Like many of you out there, I’ve bemoaned and wailed about and screeched over what the last few years have been throwing at us. We’ve had plenty of such targets to take aim at. I don’t – in fact I won’t – enumerate them here yet again. Suffice to say that we know where we stand.
Now to be honest, it’s just occurred to me that maybe we’ve had all the wrong targets in our sights. Maybe we’ve been railing against the symptoms of our misery – its most obviously superficial manifestations – instead of focussing our ire on the real cause. And maybe the real cause is the bankruptcy of the very idea of Western democracy.
Whilst there was a slack we could work with, from the Industrial Revolution onwards, we could argue that little by little a wondrous process of gradual progress sanctified our societies. Yes, of course. There were so many cases of three steps forwards, two steps back. Sometimes – take the First and Second World Wars, for example – there were even cases of three steps backwards and very painfully achieved two steps towards something we could barely describe as civilisation.
And so many times we compromised on basic principles out of a fear of these terribly harsh times.
Nowadays, we berate the European Union and what we perceive to be its anti-democratic institutions – but when it was set up by those who had just experienced the outrageous evils of Nazism, our primary instincts were – above all – to embed an (inexpertly) even keel in our awkward and still not properly empowering ships of state.
Nowadays, in the shadows of participatory structures such as social networks, virtual connections and open data movements everywhere, and rather than looking to the good we have achieved, we focus more on the repressive instincts of moderately frightened nation-states – nation-states which feel obliged to look out for the interests of a citizenship that perhaps cares less and less for their centralising mindsets.
And so it is we rail against our governors and political leaders; their business sponsors and their privileged wastrels; the super-rich and the (f)rankly undemocratic; those corporate figures which cream off taxpayer resource with such aplomb, as they deposit it aggressively in tax-havened pockets.
But the fact of the matter is that it’s our very concept of democracy which has created all this mess. This democracy isn’t failing in its primary intention. It’s actually succeeding all too well. The object of this democracy isn’t to share stuff around. The object of this democracy is to make money for those who already have it.
And in that, it functions most perfectly.
We have to rethink our perception – rethink the frame.
For the gradual – and sometimes halting – progress which happened in the slack between the Industrial Revolution and somewhere towards the end of the 20th century was actually a kind of mirage. It confused us – it made us think we were achieving a virtuous little-by-little advancement; an advancement that made everything else less seriously tragic.
It helped us, most certainly, to salve guilty consciences.
It helped us to forget that a life properly lived demands serious markers in the sand.
So back to rethinking the frame.
Let us not remember any more the greedy individuals who – choosing, as they have done, to operate within systemically generated abuse – have helped to destroy our economies. Let us not envy those who – having won out through abusive ambition – stand at the very top of the pyramids which run the stratospheres of human action. Let us not care about those who – ripping wealth out of communities, finite lives, working people and their families – are sipping generous alcoholic beverage under magically beached sunsets.
Instead, let us imagine that they are all nothing but the very average carbuncles on a profoundly sick body.
It’s time not to fight for democracy – but, rather, to fight against it.