Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Siren Song of Democracy

With the election having just taken place back in the US, this is maybe a bad time for a political post, but I'm going to venture into these waters anyway. To be honest I didn't have a horse in the race that just concluded, and while I know a lot of people who might read this are either elated that their candidate won and America was saved from a a rich guy who wanted to destroy America or distressed that some foreign born socialist continues to occupy the White House and plot America's fall into a second rate backwater country. I think both groups will find that nothing significant changes. The political class will continue to cut deals that benefit them and their associates at the expense of both groups of voters (or those like me who simply abstained for not wanting to support bad behavior), we will continue to meddle in the affairs of countries that are none of our concern and we will by and large over pay bureaucrats at every level while the working and middle class in the private sector continue to see their pays stagnate or dwindle. In a short period of time, those who are elated today will be finding excuses for why Obama does more to support big banks, continues to drop bombs on brown people on at least three continents, and continues to expand things like the Patriot act while the middle class withers and the working class settles for a lower standard of living. Conversely those who are saying they will flee the country to escape it's imminent demise will see that things do not abruptly change, and that the slow march of increased debt, reduced liberty, and greater central government reliance won't look all that different than what happened under the candidates that they have voted for in the past.

This happens for several reasons, one being that the majority of the mass of government isn't replaced regardless of which way the voting goes, and despite dragging out a few peripheral issues that get voters worked up each year, the central ideas on how the system moves forward are essentially the same under either party. More importantly the same people essentially own both parties. Despite all his rhetoric about being for the middle class* and against wall street fat cats, Obama and wall street are best pals. In fact under Obama the US has backdoored more money through the Fed to large banking interests than anyone. Not that I blame Obama or Democrats, W. Bush started the process that Obamma merely continued and I have little doubt that there would have been very little policy shift in this area had Mr. Romney won. An article from the point of view of someone who approaches political realities with more of a sense of practicality and less a sense of idealism points out some good stocks to invest in under an Obama presidency.

*As a brief aside I really was annoyed this entire political season by the misuse of what Middle Class is. Most people mistakenly identify themselves in a class that they do not in fact belong. If you work for someone else, chances are you are working class. If you are a high level professional, a successful entrepreneur, or a business owner any of which should be making a ways into the six figures you are middle class. Rich folk are not those who make salaries that sound large to you. Rich folk don't work, or at least they don't have to, mostly their money makes them more money. Because most people have so little exposure to how stratified society actually is they always assume from their perspective that they are the median point from which to judge wealth and class, and because something silly like 90% of Americans believe themselves to be middle class politicians are all too happy to appeal to such a large group by misusing the terminology.

As we continue to praise democracy as our countries highest virtue, we continue to make a mockery of it and show how democracy alone is not a way to create a good or functional government. The dominance of a two party system that determines the only two people you can actually vote for (especially when this process is often controlled by party insiders, makes the freedom to choose our leaders more of an illusion than a reality. I have expressed this sentiment in the past, probably most concisely in Democracy is the New Tyranny: The American Myth and Failure in Nepal. In fact I am convinced that Democracy is a siren's song, that it does not on its own create any better form of social existence than any other kind of tyranny that has no bounds. Oppression by the majority is still oppression, and a democracy that fails to acknowledge the freedom of the individual is no better than a Monarchy; it is simply the same Leviathan in a different form.

The push to constantly force democracy on countries throughout the world, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, continues to be one of the greater failures of US policy in my opinion. Democracies that elect oppressive governments aren't any better, and are often worse than what was previously in place. In countries like India and Nepal due to the social structure you simply create an even more disjointed plutocracy that is just as detached from the people as any other form of government they have used, but due to the fickle swings of power, even less is actually accomplished  and when things are agreed on by a majority you can bet it had less to do with meeting the wants of the people. Our misunderstandings of what creates actual prosperity is a grave mistake, and confusing freedom with democracy is a sin we most likely will have to answer for at some time in our future.

If the public does not have a some stoic sense of civic duty, or doesn't pay attention to anything beyond what  is "is in it for them" when voting, then the entire process is antithetical to creating a better form of government, and democracy can become a vice instead of a check on power that it is supposed to be. When the constituency degrades to voting to loot the treasury in their own interests, then democracy becomes a noose around all of our necks. It was noted by our founders that democracy only works among a virtuous people, and as the founders were more likely to read Tacitus and Locke than Matthew or Paul, the meaning of virtue here is not one of religious faith but of the moral temperament taught in the philosophy of the Greeks and enlightenment thinkers that they identified with. Democracy and a respect for liberty have declined in conjunction with an understanding of what were once considered the cornerstones of Western thought. If values that create good behavior in its people are abandoned we can expect that the majority will continue let ignorance or selfishness dictate the course of their decisions at the expense of themselves and those who find themselves sharing the same ship. While I cannot say that the human race has or has not become any more ignorant or selfish in these later years, its increasing vastness of population and the general absurdity  and insincerity of the discourse of the elections I have witnessed in my lifetime and the policies that have followed make me doubt if these expensive divisive shows we put on every four years are serving us well at all.

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