Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day


If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal - Anarchist slogan

There's some sort of election going on tomorrow, so I guess I should take the opportunity to air a few thoughts on it so we can all move on. Thankfully this Friday Skyfall comes out so we can all revel in a bit of escapism and put all the ugliness behind us. This topic stirs a lot of passions which is unfortunate, because I'm not sure it deserves our passion anymore; it's like getting upset with your girlfriend at a distance long after you've both gone your separate ways. One reason I rely almost exclusively on foreign media is because I like to cultivate the perspective of a detached observer. Unfortunately, I'm stuck in all this mess with the rest of you. In the games of politics, like economics, there is no way to simply "opt out."

It's hard not to look at the farcical charade that are U.S. elections and not see a country circling the drain. Going from memory, some six billion dollars is being spent in a country where the vast majority of citizens are leading a precarious, marginal existence. The country's infrastructure is crumbling, schools are being closed, buildings are burning down for lack of firefighters, the rail system continues to deteriorate, America's broadband is literally behind Romania, parts of our electrical grid date back to Thomas Edison, and yet a billion dollars is being spent to lead what is, in essence, a third world banana republic. Candidates tussle over how to distribute our imperial armies around the globe and debate the internal affairs of countries on the other side of the planet (Libya, Afghanistan) while the country literally crumbles around us. In America's ridiculous system, only a handful of counties in "swing states" matter anymore, certainly a sign of how moribund our democracy has become.

If there's any silver lining, it's that legitimacy is being lost. The fact that Republicans have gone in for full-throttle voter suppression efforts in the last few elections is telling. So is the fact that CEO's are strong-arming their employees to vote against Obama. So too is  the fact that corporations are investing in black box voting machine companies that are intentionally proprietary and intentionally do not print out a receipt. Perhaps you've seen the story in Harpers, or the Forbes story on the shadowy spiderweb of investments in these companies:

http://harpers.org/blog/2012/10/an-excerpt-from-how-to-rig-an-election/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/10/20/romney-family-investment-ties-to-voting-machine-company-that-could-decide-the-election-causes-concern/

Consider it insurance; even the rulers no longer trust these stage managed elections anymore. This is actually a good sign. Belief in one system has to fade before anything can take its place.

The Republicans scare me. As I've said before, they are not a party but an authoritarian movement. They are perhaps the first authoritarian movement in history where the vast majority of their followers will be actually worse off if they come to power. They are certainly the first to gain a substantial foothold in this country. The signs are all there: violent eliminationist "us versus them" rhetoric, use of physical violence and intimidation against political opponents, a thirst for war, worship of the military, love of guns, contempt for  arts and culture, intolerance of dissent, scapegoating marginalized groups, xenophobia, absolute control over individuals' life choices (birth control, marriage, drug use), reliance on propaganda and deliberate distortion of reality, sacred texts (Atlas Shrugged, The Road To Sefdom), persecution of "intellectuals", politicization of every topic including science, transportation policy, education, the arts, history etc., militant youth groups, enforced ideological purity, hero worship (Reagan) and on and on. Given the authoritarian nature of American society, it's remarkable that it took so long. Reading British media, I'm always amused and a bit alarmed that the British, who take such pride in claiming (with 20/20 hindsight) that they knew how evil the Nazis were before anyone else, see the Tea party as just another cute band of eccentric Americans in tri-corner hats whining about taxes. Goose stepping and Hitler's mustache were funny once as well. They're not so funny anymore.

Whether Romney wins or not, the Republicans will continue to inflict enormous damage at the state level (I live in Wisconsin, I know). Their lobbying groups and propaganda outlets will continue to stymie any effective adaptive response to the crisis at the governmental level (public transportation, walkable neighborhoods, bike lanes, renewable energy, conservation, etc.). They will continue to raise enormous sums to influence the ship of state. It seems inevitable that will one day be given the reins of power again, even if it's not Wednesday. They have yet to coalesce behind any one charismatic leader the way the Nazis did, and Romney's certainly no Hitler, but some of the Richelieus behind the throne are truly terrifying.

This all feeds into my theories on the authoritarian gene. Tuesday the Republicans will turn out and vote for their candidate. Their will be no nuanced debate and there will be no angst. Many, if not most, of these Republican voters will have no idea what their candidate actually stands for, or even campaigned on, or will believe deliberate falsehoods about the opposition which could easily be debunked. They do not care. All they know is that their side has to "win" and the other side has to "lose" and that they need to "take their country back [from their enemies]" Nothing else matters. They will not prevaricate and wring their hands, they will not hold their noses or try to "make a statement" like those Americans, left, right and center,who put thought, intellect and conscience into their choice.That is why authoritarians win; it's why they always win, in the end. "The best are full of doubt, the worst are full of passionate intensity..."

