"Doing repairs on the outside of a rocket in mid-air is a ticklish job. We slacken off the circulation when they're right way up, so that they're half starved, and double the flow of surrogate when they're upside down. They learn to associate topsy-turvydom with well-being; in fact, they're only truly happy when they're standing on their heads."
From Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
As risky as this might be to ask, at what point exactly are we prepared to admit that our democracy is officially upside down, and that no we are actually not better off standing on our heads?
The real genius of the capitalist marketplace and media is the absolute and profane cooption of all true meaning and trivialization of almost everything else. Given the extraordinarily rapid proliferation of news, the media now makes quick fodder. We see the formal economy we live in becoming more and more top-heavy. We see the emergence of a "shared economy," which is nothing more than lots of unemployed people pooling their resources. Meanwhile, a progression of endless wars is perpetuated and obscured. We are no longer sure whom we are fighting or why, or when it will end. Amidst this growing confusion of problems who has almost absolute authority over our lives? Are we in control of what we chose, or are we led along the primrose path by the facade of freedom itself? After all there must be something more compelling to live for than buying more shit we do not need.
Let me make a necessary clarification. I do not believe that true democracy has had its day. Democracy itself does not instill fear because democracy has yet to be realized in any cogent form. We must question our definition of it, and courageously ask if our actions match that meaning. In other words, we must find out if we are prepared to walk our talk. Democracy in any form has yet to produce any semblance of global unity. In fact, besides some trivial gestures, the only things we have in common with most democratized nations is that the natural resources of those countries are extracted by the same people.
The ambiguation between democracy and consumerism is real. People complain of corporate slavery but do nothing about it. You needn't do more than search on this platform with the words "quit your job" to check the pulse of almost widespread dissatisfaction. The system is quite good at extracting what it needs and wants, both from the biosphere and us. The system is brutally efficient at destroying meaning, and confabulating spirituality as a novel gimmick. Of ripping almost all meaning, from whence, it sprang. You can become a cliche in the blink of an eye. According to Max Weber, "a political leader is rendered superfluous by the very cold bureaucratic world he presides over". We are left to consider the perilous ambiguity of the political operative supposedly fired by deep compassion to help the country, who faces the objective world of bureaucracy. To be effective, he or she must dance imperfectly. She must make missteps to cover those missteps. How can we expect this person to succeed?
We do not live in a participatory democracy, we live in an elaborate facade. Now there is a Presidential election, and so we must once again grin and reconcile the reality of electoral politics against the actual percentage of voters who exercise their "god-given right". We will endure the incantation (and insult) of the great founding document, the Constitution. We will hear Texans growl and howl about their inviolable civil liberties while they clutch their long-guns and terrorize mosque-goers, who will in turn (as if already trained during their Hb1 interview), invoke freedom of the speech as sacrosanct. "Let them hate us," they will say, and end up bruised and beaten. Then we, as concerned citizens shall appeal the entire matter to the trusted independence of the judiciary, and they will tell us--all is well, the imperial presidency and corporate citizen are not out to destroy democracy because democracy does not exist, it is your imagination, please return to your regular programming. Be assured that the 5mm media spend on "flag waving" at NFL games was not a publicity stunt, it was a propaganda coup d'etat. Edward Bernays did not just roll over in his grave, he did a back-flip.
Hobbes had many things right: when citizens are insecure and at the same time driven by competitive aspirations, they yearn for political stability rather than civic engagement, protection rather than political involvement.* The facade is designed to create instability to keep us off balance and passive. We live in an economy of fear, a system of control whose power feeds on our uncertainty, yet a system that, according to its analysts and pundits seems actually rational, which it is not.
I have a dear, very smart friend who likes to refer to politics as the "dog and pony show". With six years of academic philosophy and two years of Law School, I used to cringe at the notion that my cherished ideas of the Republic were so flimsy. However, all I needed to do was snap on CNN. The media perpetuates these two things all the time. First, it perpetuates banality, and second it projects political spectacle. The banality keeps us clicking on the wrong topics and hopelessly distracted while the endless and extravagant election cycles constitute "politics without political value".
The result is that instead of participating in democracy, the virtual citizen gets to vent all manner of ‘opinions’: which are predictable responses to questions predesigned to extract gut-level, knee-jerk reactions. Do candidates discuss substantive issues? No, they do not. The moderators and canned journalists center the dialogue on the cult of personality, empty rhetoric, and slick PR.
Every current presidential candidate—including Bernie Sanders—understands that questioning the facade of democracy is verboten. “Cultural wars" might seem an indication of intense political involvements but in actuality they are proxies. Politicians are eager to take firm stands on nonsubstantive issues so that they might distract attention from what is going on. An elaborate bait and switch occurs-reports on the Paris attacks are eclipsed Charlie Sheen's health status, and then attacks in Mali are soon overshadowed by Charlie Sheen's response to Jenny McCarthy's comments on his health status.
I tell you, we are upside down and have been for some time now.
We are playing a game in which our betters have managed to undermine the possibility of activism and cohesiveness. To be politically effective, they have created different, distinct interest groups that inevitably find themselves in tension or at odds with other groups. There is no possibility of organized dissent because we are busy fighting one another. Our "democracy isn't "endangered" because it doesn't exist yet. Our unity as a citizenry will determine it's true birth.
We are like drunk middleweights swinging wildly at one one another in late rounds. We are exhausted, and put on the ropes-raging about immigrants, Islamists, homosexuality, or people with guns, or by our ire or love of a President who has like every President before him, has done nothing for to improve the conversation and heighten the dialogue. We are spoken to like kindergartners on the swings. "Don't swing to high," they say.
We are upside down and we must turn ourselves right side up, and soon.