Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 06:49:37 AM EST
your vision of steps to a more just society?
It's that, I think, to which most of us here are convinced we would like to contribute--a more just society, as we see it. If that misrepresents you, please speak up. The object of this diary is to call attention to some observations about our predicament in advancing toward visions of that more just society which the recent diaries of rdf (Robert's « 50 years of US(no) progress ») and Jared (on the YOYO [' You're On Your Own' ] policies of certain conservatives), taken together, bring into greater relief.
50 Years of US (no)Progress by rdf
The YOYO Handcuffs by Jared
In elaborating these observations, I'm obliged to present some criticisms which shall inevitably look as though they are intended to single out Jared. They are not. We can assume that a certain number among those in official positions of power pseudonymously read and contribute to fora such as this one. For obvious reasons, we cannot know how many there are or, in most cases, who they are. Others--a relative handful--participate under their own names or under pseudonyms, these latter all the while avowing that they occupy an elective office.
We should consider their attention and their participation in Internet fora as not only welcome but as a boon which would be all the greater if only more elected officials and others in public policy-making roles took part. That so few do participate openly is at the heart of my point in this diary entry. That tells us something very significant about the extent of real freedom of expression in society and about the apparent level of interest in the opinions of « the rest of us » on the part of those who make policy. There is nothing mysterious about why an elected official could see the need to remain anonymous in Internet fora. Obviously there are important things to say which cannot be attributed to their author's real name. Even if that has always been true, it is still a damning indictment of any society which prides itself on the scope of freely expressed and avowed opinion. We know how large or restricted is the range of permissible public expression by the content of commentary which people only dare practice anonymously.
Robert's diary points out things which, though recognized by what is perhaps a growing number of the « politically attentive public », is still nowhere to be found on the public agenda of discussion among officials. In other words, to state frankly that from several vitally important points of view there has been virtually no significant political progress over the past fifty years is nothing less than taboo. We can only assume, then, that in the opinion of most of the élite, to violate that taboo should expose them to sanctions of a degree that they prefer to avoid. I cannot see any other more compelling explanation for so complete an absence of attention to such a signal fact in official public discourse.
If the absence of official open discussion of the « no political progress in the last fifty years » tells us important things about how free those in power are to engage in healthy self-criticism, the presence of the topic in public discussions by ordinary interested observers in fora like this also tells us something about our significance in public debate. We are able to raise the issue because we are outside the circle where opinion is both influential and subject to sanction. In short, we can openly discuss the fact because we have little or nothing to risk by it. If our opinions counted, they would not be so readily tolerated--since those whose opinions do count unanimously avoid openly admitting that the policy-making establishment has done next to nothing -or worse--over the past fifty years with regard to those areas listed in Robert's diary. Personally, I consider that a damnable scandal of no less importance than is the incredibly wide-spread corruption in political and business affairs--another topic until very recently unmentionable in public by officials.
In all the fore-going, my object has been to present a picture of the fine predicament we are in whether we are inside or outside of the influential circle of political power. The system operates as a closed club. To gain entry, one has to demonstrate one's readiness to respect some basic tenets of « good behavior » and these include recognizing and respecting the club's legitimacy, not placing it or its routine operation into question openly, and not publicly discussing things in a manner which risks bringing the club into disrepute. It obviously includes respecting taboos. All of these apply in the process of making one's way along the well-marked route to positions of influence-- from the coveted places in the training grounds which are the exclusive prestigious institutes of higher learning to the array of influential places in business, politics, journalism and research, the successful passage through which elite institutes of higher education opens the way.
Least of all does one find oneself on the outside of political influence « by accident ». It requires unstinting determined effort to beat the stiff competition for the limited places available just to enter the race. Most of us were not even in the running for a place in the race itself. Those who are, or who were, struggled and fought just to get to the starting-block. Once there, the competition continues. And those who are mavericks are winnowed out. The process is a socializing one.
That means that most of us here--thinking, writing, and debating about public policy in this open-to-all-by-simple-demand forum--are categorically excluded from the official and formal venues of policy discussion, and formulation. This is the very-much-by-design political reality in which we all live; and that is true no matter where you live. Outside the so-called « developed, free world » the circumstances can be far worse.
