Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hell Of Our Own Making

One of the more egregious manifestations of deeply limited education systems and uncritical, for-profit media is the unquestioning acceptance of representative democracy and the political parties that dominate it. The thought that it might not be the best way to govern modern societies is rarely raised in mainstream discourse, and those few who do suggest that a change ought to be considered are roundly derided throughout the establishment. Readers familiar with the theory in social psychology of system justification may understand at least one reason why resistance to new ideas is so strong.

In reality, the political party system is just about the worst possible way to govern a free society.

The kind of people who rise to the very top of political power are, in the vast majority of cases, absolutely the last people we would want there. In order to get ahead in politics, one needs to establish networks and contacts, a vast web of back-scratching alliances with people who are in many cases just as ambitious or power hungry as you are. Elected officials are supposed to be servants of the public, but does anyone think for one minute that the likes of Obama, Cameron or Abbott actually consider themselves servants of any subset of civilian society - especially, say, the poor?

We also know that psychopathic personalities are attracted to positions of power, meaning that some - perhaps even many - of the highest elected officials are likely to have little or no capability of empathy for those suffering under their watch.

From the article:

It is important to understand the nature and prevalence of the intelligent and covert psychopath. The people in society with the strongest dispositions to acquiring and abusing power are also the most ruthless and totally without empathy. Their inability to care about fellow humans is precisely why they are so prone to ending up at the top of the pyramid (in addition to the likelihood of being born at the top of the pyramid). And there are millions of them.

We know from the millions who have died under psychopathic tyrants throughout history that power corrupts. No human being, however noble they may appear, can be trusted with significant power that can not be immediately taken away from them. [Note: for more, read an earlier blog on this issue.]

All too often politicians create policies and make judgments and decisions without heeding the consensus views of credible (not celebrity) economists, scientists and other experts. By any measure, that is insane. When the British Prime Minister David Cameron described the London riots of 2011 as ‘criminality, pure and simple’, was he conveying to the public theories suggested to him by leading sociologists and riot experts? Or had he judged the public mood, found it extremely hostile toward the rioters, and taken the opportunity to make a populist statement designed to insulate himself and his administration from criticism and culpability over other possible causes of the riots?

Unfortunately, people like David Cameron are not confined to politics; they can also be found at the top of big corporations and banks. Consider this exchange in the British Independent newspaper between a film maker, Chris Atkins, and an unnamed representative of the Royal Bank of Scotland on the subject of several British banks investing in companies which make cluster bombs:

Atkins: "Did you know that RBS are investing in the companies that make cluster bombs?"
Banker: "Excellent – how much money is it making us?"
"About £20m," I guessed.
(Groans with pleasure) "Print that."
"Is that good for you?”
"Yep. How do you think you get paid your benefits?" (I was wearing a pretty grubby T shirt).
"Er, I'm not on benefits. I'm a journalist."
"How do you think the banks make money? By investing in things."
"But cluster bombs mainly kill civilians."
"They're 'things'."


Around 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War and around 300 people there are killed or injured/maimed every year even today. Many of these victims are children. They have also been used in other countries around the world and still pose a severe menace to civilian populations.

The unnamed representative is a merchant banker. There are people working in and out of government who lack empathy and compassion and whose only priorities are their own well-being and survival, who have a great deal of power and influence over our societies and lives with no accountability for the impact of their actions upon others.

[Note: after this exchange made the national press, the Royal Bank of Scotland ceased investing in these companies.]

Further, most readers will be aware, and if they are not, they should be, that political parties are ideal breeding grounds for corruption, clannishness, cronyism, selfishness and greed. Conventional wisdom states that political parties are a necessary evil as they are all we have, and if they were not there, societies could be dragged down from civilized democracies into barbarism. This is a damaging and erroneous view.

Elections are often turned by the media into epic battles between two (or more) opposing sides, as if they were sporting contests or movie plots. This satisfies the pre-requisite for modern 24-hour news channels - manufactured drama - and so the electorate is duly drenched in endless minor scandals regarding gaffes of one particular party representative or another. This, combined with the fact that modern parties spend a fortune on PR companies who strictly control everything politicians say in public, leads to an atmosphere of extreme pressure for politicians who know that any gaffe could easily be their last and who therefore play it as safely as possible, avoiding certain important but controversial issues and mouthing platitudes for the cameras.

How is honest debate expected to thrive or even exist in such an atmosphere? Certain vital issues, made taboo for politicians by the media, are either left untouched or treated in unrealistic, media-friendly ways with sound bites and catchphrases. And people, not to mention the democratic process, inevitably suffer.

What this means is that when a politician makes a statement, it is not what he or she actually believes; rather it is what they have been told to say by highly-paid advisers with reams of public opinion data in order for the public to strategically hear what they want to hear. Public statements are tactical, designed purely to improve their own standing while damaging that of opponents. In other words, you cannot believe a word they say. There is no guarantee that politicians will keep their word after they are elected anyway. Indeed, there are numerous instances of politicians doing the exact opposite of what they promise in campaigns. This is where the name 'Nick Clegg' might pop into your mind.

