Friday 29 July 2022

Democracy And Daily Life.

Everybody Having A Say: Democracy commands us to look outward; it demands our trust; it tells us what is expected of our humanity; it elevates the collective above the self; it celebrates the things we have in common; it defines our morals and values; it calculates what we owe one another; it discovers life in solidarity; and it finds heaven in, and with, other people.

IS DEMOCRACY still the guiding political doctrine of New Zealand society? In how many institutions do democratic principles still inform decision-making? Do those who wield power in our society even believe in democracy anymore? What does it mean that, over the course of the last 40 years, democratic principles have largely ceased to inspire the conduct of public affairs? When even our political parties no longer take democracy seriously, can we really call ourselves a democratic nation state?

One approach to these questions is to ask ourselves to what extent we are invited to practice democracy in our daily lives. If we are workers, do we get to participate in the decisions of the organisations that employ us? If we are students, do we have any say in the content and structure of our courses? If we are unemployed, or beneficiaries, do we have any rights at all that we are able to enforce? And, if the answer to all these questions is an emphatic “No!”, then, once again, are we truly entitled to characterise the institutions in which we spend most of our waking hours, and/or upon which we rely for our daily bread – democratic?

These are very modern questions. True, participatory, democracy has not been a feature of human existence since the species ceased to operate in small groups of hunter-gatherers and allowed itself to be caught up in the hierarchies of “civilisation” – the city-based cultures made possible by the surpluses of the agricultural revolution.

Hunter-Gatherers - the first (and only true) democrats.
For most of the past 10,000 years the very idea of democracy – of everybody having a say in the running of things – would have been laughable. That was not the way the world worked. Slaves, peasant-farmers and women: the people who kept society going, had no say whatsoever. And even in those rare city-states where “freemen” managed to carve out a political role, democracy proved to be a fragile flower. For most of human history, tyrannies, monarchies and empires have been the norm.

The idea that all human-beings might have a role to play in the governing of a civilised society is only about 300 years old.

Ironically, democracy as a “modern” idea owes much to the encounters of European settlers with the indigenous hunter-gatherer and/or proto-agricultural peoples living in the lands they had “discovered”. The freedom enjoyed by the ordinary members of these societies contrasted sharply with the downtrodden condition of the ordinary people of Europe.

As the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) famously declared: “Man is born free, and everywhere [by which he meant Europe] he is in chains.” The Great Question was thus posed: Can human-beings be both “civilised” and “free”? Throughout the Nineteenth Century, the answer was a confident and optimistic “Yes.” The bloody Twentieth Century, however, vacillated crazily between “Yes” and “No”. So far, the Twenty-First Century’s response seems to be: “What do you mean by ‘civilised’?” and “What do you mean by ‘free’?”

We should not be deceived by this “post-modern” response to The Great Question. It is nothing more than ruling-class temporising. The infamous “One Percent” have already decided that freedom and civilisation are even less compatible today than in the past. They just don’t want to admit it to the Ninety-Nine Percent.

If you would see how free we are, go out into the streets and count the number of human-beings peering into tiny screens, ear-buds inserted, listening to their Master’s voice.

And what is their Master is saying? His message is a simple one: Look inwards for the truth. Trust only your own experience. Who you are cannot be defined by other people. Refuse to be distracted from the self you have made. There is nobody like you. Your morals and values are your own. You don’t owe anything to anyone. Solidarity is death. Hell is other people. (Hat-tip to Jean-Paul Sartre for that last one.)

Democracy contradicts every one of these propositions: it commands us to look outward; it demands our trust; it tells us what is expected of our humanity; it elevates the collective above the self; it celebrates the things we have in common; it defines our morals and values; it calculates what we owe one another; it discovers life in solidarity; and it finds heaven in, and with, other people.

Set forth in this fashion, the problems associated with democracy immediately become apparent. Who wants to be a democrat if it means giving up the self-absorbed existence which the material abundance of Twenty-First Century capitalism makes possible? And Leftists, don’t put too much faith in George Orwell’s plaintiff cry of: “If there is hope … it lies in the Proles”. They want the good life, too!

In a curious way, our self-centred, hyper-technologised, post-modern existence closes the circle on democracy. Originally, in our species’ hunter-gatherer mode, all discussion and debate was focused on the practicalities and purposes of survival. The business of being human was the business of staying alive for another day. Ten-thousand years later, it still is. The only difference, now, is that we believe we can do it on our own.

Democracy will flourish again only after we discover that we can’t.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 July 2022.


AB said...

