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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXX–Democracy: It’s Not What You Think It Is

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXX

October 6, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Democracy: It’s Not What You Think It Is

Today’s contemplation stems from a recent article about Canadian politics that has prompted me to reflect further on sociopolitics and belief systems[1], but not so much about the actual content of the article — except to include the comment I left.

I am interpreting the world from within and about a particular sociopolitical system termed ‘representative democracy’[2]. A system that gives decision-/policy-/legislative-making power to ‘representatives’ who are selected/elected by a set region/group. The basic premise is that chosen representatives serve the interests of the constituents whom have elected them[3].

For anyone disenfranchised with their current crop of politicians in office and believe they are not being represented, one of the automatic responses/thoughts that the vast majority of people have as its municipality/province/state/country approaches any election is something along the lines of: “This time, if we elect just the right people, I can be properly represented, and we can set things straight and get addressing/solving our problems.”

Along the lines of this reflexive thinking are a host of other similar notions about the sociopolitical system we are enculturated into.

Elections are important. Voting matters. It is a civic duty to be informed and participate in elections. Our political system is the best, anywhere, and in all of time; it can, given the proper resources and people, solve all our problems. Each election provides a fresh opportunity to improve society. Elections are my opportunity to provide input into my society and make a difference. I get a say in my society by voting.

Elections in the sociopolitical realm have a very long history (as do representative democracies). They have changed dramatically since their early iterations but their original intent remains: a population ‘votes’ to select an individual or group of individuals to organise/lead a particular aspect of society.

Although I have grown to know better, I have to fight against the misinformed but very widely held beliefs I outlined above constantly since they seem so ingrained in my psyche. It’s like the parable about fish not knowing what water is[4]. We don’t realise we are immersed in and greatly affected by certain narratives, and we certainly tend not to question them. They just are.

This, of course, should not be surprising to me. Widely-held beliefs, regardless of their obvious contradictions and counterfactual evidence, are exceedingly common in human societies. Sometimes they get overturned or experience significant shifts, but oftentimes they do not. This is particularly so with religions, that I would contend secularism[5] has — for all intents and purposes — become (and the sociopolitical organisations that have resulted from its philosophy),

Here I am reminded of that quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Increasingly I’ve come to view the notion that the only thing that actually changes after an election is the story we tell[6]. It goes something like this: “If my team wins, all is right with the world or soon will be if we can simply ‘fix’ all the horrendous things the other team did while in office or overcome their roadblocks to our utopia. If the other team wins, the world will soon go to or continue to go to hell in a hand basket because they hold the wrong view of the world (and tend to be misguided, even evil).” All subsequent events/decisions/actions are then interpreted through this lens.

It’s important to note that I have not always felt this way about politics and the idea that it is the best means of addressing a society’s pressing issues. When I was younger I held a strong belief that voting and good representation was critically important, and it was my civic duty to be engaged in an informed manner and support the system. I voted religiously from my first opportunity after turning 18 to well into my 30s.

Various opportunities arose for me to be more deeply involved in ‘political’ matters as I weaved my way through life. From being a union representative for part-time workers in the grocery store I was employed at; to getting involved with the student union within the department I was studying within during my university education; to being a representative, executive member, and political action committee chair of the teachers’ federation during my years as a classroom to teacher; and finally, to involvement as an executive member of our local administrators’ council and senior negotiator[7] as I finished out my career in education.

All of these experiences, however, had significant moments where I began to question quite critically the entire narrative I was interpreting the world through. More and more I reflected upon these as signals that something was just not right[8]. And more and more I came to view much (if not all) of what I was a participant in and active member of as mere theatre. A play that was being performed for the benefit of all: the ‘leaders’ sustained their hold on the status quo power and wealth structures while the ‘participants’ maintained their belief that they had agency in the decisions being made. A win-win for all.

Why is any of this relevant to the impending societal decline that will accompany ecological overshoot?

Apart from the observation that there is increasing evidence that there is no ‘solution’ to the predicament of ecological overshoot, I share these thoughts to try and point out why I firmly believe (and think others should as well) that our political systems should not be where we are looking for mitigation strategies since the kind of things we should be doing are not in the elite’s interest. As a result, the political systems that have been created and maintained by our ruling elite will avoid like the plague discussions/strategies that would undermine their goals. In fact, I would argue that they will do (are doing) those things that meet their primary concern and actually serve to make our predicament worse; all the while twisting narratives to suggest the opposite.

They will encourage growth at every opportunity. Some may wrap it up in a blanket of ‘green’ stating such things as ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’, but it will be growth requiring a further drawdown of finite resources and increasing environmental degradation accompanied by a loss of biodiversity and important ecological systems.

