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Self Rule

by on January 5, 2020

Self Rule

by Marco M. Pardi

Democracy, as conceived by politicians, is a form of government, that is to say, it is a method of making people do what their leaders wish under the impression that they are doing what they themselves wish.” Bertrand Russell Sceptical Essays. 1928

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” H. L. Mencken A Little Book in C Major. 1916

I would first like to thank the many readers who maintained their interest in my offerings throughout my recent absence from these pages. I had a rather invasive surgery from which I am still recovering, and did not wish to broadcast that beforehand.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Questions pertaining to self rule have been around since the expansion of small and scattered human populations beyond the band level. We rely on history, largely through recovery of written records, to chart the development of these questions and the answers then devised. But it is easy to forget that literate societies were the exception, not the rule in the evolution of human societies.

Indeed, literacy did not spread uniformly even through the societies which produced it; scribes were highly trained and revered individuals most often owing their training and their employment to the rulers. Obviously, therein lies a problem. People became literate through schooling approved by the governing elite. The “history” they wrote was thus the narrative approved by that elite. Departures from that narrative were censored and/or destroyed, as were many of the authors.

While there have been societies with remarkably greater personal freedoms than our currently common history books admit, the United States is arguably the first society to institutionalize freedom of the press through established law. Yet today we see that cherished principle under severe attack from the currently governing elite. This attack is not entirely new in the United States. The phrase “liberal media” has a long history here. But in all the years I’ve heard that jingoistic phrase I never heard the claim I hear repeated by the President today: “The media is the enemy of the people!”

I suspect that if we look closely at the phrase liberal media we will see it articulates the threat; the people broadcasting the news (the daily narrative) have likely been educated in schools which present a more complete picture and which encourage critical thinking when examining the revelations and the implications in that picture. This is an existential threat to a regime which seeks to turn blatant facts on their heads (“alternative facts”), to deny the self evident (“Don’t believe what you see and hear.”), and to solidify loyalty through the inculcation of an unshakable belief system. But Fact is the enemy of belief. Where there is fact, there is no need for belief.

Any large and complex society will, by its nature, have dissenting voices. Those voices will compete for prominence on the public stage. Regimes that can afford to do so will develop their own voice, masquerading as Fair and Balanced news. These regimes will also wage disinformation and slander campaigns against the institutions of higher learning which threaten to expose the truths and to develop thinking minds instead of believing minds. The derogatory label, Ivory Tower comes to mind. The current regime’s Secretary of Education repeatedly states her intent to abolish public schools altogether, funding only those schools which inculcate the regime’s narrative.

Even though the demographics of other developed nations are changing due to immigration, the instant worldwide connection provided by the internet and international news, and other factors, the United States remains unusual in the degree to which it is internally diverse. This, then, begs the question: How long can such an internally diverse society, equipped with an ever growing access to world facts and opinions remain a cohesive state? As the rhetoric intensifies and the many factions increasingly engage in overt and covert means of swaying public opinion are we looking at a society in which the “losers” in this struggle will be forced to stay in place and accept the consequences because, for many reasons, there will be no other places capable of accepting them all?

I remember the repressive 1950’s and the explosive 1960’s when those who saw their intellectual freedoms shrinking claimed the Scandinavian countries were the place to go. If not there, then certainly Australia. I can personally tell you the Scandinavian countries were not very interested in people with less than an advanced degree and solid means of support. I had the advanced degree, but coming in second for a professorship at the University of Trondheim was just not good enough to warrant admission to Norway. As for Australia, if it was ever as open as once believed, it is not so now.

In any case, why should anyone have to consider leaving? An increasing number of world leaders view the “policies?” of America as the greatest single existential threat to the Planet today. America is more governed by whim than by policy with the possible exception of frenzied deregulation of every safeguard we have put in place over generations of scientific learning. Better to stay in the country and work to protect those regulations and to return them into effect.

America has been called The Great Experiment, particularly over its emphasis on diversity. But is the definition of that diversity due for a change? Look at employment forms and you will see a litany of demarcations: Religion, ethnic origin, and etc.

