*This piece is an edited version of one published in late 2015 entitled "Is Our Demcracy upside down?", requested by several readers in light of Bernie Sander's growing popularity.
This November, you are not being asked to decide who is the next President of the United States. You are being asked exactly how prepared you are to admit that our democracy is officially upside down. At the present time, both Bernie (and Trump for that matter) are the only candidates who are willing to risk on what they percieve to be the truth. Now, I happen to agree with the Senator from Vermont almost across the board, so I am bound to take a lashing for it.
That being made obvious to the reader-here's what here's what Bernie is actually talking about, if you are actually listening.
Since 2008, we have seen the formal economy we live in becoming more and more top-heavy. As we speak, more wealth is centralized to the top most portion of society than ever before in recorded history. We also see the emergence of a "shared economy," which is nothing more than lots of unemployed people pooling their resources. Meanwhile, a progression of endless wars is perpetuated and obscured. We are no longer sure whom we are fighting or why, or when it will end. In fact, given the newly virtual aspect of war (cyber crime and terrorism), we can be sure conflict may never actually "end".
Second, the real genius of the capitalist marketplace and it's media is the absolute (and somewhat profane) cooption of meaning and the trivialization of almost everything else. You need only consider this very publishing platform and the variance of clutter and white noise that exists on it for proof. Given the extraordinarily rapid proliferation of news, the media now makes quick fodder. Technology is made in such a way that our attention is fragmented. True information is a commodity, a free one that most do not bother with.
Amidst this growing confusion of problems, who has almost absolute authority over our lives? Are we in control of what we chose, or are we led along the primrose path by the facade of freedom itself? After all, there must be something more compelling to live for than buying more shit we do not need.
Let me make the following necessary clarification that the good Senator from Vermont does not.
I do not believe that genuine democracy has had its day.
Democracy itself does not instill fear because democracy has yet to be realized in any meaningful form.What Sanders asks us to do is question our definition of it, and courageously ask if our actions match that meaning. Do the actions of corporations and billionaires reflect the best of the Republic? No they certainly do not.
In other words, we must find out if we are prepared to walk our talk. Democracy on it's own, in any form, has yet to produce any semblance of global unity. In fact, besides meaningless gestures, (consider the Super Bowl halftime show the grandest thereof) the only things we have in common with most democratized nations is that the natural resources of those countries are extracted by the same people.
The ambiguation between democracy and consumerism is real.
People complain of corporate slavery but do nothing about it. You needn't do more than search for this platform with the words "quit your job" to check the pulse of what is almost widespread dissatisfaction and lower wages. The system is quite good at extracting what it needs and wants, both from the biosphere and us. The system is brutally efficient at destroying meaning, and confabulating spirituality as a novel gimmick. Of ripping almost all meaning from whence it sprang. You can become a cliche in the blink of an eye. Keep that in mind.
According to Max Weber, "a political leader is rendered superfluous by the very cold bureaucratic world he presides over". We are left to consider the perilous ambiguity of any political operative supposedly fired by deep compassion to help the country, who faces the objective world of bureaucracy. To be effective, he or she must dance imperfectly. She must make missteps cover those missteps. How can we expect this person to succeed?
If we do not live in a participatory democracy; we live in an elaborate facade.
Now there is a Presidential election, and so we must once again grin and reconcile the reality of electoral politics against the actual percentage of voters who exercise their "God-given right". We will endure the incantation (and insult) of the great founding document, the Constitution. We will hear a New Yorker expound absurdities, a Texan growl and howl about inviolable civil liberties while his most vocal constituents call for killing homosexuals. They will clutch a bible, their long-guns and terrorize mosque-goers, who will in turn (as if already trained during their Hb1 interview), invoke freedom of the speech as sacrosanct."Let them hate us," they will say, and end up bruised and beaten.
Then We, as concerned citizens shall appeal the entire matter to the trusted independence of the judiciary, and they will tell us--All is well, the imperial presidency and corporate citizen are not out to destroy democracy because democracy does not exist, it is your imagination, please return to your regular programming. Be assured that the 5mm media spend on "flag waving" at NFL games last year was not a publicity stunt, it was a propaganda coup d'etat. Edward Bernays did not just roll over in his grave; he did a back-flip and landed on George Washington.
Unfortunately, Hobbes had many things right: when citizens are insecure and at the same time driven by competitive aspirations, they yearn for political stability rather than civic engagement, protection rather than political involvement.* The facade is designed to create instability to keep us off balance and passive. We live in an economy of fear, a system of control whose power feeds on our uncertainty, yet a system that, according to its analysts and pundits seems actually rational, which it is not.
I have a dear, very smart friend who likes to refer to politics as the "dog and pony show". With six years of academic philosophy and two years of Law School, I used to cringe at the notion that my cherished ideas of the Republic were so flimsy. However, all I needed to do was snap on CNN. The media perpetuates these two things all the time. First, it perpetuates banality, and second it projects political spectacle. The banality keeps us clicking on the wrong topics and hopelessly distracted while the endless and extravagant election cycles constitute "politics without political value".
The result is that instead of participating in democracy, the virtual citizen gets to vent all manner of ‘opinions’: which are predictable responses to questions predesigned to extract gut-level, knee-jerk reactions. Do candidates discuss substantive issues? No, they do not. The moderators and canned journalists center the dialogue on the cult of personality, empty rhetoric, and slick PR.
Every current presidential candidate—especially Bernie Sanders—understands that questioning the facade of democracy is verboten. “Cultural wars" might seem an indication of intense political involvements but in actuality they are proxies. Politicians are eager to take firm stands on nonsubstantive issues so that they might distract attention from what is going on. An elaborate bait and switch occurs-reports on the Paris attacks are eclipsed Charlie Sheen's health status, and then attacks in Mali are soon overshadowed by Charlie Sheen's response to Jenny McCarthy's comments on his health status.
I tell you, we are upside down and have been for some time now.
We are playing a game in which our betters have managed to undermine the possibility of activism and cohesiveness. To be politically effective, they have created different, distinct interest groups that inevitably find themselves in tension or at odds with other groups. There is no possibility of organized dissent because we are busy fighting one another. Our "democracy isn't "endangered" because it doesn't exist yet. Our unity as a citizenry will determine it's real birth.
We are like drunk middleweights swinging wildly at one another in late rounds. We are exhausted, and put on the ropes-raging about immigrants, Islamists, homosexuality, or people with guns, or by our ire or love of a President, who has like every President before him, has done nothing for to improve the conversation and heighten the dialogue. We are spoken to like kindergartners on the swings. "Don't swing too high," they say.
We are upside down, and we must turn ourselves right side up, and soon. Bernie or no Bernie.
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