the part of the hapless electorate -- which means that we become committed, because of our naivete, to the regime and to the government, no matter how oppressive or totalitarian it becomes.  If "the truth shall set you free", then distortions of the truth, AKA "ideas", can enslave.   

In our time, religion is not (assuming it ever was) “the opiate of the people”; the real opiate is propaganda, and the single source of that is the government, or the regime. And when I use those terms, I am assuming that political parties hardly matter, because the overall narrative never changes. With each election, we're supposed to use our freedom, and our right to vote, in order to throw out the rascals who are bound and determined to take those things away from us:  Quick, before it's too late!  "The most important election in our lifetime", and all that.  Problem is, the next election cycle will see the same arguments made from the other side, and so on ad infinitum. Every election is supposed to provide an opportunity for “the people” to regain control of their own destiny, and take it out of the hands of the power elite. It's kind of like the endless drumbeat of inner-city residents futilely trying to “take back the streets” from the gang-bangers and thugs. Well, folks... it ain't gonna happen. And no election is going to truly “empower” the citizenry more than they are already empowered – which is not at all. (Sorry about that, Tea Partiers and Occupiers; the Regime is an equal-opportunity provider of delusions and disappointments.)   Elections – at least at the national level, and on most local levels as well – are a sham. One group is played against another like Little League teams, while the grown-ups look on indulgently -- “Poor kids, they don't realize it's just a game. They don't know what the world is really like, and by gosh, we're sure not going to tell them.” We hear complaints from certain enlightened souls about “identity politics”. Hey – all politics is identity politics; that's practically the definition of politics! Isn't it always my group against all other groups, each one grasping for a bigger piece of the proverbial pie? Can you imagine a “politics of all the people”? I can't. If all fire engines are painted red, why would you say “a red fire engine”? No, it all comes down to a contest of wills, and of power, and most of all of propaganda – i.e. ideas, but in a degenerate, corrupted, pathological form. It appeals, in other words, to our lowest impulses – namely to get something for nothing. But here's where there is, if you will, a slight fork in the road.

The liberal/Democratic argument is that “the people” have long been deprived of their rightful heritage... their share in the nation's wealth. In other words – going right back to Karl Marx – they have not received sufficient compensation for their labors... or for their very existence. So “social justice” can only be attained if “the rich”, i.e. the non-preferred rich, i.e. the middle class, are made to “share” their ill-gotten gains with the less fortunate (implying, of course, that it's all a matter of luck – and the government's job is to eliminate luck as a factor in lifestyle outcomes). So it's not a matter of stealing, or confiscation, at all – it's a matter of justice, of putting things right. And the liberals/Democrats can at least claim to have the majority on their side on this issue. After all, the majority are not “rich” by any stretch of the imagination, and that fact alone, juxtaposed with the fact that a prominent minority are rich, is sufficient evidence that a gross injustice has been done, and must be remedied – not by the marketplace or by charity, but by direct action by the government.

The conservatives/Republicans, on the other hand, have this curious fixation, or fetish, on just compensation for actual labor – and creativity, innovation, business sense, etc. ... all those things that make up the heart of “capitalism”. They will nod their heads with resignation when it comes to things like welfare and the “social safety net” -- acknowledging that there are, in fact, people in this world who simply can't handle life to the extent of being self-supporting. And yes, maybe it's their own fault, but what are you going to do? -- as images of urban riots start to rise up before their eyes. But really, the race should go to the swift, shouldn't it? Why should everyone be declared a winner, and all receive a prize? This simply offends one's sense of justice.

Ah, there it is! That word again -- “justice”. We do not, to this day, know what it really means – or, let's say, we have not yet managed to plumb the depths of all of its possible meanings. It is clear, just from the present political dialogue, that one's man's “justice” is another man's tyranny... that the search for justice quickly degenerates into class warfare... and that the concept of justice is inextricably bound up with the concept of “the people”. Inside of each candidate's otherwise empty, echoing skull is an image – an image of “the people” (the ones who count, that is). And right next to it (not that there's any lack of room) is an image of “justice” -- i.e. justice for the people (by his definition). And does it ever mean true, complete equality on all dimensions? I daresay not – because, again, the conservative believes in just compensation for effort, whereas the liberal believes in compensation for all – and especially for lack of effort.  For the liberal, inability to support onself is a sign of special worth -- a form of secular grace, if you will. 

So “justice” must be, objectively, a form of inequality, no matter which side one is on. Economic justice... social justice... legal justice... they will all be influenced, swayed, and prejudiced by one's premises as to what true justice, i.e. true “equality”, entails. One example – a major one – will suffice. What is “racial justice”? Is it “equal opportunity”, as has been claimed? Clearly not. Is it even equal outcomes? No, because that would deny the need for “reparations”. So what “racial justice” really means is preferential treatment for blacks, until some kind of debt is paid. But what is that debt, and who owes it to whom? There are no living ex-slave owners, and no living ex-slaves – so we're clearly talking about collective guilt on the one hand, and collective entitlement on the other. And when is it to be satisfied? What are the “exit criteria”, as they say with regard to armed conflict? The truth is, there are none, because the ultimate state of satisfaction cannot be defined. A mortgage or other loan can be paid off... a prisoner can “pay his debt to society”... but no one can ever truly repair the damages done by slavery... or by the Holocaust, or by any other instance of genocide or persecution. So the reparation process must continue, basically, forever. This is a core liberal premise, and a pillar of any liberal/Democratic political platform or campaign... and this is what the conservatives/Republicans fight and rage against, usually to no avail. (It is funny, come to think of it, that we haven't heard too much about “reparations” of late. Maybe it would be considered bad timing, given the state of the economy. Maybe it's like all the illegal aliens who are headed back to Mexico because they can't find work here. There might be something to be said for recessions after all... )