They will not encourage self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Instead, they will increase those policies that create dependency upon government and large corporations. They will do this by promising more and more services and responsibilities be the purview of government (and select private partnerships) thereby requiring more taxes to increase the size of the systems they control and manage — while pillaging national ‘treasuries’ in the process.

They will pay what amounts to lip service to ecological/environmental concerns (see how they will spin narratives around growth above) to appease certain societal factions, but leverage this to their advantage.

In fact, they will leverage everything at each and every opportunity to meet their primary goal of control/expansion of those things that generate revenue for them (and thus their positions of power and prestige).

They will talk about freedom, democracy, and citizen input while they tighten the screws of narrative control, censorship, surveillance, deplatforming, etc..

The political system is not your friend and you should not be turning to it for any type of salvation as more and more crises emerge because of our overshoot.

As Johann Von Goethe stated several centuries ago: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

For the most part, ignore the theatre that is politics and move ahead in your preparations for a world experiencing significant diminishing returns on important resources and a slow (sometimes fast) breakdown in the complexities we’ve come to rely upon.

Organise locally with like-minded neighbours and/or family and begin to relocalise as much of the basic necessities of life and living. Learn those skills that are going to be needed as the world returns to a much ‘simpler’ way of living and without much (all?) of the technologies we currently have.

Ignore as much as you can the theatrical performance of the ruling elite as they weave narratives to convince you that you actually have agency in what is happening in the world outside your home/community. They only want you to believe that because having ‘legitimacy’ via narrative control and belief systems is so much easier and more efficient than having to use force[9].

But don’t fool yourself by believing that force won’t be used by our politicians if they deem it necessary. When narrative control fails, they will fall back upon their last vestige of control — physical force…only they won’t call it that and will likely spin it as for our ‘safety’ and ‘security’.

Finally, keep in mind that it takes much effort and constant vigilance to be aware of and avoid the mind traps of our societal enculturation. But it’s necessary to see and understand the world just a bit more clearly.

Finally, my comment on the article that prompted this contemplation:

One of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the hoi polloi by the ruling elite is that they have agency via the ballot box and thereby have some ‘influence’ in policy and actions of their government. The ruling elite have one motivation that is attempted to be met via the leveraging of everything, especially perceived crises: control/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige. Everything else is secondary/tertiary and ultimately also twisted to meet the first goal. This has been the way since the first large complex societies arose some 10,000 years ago and required organisational structures that opened the door to differential access to resources and thus power over others. One of the most effective and efficient means of maintaining the resulting power/wealth structures has been to ‘legitimise’ them in one way or another. From hereditary rule to descending from the gods to elections, the rule of the elite is assured and maintained. The plebes? They’re convenient labour, tax donkeys, and war fodder.

Article of interest:

Making the Case for Kleptocratic Oligarchy (as the Dominant Form of Rule in the United States) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/23175300.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A3ccd9f00397b32e538b8cfa4daebfa8a&ab_segments=&origin=&acceptTC=1

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[1] This is particularly relevant right now as my municipality is littered (and I use that word purposively) with signs for its local election. I cannot stand the visual blight that election signs are.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representative_democracy

[3] I almost spit my coffee out on my keyboard after rereading that sentence and chuckling…

[4] https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/this-is-water; https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/you-dont-know-water-until-you-ve-left-your-fishbowl-8ad13e2a14b8

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

[6] It’s important to keep in mind that homo sapiens is a story-telling ape that weaves comforting and relatively simplistic narratives for a variety of reasons but mostly to rationalise our world and its complexities.

[7] I helped to negotiate multi-million dollar contracts for the hundreds of administrators in my board of education.

[8] When I sense that something is just not right, I’m reminded of a couple of lines at the beginning of a Men Without Hats’ song (Unsatisfaction) I listened to often in the 1980s: “I’m never satisfied when the answers could be real. I may not know what’s right, but I know this can’t be it!” https://youtu.be/m20F0g41ORg The ’80s had GREAT music!

[9] Please note, none of this contemplation should imply or be interpreted as a call to completely ignore the machinations of the ruling elite and allow them to run freely over the planet and its people and other species. Challenging their rule through civil protest and similar means should continue; perhaps even ramp up significantly. If nothing else, it may serve to slow their destructive policies; but don’t fool yourself and expect that it will stop it via elections and voting. I would love to see an election held and not one person shows up to vote. I would think the message from that event would resound through society for quite some time. Although at this juncture in time, I can imagine the knee-jerk response (i.e., leveraging of a ‘crisis’) would be to blame the episode on some outside state actor who hates us for our freedoms.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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