Thursday, August 6, 2009

"...he IS a corrupt idiot."

Slavoj Žižek has an interesting article up at the London Review of Books discussing the hollowing out of Western democracy. I'd opine that his case is arguable - it rests on Italian democracy, never the strongest of reeds. But he makes several worthwhile points:
"It is democracy’s authentic potential that is losing ground with the rise of authoritarian capitalism, whose tentacles are coming closer and closer to the West. The change always takes place in accordance with a country’s values: Putin’s capitalism with ‘Russian values’ (the brutal display of power), Berlusconi’s capitalism with ‘Italian values’ (comical posturing). Both Putin and Berlusconi rule in democracies which are gradually being reduced to an empty shell, and, in spite of the rapidly worsening economic situation, they both enjoy popular support (more than two-thirds of the electorate)."
He has a great deal to say about the recent political crisis in Iran, and discusses European democracy in detail, but some of what he discusses touches on our present political condition:
"With Ronald Reagan (and Carlos Menem in Argentina), a different figure entered the stage, a ‘Teflon’ president no longer expected to stick to his electoral programme, and therefore impervious to factual criticism (remember how Reagan’s popularity went up after every public appearance, as journalists enumerated his mistakes). This new presidential type mixes ‘spontaneous’ outbursts with ruthless manipulation."
Worth a read.


  1. FDChief-

    Nice catch.

    His argument is interesting. Theoretically he brings in Walter Lippmann rather effectively. Yes and his description of the voting citizen as "a king in a Constitutional Democracy" hits home as well.

    Lippmann was cautiously optimistic - not about democracy - but as Zizeck points out, about the promise of control. In the late 19th/early 20th Century Democratic theorists saw the problem as creating the perfect mechanism for voting. Achieve that and the "will of the people" would do the rest, even in a modern mass society . . .

    "The democratic fallacy has been its preoccupation with the origin of government rather than with the process and the results. The democrat has always assumed that if political power could be derived in the right way, it would be beneficent. His whole attention has been on the source of power, since he is hypnotized by the belief that the great thing is to express the will of the people, first because expression is the highest interest of man, and second because the will is instinctively good. But no amount of regulation at the source of a river will completely control its behavior, and while democrats have been absorbed in trying to find a good mechanism of voting and representation, they neglect almost every other interest of men. For no matter how power originates, the crucial interest is in how power is exercised. What determines the quality of civilization is the use made of power. And that use cannot be controlled at the source."

    Public Opinion, 1922, p 196

  2. Democracy is only just beginning to come to terms with the internet. All sorts of stuff which (at best) moldered in academic journals in some stuffy university library is now available to all.

    Furthermore, many more can comment on it and sharpen the thoughts.

    It only *looks* like democracy is going downhill.

  3. As a naive youngster, I really thought our "democratic" form of government was fantastic. One day, back in the late 70's a reporter friend for a local TV station(more recently a senior political reporter for one of the big 3 networks) suggested I listen to the drivel being discussed by people lined up at the polling place, waiting to determine the course of our government. My reporter friend had warned, "Listen and then think out the fact that these people are lined up to select who will lead our country." While my viewpoint of the "process" was not changed, my opinion of the poor protoplasm to which the process was entrusted hit rock bottom. It is truly "Garbage IN - Garbage OUT." And, unfortunately, the Garbage we are talking about are bipeds.

    In today's wisdom from Paul Krugman, he offers:

    There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

    I have come to the conclusion that nothing is too good for people like this, and that's exactly what they should receive: NOTHING. I say offer them an irrevocable choice to refuse any and all socialized medicine. When they opt out, let them find a way to get a private sector Medicare equivalent for $98/month. Put them on a "cash (or guaranteed insurance coverage) on the barrel head" program for all medical care, to include the ambulance. No proof of financial ability, no ride to the hospital.

    To be frank, I am fed up with the bulk of the US population. They are not intellectually up to the task of participating in the democratic process. Democracy isn't the problem. It's all the people who have eliminated their bodily wastes in the gene pool that is the problem.


  4. Al: I couldn't agree more. The bottom line is that we as citizens have had the choice since the Sixties, when the franchaise really DID become pretty much universal, to choose between the painful truths and the comforting lies, and we've chosen the lies pretty much every time.

    Those of us who didn't will have to suffer the consequences along with the rest, but that, too, comes with democracy.

  5. Unfortunately, I, too have to agree with Al. I got an illustration of this point in an email I just received from a guy I know. This email, a forward of something that went to tons of addressees unknown to me, advises me that I must oppose the health care bill, and provides me a link to someone discussing "page 425" of the congressional bill, to see why. So I click the link and am directed to Fred Thompson's website (didn't know old lazy Fred had a program), where he is interviewing a woman from some official sounding organization. This woman assures listeners that "page 425" contains a requirement that all folks on Medicare receive a mandatory briefing every five years to get "end-of-life" options, for, as she put it, the "greater good of society."

    I responded in the best way I know—as a deadpan wiseass—to all of the recipients of this inane email: "Yeah, but that's not the half of it. On page 626, they discuss phasing out farm subsidies and school lunch programs to fund the new Soylent Green factories."

