A Paradox – Inclusive Elites III: A Full Human Life, Research Time, 09/11/2016

Continued from previous post . . . So a quick recap that will actually be quick. Representative democracy lies to us in its ideology in a lot of ways. The most profound is the notion that the act of election constitutes some magical transformation of the will of individuals into the will of the nation speaking through the parliament’s assembly.

But representative democratic institutions fall short of democracy’s ideal in a more ordinary – and no less important – way. The huge amounts of organization and money required to contest an election to a representative assembly restricts those positions to people who run and network with political parties.

Nothing says "Salt of the Earth American people" like these folks.
There are usually norms that party officials shouldn’t jump too easily from their bureaucratic jobs to running for election. But those are mostly vague feelings of squishiness. A decent public relations job usually overcomes those.

And really, the problem is that political parties are big organizations of well-connected people. It’s difficult for folks who haven’t become prominent in their communities to gain power in these organizations. And that cuts off a lot of ordinary people from the actual corridors of state power.

Democratic institutions in industrial civilizations have to be run by elite groups and elite organizations. Even if you lay aside a lot of the usual conceptions of elitism associated with wealth, they constitute an elite stratum of their own – the networks of people connected with political parties and parliamentary institutions.

It's enough to make democracy seem futile. But democracy is an ethical ideal. It’s the sort of thing that motivates your action, not a concrete goal that you can actually achieve, instantiate, make real.

The completely free society is an asymptotic approach. Would the democratic revolutionaries of the founding of the United States – to pick a noteworthy example this week – have anticipated the huge number of freedoms people advocate for today?

Consider the freedoms that only become necessary in an industrialized civilization like ours? Freedom of financial security. Freedom of information flows through decentralized internet media. Or the social and subjective freedoms that are needed today for non-cis, non-straight, non-binary sexual and gender identities?

You bet your ass Ben Franklin would have loved partying in the
craziest gay bars in America. That's what freedom is all about.
Benjamin Franklin wouldn’t have understood any of the many new vectors of freedom that have arisen in the last few decades. But once he got up to speed, he probably would have been loving every minute of it.

The different demands for freedom and the different vectors upon which people can liberate themselves have grown and grown. And this growing freedom is what democracy is. Just as the ideal of the comprehensively free society is the ethical being of democracy, the ontological being of democracy is the real-world growth of liberation vectors and the social and individual struggles to develop and move along these vectors.

The ontology of democracy is literally the social struggle to free ourselves.

So in that sense, while parliamentary institutions have a tendency to build new elite groups, they aren’t truly the enemy of freedom because they can still encourage the growth and development of liberation vectors throughout society.

Only someone who conceives of politics only as civic engagement and the contest for state power would consider institutions themselves inherently anti-democratic or anti-freedom. I’ve met some very smart people who still have this blinkered view of politics, and I think in a lot of ways that’s a failure of education.

So what kind of society and institutions can encourage these liberation vectors to proliferate? It helps to consider what the opposite of such social structures and institutions would be.

They would be institutions that constrain people, sometimes literally. Social structures that encourage strict moralities. We’re used to thinking of such strict moralities as religious, and most of them are.

Police arresting protestors in Baton Rouge earlier this year. Because
you know what to do with the police.
Just consider how stifling it is to grow up in a harshly strict religious community. There are only a few ways to live, you face ostracism or worse punishments for breaking the rules, and those rules can sometimes regard intimate practices like hairstyle, sexual practice, or clothing choices.

But such strict enforcement of moral rules can come from secular cultures just as much as religious ones. We’re accustomed to thinking of headscarves and body covering as signposts of religious oppression – largely because of pervasive racist ideas in our society about Muslims and Jews.

But the police officer forcing a woman to strip on the beach is just as much an oppression as a police officer forcing a woman to cover her face on a city street.

Those images expose the essence of what opposes democracy, when we conceive of it as a social morality that encourage the growth of liberation vectors.

The police. . . . . To Be Continued

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