I am one of those who thinks that democracy is being destroyed. I know its fashionable to play cynical one-upmanship and say – ‘we’ve never had democracy’, or, ‘it was destroyed long ago’, but that game aside, I think its worth actually thinking about how, many forms of democratic expression, effective dissent and peaceful self-determination are being buried.
In “The Next Crisis” I argued that the Global Over-Class have decided that Democracy is a threat to their wealth and power and have more than likely given some thought to how best to neuter it while appearing to do no such thing. I suggested they would wish to keep the outward form of democracy, so as to keep us reassured and entertained, but remove any substance from it, leaving us with an empty but colourful stage show.
In part two of the series, I offered a list of the various ways this could be done (a sort of manifesto for the Over Class or, as I have called them elsewhere, The Disloyal and noted how many of those things were clearly already underway.
For example item three of the manifesto said,
3) professionalized Governance. Democracy can be and must be neutered, and an effective way of doing this is to insist that amateur, elected officials MUST take the advice of professional (read corporate) advisors. Expand current law to enforce this.
If this seems monstrous now, their argument, I suspect, will be that in an increasingly crowded, interconnected and globalised world we can no longer leave critically important decisions in the hands of the uneducated, in-expert and amateur. We must, of course, still be free to choose but must, from now on, be helped to choose ‘wisely’. And how can we choose wisely if we aren’t given wise choices to choose from? Oh, the Orwellian beauty of it! No prizes for guessing who will decide what is and what is not wise.
We cannot any longer allow you to choose unwisely! There is so much at stake and so much you and your representatives simply do not fully understand.
You only need think how much legislation is already written by these ‘advisors’ and how many ‘experts’ are routinely seconded from corporations in order to ‘help’ the government departments regulate those same corporations to appreciate how far towards this we have already come. Two examples of ‘expert advice’ spring readily to mind. Back in May 2014 Citi drafted, word for word, many of the ‘amendments’ to the Frank Dodd financial regulation law. While professional experts from J PM Morgan did the same for the new derivatives trading law which puts the US tax payer back on the hook for any really serious losses.
‘Choose wisely’ is a good first step in neutering democracy. It is easy to sell, appears wise, benevolent even, and who could advocate the opposite? But being admonished to ‘choose wisely’ is quite different to being forced to do so by having ‘experts’ pre-choose your range of choices for you and having your representatives forced to follow the pre-narrowed ‘wise’ choice or choices handed to them by paid-for lobbyists and seconded experts. However I think the Over Class knows ‘Choose wisely’ and Professionalized Governance are not going to be enough on their own – given the scale of unpleasantness which will have to be imposed and maintained on voters if the current structures of power and privilege are to be maintained.
‘Choose wisely’ and Professionalized Governance are an efficient and well camouflaged way to stop radical democratic ideas getting traction in Parliament or Congress or ever making it in to law. But, they leave unaddressed the more urgent task of how to properly neuter the people at source – in their own minds. How much better and stable it would be, for the Over Class, if the people voluntarily shied away from dissenting opinions rather than having to corral such opinions once they are voiced and people start voting for them.
I began to look at how this second front in the war on democracy might be fought, in part three. I suggested that what you and I might call public engagement would be re-branded as ill-informed ‘populism’. And wouldn’t you know it, Prime Minister David Cameron speaking – or should I say condescending – in the House of Commons on 17.11.15 about opposition to the TTIP trade agreement, said,
…when you [Members of Parliament] get that barrage of emails – people sometimes have signed up without fully understanding every part of what they’ve been asked to sign – people want to spread some fear about this thing, and we have a role, I think, of trying to explain properly why these things are good for our country.
Et voila! A wonderful early example. This is the start of the re-branding of political dissent.
But wait , as the old advertizing saying goes, there’s more!
From ‘Professionalize Democracy’ to ‘Demonize Dissent’
The key problem for the Over Class is that no matter how much they might like to, they cannot just come out and say dissent – AKA radically different opinion – is a bad thing. Being able to hold a dissenting opinion, even a radically dissenting opinion, is, after all, the core of democratic freedom.
So I think the Over Class’ task is two-fold. First, create conditions which will make people want to stifle dissent; other people’s first then even their own – or at least start to see a dark and threatening side to it – and then give them a whole new vocabulary of catchy new phrases and ideas with which to express their new-found caution about dissent and dissenters. Seen this way it is clear that this re-branding of dissent is a psychological/marketing/propaganda problem.
Of course it is relatively trivial to get people to accept that while many kinds of dissent are acceptable, some kinds just aren’t because, for example, they’re felt to be dangerous. We already accept that certain kinds of ‘extremist’ dissent is dangerous and unacceptable. And while some are uneasy, sensing how the term ‘extremist’ could be softened and inflated to accommodate everyone from animal rights activists, to – oh I don’t know…how about ‘militant peace activists’, or those who oppose austerity, people are just about willing to be bullied and frightened into accepting this ‘extremist’ curtailment of democracy.