And with the rise of “identity politics” -- its overwhelming prominence – you may be sure that these issues will become even more political “drivers” than they have been up to now. This country is degenerating into the kind of tribalism that overtook (the former) Yugoslavia, or sub-Saharan Africa after the colonial powers pulled out. Groups that more or less got along, or even formed uneasy alliances, in the past have now put up barricades and declared jihad on one another. So politics likewise has degenerated from the art of getting along, and of compromise, into how best to do class warfare.

See, once things fall into the political realm – which means out of any sense of moral absolutes, or principles – there is no end to it. It's been said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” -- but at least wars can be won (except for the ones we're fighting right now). Class warfare, on the other hand, has no – once again – exit criteria. The only way out would be for every class but one to be eliminated, i.e. exterminated. Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia did a pretty good job at that, but there are always those pesky loose ends – those bourgeois habits – that seem to persist. Plus – and this is something libertarians know but socialists never do – it takes a strong government to reduce an entire population to the same socio-economic level, and that government has to consist of people (until we get taken over by robots from outer space)... and those people will, inevitably, have to be of a different, and superior, class compared to the masses they are overseeing. So, radical egalitarianism has its built-in contradictions, as does socialism, as does liberalism, American-style. There always has to be a ruling elite in order to enforce equality. Eliminate the ruling elite and its organs, and the natural inequality that inheres to the human race will rear its ugly head. What, after all, does true anarchism amount to? An opportunity for everyone to “be all they can be”, provided they're able to fight off all the other people who are also trying to be all they can be. The inevitable result, even given heroic charity on the part of all, will be inequality: “The poor will always be with you.”

So if we mistake the liberal longing for justice as merely a desire to make a few adjustments – a bit of fine tuning or “tweaking” of the system – we greatly err. What they want, ultimately, is to change everything, and especially human nature... the human lot. Now, some of them are willing to undertake this project a step at a time, over many generations; that would characterize American liberals. But in principle they are no different from the Khmer Rouge, who killed people for wearing eyeglasses, and blew up the Phnom Penh sewer system because it was considered Western, colonialist, and “bourgeois”. American liberals at least know, or grudgingly admit, that it's hard to change any given individual... which is why they have long concentrated their efforts on “the children” (a subset of “the people”) by means of the schools, libraries, social services, media, etc. But doggone it, children are still, at least some of the time, under the influence of their parents – i.e. of all those bourgeois, racist, sexist, gun- and Bible-clinging, homophobic “haters”. So another pillar of any liberal/Democratic platform or campaign – even if not presented as such – is to draw, or force, children out from under the protection of their parents. You might say that “a fool and his children are soon parted” -- and this would certainly be the case for the majority, who go along in a bovine way cooperating with the anti-family agenda of the government (again, no matter who's nominally in charge – because no liberal program is ever terminated by conservatives).

But when it comes to “family values”... well, there's nothing like Mitt Romney, right? His crew is starting to look like the Mormon answer to the Kennedy “clan” (except, hopefully, with fewer sex addicts). And wouldn't all be well for American families if he were elected? Um... maybe, except for the small detail of sending everyone's sons off to fight and die in far-off shitholes in the name of “spreading democracy”, and “fighting terror”, and “preserving the American way of life”, etc. In this, he would not be one whit different from Bush the Second... or from Obama, for that matter, although I must admit that the sheer volume of jingoist propaganda has been toned down a bit of late. I haven't heard the term “cut and run” much lately, for instance... and Obama did at least pretend to get us out of Iraq, and is showing every sign of pretending to get us out of Afghanistan... so maybe that's one iota better than Romney, who would probably make John McCain his secretary of defense and start carpet-bombing Iran before the first inaugural ball kicked off.

So am I saying it makes no difference who you vote for in November, therefore why vote at all? Well, it's certainly true if you're under the illusion that there are only two political parties in the U.S. -- which really means there is only one. But there are alternatives, and I leave you to explore them for yourselves. When I first registered to vote in Pennsylvania, I was amazed at the sheer number of recognized political parties there are in this state – crazy stuff no one's ever heard of, like... oh, I don't know, like – well, here's a partial list:

Wouldn't it be fun if we had a “voters' rebellion” and everyone voted for some party – any party! -- other than the Democrats and Republicans? Now that would be a “Constitutional crisis” worth having! But in the mean time, don't be fooled by all this talk about “the people” -- even if you think you're one of them. Believe me, you're not, and it wouldn't matter if you were. 

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