Democracy and the winning formula

Jan 27, 2023
Hands of woman - Democracy.

The rallying call of the Western democracies to form a united front against those who dare to challenge their supremacy has always been “common values”. Our hearts burst with pride and gratitude to think that we have the freedom of speech, of assembly, of dissent and other such privileges that those in other systems do not enjoy. They set us apart from the “others”, be they communists, theocracies or autocracies.

The underlying assumption seems to be that these values are exclusive to democracies and that they are the construction of superior intellect. In reality, the assumption comes from an abject blindness to history. If one could see, one would realise that it comes from wealth. It is no coincidence that the countries that are enjoying such privileges are those countries that are the wealthiest and militarily the most powerful in the world. These freedoms are desired by everyone around the world. However, they are arguably unaffordable and mean little to those who are struggling to put food on the table. If India is used as an example of a successful democracy in a comparatively poor country, I would say that it is overlaid by a very ancient class culture and a history of British colonisation, but that is another story.

What I feel compelled to point out is that it is wealth that affords these privileges. The wealth of these democracies is attributable to both their own agencies and the resources (both labour and material) historically plundered from the weaker countries. Initially, the Western countries spread outwards motivated by the smell of spices in the East and gold in the Americas. They also found slave labour in Africa; and markets around the world for their manufactured products. It was a perfect wealth creation formula: cheap labour, cheap raw materials and a ready market (CLCMRM). Then, in a pang of conscience, they freed the slaves; and gave their colonies “independence” but continued to bind them in a rules based order set up purportedly to keep the peace in the world. The rules are like those in a casino that give the idea of a fair chance but always give the house an edge.

The ex-colonial masters soon worked out a substitute for their winning formula of CLCMRD. They call the system “globalisation”. That worked for a while until the law of unintended consequences intervened. The locals, through education and training for the job, got smarter. Some, like those in the Middle East attempted to rebel and brought dire consequences (wars, puppet regents and governments; realigned borders etc.) upon themselves. The wealth creating machine (i.e. industrial base) that the wealthy democracies exported overseas gradually resulted in a dependence on cheap imports; and a shift of wealth to those they used as a means to an end. Globalisation essentially acted like an expensive drug habit.

Then Donald Trump came along and declared “globalisation” a bad word. More unfortunate than the Trump phenomenon is the fact that the wealth that years of globalisation gave the dominant democracies was not fairly distributed. Their middle class, which anchors most dynamic societies, is shrinking. In its place, a class of people who live from hand to mouth, often having to hold down two jobs to keep afloat, is beginning to emerge. They make up the best part of Trump supporters – the angry, dispossessed and confused ultra right.

They, like the rest of the developed world, are really the victims of political processes over which they have little control. The “one man one vote” principle of democracy is losing its potency. Like the rest of us, they are not truly consulted when their leaders lead them on a path to war. They are not responsible for making policies that favour the rich and powerful; that continues to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. The poor, in their desperation, vote for politicians who promise a lot but deliver little. The same politicians who fail to deliver but run their economies down the gurgler save themselves by playing the blame game; they invent enemies and initiate wars to draw attention away from their own failings. They retire from their short tenures and are not made accountable for their follies.

When the people have nothing left they are told that they have this precious thing called democracy, the embodiment of their values and virtues, that they have to protect with their lives at all costs. When they are convinced by the deep state that their democracy is being threatened, they feel the need to arm themselves. Arms become valuable commodities which are produced in large quantities by the military industrial complex for sale locally and internationally to benefit the same people who own most of the wealth in the country (10% of Americans in the US own 72% of the country’s wealth).

Democracy, as in all other human constructs, is a difficult enough concept to grasp, let alone practice judiciously. Having lived all my life in “democracies”, I find that the people who attempt to sell it, politicians or lobby groups, always focus on rights and entitlements, never on responsibilities. If the two were reversed, politicians would lose their support. Responsibility is what we need today, more than ever before. We have a further problem in that while there is a certain amount of gatekeeping in all trades and professions, we do not have any for the people who do the most important jobs in our societies, the politicians. The least we could do is to have psychologists ascertain that candidates for democratic elections do not have sociopathic tendencies.

Despite all those weaknesses, democracy has been packaged as a loosely defined commodity that can be substituted for the inferior one of an economically weaker country in exchange for preferential trade treatment by the godfathers of democracy. If the targeted country is economically very strong and resistant, then war seems to be the only solution to bring them to heel.

It serves the purpose of plutocrats who want to rule in perpetuity to present to the audience only the “here and now” in their political narratives. An electorate with understanding of history would be their undoing.

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