Convergence / Politics / Vol. 1 No. 2

Styles of Democracy

Codill JPEG Corruption

Image Credit: Codill, JPEG Corruption, 2009, digital image.

Increasingly, since the Supreme Court some thirty-plus years ago ruled to allow unlimited funding by private and corporate interests, the United States has steadily moved toward political degeneration and corrupting abuse of democracy’s frameworks. This issue stands at the forefront of any discussion regarding democracy’s present and future reality. I see no institutional change of any sort since Trump’s hijacked election outcome. Mid-term congressional voting will doubtless produce a déjà vu, entrenching a new era of external manipulation that may assert an ongoing debasement of American institutional compromise and failure. The philosophical query, what governmental styles are possible, preferable, to be pursued, in the aftermath of coordinated de facto treason acknowledges the specter of a blithe dismantling of this nation’s tradition of democratic turmoil generated solely from within American political culture. A pernicious acceptance of outside political leverage as a new norm promises to dismantle both the legitimacy of democratic autonomy and authority as well as the tenuous usefulness of checks and balances among inter-governmental political responsibilities…institutional scrutiny that, alone, allows the flawed creativity and untrammeled rivalry of capitalistic interests to thrive despite human frailty and institutional stupidity.

The era of professional political energy may have come to a close, replaced by mafioso crony collusion. However that plays out, nothing short of a profound retrenchment of democratic idealism exercised with a maximum of commitment and canny political judgment is likely to reverse, or undo, the demise underway. I see a theoretical opening for some degree of hope. Trump has so violated standards of individual maturity, professional good sense, public decency and day-to-day truthfulness that broad public revulsion may curtail his deceitful assault on the general well being.

However that plays out, I see the present moment as inaugurating a significant transformation of American political reality. First, Marx was correct to view large deformations of institutional authority and state power to appear on occasion, first, as tragedy and, later, as farce. The events of 9/11 in Manhattan that fulfilled the “Project for the New American Century” – implicitly calling for a catastrophic event on the order of Pearl Harbor – changed the equation of American influence and global intervention as a calculus of irredeemably tragic decimation. The intervention of Russia in Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016, the successful confluence of treason and treachery, has produced enlarging institutional and cultural deformations at once farcical and dauntingly horrific. Quite literally, the entire narrative of American idealism and benevolence has been challenged, reversed and put into ongoing self-disabling dysfunction. Jeffersonian definitions of human dignity and freedom, always placebos to avoid confronting American racist cruelty, are now being eviscerated by the enlarging truth of Marx’s awareness of capital inequities (a strenuous falling rate of profit driven by excess accumulation). A long feared mega-depression, eclipsing the one that aided Hitler’s rise ninety years ago, appears to be crawling inexorably toward global reality. If, somehow, such an apocalyptic event spanning Europe, Asia and the United States is further postponed, the reprieve will not prove the superior wisdom of capitalist managers or the inherent fairness or flexibility of capitalist institutions. Its delay may wait until further depreciation of the global labor force gains momentum from increased robotic displacements.

Second, the epochal transformation of the digital era’s instantaneous social media reinforcement of tribal divisions has put the traditional pace of democratic logic not merely “at risk” but, in fact, under siege. This early stage of political dishevelment, within a span of decades, will be exacerbated by quantum computing speed and the spread of artificial intelligence. One needs only read several of the recently crafted protocols that the Future of Life Institute (influenced by Elon Musk, David Chalmers, Martin Rees, Lawrence Krauss, Nick Bostrom and Max Tegmark) have put forward to grasp a full measure of institutional transformations and upheavals gathering steady momentum: a) that AI research and implementation must hold to the goal of beneficial, precisely opposed to unfocused and potentially malicious, intelligence; b) the need to update legal systems to keep pace with AI; c) assurance that AI builders and stakeholders will enforce moral responsibility in developing their technological innovations; d) economic prosperity that accrues from AI must be shared to the benefit of humanity as a whole; e) long term alterations to life on earth must be projected and managed with profound care and resolute attention.

My point here is to suggest that our contemporary crisis in democratic well being is fundamentally a crisis of and within capitalism itself, very much resembling Terry Eagleton’s cautionary warning, in Why Marx Was Right, that “the essential irrationality of the drive for capital accumulation…subordinates everything to the requirements of [its] self-expansion,” which are hostile to earth’s ecological dynamics (237). To that hostility, I’ll add the ineradicable priority of human health, cultural and political sanity, as well as once imagined rights of individual liberty, dignity and access to the contested possibility of justice.

Work Cited

Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx Was Right. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011.

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