Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Empire: Right Label, Wrong Description

As Bernie Sanders faces the cameras on the Sunday morning talk shows, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s America’s misuse of the word democracy that accounts for the terrible state the country is in.  All the other reasons analyzed ad nauseum, stem from that. Theoretically, ‘democracy’ refers to a system in which ‘the people’ are well-represented.  According to Wikipedia: 
<blockquote>The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) "rule of the people",[4] which was found from δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (krátos) "power" or "rule", in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens; the term is an antonym to (or the opposite of) ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratía) "rule of an elite". </blockquote>
The problem is not that when we say we are ‘bringing democracy’ to a country we fail in our ‘nation-building’ efforts, successfully setting up "a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” It’s that we have ingeniously perverted the system we’re trying to spread so that it serves the needs of the few as well as an old-fashioned monarchy or dictatorship - or better.
Gradually, a small percentage of people around the world are beginning to realize this, but because the myth continues to work so well for the majority, our protests are destined to remain ‘voices in the wilderness’.
I think we need to stop enumerating all the bad things our governments do and concentrate on the disconnect between the words ‘democracy’ and what they’re doing. We shouldn’t complain that our government ‘didn’t bring democracy to Libya’ (or any other place), because democracy as we define it, was not what Washington had in mind. It had in mind to dupe yet another people that as long as their system was labelled  a ‘democracy’, they would be ‘happy’. And if they were not so labelled, ‘we would teach them’. 
We would teach them that democracy doesn’t mean equality, but rather, equality of opportunity, that ‘the best’ (i.e., most powerful) man wins’, that having a government that tells you what to do is bad, that instead you should do what private enterprise tells you to do.  We would teach them to have a ‘free press’ that has no censorship other than the journalist’s paycheck, that ‘strike three you’re out’, populates someone’s private prison. That ‘welfare’ is only for corporations, because they ‘create jobs’ (out of thin air.…). And finally, that growth is indispensable. The Chinese realized years ago that overpopulation is not a good thing, but heck, science can do anything that needs doing, including feeding as many people as God chooses to put on this good earth.
An equally important message is that war is good for business: not only in terms of arms manufacturing and sales, but of what has been referred to as Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’.  Or, according to Wikipedia: 
<blockquote>In Marx’s early work, the idea of creative destruction or annihilation (German: Vernichtung) implies not only that capitalism destroys and reconfigures previous economic orders, but also that it must ceaselessly devalue existing wealth (whether through war, dereliction, or regular and periodic economic crises) in order to clear the ground for the creation of new wealth.</blockquote>
Somewhere along the line, capitalists read Marx and decided he’d given them tacit permission to do what makes them happy: destroy and rebuild.  Anybody who has watched a three year old with building blocks knows this is a human trait, and giving rise to the expression ‘adults in the room’ as well as to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
The fact that so many foreign policy situations make no sense should alert us to the fact that they’re not supposed to: the masters of the planet aren’t intellectually challenged, they simply want to knock down and build up ad infinitum to keep their piggy banks full. 

This need is not unrelated to the fact that real ‘progress’ lies not in ‘things’ but in attitudes. Today’s real fault-line cuts across both religions and political systems. Unlikely as this will seem to many, it puts Pope Frances and Vladimir Putin pretty much on the same wavelength, that of a worldwide trend away from 'stuff' and toward 'meaning' which characterizes both primitive societies and the socialist ethos.  We are witnessing simultaneously a race to the bottom and a race to the top: toward fascism on the one hand, and ‘a harmonious society’ on the other, in which the drumbeat of ‘democracy’ calls loudly for destruction.

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