No 343 Posted by fw, November 19, 2011
“The public mind might have funny ideas about democracy. . . . if the society is based on control by private wealth it will reflect the value that the only real human property is greed and the desire to maximize personal gain at the expense of others. That small society based on that principle is ugly but it can survive. A global society based on that principle is headed for massive destruction. And that’s what we are. We have to have a mode of social organization that reflects other values that I think are inherent in human nature that people recognize.” —Noam Chomsky
In Part 10 of this 11-part series, Tom Ferguson provided examples of the banality of evil as exemplified by U.S. big business in buying elections at home and in making deals with Fascist tyrants abroad, namely Hitler and Franco. Referring to U.S. politics, Ferguson concluded that elections every four years are no substitute for a truly effective democracy.
In this, the concluding post of this series, filmmaker Jonathan Shockley brings to the fore sources of some of the public confusion about what democracy is / isn’t, and highlights Ferguson’s and Chomsky’s minimal requirements for establishing and maintaining a functioning democracy. He closes his film documentary with Chomsky’s cautionary warning — A global society based on control by private wealth will reflect the value that the only real human property is greed and the desire to maximize personal gain at the expense of others. On a global scale, that principle will surely take us on a path toward massive destruction.
Continuing with the format for this series, a complete 77-minute video of Shockley’s documentary film is embedded below followed by my time-indexed transcript comprising Part 4, including subheadings, and any external links and text highlighting. The time indexing facilitates switching from the text to its related place in the video. Of course, readers have the option of watching the complete 77-minute video at one sitting.
1:10:11 <On-screen text> Epilogue: Democracy: Myth & Reality
<Older instructional video> Narrator –
- If a community’s economic distribution becomes slanted, then despotism stands a better chance to get a foothold.
- A power scale is another important yardstick of despotism*. It gauges the citizens’ share in making the community’s decisions.
- Communities which concentrate decision-making in a few hands rate low on a power scale and are moving towards despotism. And to find out what way it is likely to go in the future, you can rate it on economic distribution and information scales.
- The lower your community rates on economic distribution and information scales, the lower it is likely to rate on respect and power scales, and, thus, to approach despotism. (*despotism: a form of government with a ruler having absolute authority; autocracy).
1:11:15 <On-screen text> — Myth: Democracy means “tyranny of the majority”
- Less public participation ==> Likelihood of “herd mentality” increases
- Herd mentality ==> No respect for minority rights
- Tyranny of the minority ==> Tyranny of the majority
1:11:40 Unidentified speaker — John Milton once said that those who put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness.
<Unidentified speaker/author> — Indeed, minority rule corrupts the judgment of the majority. That’s why only participation and self-management allow majorities to fully realize minority rights in private areas of decision making. This means the current restrictions on participation in the name of minority rights actually enforce the herd mentality undermining minority and individual freedom rather than protecting them. Undoubtedly, the greatest massacres and injustices in history have been perpetrated under the leadership or influence of elite minorities, not by the democratic impulse of the masses. Is it really surprising that the elite minority would try to convince the very majority over which they rule about the so-called “tyranny of the majority”? But no, that’s not what democracy is about.
1:1249 – Michael Albert, speaking at the 2008 Left Forum – . . . some would say we have over our lives. How much influence we have over decisions. One person might say, “We should have majority rule. Everybody gets the same vote, we tally them up, fifty percent plus one wins.” Another person might say, “We should have consensus. Our value for decision-making is consensus. We should all at least abide, or sign off on any decision.” Another person might say, “Well, I think that maybe one person should decide.”
Somebody might say that. I actually say all three, and many other things. I don’t think any of those are a principle. They’re all algorithms. They’re all methods of arriving at a decision. But they’re not a principle. One of them is right in one context, and one of them is right in another context. When you got dressed this morning, you didn’t say to yourself, “We should have a majority vote of everybody who’s going to be there of what color socks I wear.” And that made sense because that decision, it was appropriate to make that way. On the other hand, if you wanted to carry around a boombox and play it in here during the talk, you don’t get to decide that all by yourself. Why not? Because we all hear it. And the idea here is that people should have a say in decisions in proportion to the degree we’re affected by them. Now, we’re not going to be anal about this. It isn’t to the sixth decimal point. But broadly speaking, people should impact decisions in proportion to the degree they’re affected by them. The name for this, I think, reasonably is “self-management.”
1:14:24 Tom Ferguson – If you want to control the state, you better have some fairly serious party and press mechanisms that work pretty well. In effect, you need to be financing the election campaigns.
1:14:38 Noam Chomsky, interviewed by Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas, 1989 – The public mind might have funny ideas about democracy. We say that we should not be forced simply to rent ourselves to the people who own the country. Rather we should play a role in determining what those institutions do. That’s democracy. Unless we move in that direction, human society probably isn’t going to survive. We now face the most awesome problems of human history — problems such as the likelihood of nuclear conflict, or the destruction of a fragile environment.
Bill Moyers – But why do you think more participation by the public, more democracy, is the answer?
Noam Chomsky – It’s the only hope that I can see that other values will come to the fore. I mean, if the society is based on control by private wealth it will reflect the value that the only real human property is greed and the desire to maximize personal gain at the expense of others. That small society based on that principle is ugly but it can survive. A global society based on that principle is headed for massive destruction. And that’s what we are. We have to have a mode of social organization that reflects other values that I think are inherent in human nature that people recognize.
Bill Moyers – And that would be? I want to see exactly what you mean.
Noam Chomsky – What are human beings? I mean, in your family, for example. It’s not the case that in a family every person tries to maximize personal gain at the expense of others. If they do, it’s pathological. If you and I are, say, walking down the street and we see a child eating a piece of candy and we see nobody’s around, and we happen to be hungry, we don’t steal it. If we did, that would be pathological. I mean the idea of care for others and concern for other people’s needs and concern for a fragile environment that must sustain future generations – all of these things are part of human nature. These are elements of human nature that are suppressed in a social and cultural system which is designed to maximize personal gain. We must try to overcome that suppression and that’s in fact what democracy could bring about. The way humans conceive of themselves, in their ability to act, to decide, to create, to produce, to inquire — a spiritual transformation.