Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Against Democracy

I'm not convinced that democracy is a good idea. It's an idea that I love, but in practice it can become terribly poisonous and discouraging. It just requires too much grown-up behavior. We're not up to it.

I was reading Sapolsky's memoir a couple months ago, and he talked about how stress levels shot up in all the baboons whenever the alpha was challenged, and the lines of the hierarchy became unclear. I see the same thing at election time: the human beings all become anxious and fearful, and liable to outbursts of rage; their intelligence, individual and collective, seems to drop several notches. I'd prefer to think that we're capable of a non-hierarchical society, but I wonder if we are.

One of the signs of this is the disinclination to vote for anyone imperfect: the longing to vote for a perfect human being, rather than for an ordinary party, run by ordinary human beings, with a list of things it would like to do. I was puzzled by the responses to Obama until I understood this. He's a good solid center democrat, way over to the right of me in many ways, over to the left in others. His voting record in the Senate was clear and consistent, if short. He's as good at trying to do what he said he was going to try to do as any president I remember. No surprises. Standard Democratic Party stuff. But the excitement that surrounded him was intense, and I think it's best understood in terms of primate psychology: we had had a weak alpha for a long time, who couldn't speak persuasively, and made many obviously bad decisions. Here was a confident, persuasive one. And he was a different color! Maybe that would make a difference! I really think much of the excitement, and consequent disappointment, is as simple as that. We're not really very complicated critters, in a lot of ways.

And instead of blaming themselves for electing a Democratic president, a divided Senate, and a Republican House – a configuration which our constitution pretty much guarantees will prevent any significant legislation – Americans are preparing to do exactly the same thing again. And again, they will blame the subsequent paralysis on Obama and on Congress, as if anything else could happen. The marching orders of the Republican House are – present right-wing legislation. The marching orders of the Democratic Senate are – quash it.

I've always been irritated by employers who blame their employees. You've got the power; you set the rules; if they're not getting the work done, it's your fault, not theirs. I feel that way about the American public blaming congress. If you want them to work, you have to give them consistent orders that make sense.

I see no sign that Americans, generally, take their responsibilities as a democratic people seriously. They don't take the time to do democracy properly: they won't learn about the issues, they won't engage with the Americans who disagree with them. They seem to me childish, petulant, and irresponsible. They have no idea how to solve the problems of the country, and yet they're eager to blame congress for also having no idea. The constant bleating pleas for “leadership” are ominous. This is a democracy. We are supposed to be the leaders. That's the whole idea.

It's only this situation that has enabled the lobbyists for the large business and corporate interests to gain their ascendancy. They do take the time to learn about the issues, to work out long-range plans, and to engage with people who don't agree with them. I don't like these people – they're political mercenaries: but the fact is they're behaving more like citizens, by and large, than we are.


christopher said...

I agree with this, if it matters. The view from here is similar. I am no better, though, so I largely keep quiet about it. I frankly don't want to spend time in the political realm and think people who do are strange and scary. If the whole thing had a different cast then I might be able to fit in with it but for my whole life the politicians have turned me off. I liked Ron Wyden in his early days but as a senator... Back in the sixties I was associated with the various movements, the sum total of which was basically pull the whole thing down. We failed utterly with that, but we did rip apart the support for the Vietnam war and we did push certain aspects of social change.

marly youmans said...

Insightful and on the mark about the nature of we the people.

Although I must say that it has been quite a while since I liked a candidate from either of the two main parties... I like the way we snagged our first president. Imploring competent people into office who don't want to be there seems far preferable to the current circus.

Nimble said...

Well put. I think primate behavior explains a great deal of the human experience. Yes, we are on the whole lazy and distracted and unwilling to go to meetings, learn and build plans. I know I am reluctant to do those things.
Looking forward to the time change this weekend and then the election being over next week!
Found your blog via Box Elder.