Should we now demarcate the population into the well informed, the uninformed, and the misled? The intelligent and the not so intelligent? Who should decide the distinctions? Self reported does not seem a good option. A domestic panel would be suspect. So, maybe the Russians will do that for us, too. And what price do we pay when, as in 2016 the misled out voted the well informed? Or was it the not so intelligent out voting the intelligent?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of diminishing returns. Does that concept apply to the ability of a state to maintain its internal coherence? We have lately heard the term Tribalism applied to American society. Tribes govern themselves through a body of Elders, people who have the accumulated wisdom to discuss current challenges and agree on answers. Yet we have only a Two Party system supposedly able to understand and resolve the problems and challenges facing a quickly changing population that is obviously much larger than simply two tribes.

I think the two party system has run its course. And, it does further damage when independent candidates run and never accomplish anything except draining votes from the occasional good candidate presented by the two party system.

So what’s the solution? I’ve long advocated a parliamentary system, with lessons learned from British and European examples. Not only is it potentially more inclusive, it addresses the chronic problem of term limits: Dissatisfied with a long term seat warmer? A vote of No Confidence takes him or her out. A parliamentary system also seems, if we examine other world examples, to increase voter turnout. The United States, as I am aware, has among the lowest if not the lowest voter turnout among democratic systems. Is this self rule, or is it leaving it to the other guy?

Those of us who are parents remember, or may be going through the period when we evaluate our children to determine if they can be left alone while we have a night out. We are evaluating their ability for self rule. Those of us who have or have had aging parents go through the same process. We evaluate and determine when “it’s time” for our parents or parent to be moved into a level of Assisted Living. We evaluate their continued ability, or lack thereof, for self rule.

Looking back on the Great Experiment which is this country, we must ask if the experiment has run its course. Like our aging parents, has the country become too fractured into immovable camps, too confused, too disintegrated, and too apathetic to continue being entrusted with self rule. If so, what is the answer? What do you think, Dear Reader? The stakes are too high to continue handing off the decision to the other guy.

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16 Comments
  1. Marco, first let me say I’m so glad to have you here again! Sometimes I feel a bit like Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery, “I’m your number one fan!” although I promise never to hold you against your will and force you to write……

    Seriously though, in the words of 45, “The media is the enemy of the people!” What a stunning, disconcerting thing for a POTUS to say. It still shocks me to see those words in print. Of course we should remember the media is his enemy only when reporting anything unfavorable about him.

    Since his election, I’ve had numerous people tell me I should return to Canada to live. First, I haven’t “lived” there very much since I was fourteen years old. Not only that, I haven’t even visited a great deal. It would be reverse culture shock. Despite claims that the U.S. and Canada are mostly alike, I find the two countries quite different. And Canada could easily go the way of the U.S. as it pertains to the far right. As we have stated, nothing is surprising anymore.

    You and I have discussed moving away, as well as my feeling I was “sent to the Bible Belt to die.” Despite the humorous tone, I find it quite ironic that someone with my lifelong lack of religious faith should be living in the Southeast. But as we’ve said, we are needed here. I don’t state that with a sense of martyrdom. We are. Once I’m (finally!) able to vote, I will hopefully feel even more productive in the Bible Belt.

    Admittedly, I don’t know much about a Parliamentary system of government. Even when I lived in Canada, for some reason I learned more about U.S. history and the American system of government than that of my own. However, I am 100% supportive of term limits for any office held, and am uneasy toward anyone who isn’t.

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  2. Thank you, Dana. Shortly after I posted this I began to dread that some might view this as a right wing screed against immigration and the value of diversity. You are a clarion example of how we benefit by your presence. As you know, I’ve always viewed myself as simply an observer of humans and their attempts at social coexistence. At times that means posing questions about cherished systems becomes inescapable.

    I’m glad you have decided to stay and to fully participate. Too many people with birth rights simply fritter away their time complaining and criticizing while contributing nothing.

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  3. Dana permalink

    Marco, I don’t think anyone could mistake your post for a right wing screed, but as the saying goes, you never know.