The problem with America today  is that no one person, certainly not a president, controls its destiny anymore. Not even any group of people controls it's destiny. We are swirling in the grip of historic forces that are taking us where we're going to go. As I've said before, the ruling principle of this country is not, nor ever has been, democracy, it's always been capitalism. All we're doing is electing who will preside over it. One version, Romney's, is demonstrably more destructive and rapacious. But either version is destined to fail for reasons I've described so often. It's often said that economics is a subset of politics. In reality, the reverse is true.

The vote or not vote debate. First off, you have to recognize what the purpose of voting is. If you think your vote's going to make a difference or change the world, get over it. That's the genius of voting - one single vote makes no difference. The larger the group the less difference it makes. Of course, despite the rhetoric, they don't want you to vote, they just need to hold an election to claim some sort of legitimacy since we no longer have divine right. The genius of the American system is that through voting people get the illusion of control. Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Mubarak's Egypt, the Soviet Union and modern China all had/have elections too. The failure of capitalism and the downward pressure on living standards necessitates the ratcheting up of the national security state. If we were to plot it on a graph, it's certain that we'll eventually reach Eastern European levels of oppression. That has nothing to do with who is in the White House. If  it's necessary to go to war to secure resources for the corporate machine, then that's what will happen. If it's necessary to put down protest movements with violence to keep the system going, that's what will happen. If it's necessary to destroy the nation's water supply to go after every last drop of fossil fuels, that's what will happen. If it's necessary to rewrite the laws so huge fortunes can be made, then that's what will happen  regardless of who is in the White House, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Green (remember that thing called Congress?)

Whether you vote for one of the third party candidates, mainstream candidates or stay home, either Obama or Romney will be the "legitimate" president, with all the powers that entails, including, increasingly, life and death. That sucks, but that's the way it is. The Russians had it easy - they knew they had no control, but they didn't have to watch the ridiculous spectacle that we have to put up with, and they didn't have their intelligence constantly insulted or political ads rammed down their throats for six months in every media outlet. Personally, I'll vote for Obama, even though it makes no difference, because Mitt Romney is an asshole, and I can't very well vote against my Mitt Romney clone boss. Symbolic resistance, I guess. If I ever get around to writing down my "warlord versus bureaucrat" model of organizational behavior, that might make more sense.

The fact that we are even having this debate means that "they" have already won. One prediction I'm certain about: the loser on Tuesday will be the American people.

3 comments:

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  2. You should read "Tragedy and Hope" by Carroll Quigley (1966), available at www.carrollquigley.net. Authoritarians are always around, ready to be riled up and follow some fanatic, and there are always fanatics available capable of whipping the masses into a frenzy and leading them. Nothing has changed and nothing ever will change in this regard. So authoritarianism in itself explains nothing. Also, the term is itself misleading. The correct term is "highly disciplined". Highly disciplined people always rise to positions of leadership, what else do you expect? Highly disciplined people in what became East Germany went from being mid-level Nazi's to mid-level Communists without skipping a beat. There was an attempt to prevent this in West Germany, but ultimately it was mostly aimed at the top leader, not the mid and lower ranking types. The country simply couldn't afford to discard all the highly-disciplined people who had been part of the nazi regime.

    Anyway, the question is why fascists (those who will misuse the government's power to benefit an elite and also take away democracy) are sometimes able to get their hands on the levers of power in a democracy and other times not. The common thread in Nazism, Fascism elsewhere in Europe and Japanese imperialism in the 1930's was financial elites who felt threatened by rise of socialist and communist ideas at that time. In many cases, these elites were tiny, as a dozen or so CEO's of major conglomerates and banks deciding the fate of the world by financing politicians capable of pandering to the basest instincts of the masses and willing to serve the interest of the rich in order to get their hands on power. As it turns out, the elite overstepped and created a monster they couldn't control, at least in Germany, Italy and Japan. In Spain and Portugal, by contrast, the elites were more successful, and the brutal and exploitative plutocracies they established lasted for decades.

    We don't have a problem with authoritarian personalities. We have a problem with financial elites who have enormous financial power, an political system where financial power can be easily translated into political power, and a view by a majority of the elite that the opportunity currently exists to seize control and entrench themselves in power permanently and that there is no good reason not to take advantage of this opportunity. In other words, they have no worries about overstepping, ala the elites in Germany and Japan in the 1930's. I think they are wrong, and that if they push things too far, we'll end up with a bioterrorist revolution eventually, which will be bad for all of us (much worse for the non-elite than the elite). But then I am cautious and risk-averse by nature, and such a personality doesn't typically make it into the elite, since the system tends to favor the bold or even reckless. Warren Buffett is an exception. He made his billions the cautious and risk-averse way, always letting someone else take the big risks and simply taking advantage of the combined power of compound interest and other people's money. This is why Warren Buffett political position is opposed to that of the majority of the elite. Like me, he appears to be thinking long-term, and doesn't want to risk a revolution.

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