JR'S Free Thought Pages
Thoughts on the Upcoming Election
Our Country is not a Democracy
by Johnny Reb
What is meant by "democracy"? A little conceptual clarity is needed.
The American College Dictionary informs us that a democracy is (1) government by the people or their elected agents (i.e., representatives) under a free electoral system, (2) a state or society characterized by formal equality (i.e., egalitarianism) of rights and privileges, (3 ) the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged classes.
In Canada and most other so-called "free" and "democratic" countries around the world, none of these three conditions are met. I've italicized and highlighted some key words in the definition. What we in fact do have is a mere pretense to democracy, a facade that in reality is an oligarchy of gross inequalities in which power lies in inherited or accumulated wealth and big business. But if you believe our conservative media and the well-financed propaganda of conservative think tanks such as The Fraser Institute and C D Howe Institutes, the darlings of our corporate dominated media, democracy is synonymous with unfettered capitalism, self-interest and consumerism.
In western capitalist countries, the 20th Century has brought about three political phenomena; namely, the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power and finally, and most importantly, the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power from the "risk" and threat to corporate profits from "an excess of democracy". NAFTA and other so-called free trade agreements, to cite one example of the force of business propaganda, was hyped by our sycophantic corporate media as a godsend for the masses, but has been an unmitigated disaster for democratic principles and working people throughout the world. Touted as "free trade" it was rather a blank cheque for multinational corporations to exploit with impunity labour, the environment and its resources throughout the world. Corporate power now finances and elects politicians who will do their bidding, even protect them against their abominable economic disasters by massive multi-trillion dollar taxpayer funded bailouts. They have replaced the capitalist dictum of "flourish or die" with "don't worry about risk and failure; the government has a golden parachute for you". Governments have always promoted and supported big business, but now we are plagued by a government system of corporate welfare, an insurance policy against failure recently referred to in the global economic meltdown of 2008-2009 as "too big to fail". The genesis of this neo-conservative assault on democracy and the working classes occurred in the 1970s with the Trilateral Commission and the subsequent reactionary New World Order that produced the regressive governments of Ronald Reagan, Bush I and II, Brian Mulroney, Margaret Thatcher and their ilk.
I'm continually perplexed as to why working class people vote for these plutocratic cockroaches. The only explanation I can come up with is the intellectual apathy of a credulous populace and their vulnerability to the prevalence of a cunning corporate propaganda.
The present political order is so systemically corrupt, undemocratic, dysfunctional and destructive almost any major change would be an improvement. But the entire corporatist system of power and privilege needs to be dismantled. There isn't even the will to attempt to fix it, which is probably not possible anyway, as the election of the corporate dupe Barrack Obama in the United States has clearly demonstrated. And why would they want to change it, despite continued foreclosures, massive unemployment and gross disparities in wealth*, the pirates on Wall Street continue with business as usual.
*In the United States 1% of the US population has more wealth than the bottom 90%
I would argue that democratic government first of all means "anarchic" government, one based on nothing other than the absence of any title, privilege or pre-ordained right to govern. At least the primary defining principle of democracy, namely egalitarianism, may have a possibility of success under such a construal. But under the present oligarchic system which operates under an economic axiom of limitless growth and wealth in a world of finite resources, there is no chance at all.
Over the decades since Confederation our politicians have been primarily business people, lawyers, accountants and mostly those who are already wealthy. One radical solution I've dreamed up, which many will consider utopian, is a complete dismantling of the facade and farcical waste of taxpayer money called the electoral process and replacing it with a lottery whereby representatives from the various constituencies genuinely reflect the majority. To qualify a candidates must be below a certain maximum income, say, $100,000, and not already be in some position of authority or power. People who qualify can simply offer their names as candidates and are chosen by lottery. Surely these people chosen at random could do no worse at running the country and the economy than the incompetent power hungry anti-democratic business type buffoons we have suffered with for decades and who have pillaged public assets and driven our governments into bankruptcy. Perhaps we could end up with a few people who don't just know how to order people around but actually have to think on the job such as a plumber or auto mechanic.
The democratic procedure of drawing lots is compatible with the principle of one feature which is essential to good honest government: good government is the government of those who do not desire power, i.e., do not desire to govern. In other words, the people we need to categorically exclude from government are those who crave power. The people who presently "represent" us in government are for the most part nothing more than adjuncts of corporate power and wealth. The evils of which our "democracies" suffer are primarily evils related to the insatiable appetite of oligarchs. Our present electoral process guarantees, albeit under varying deceptive labels, that the same system of dominance prevails. Throughout history oligarchs masquerading under "Conservative" and "Liberal" have never freely given anything to the masses. Any rights, freedoms, justice and civility under the politico- social order were won through, often violent, democratic action. The history of the labour, civil rights and women's movements are a testament to this. The government of and by the common man (anybody and everybody), that is, genuine democracy, is bound to attract the hatred of all those conservatives who consider themselves entitled to govern and hold power over others by their birth, wealth, religion or status within the business community.