    I too have always viewed myself as an alien and an outside observer of humans. As a small child I wondered if I was from another planet, yet I’ve always loved planet Earth so much I couldn’t fully support that idea.

    My own species mystifies me. I suppose that makes it all the more interesting we chose to study Anthropology, although I could probably stand a few more courses to reinforce what I’ve already learned. Not sure if it would help.

    Thankfully I’m receiving email notifications again. I’m unsure what happened for while, but responding will be much simpler now.

    Dana

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  4. From Ray: Marco – You have offered us a very complicated post this time Marco – with several embedded issues, each deserving of their own separate blog.

    For example – I’m not sure that tribalism adequately captures the degree of partisanship we see among your Republicans or our Conservatives up here in Canada. How supposedly intelligent people can forsake reason, common sense and even human decency to pay homage to a leader like your Mr. Trump is beyond my ability to comprehend. It strikes me that the phenomena is more like religion or simple faith – unthinking folks prepared to stick to a sick and sad leader just because he is the leader come hell or high water.

    I think we’d all benefit from a broader discussion on each of the narrower issues embedded in this blog and would encourage you to keep at this topic for a while. Thanks again for doing this – as always it is most thought provoking.

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  5. Thank you, Ray. I’ll give it my best.

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  6. From Ray: Marco – I think you have an orange before you and have only taken the peel off…. keep up the great writing.

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  7. Thank you, Ray

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  8. Julie permalink

    Love the way you think Marco, my thoughts are on the same wavelength, I love reading your blog because you have the ability to put my thoughts into words whereby i struggle to do this. Your critical thinking skills are the best, my mind sometimes ponders around this subject, however not with the clarity that you possess. I particularly like your suggested solution in Parliament – maybe one day new structures will energe. I have thought myself about the labelling of intelligence as I believe this comes in many many forms and skills, however our societies don’t have an adequate system to make the most of this.

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    • Thank you, Julie. Yes, I think we are facing a crisis of governance. Well meaning philosophy is all very nice, but the stakes are now too high to continue engaging in platitudes. We must make honest choices.

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  9. JCR permalink

    Great words Marco and glad you are in recovery. I’ve been discussing these issues with my 20 year old stepson, and while he is getting educated and certainly intelligent, his cynicism for the system, especially the growing wealth inequalities, blocks his ability to find faith in the basic values that separates the United States (and other western countries) from blatantly corrupt governments, such as Russia (as one example). I am still from a generation that has respect for honest leadership, while understanding the contradictions and black stains the real world can put on good people. I know the short-term often looks bleak, but a recent walk the the “Hall of Presidents” at the Booth museum in Cartersville, put into perspective the limited number of great president’s this country has actually had, and the ability of the citizenry to over come the majority of bad presidents. I agree with everything you say and worry about the level of general intelligence in this country, but I still keep the faith. I worry, though, that the younger generation doesn’t have that perspective. It’s like the Disney heiress (Abigail) said about the phrase: “okay boomer” – at some point we’ll have to get out of the way and let the kids drive. If this president has taught me anything, it is that we have to keep the train moving with facts, science, art and faith in our basic core values of integrity and honesty.

    Cheers – John

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  10. Thank you, John. I do hope your faith is justified, but it becomes harder to hold as we move right to the edge of our own destruction. Nonetheless, I’m grateful that you, and people like you are still in positions to help avert the decline into chaos. We must continue to speak and to act where possible.

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  11. My life has been so out of control in recent months that the very notion of self rule has become foreign to me. Having access to the thoughts and opinions of others, especially the more youthful among my friends and acquaintances, leaves room for a little hope within the fear of what is to come. While they don’t often agree with me, at least they are thinking and forming opinions based on their own experiences. I do hope that the more intelligent among them will eventually step up and become the leaders we so desperately need to guide us into the future.

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    • Thank you, Rose. You have certainly been inundated with turmoil, and your strength and wisdom in navigating it is an example to all of us. I share your hope that the intelligent youth will prevail. But, my doubts overwhelm my confidence especially because we may soon pass the point where even the greatest intelligence will not be enough.

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