Sunday, April 15, 2018


Definition of democracy. 1 a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority. b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”  (Merriam-Webster)

There are enough problems with this system to keep people wrestling with the idea of something better.  Part of the problem is that many of the defining properties in the definition are unconscious,  For instance, the idea of a “supreme power” lodged in many minds is still the old idea of a God, a sort of Sky King who controls and judges everything.  Our modern scientific understanding of what-happens-and-why is much more controlled by the idea of a zillion little forces, some of them unseen, that converge in many ways, sometimes with disconcerting results.

One of the forces that has been active in the past and still sputters along in the deep recesses of the minds of old white men is the notion that whatever  they think is right really “is.”  Humans have often been saved by the turnover between generations, when the sons have had enough of the sins of the fathers and simply turned the page.  This isn’t happening quickly enough and people in power are clinging to their privilege when they are eighty, statistically likely to be nuts and to fall asleep in meetings.  This is not to mention the complication of women being active.

Of course it is obvious that “free elections” are not possible when hostile cyberhackers can reach into our machinery.  Anyway, how is it possible to take a vote — or even a census — when people are not invested by being citizens in some provable way besides the way they appear.  And how is it that corporations think they are people except when it comes to morality. 

Among the many sins of the media is the tendency to make everything into a food-fight, a binary of extreme positions (including invented facts) that never lead to the reconciling integration as in the original schema for courts and other decisions.  (Thesis and antithesis are supposed to end in synthesis.)  This strategy leads to amazing deadends and excludes most alternatives, insights, and realistic strategies.  The lowest part of the brain comes alive, which gives institutions and businesses the idea that they are real, not a velveteen rabbit but an enraged toy.  Certainly it puts their profits on steroids.  (Of course, a little reversal like a falling stock market and they all panic.)  The strategy ends with “winner takes all” or “last man standing” which are ideas both based on the devastation of war, “winning” the rubble, not the race.

Jamie Bartlett, whose scruffiness somehow makes him more convincing, outlines a strong case for what the internet allows the self-entitled people to do — if they can manage code.  That means sub-groups like pariahs, outcasts and elitists who have no concern for democracies except to get them out of the way, because they are conformist.  Not just trying to make everyone alike, but trying to make everyone like them.  

But the way “in” is merchandise, the source of all the middle-class features (paying bills, meeting deadlines, keeping the shelves stocked, small scale innovation, dependable shipping). jamie_bartlett_how_the_mysterious_dark_net_is_going_mainstream   This is Jamie on a TED talk, which is a middle-class source to reassure you.

Alas for democracy, these systems are ways of evading taxation.  How do you tax “pay pals”?  Two deep desires meet in the internet:  a desire for privacy, esp when it comes to enforcers; and a demand to control one’s own morality, whether it is avoiding caffeine or admitting murder.  (We have new residents who believe it is justified to kill their defiant children.  Many of our own neighbors feel confident about torturing their children.)

A deep split exists — more than one between countries — between American urban and rural populations.  Many of the differences are based on wealth or use of technology.  They enable a contrast in invisibility where accumulating data is possible without the observed party knowing.  Trackers, scraping data, stoplight cameras.  It’s very hard for ordinary people to remember that the internet does NOT belong to them.  It is a constantly observable record, a fact ignored by teenagers and shifty politicians, who are invested in card tricks.  These differences are forces for “tribalism” where people belong to groups smaller than the whole, the whole defined as a nation.  (I’m unsure about allegiance to something larger than nations, larger than humans, larger than living beings, because once in the realm of “spirituality” and abstracts, there are no dependable constraints except in a few pounds of gel-like brain tissue.)

Republican and Democrat are tribes.  They can vanish almost overnight simply because they offend the consensus of what is “right and good”.  The sponsors disappear.  The venture capital is missing.  The pews are empty.  What is admired right now is wealth — it hasn’t always been that way.  The internet is dependent on electricity.  What if the power grids go down?  What if the satellites fall out of the sky?

Our goal is a kind of consensus that supports the good of the whole, things like honor and worthiness.  At last, in the pursuit of a fire exit to push Trump down, we have some upon a few characters who at least LOOK worthy: Comey and Mueller.  And we realize at last that there are people in the government that do their jobs no matter what the political winds might blow in off the streets.

But we also realize that we haven’t got enough or the right kind of safeguards to prevent criminal people from gaming the system.  Most daunting of all is the idea that Trump only had some vague idea about a president being a king so as to evade justice, and that it was Putin who saw the possibilities from the treacherous vantage point of his own throne.  Some people think Zuckerberg is more dangerous to democracy than Putin.

My father— who looked rather like Trump because of the same genes but thought very differently because of being raised on a potato farm in the Canadian northern prairie— used to say to us, “Well, let’s take a vote and then I’ll decide.”  We used to point out that this was not democracy, to no avail.

As time passed, he lost his position.  And his job.  And all effectiveness.  He became a shadow, buying books he never read, taking photos no one saw, hiding porn, nodding off in a huge overstuffed chair with the heat turned on high.  Luckily, my mother took over and she respected the bond of matrimony enough to tolerate him.  And luckily he didn’t get violent.

The Statue of Liberty cannot take over for any president.  She is symbolic, from France where they systematically guillotined all their aristocrats.  She is art, which is hard to control.  She does not stand for “free elections.”  She stands for free immigration.  Ask the indigenous people how that worked out.

For now we need to jigger the system: reform the electoral college and gerrymandering; make all elections for one term only (end campaigning for re-election); allow no one over 65 to run for office; impose a tech class for new officials so that representatives understand the basics. 

There are some massively pressing deeper issues:  what is marriage?  Who owns kids?  What is ownership of land or resources?  What is religion as an institution and what are its obligations?  

And we need to understand that there are changes coming that are massive, sudden but subtle, unexpected but there all along, so deep that we can hardly guess at them.  The extinguishment of “male” as a gender phenomenon.  California falling into the ocean.  The great currents of sea and air changing their patterns so that nations are different.  (Some of us already “got” global warming.)

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