‘Extremists’ and ‘Extremism’ have been the millennial threat-du-jour and have done wonders for justifying any and all actions claimed to be essential for ‘protecting national security’. No one wants to be accused of supporting ‘extremists.’ In America, Extremism is the new Communism. The rhetoric and paranoia around the ‘threat from Extremism’ in America and in Europe looks and sounds, to me at least, very similar to McCarthyism. In the UK another new Bill will soon give the British security services and police yet more powers to stop travel, cancel passports and even ban people from talking at universities.
But the “extremist’ narrative is not going to do what needs to be done. The problem is the terms currently used to label people as dangerous are less than perfect for demonizing the dissent that worries our leaders most: those to do with economics, finance and globalisation and the environment. ‘Extremism’ and ‘extremist’ are, perversely, just too …well, extreme. Talking about National Security, is very effective in its sphere, but it is just too specifically military to be very useful when it comes to undermining most peaceful, domestic, democratic dissent. What the ‘extremism’ narrative has done, however, is get people used to the idea that there can and should be limits to democratic dissent.
What I think the Over Class now need is a new label for the mind-set of dissenters and their dissent which can be applied to those who oppose the ‘necessary welfare and economic reforms’, ‘essential austerity cut backs’, ‘misunderstood’ trade agreements and environmental problems. They need a label for a mind-set which they will readily admit isn’t ‘extremist’ but which they can argue ‘can lead to extremism’; much as people used to talk about marijuana being the gateway drug leading inevitably to harder drugs.
What will that label be? Well I think the clue is there in the drive to ‘professionalize’ governance. ‘Professional’ is already a shorthand for the claim that someone or something is rational, balanced and ‘evidence based’. The term ‘Professional’, all on its own, already implies that those opposed to the ‘professional’ opinion/plan, are probably slightly ‘irrational’ and quite likely to be advocating actions and opinions that are without a firm base in scientific evidence. After all if that were not the case the professionals would have advocated it themselves.
Of course this brings us wonderfully back to the questions of who claims to have the authority and expertise to say what is and isn’t good solid rational and evidence-based. We are already mired in such arguments.
The threat from the Irrational
I suggest the new label will be ‘Irrational’. “He’s irrational!” “You’re being irrational.” “That’s irrational.” Irrational is already a term of abuse. What’s needed is to suggest that being irrational can be much more than a personal intellectual short-coming. That in fact, people who support irrational causes, and have irrational beliefs – who are …irrational, can be a dangerous threat when they organise their irrational beliefs into a political cause. Because, the argument will go, irrational fears can be used by those who have ulterior motives to prey upon the ordinary but unwary citizen, by creating irrational fears and then offering a seductive but irrational solutions.
And of course what will be held up as acceptable rational beliefs will be generally those which the Over Class, their media outlets, pundits and paid for political lick-spittles say are rational.
In this new narrative of demonizing dissent,
“It is not what you chose to believe – you are free to believe what you want – but HOW you believe it.
Believe it rationally, based on evidence and with regard for how your belief affects the well-being and security of those around you and there is no problem.
But choose to believe irrationally and without regard for how your irrational belief may harm others and you are an Irrationalist. “
This leaves intact your right to believe what you want but adds a subtle but insidious ‘responsibility test.’
If I’m right then we will soon see a broader new narrative built around the idea that Irrationality and an irresponsible disregard for the well-being of others, together, pose a grave threat to Stability and Safety. These four notions, Irrationality, Irresponsibility, Stability and Safety will form the central mechanism for re-branding dissent. ‘Safety’ people will recognise from its National Security guise. But by pairing it with ideas of Stability it helps bridge the gap between national security (safety) and national economic security (stability). Security becomes more than simply physical safety and is expanded to include economic stability.
And the enemy of both, of course, is the Irrational Dissenter. Being irrational is, we will be told, particularly dangerous when it is paired with fervent claims that we are in danger and we should all act now to fend off the danger. Such people will be likened to idiots who shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.
A new mental condition could be coined for them – something along the lines of Attention Seeking Disorder – people who get a perverse pleasure simply from dissenting. How easy it would be to cast doubt on someone’s dissent if you suggest it is not about caring for others but actually a disorder of the ego. A desire for notoriety above all else with total disregard for what effect they might have on the stability and safety of those round them.
Troublesome dissent could be rebranded as a thoughtless and selfish advocating of something knowing it will cause widespread harm to others but not caring.
Extremism is a problem out there on the fringes of society – Irrationalism – The paranoid fear of imagined dangers and those who promote such fears – is the enemy within. They are the sinister fringe who constantly look to radicalize the inexpert.
So let us all recite the liturgy our leaders would have us believe, that in the 21st century –
- Democracy is the freedom to choose wisely.
- In a globalized, inter-dependant world we cannot afford to choose irrationally or disastrously.
- It is not what you believe but how you believe it.
- Believe things rationally, based on evidence, with regard to how your beliefs affect those around you.
- If you know someone who doesn’t, they may be irrational and suffering from a mental disorder in which the personal notoriety of being contrarian matters more to them than any harm they might do to the safety and stability we all depend upon.