Contempt for Democracy
The Stephen Harper Brand
by Murray Dobbin
What does it say about our democracy when the prime minister of the country can with impunity almost continuously demonstrate contempt for it and repeatedly violate its rules, conventions, and the independence of its institutions and agencies? Combined with a trend to disturbingly low turnouts in federal elections there is reason to start using the term crisis in describing Canadian democracy.
It has been a long time in the making and is the explicit accomplishment of corporate globalization -- although not one that is talked about very much. In the mid-1970s the formation of the Trilateral Commission heralded the end of the old social contract whereby the activist state was tolerated by capital so long as it got what it believed was its fair share of output in the form of profit. When labour seized too much for its share the contract was torn up.
But it wasn't just the private economy that was the problem. Workers and the previously marginalized in society had come to expect too much of government. Flush with tax revenue from a booming economy, governments, including Canadian governments, responded to increasing expectations. According to the Trilateral Commission's first publication, The Crisis of Democracy, there was in the 1970s western world "...an excess of democracy."
The solution was to lower expectations of government while encouraging consumerism. One of the authors of the Crisis of Democracy, American Samuel Huntington, observed that the success of American democracy had been the adoption my millions of Americans of middle-class values reflected in certain "consumption patterns.'" Another propagandist for the U.S. system, Daniel Boorstin, wrote in Fortune magazine, that U.S. democracy was the "Consumption Community." He described the consumption community as "...the great American democracy of cash which has so exasperated the aristocrats of all older worlds. Consumption Communities generally welcome peoples of all races, ancestry, occupation and income levels, provided they have the price of admission." In this democracy people find "community" in the "communality of consumption" -- like drinking the same brand of beer or cheering on the same professional team.
The U.S. is the model for this consumption democracy where citizens have been largely turned into consumers -- politically apathetic, uninformed or easily misinformed, completely disconnected from their communities and finding meaning mostly in the shopping malls.
Canada, it seems, is not far behind. It had to happen eventually. After years of creating the consumption democracy and lowering expectations of traditional democracy, we have a population that is disengaged from its own community and its history. That means disconnected from a key source their moral core. Politics makes a difference if you are connected to each other. Otherwise, not so much.
And if you are spending most of your time shopping -- or dreaming about shopping, or if poor wishing you could shop -- you are extremely vulnerable to political manipulation and the ruthless machinations of politicians like Stephen Harper. The truth is, even in the 1970s most people spent a minimal amount of time thinking about politics. What kept democracy alive was the tacit agreement amongst the political elite to respect democratic institutions and conventions, and to practice politics within the bounds of traditional political ethics.
So long as politics was conducted within those conventional parameters, lack of significant political participation was not fatal. But minimally engaged citizens are not equipped to deal with politicians who are willing to actually destroy the foundations of democracy and violate its most basic principles.
Harper's strategy of making politics offensive, negative and contemptuous of any standards of decency is working and is the source of much of the decrease in voter turnout. The Liberals claim that 800,000 of their supporters failed to vote in the 2008 election.
The politics of fear is working, too, as Harper continues to frame himself as a leader who personifies, in U.S. framing Guru George Lakoff's words, the "strict father" -- someone who is tough and uncompromising in a scary world. That Harper has made it scary is lost to those not paying attention.
And there is the massive application of negative advertising, the spending of literally tens of millions in public funds leading up to the election, promoting the Conservatives' so-called "economic record" -- both the kind of undermining of genuine democratic discourse common in the U.S. but almost unknown here until Harper.
Combine these strategic attacks on the part-time citizen with a media strategically hijacked to roll back the state and it is less shocking to see Stephen Harper maintaining a strong lead over his opponents. The media has always been small "c" conservative, but when Conrad Black bought virtually every major daily paper in the country he changed those newspapers into a new political agency explicitly dedicated to a radical neo-liberal agenda. The Asper family has pursued that agenda with equal aggressiveness. The media has been one of Harper's biggest advantages as they demonize government, the civil service, taxation, and any kind of state intervention in the economy.
The impact of all of this on citizenship is discouraging but predictable. I am struck by the number of people -- even in the face of Harper's clear intentions -- who cast a pox on all politics and casually equate their cynicism and disengagement with sophistication and worldliness. The price for this willful ignorance will be high.