Friday, November 22, 2013


Can Democracy work in the 21st century?  Particularly in a capital-based international economy that is operated through the Internet?  

First of all, democracy is a concept for how decisions are made and presumes that the citizens of a country are of equal importance, similar culture, and comparable worth who will vote intelligently.  It was devised in a small country that operated face-to-face (or possibly in hand-written messages carried by messengers) and the only people qualified to be citizens were white males who owned property.  Women, slaves, and immigrants were excluded.  Compare with today:  women included, no “race” barriers, large fractions of quite different people who do not have the same values.  Two-income families with very little time, likely to change partners several times.  The society is very complex with covert layers and illegal components invested in staying hidden, but with access to major sources of money that are never taxed or disclosed.  No skin in the game.  A congress that is almost entirely lawyers.

In a capital-based economy, money is made through usury -- to be blunt.  That is, people with money loan out that money (they call it investment) in return for interest and sometimes control.  The contrast is money that comes from selling objects or services.  Some services are lowly (cleaning motel rooms) and poorly paid; some services require investment in education (indirect capital) and are extravagantly paid (psychoanalysis).  Capital has immense power to distort democracy.

Capital also gives access.  Consider that in order to get onto the internet, one must have access to the machine and a subscription, but then also make the investment of effort in learning how to use them.  Time and education are two aspects of capital.  Democracy urges that public money be used to give more people access to the machine and the subscription, but time and education are not usually provided without money, so there is a component to both democracy and capitalism that depends on individual beliefs and motivation.  If citizens believe they can learn and have access, they do much better.  But these days newspapers and bookstores are withering.

The next piece of this reflection comes from a strange source:  data-scraping in order to understand pornography, which is one way to make what Ogi Ogdas and Sai Gaddam call “the firehose of research information” focused enough to interpret.  There are two major revelations: that moralizing interferes, and that we have not looked at the reality of people because of the political dimension of moralizing.  Authorities do NOT want you to know or even look.  This is evaded on the internet, or was when we thought it was all secret, which is why there is such a firestorm over data accumulation that can be used to know a great deal about individuals or by “data-scraping” to know a surprising lot about society as a whole.   Focusing on pornography info raises the issue of censorship that distorts reality, but also presents the dilemma of discovering behavior that people will be tempted to imitate but having to show it in order to study it.

In their long painstaking exploration of something that wants to stay secret -- partly because the secrets are a source of capital and a covert distortion of democracy -- Ogdas and Gaddam were somehow able to keep analyzing and reflecting.  They kept looking for the most basic element of sexuality: what is it REALLY about?   Not in Freud’s sense or in neuroscience terms, but in human society, what is sex really about?  The answer was dominance/submission.  Who gets to be on top?  Which of course means that the initiated know how to game being on the bottom, so as to be the covert top.  Is a baby, whose mother runs to help it when it cries, controlling the mother and therefore redefining the baby as the top?  Is resentment over being controlled that way one source of violence against infants? 

Clearly in our politics today we are controlled by what is called in French (naturally, since they obsess over these things, never forgetting that they stand on scorched and bloody earth) Ressentiment.”  It is a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one's frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one's frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority generates a rejecting/justifying morality which attacks or denies the perceived source of one's frustration.”   Like women.  Or authorities.  In schools the kids resent the teachers, in families the parents resent the kids, at work the employees resent the boss -- and it’s always a two-way game.  The politicians resent the voters and vice versa.  Sex is just a little mirror simulacrum.  Politics persists even when we’re fucking.  Who's on top?

Because the internet and the computer allow us to take advantage of tiny gradients in value, timing, and regulations, capitalists and politicians who can manage the accumulations of differences can win the game big-time.  Consider the man a decade ago who figured out how to make an ATM deposit machine round the amount down to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference (only a matter of cents) into his account.  By the time he was caught, he was a very wealthy man.  Now consider the Plan D insurer of mine, SilverScript, which was required to account for all transactions over a period of time because of suspicion that many mistakes had been made.  This resulted in me receiving a check in the amount of three cents, which probably cost something like a dollar to determine and send before I even bother to deposit it, which I won't.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing that the video games teach is NOT violence or even sex, but rather the ability to handle tiny variations in strategy that yield major returns and accrue into fortunes.  All beneath the radar of regulations.

Regulations, definitions, laws and rules can be another source of undermining democracy and even capitalism.  A good underdog who can learn all this stuff can rip off, defend or enforce it in ways that benefit those who employ them.  While I was calling around, trying to understand what I did wrong with my insurance premiums (I DID do wrong -- I admit it.), I was struck by how much boilerplate I was handed.  Before they even understood the particularities of my situation, phone answerers were spewing, INSISTING,  on a lot of stuff that was probably relevant in most cases but not in mine.  One-size-fits-all is a power assumption, because that one size is dictated and enforced by someone trying to make their own lives better.  Rigidity, blindness, denial -- they’re present in the domain of sex and everywhere else.

The other thing that struck me was that as soon as I even opened up the website of an insurance company, the phone rang with their agent on the other end, emphasizing that he or she knew how to steer me through this dangerous maze and that he or she was “licensed” which probably means that, like a real estate salesmen, they had passed a test.  I had barely typed my name into a form when they were on me like hens on a bug.  But somewhere someone is also recording my name onto a data list so that it can be “scraped” for prospects and knowledge.  They knew much about me as soon as they could pull up a screen.

It’s said that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re being followed, threatened and possibly harmed.  Likewise, just because you’re resentful about the way you’re pushed into being a loser all the time, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  The problem is how to respond.  What do you need in order to play the game?  Can democracy persist in the face of that game?

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