"participatory, democracy has not been a feature of human existence since the species ceased to operate in small groups of hunter-gatherers and allowed itself to be caught up in the hierarchies of “civilisation” – the city-based cultures made possible by the surpluses of the agricultural revolution"

This conventional picture isn't true. There has been much more variation, much more chopping and changing between democratic and hierarchical forms of social organisation at various times (often by the same people) and on varying scales than this linear and deterministic narrative suggests. Grab a copy of Graeber and Wengrow's "Dawn of Everything" to find out. In short, we still have the free will to make choices about how societies are organised, whereas this conventional story is a TiNA-reinforcing piece of pop anthropology that is regurgitated with an air of fake authority because it serves a particular ideological purpose.

Alya Aetos said...

The culture war is between Athens and Jerusalem, and Athens has lost.

John Hurley said...

What is your takeaway from Lianne Dalziel's speech Chris. Doesn't seem synchronised.

Kit Slater said...

‘Hunter-gatherers as the first democrats’ is a stretch. The continuous tribal warfare, slavery, high likelihood of a violent death, and trading in women was commonplace. The instinct for the acquisition of power allows for those, with the skills, to use means justified by the ends, which can easily overrule the majority. Quillette’s essay on the Harris/Chagnon debate and their eventual conciliation in the face of post-modernism is a must-read.

greywarbler said...

AB mentions will. I think what we most need these days is discussion about philosophy. It has been dropped down the priorities in the educational curricula. Do we have free will, have the barn doors been opened and it's got away? Is there still a fragment left? Can we grow it like a plant? What are its special needs to flourish? This from google listings. Do we have to know about the E, S and AS below? Or is there a frame for discussion that we can start climbing so that when we can reach the supermarket guru like Homer and Apu we can say something intelligible, succinct, meaningful and applicable?

Free Will - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy › entries › freewill
by T O’Connor · 2002 · Cited by 441 — This period was dominated by debates between Epicureans, Stoics, and the Academic Skeptics, and as it concerned...

The World as Will and Representation - Wikipedia › wiki › The_World_as_Will_a...
Schopenhauer identifies the thing-in-itself—the inner essence of everything—as will: a blind, unconscious, aimless striving devoid of knowledge, outside of ...
Country: Germany
Published: 1818/19 (1st edition); 1844 (2nd ex...
Translator: R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp; E. F. J. ...‎
Author: Arthur Schopenhauer

greywarbler said...

Thanks Alya Aetos for the link above which goes to Red Ice Radio* (slogan - The Future is the Past).
I had a look at the link which gives a different view from a different hemisphere and culture - it summarises a book and discussion with author Gilad Atzmon:
Gilad returns to Red Ice to discuss his new book, Being in Time, political censorship, Marxism, and much more. [Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli born jazz musician and author that lives and works in England] To begin, Gilad tells us about a recent incident in which antifa, unhappy with his outspoken views, attacked him. Gilad uses this story to draw attention to the fact that the West is currently divided between those who believe in civil debate, and those who do not. We discuss how the elite caters to the later, silencing views in opposition to the globalist agenda. Later, we discuss Trump, the Left’s curious relationship with the working class, and the role identity plays in politics.

In the members’ hour, we discuss how the Left discarded its support for free speech. We then talk about Karl Marx. Gilad argues that Marx was, all things considered, an intellectual open to debate and philosophical inquiry; his followers, as Gilad explains, then took his ideas and turned them into dogma.

Switching gears, we discuss Gilad’s recent book, Being in Time. Gilad outlines some of its main ideas, and describes how it relates to The Bell Curve – a book which has been thoroughly suppressed and attacked by egalitarian academics. This leads to a discussion on the ruling elite: who they are, how they came to power, and to what extent Jews play a role. Our show covers much more, and concludes with a discussion of the Manchester bombing.
(*Red Ice founder - Henrik Palmgren was born in Götaland, Sweden, the land of the Goths. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Red Ice, founded in most concerned with European heritage, culture and counter acting the global internationalists.)

greywarbler said...

Edith Piaf seemed to represent French spirit and their belief in the importance of democracy. Ours? The Patea Maori Group with Dalvanius and good video singing Poi E plus the uninhibited Michael Jackson steps to turn on a great show for people stays in my mind.
Fred Dagg not quite the thing; E Papa from Herbs in a capella, blended voices in controlled perfection is good and as good as The Beatles singing Because. It's something up from the ordinary.

Patea Maori Club - Poi E
Herbs - E Papa
Beatles - Because -
Edith -

David George said...

