Pops and I had an interesting discussion last night. It was mostly me talking and I think I said enough to begin writing. I expect that this subject will arise several times in the future, but it is something that puzzles me.
Why do people have faith in democratic institutions?
What the USA does not have is a "people's army". I am hard pressed to determine, should various institutions in America go broke, what it is that our peasants will be loyal to that is not essentially feudal. This begs the question of the tipping points of social unrest.
We have a nation that works quite well when there is essentially full employment. When we're at 95-97% employed everything is fine. When it drops below 93% we all start to worry. But let's keep in mind what unemployment statistics are.
Labor force measures are based on the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over. Excluded are persons under 16 years of age, all persons confined to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons, and persons on active duty in the Armed Forces. As mentioned previously, the labor force is made up of the employed and the unemployed. The remainder—those who have no job and are not looking for one—are counted as "not in the labor force." Many who are not in the labor force are going to school or are retired. Family responsibilities keep others out of the labor force.
Last month, about 87 million Americans were outside of the labor force vs 240 million in it. So right away you know that only 64% of us are even working, in general. And 8.6% of those are out of work - unemployed. Not good. But look at it another way, which is the way I started my discussion. What if only half of the jobs out there are good jobs by thinking, reasoning people. IE, what if only half the people who are working, actually have a grip on reality and can think their way out of a paper bag? (which is to say NOT Ron Paul supporters). Aside from his nutcase, what I'm getting at is people who are more than merely functionally literate, who live examined lives according to a reasonable philosophy / doctrine. Whose ethics make sense and who live accordingly. How many of us are actually tested? When we screw up how often does it actually matter? I'm saying - not enough.
So basically a third of us are the working clueful. And yet within that clueful class, we have a sizeable fraction of intelligent people who might say that America could stand never to fight another war. Or they might say corporations must be gutted to save the environment. Or they might say all government entitlements ought to be abolished. Or they might say we should dismantle the FDA. In other words - out of the intelligent, working third of America we have a surfeit of opinions that, whether right or wrong are never going to be tested. And if so, it won't be our doing if they fail even though it might be our undoing. The doing would belong to those elite technocrats, whomever they are - the Slice, the demiurges of the The Man, who will pull the levers and flip the switches. This is not only political, but cultural and religious as well. Surely there are theists and atheists who have decided to be their ethical lives on a number of premises that have never been proven nor disproven - they are never called into account until after death. Surely there are monogamists who never travel more than 50 miles from their birthplace in their lives convinced they have found the perfect mate as well as profligates who span the globe hopping from one sediction to another both types pretending to be as happy as humanly possible.
In short there are millions of us who get through life thinking, yes but thinking in error, never to be disproven or called into account. What my reading of Stephen Pinker adds to this concept is the idea that we may very well have a surfeit of brainpower. In other words we are evolutionarily fit enough to survive our current environment and none of us will never truly be called into account for our survival because we only need 20% of our mental capacity to survive. Most of our thinking lives are thus bullshit and never need to be more than bullshit. And thus as a consequence we come to realize that.. hey if I had Steve Jobs' money I coulda designed the iPhone as well. If I had as much time on my hands as Lady Gaga, I could be just as famously ridiculous. All of us secretly know this. We didn't need to go to school for 20 years to do this $65,000 job. And so we have plenty of extra brain capacity for memorizing Seinfeld episodes, playing rotisserie baseball, perfecting our flycasting, redecorating the bathroom and hunting down the perfect combination of bags and shoes.
This is the way it's supposed to be. We enjoy our comfort in society and we prolong it as long as possible, because when the shit hits the fan we know the answer to 'should I stay or should I go'? The gallows focuses the mind. We laugh at people who trip running away from the monster because we know that doesn't happen in real life. We break ranks, get out of our comfort zones and then start really thinking about survival and we survive. We survive famine, pestilance and war. Always have. Since prehistory.
So now I'm going to repeat one of of the questions that was percolating behind all of this from last week:
..the fundamental question is whether or not multicultural nationalism actually works. Maybe it doesn't and we've only passed through an era of economic prosperity in which there was enough peasant work to go around such that it could be marketed as something more solid than it was. It's easy enough to sustain 'sensitive' marketing to consumers of all stripes. Whoever buys buys. But on the employment side, diversity is new. I happen to believe that rising expectations of American consumers may be unrealistic given the murky reality of where the bulk of the American economy goes forward from here. Whatever restructuring needs to occur in employment with more global competition may not sustain the overhead of affirmative actions past.
So broaden what you think about 'affirmative actions past' to include everybody in the New Deal Coalition. What if every American who is not an entrepreneur is the functional equivalent of a renter? What if everything you think you possess, you actually don't, including your sense of right and wrong? That's because, my Peasant friend, you are not actually called on your bullshit thinking. You don't extend yourself out to life and death responsibility enough to even know if you are capable of making life and death decisions. You probably have a list of things as long as your arm that fit in the blank of "I couldn't ------ if my life depended on it." That's right. There is very little you could actually do if your life depended on it, but you can do enough to survive 8.6% unemployment and the otherwise cushy American lifestyle you are renting.
But if you really thought about it, you might begin to question why you are loyal to democracy? You have never been defended by the ACLU, but you would probably defend them. And you probably are still paying your college loans, but you defend higher education in general without having any clue whether the education you got and others get is actually worth it. And there are a host of democratic, public institutions you defend without having gotten, in your entire life, anything but rhetorical benefit from them. None of us have ever seen what it's like on the other side of the democratic institutional breakdown. And yet we discuss and debate abortion, gay marriage, illegal immigration, some obscure medical coverage, some incremental taxation, some unbuilt pipeline, some arctic core samples, some diplomatic initiative to Yemen, some hunting habits of Alaskan women, some clauses in 250 year old documents as if our very survival depended on them.
What has democracy ever really done for you that you couldn't do for yourself? And why the hell haven't you bothered to do it for yourself? What does democracy promise you and what does it deliver?
I know the answers to some of these questions. But I am of the opinion that we have more untested and unaccountable democracy than any large brained mammalian species needs. And we are starting to resemble creatures of that sort of artifice than our evolutionary path dictates.