Hence the point behind the question I put to Jared. Hence the intimately related relevance of Robert's « 50 years of US(no)progress ». There are now, just as there have always been, people demanding a more just society--not in theory only but via concrete proposals. They have been systematically shut out of the official debate. Only relatively recently, with the development of sustained and wide-spread detailed discussion of political issues in fully open and unrestricted « communities », have unofficial, non-experts, found their views at last taken into account by some in the official and credentialed policy-making establishment. We have every right to doubt that such interest in us should continue if for some reason our independent discussions were to end.
The reason for that is as plain and as valid as are the facts that until rather recently it has been practically a closed game, by invitation only, and that this is so because it is the only means by which to instill and defend the privileges which are limited and thus coveted. Were it otherwise, were participation genuinely open to all comers solely and strictly upon some fair and objective merit-based criteria, let alone by the now current practices which deliberately afford tremendous comparative advantages to those who have wealth or personal connections, or, the ideal, an abundance of both, then all of the many privileges of wealth and position should be very directly and very seriously threatened. That is just as true for a Democrat (or Social Democrat) as it is for a Conservative party member.
There is rich irony, then, in finding ourselves solicited to enlist -other than we already have , given the limited means open to us--in an effort to break open and broaden the narrow official policy debate--that is, to democratize what is currently thoroughly, fiercely, undemocratic by design--by means of the very attributes which otherwise disqualify our participation: our impeccable populist and non-clubmember character.
We have the right to ask, I believe, whether, in soliciting our aid in broadening, democratizing, the policy discussions , those who would take advantage of that aid have any intention of democratizing « the game » of participatory democracy itself and opening it to the regular participation of those who have either lost out in the race for club membership or refused to take part in it in the first place--and what are the real and lasting prospects for such democratization.
The hard fact is that most people--no matter how politically unsophisticated they may be--are perfectly capable of recognizing that they and their opinions are not welcome in the public policy debate. They know better than to even formulate such for, what should be the point when it is so manifestly obvious that no one in positions of power is interested? Thus, some substantial part of the reason the general public has abandoned political life may be found in its having first been made clear to the public that élites' claims of interest in public opinion are usually election-driven at best and are, beyond that, a good deal of hypocrisy on the part of elected officials with only extremely rare exceptions.
If one would like to restore the general public's attention and participation in the political life of the society, the recipe for doing that is neither secret nor difficult. All that's required is for those in positions of power to start listening to and implementing the wishes of the majority of the ordinary public rather than consistently ignoring them. That by itself, without a public-relations campaign, should find an electric and nearly immediate positive response from the public who, after all, remain alert to their being locked out of their own « democracies ». Anything less--no matter how much time, effort or money is poured into it, no matter how many clear-sighted treatises on reform are written and placed on bookshop tables for the locked-out public to read--is liable to be met with a shrug of the shoulders from publics who have already had their fill of empty promises.
In order to avoid falling into tempting oversimplifications and taking too caricatural a view of what remain the complex and conflicting motives and interests of real, living individuals, it's well to recall that no conceptual construct of society can ever be a fully accurate representation of real society and the preceeding view of political « haves » and « have nots » is no exception. In reality, there are always a nearly infinite variety of shades between the idealized versions, the archetypes.
Among the so-called political élite, there have always been those who saw and opposed the inegalitarian character of society's order; some sought ways to reform it, to undermine it, or to destroy it, sometimes while trying at the same time to protect their own privileges or those of their friends, families or peers, and sometimes with little or no regard for the risks to these privileges. And they might have acted out of more or less selfish or altruistic motives--or thought they did. Others, while finding the established order objectionable, saw no way to alter or oppose it and so tried to make the best of a bad situation.
Similarly, among the nominally « have nots » there have always been those who gave full and willing support to a system which marginalized them and their peers. And there were those who sought, in serving the established order, to escape the lot that such an order would assign them. Still others rejected as completely as possible any such assigned conventions of rôle and place.
To all of these shades of conformity and acceptance or the lack of them in the face of the existing power relations must be added the full range of political influence--from immense to slight. Thus, there is among both the « haves » and the « have nots » a great panoply of views and reactions regarding the political order. None of that variety can eliminate some general validity to a view of political society which presents a more or less regular and coherent picture of a division of power and privileges which typically includes some and excludes others according to an observable set of criteria which remain largely valid through varying fashions in other areas social behavior.
Thus, I come to the title-question of this diary and, in posing it, I wish to call for renewed attention to and discussion of rdf 's and Jared's diaries mentioned above---
« How do you picture the steps to a more just society? »
What should it look like? How should it differ from that in which we now live? And how should these things come about starting from where we are now?