Great essay Chris. Perhaps democracy is simply the recognition and formalisation of the reality that we, the people, allow ourselves to be governed by consent. Even the regimes that brutally put down dissent (the recent events in Hong Kong and Cuba come to mind) know full well that they are really in power, ultimately, by the (grudging?) consent of the people.

The less said about Rousseau the better, his (mis)representations on the nature of hunter gatherer (primitive?) society mostly fantasy. The people were/are neither free (as we would understand it) nor equal in power or authority. The great primatologist Frans De Waal gives a realistic picture. Here's a great discussion with him: The Biology of Good and Evil

David George said...

Coincidentally, this morning, another great and related essay popped up in my email; Paul Kingsnorth: The West Needs To Grow Up, The culture wars have infantilised society. Compelling and exceptionally well written you can read it on UnHerd

Excerpts/appetisers: "The swirling chaos around me only started to make sense when I understood that it has not come about because new things are loved, but because old things are despised. This is not a new culture being built: it is an old one finally being administered its coup de grace."

"America and the world influenced by it, he wrote, was “navigating from a paternal society, now discredited, to a society in which impulse is given its way”. From the patriarchal frying pan, the West had jumped into the post-modern fire:

“People don’t bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults. The rule is: Where repression was before, fantasy will now be … Adults regress toward adolescence; and adolescents — seeing that — have no desire to become adults. Few are able to imagine any genuine life coming from the vertical plane — tradition, religion, devotion.”

"A kind of corrupted cultural Levelling had taken hold, and the result was our culture of inversion, in which rebellion against all and any forms was seen as the only inherent good. And in the desert created by late 20th-century American capitalism, which had decimated communities and households, stripped the meaning from the lives of young generations and replaced it with shopping, little seemed worth preserving anyway. As a result, adults had remained perpetual adolescents: uninitiated, afraid to grow up, slouching towards Bethlehem quoting Marlon Brando in a kind of eternal 1954. ‘Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?’ ‘Whaddya got?’

"Our cultural elite’s ongoing “deconstruction” of all we once were has deteriorated into a kind of incoherent rage, a culture of inversion on steroids, and it has now elicited its own rising counter-revolution. Nobody knows where any of this will lead, but the primary emotion it is all channelling, on Right and Left, among radical and reactionary, is rage. In our perpetual sibling society — sick with consumerism, eye-glazed with screen burn, confused, rudderless, godless — we have forgotten how to behave like adults, or what adults even look like. The result is that we squabble like children, fighting over toys in the mud."

Look it up for the conclusion.

David George said...

As is often the case, some of the comments are well worth repeating:

"We’re all #adulting together now. Store up for yourselves treasures on earth to secure the future for your family and give your children a head start. Disdain motherhood (birthing) and fatherhood (patriarchy and misogyny). Children are primarily a (costly) part of your personal fulfillment: be friends with them; don’t discipline them — introject and coddle them; ask for their assent and grant their wishes. Follow the norms for your hand-picked day care, school, career path, and nursing home. Avoid risks, don’t make a scene, stay out of trouble. Don’t offend, don’t be harsh; be nice. Criticize either via shit sandwich or in subterfuge. Be fearless in anonymity.

Embrace equity, self-love, and pride for the flavor of the day, and shame the rest. There is no expert, no hero, no higher power. You can do anything anyone else can do. Condemning the past as senseless, worthless, and racist, perform cultural revolution and destruction. Have faith in technology, scientism and Progress, for they will give us peace. Demean and ignore the past, spurn existing culture, adore the modern, re-route society to utopia.

We will be comrades without elders; fellows without betters; a perfectly even field of poppies."

Odysseus said...

The Athenian Greeks enjoyed direct democracy, albeit with a very restricted franchise. Eligible citizens were expected to participate and be available for all public offices which were filled by lot. New Zealand by contrast practises elective oligarchy, where professional politicians are chosen every three or so years who then face few real constraints on what they can do during their term. Just look at the coup now underway under Ardern, which was never mandated by the public. New Zealand is moving further away from the idea of participatory democracy every day towards a form of government for which a name has yet to be invented.

John Hurley said...

I went to Edinburgh in the 1990's and I was blown away.
Not so long ago I was having dinner at someone's house and he grew up in Edinburgh but left as a kid. In a hushed voice: "to think all those streets were made with money from slavery!"
Recently driving around rural area I see it is calving time and it made me so damn sad - nevertheless I consume animal products like the next person.

