Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Political Science 101, Part 2

In part 1, I observed that, in order to create a humane, productive and relatively stable civilization, we must culturally mold individual motivations that are more in line with the common good. We are far from that point today.

The evidence for that is clear. The ancient habit of sacking cities, taking slaves, and killing everyone else is now relatively well contained but there are numerous alternatives that have been developed for controlling people's lives and mercilessly ripping them off. Among these are tribalism, nationalism, xenophobia, militarism, corporatism, free-marketism (ie, Randism), representative plutocracies, and know-nothing-ism. Perhaps there are others as well but these will do for a start.

The last four: corporatism, free-marketism, representative plutocracy, and know-nothing-ism are so fully in play in the USA today that only the deliberately blind can fail to see them. To be sure, many who do see these problems would like to find compromises that could, probably, mitigate them. American political institutions could make this possible but every step of the way will be hard fought. Human beings are not known to give up privilege without a struggle. Alas, that is one of the most difficult compromises to achieve: how does one engage in a hard fight without creating chaos? Political science must grapple with that, and it seems to present a moving target. Technology and commerce are evolving at an alarming rate, relative to even one human lifespan.

Representative plutocracy is the fundamental pathology while corporatism, free-marketism, and know-nothing-ism are its facilitators. In effect, the intimate and corrupt interaction between the wealth establishment and the political establishment maintains the trappings and institutions of a representative democracy while remaining in control of events. As one anonymous internet poster has complained, "first we elect them and then they get bought." That is a very correct observation but the details are quite complex.

By the "wealth establishment" I do not mean to point a finger at only the wealthy. On the contrary, many of them are quite decent citizens. What happens is that the concentration of capital has a life of its own and it feeds off the work of many who find that work seductively rewarding: money managers, lawyers, accountants, news media owners and employees, pr experts, bankers, corporate executives, and venal politicians. That is quite an army and it would be very naive to imagine that they are reluctant to exercise their power.

Unfortunately, the problem grows with the inevitably increasing concentration of wealth and it leads to political, economic and even environmental instabilities. Therefore, the central problem of political theory at this stage of development must be: how to put a brake on this process without serious disorders.

Some of the countries of Europe seem to be ahead of the USA at this time, probably because they are also ahead of the USA in cultural progress and education. I find it difficult to believe that the political problem can be solved in the USA without a serious educational effort.


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