Urgency and hypocrisy

Content warning: This post contains messages that may be traumatizing to some audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

The attitude expressed, explicitly or implicitly, in much of the political discussion in the West, and in particular in academic discussion, is that the existing political system is essentially, at its core and in its principles, benign. While some room for improvement surely exists, we must not act rashly. The great danger that must be guarded against when considering any changes to our political system is that we might very well end up with fewer of the great benefits that the current system bestows upon us. “Us” in this usage is supposed to cover essentially all of society, rather than just the author and their select audience.

This attitude is deplorable. The situation of the world is dire. It is sometimes said that we are living in the best of times humanity has known thus far. This may or may not be true, but in any case it is irrelevant. Even if previous times were worse, the situation is appalling. The world is full of misery that can be relatively easily alleviated simply by having public policy which is aimed at such a goal, rather than public policy that is aimed at very different goals.

Outraged rhetoric about atrocities, real, exaggerated, or fabricated, of official enemies is prevalent in the West and so is hand-wringing about the misfortune, real, exaggerated or imagined, of inhabitants of non-Western countries. Yet, even ignoring misery inflicted by Western countries worldwide, misery is rampant in the West itself, misery that can be drastically reduced by appropriate political action.

It is this situation that needs to be kept in mind when considering the Western political system and its linchpin, elections, and when considering potential changes to this system. The problem that needs to be addressed is not a downbeat mood or a feeling of alienation and political disempowerment. The problem is that people are suffering on a mass scale. They are dying, they are physically and psychologically tortured, they are deprived of the basic necessities of life. The system is criminal in its outcomes and the urgency of change is great.

The pretense in standard elite political discourse is that “we all” – in particular the author, their audience, and the political elite – want a better life for all. The unfortunate truth, we are to believe, is that misery is unavoidable and all those who claim that, given the political will, it can be easily significantly reduced are either childishly naive or deliberately manipulative. In either case, the outcome of any attempt to significantly reduce misery will inevitably be more of it. Incremental, circumscribed fixes may be discussed, and the endless rehashing of their details should satisfy us, providing a safe outlet for our energies, a distraction from more dangerous lines of thought, and lucrative careers for some.

This pretense is sustained in the face of all evidence to the contrary. No matter how many people are homeless, no matter how many people die due to lack of adequate healthcare, to workplace accidents or to suicide, no matter how high is the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor, no matter how many people are incarcerated, no matter how common is anxiety and despair. No matter if obvious, straightforward, negligible risk policies exist that in all likelihood would affect many lives for the better, we are always told that things would only be worse if we try to make a meaningful change.

The pretense is also sustained despite the contradiction between its assumptions and the normal assumptions made both in everyday argumentation and in accepted social modeling. It is normally accepted as self-evident, and this is also encoded in standard modeling of behavior, that people pursue their personal and group interests. Such logic is routinely, unreflexively employed when discussing the horrors of foreign “dictators” – rulers who use their power to promote their own interests at the expense of the large majority of the population. Anyone who would insist that dictators should be taken at their word when they claim to be pursuing the common good would be laughed at and dismissed as a fool or a liar. Yet authors of Western elite discourse – journalists, academics, politicians – are to be treated as being completely sincere when they profess a concern for all members of society, and those who doubt this sincerity are branded as louts who should be harshly reprimanded. How dare they impugn the motives of good, hardworking, selfless public servants who dedicate their lives for others and the benefit of society?

Cry me a river. Your hypocrisy is transparent. Your pretense is disgusting. You are benefiting from a system that causes widespread death and misery and you are dedicated to its perpetuation. You should be ashamed of yourselves, but of course, having adopted the distorted mores of this system, you are not.

5 Responses

  1. Yoram reminds me of the Brunet character in J.-P. Sartre’s Roads to Freedom. The 1972 adaptation is currently being re-screened on BBC4: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m0019m8q/the-roads-to-freedom

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  2. I wonder what all these political theorists supporting elections have to say about the travesty that was Afghan free and fair elected democracy. All those elections yet the Afghans apparently never believed in its legitimacy. The wonders of accountability yet Afghan politicians were widely believed to be corrupt. 20 years of nation building by the elite so-called experts of the great United States, and all of that structure crumbled almost immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Part of another document :

    “” I always wondered why so many people dislike our political system, the so-called “representative democracy” and why “direct democracy” would be able to provide an answer.
    Recently, the question was added as to whether direct democracy could avoid the evolution towards a dictatorship, an authoritarian or totalitarian regime.
    The increasing aversion to “democracy” is also due to the fact that politicians, academics, writers and journalists, among others, keep wrongly referring to our political system as a “democracy” when in fact it is, by origin, an “electoral aristocracy “. This “electoral aristocracy”, with some “democratic elements” enforced after long struggles, such as the universal suffrage, then further evolved into a particracy.
    The further evolution towards democracy virtually stopped in most European countries*4, partly due to the “world wars” (1914-1918 /1939-1945). The political system did continue to evolve towards democracy in a few countries and states such as Switzerland, half the states in the US and a few others*5.

    – The first phenomenon that was indicated as the “cause” of the aversion to our political system was “particracy”, the political takeover of power by the political parties.

    – It then became clear that the so-called “representative democracy” is not a democracy at all but that the designation “democracy” is used as electoral propaganda by politicians who are completely opposed to “democracy.” The political system installed after the French/American revolution is an elitist “electoral aristocracy “. The casual reference by our politicians to “our democracy” and “our democratic values” is misleading propaganda. However, the citizen feels, without always knowing the real facts, that our political sytem is based on a lie and disgust is only increasing.””

    But there is of course no indication that any of the “political systems” developed and/or in use in our parts of the world would work in Afganistan.

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  4. John,

    > The wonders of accountability yet Afghan politicians were widely believed to be corrupt

    No need to go all the way to Afghanistan. In the West, we have been electing our governments for many decades, and the belief that government is corrupt only keeps increasing. Why is it that faith in unelected bodies is consistently significantly higher than faith in elected bodies? Mainstream “political science” tends to avoid these questions, but I do not doubt that excuses would be forthcoming. These are creative and committed people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. @paulnollen Well put.

    @Yoram Gat Too true.

    Like

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