The question is though why do we not have a policy that corrects cognitive distortions,impact.%5B43%5D

rather than this: Joanna Kidman of the Center for Excellence for Researching Violent Extremism

In 1936, as she neared the end of her life, this woman, whose name is not known to us, recorded her memories of that day, passing them on to her whāngai to carry forward.

She wrote of the desperate hours following the attack when her mother and the other women tended the injured and dying. Her own kui had been bayoneted seven times.

It took four days for the old woman to die.

And, in the midst of an ongoing military invasion, tangi had to be carried out quickly, when they could be held at all.

We kept her body for one day only and I sat with her, pointing off flies and stroking her gently as speaker after speaker rose to farewell her, recounting the events of that heavy day.

This is how we remember.

Memory of a violent or traumatic event has a lingering afterlife. We recount painful events of invasion or occupation because, in many ways, they are stories of us — of who we are and how we live in the world.

This is the story of us, we want to say to younger generations, but it cannot be the story of you. This must not happen again.

I’m part of a team of researchers looking at how the New Zealand Wars have been remembered or forgotten over time.
[tough old bird?]

There are two explanations
1. Lennon, Gramsci, Freire (Long March through the Institutions)
2. Corporates don't want a nation with a dominant (conscious) ethnic group. After all people on 6 and 7 figure salaries (and many migrants) aren't exactly us.

David George said...

Thanks for the link Kit, what a story!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The idea of hunter gatherer democracy is somewhat contested, but I do believe that it is more true than not.I'm sure David won't like this, but others might like to read it. Unfortunately, like much else today the right has politicised it. It's fascinating how Conservatives will take a controversial/contested space and assume that ideas that fit in with their own conservatism are the correct ones. And experts be damned.

David George said...

It's not a matter of what I like GS, in any case that essay you linked to confirms what Chagnon had to say:
"Chagnon believed that smaller villages avoided violence because they were composed of tighter kin groups—those communities had just two or three extended families and had developed more stable systems of borrowing wives from each other." See the link from Kit.

The problem faced by hunter gatherer's (depletion of local resources in particular) can be overcome somewhat by the adoption of some subsistence agriculture. New problems arise, however, as Chognon observed and as we can see today among the New Guinea highlanders - apparently a society where you are most likely to meet a violent end. Essentially the hunter gatherer lifestyle is not scalable.

The more Southern Maoris, in particular, and for example, were forced to revert to a hunter gatherer life with the coming of the little ice age and the failure of their tropical/subtropical crops. The destruction of accessible seal colonies and the Moa followed along with the development of intertribal war and cannibalism. It was no picnic. I'm not sure what lessons we can draw from the hunter gatherers but Arcadian Paradise it was not.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"It's not a matter of what I like GS,"
Given how controversial Chagnon's work is in anthropological circles David I suspect it is. Not only do other anthropologists disagree with him, but so do many leaders from the people he studied.Democracies can be violent too, you realise?

Kit Slater said...

GS: Chagnon is only controversial when faced with the ‘woke’ successor ideology (Kahloon), with its implicit truth of subjectivity (Peterson); the people who believe they can see what the rest of us are blind to (Pluckrose); judging people and ideas, not according to the evidence but according to a very particular notion of social justice (Yglesias); and liberalism without tolerance (Grey).

Violence in primitive societies is down to retributive subsidiarity, utu, which goes quite some way to explain the greater level of it in Maori society. For modern society it is as Hobbes explains it in Leviathan, the social contract and the state’s legitimate use of force. The value of human life increased vastly after civilisation reached these shores and represents true progress, something we will not see from the ‘woke’.

David George said...

Yes Kit, the brilliant Elizabeth Rata gave an interesting talk recently, part of which is an examination of loyalty - traditional tribal, democratic and neo-tribalism:

"Most societies demand total loyalty.

Traditional tribal societies allowed one identity – fixed by birth status and and kinship ties – not open to individual choice. Loyalty was non-negotiable because total loyalty ensured the group’s survival.

Autocratic regimes, both past and present, impose total loyalty – not for the survival of all, but for the elite – imposed by might and by ideological indoctrination.

Democracies are different in a fundamental way. They not only allow partial loyalty but require it.

In a democracy we hold many loyalties simultaneously – family and social groups where the loyalty is personal – creating a deeply held sense of identity and belonging – perhaps to a tribe, culture, religion, sport or other type of association.

And at the same time we are loyal to a diverse society and to its governing system that is not personal. Indeed loyalty to the democratic nation is loyalty to a vision – the idea of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’.

Retribalism has attacked the three pillars of democracy through the covert use of ideology. I want to talk specifically about how this is occurring in language, education, and the media."