Yet another issue is the fact that modern election campaigns are extremely expensive. Rich donors or corporations can donate large amounts of money in some democracies and expect favors in return once a party or leader is elected. These favors often take the form of huge tax breaks, deregulation, or the passing of laws that help the donors, while in many cases hurting either ordinary civilians or the environment. Further, the existence of tax loopholes greatly helps these huge corporations: Bank of America with a profit of $6.28 billion in 2009 and General Electric with a profit of over $10 billion paid no US federal taxes in 2009. These loopholes, which are so damaging to society, are highly unlikely to be closed while politicians are beholden to the corporations and wealthy donors who fund their campaigns.

We also have big manufacturers who have used their power and influence over politicians to push through trade agreements which reduce product safety standards and allow them to outsource jobs. Oil companies do the same to block environmental protection laws. Britain has been described as the world’s first onshore tax haven, with the UK’s billionaires paying only 14.7 million pounds income tax on their combined 126 billion pounds as far back as 2006/7. More recent data is unavailable as corporations, banks and the wealthy tend not to be forthcoming with details of their finances.

And let us not forget lobbying, which is the attempt, often by individuals, corporations or advocacy groups, to influence government policy and decision-making. In some democracies, lobbying is so entrenched in political culture that it has become the normal way to do business, sometimes to the disadvantage of ordinary voters. While it can be legitimately argued that lobbying is a necessary part of a democracy, as indeed it is, the financial power and resources of some lobbyists gives the wealthy and powerful an insurmountable advantage over ordinary citizens, whose voices are often unheard.

In the UK, the Conservative Party led by David Cameron is governing in a coalition with the smaller Liberal Democrats. Despite gaining only 36.1% of the popular vote (with a turnout of 65%), Cameron is forcing radical education and health policies on the nation, as well as a brutal austerity drive which has led to the cutting of hundreds of beneficial, sometimes vital, social programs. The majority of the country do not want these radical policies, and do not support the Conservative Party, but have to accept them anyway. When the majority of the country is forced into accepting policies they did not vote for and which were not even discussed before the ballot, something is clearly wrong with the system.

Politicians in modern democracies have, ultimately, only three priorities - to get elected, to stay elected, and to enact legislation which favors those who funded their election. In order to do this, they will say or do whatever it takes to win, and that depends on the demographics of their electoral district. Priority is placed on pleasing the electorate in the short-term, and making promises that sound good and make sense to people who may not have all the facts at their command, or are too busy or indifferent to understand a given issue in depth. One common approach of politicians in countries which have problems with violence, for example, is to appear tough on crime. This leads to statutes like ‘three strikes’ laws, where long (sometimes life) mandatory sentences are handed down for three felony offenses, no matter how minor.

It is highly unlikely that any politician would follow the advice of experts on, say, criminal behavior if the advice would cause them to lose an election. This is an extremely harmful dichotomy as it can severely hamper social progress, and is prevalent in many fields of government policy, most notably the environment and education. What is the point of having experts at all if they are not used to improve our societies, if their advice is ignored and even condemned by politicians who may have no discernible expertise in the fields in question?

Billions are spent by lobbyists, politicians and political campaigns on PR companies whose sole purpose is to get their client elected, or to ensure a certain piece of legislation gains public support, no matter what, and will do everything in their vast power to achieve this by means of using the media to mislead or misinform the public into supporting or voting for something that may well not be in their interest. Not by any stretch of the imagination does this behavior have any place in a democracy. Put in frank terms, it is simply groups of greedy shysters teaching groups of power-hungry shysters how to play the crowd.

Honest public debate, the lifeblood of democracy, has been replaced by an endless series of punchy, voter-friendly sound bites designed to manipulate public opinion to maximum effect. Are we to accept that complex social issues can be compressed into a few catchy sentences? Major cable news channels add to this problem with cheesy catchphrases, showing once again that the news itself is a product that has to be nicely packaged before human consumption.

And now we hear the totally unsurprising news that the NSA spies on the pornography viewing habits of targeted individuals. This adds the element of blackmail, a potent threat that now can easily be held over any elected officials who might not be voting the way the corporations want. Given that literally billions of people watch pornographic material at some time or other, it is likely that most lawmakers would be very reluctant to see details of their porn search keywords leaked to the gutter press just before they launch their next election campaign.

This then is yet another flaw in our political systems. The lawmakers we elect to protect us are now compromised by their own human weaknesses that can be used to destroy them. How many of them would vote against their conscience to loosen environmental regulations at the behest of, say, fracking companies, in order to avoid the threat of scandal and the destruction of their careers?

All this can be avoided by abandoning the fatally flawed systems we sustain and trying something new, a system in which none of the above flaws are possible.

A revolution of thought and consciousness is urgently needed as we come to a crossroads where we have to choose: endless war for profit, ever worsening debt slavery, the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law, and the possible destruction of our species through catastrophic climate change through the actions of voracious corporations. Or a new path of freedom, equality, peace, justice and enlightenment.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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