    I expect most recipients will summarily write me off as an asshole (I would), but I also suspect there will be some who will say, "Oh, My God, we're all doomed," and will send it along. So if any of you gets an email earnestly assuring you that the government is going to get into the old people recycling business, you'll know who's to blame.

    You know, it's been more than 40 years since Walt Kelly through his alter ego Pogo, gave us "We have met the enemy and he is us," during the dandy little war in which we were engaged at the time. That was at a time when the American populace was somewhat sentient and somewhat literate. One wonders what Pogo would have to say about us today.

    Interestingly, political scientists have found one can track the direction of politics through the good cartoonists. IMO, Trudeau is doing a very good job on the "C Street" boys right now. Unfortunately, I doubt many of the people who send emails like I've cited (and I've got a couple of relatives in that crowd) pay much attention to reality.

  6. I'm going to take a bit of the opposite tack from most of the posters here and say that the American public hasn't changed that much since the Revolutionary War.

    Remember, the Founding Fathers originally stated that the only people who had the right to vote were wealthy landowners. That didn't work either; by Andrew Jackson's time the bulk of the country had decided that it was best to allow all white males that owned any land at all to vote.

    Everything since then has been an extension of the theory that there is NO perfect voter pool so you should spread the voting pool out as far as possible to reduce the risk of a small but dedicated group of stupid people siezing control of the country.

    I blame the leaders of the political parties for our current mess. In the past they sought to select people who could get elected and lead once they were elected. Now we scare the best talent away from elected office by making the candidates endure tremendous pain and emotional degradation in fund-raising and being in the national fishbowl, er... spotlight.

    So the party leaders sought out new candidates who didn't mind the drone of fund-raising and constantly giving the same speech a hundred times.

    My private theory is that they believe that this country is so big and powerful that loyalty is more important than wisdom. Rome had the same theory in the Empire era and it never served them well.

  7. I'll both agree and disagree with Pluto.

    I don't think that human nature has changed that much since the arboreal days. I think that people, as a group, are just as credulous, stupid and liable to believe in nonsense now as they were when the Framers set up a system that, by design, restricted the franchise to those they felt "capable" of exercising a rational choice.

    But...I don't see this as some sort of nefarious plot by ambitious politicians. Rather, I find it the logical outgrowth of a societal choice to exalt the individual over the collective good.

    Don't get me wrong; I LIKE a lot of the freedom that our culture provides me. But I understand that it comes with a price, and I'm starting to think that the price is increasingly heavy.

    What is happening is that we are selectively screening out those political figures who are unwilling to go along with our determination to have it all; guns and butter, war and peace, individual profit and public largesse. We want to have lots of good jobs for regular joes but won't restrict the ability of corporations to downsize, offshore or their financial parent companies from their orgies of mergers, acquisitions and management for the short-term bottom line. We want wonderful, magical educational success but consistently oppose any and all taxation to pay for it.

    We've had politicians foolish enough to tell us the truth, Pluto, and we've rejected them every time. The party bosses aren't the piper, they're the rats, following us where we want them to "lead" us...

    No, what I see here is the Revolt of the Gracchi. We've chosen our own selfish gains above the welfare of our state. It only awaits what form our Caesar will take.

  8. Chief, I don't see a nefarious plot by the leaders of the political parties either, they just got lazy when the rest of us weren't looking and now we don't want to look because the truth is so ugly.

    The country is GOING to endure the pain whether we want to or not. We can kick the can down to road but it will just keep getting bigger until we deal with the problem.

    As for Caeser, I think we're kind of already there as the President has become an elected king.

  9. ael:

    Democracy is only just beginning to come to terms with the internet. All sorts of stuff which (at best) moldered in academic journals in some stuffy university library is now available to all.

    From the Great Orange Satan:

    {quote}Thomson Reuters' media group president Chris Ahearn recently tweeted that his company "stands ready to help those who wish an alternative to the AP," the Reuters competitor that has proclaimed it is "mad as hell" at various internet fiends. AP is trying to charge people for quoting as few as five words of its content.

    Ahearn has elaborated on his "alternative" in a blog post, writing that too many traditional media organizations waste manpower "recycling commodity news" and that they should instead seek to retool, including by forging a new "win-win relationship" with new media. The executive dispenses bluntly with those who would point the finger, like AP:

    Blaming the new leaders... or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works... Let's stop whining and start having real conversations.
    [...] Reuters is even authorizing bloggers to "hyperlink" and excerpt its side of things, as God and the U.S. Code intended. Imagine that.{end quote}

    I have more to say about the quality of the US electorate and what's wrong with God's Greatest Gift to Planet Earth, but the temp's below 100 and I think I can get the lawn done before the light's gone.

    I'll leave this for Al:

    You'll have to scroll down a bit.


  10. ahhh, and an update for the War Movie fans. I don't want to add another article on that, but this may be of interest to anyone who enjoyed that discussion.

    It's not entirely just GIJ.

    I've seen bits and pieces of GIJ through my projectionist porthole. Anybody else seen it yet?