Political myths we live by

Whenever most conversations I have these days move around to matters political I often find myself in a quandary. I have the choice of either accepting the tacit assumptions behind the other person’s remarks or questions, or else remaining largely silent and trying to change the topic. This is because I don’t share the tacit assumptions.

I would classify most of these usually unexamined assumptions as social democratic or liberal. They dominate all corporate media for reasons that will become obvious below. In my view, these prevalent myths of our age do not hold up to rational scrutiny and are a, largely unrecognised, form of mind control. Here is my attempt to list fifteen of them and briefly comment on them from the viewpoint of critical political science and a radically democratic ethics.

1. This is a democratic system (The Democratic Fallacy).

If ‘democracy’ means ‘rule by the people’, it isn’t. It is an oligarchic system of elected political elites tightly enmeshed with the unelected economic elites in industry, state bureaucracy and the media. These, often discordant, elites together make up the ruling class.

2. Democratic parties are run democratically (The Party Fallacy).

Just like any communist party, when it comes to the crunch, the major parties are all run top-down from head office. Power group and faction deals done outside the party meetings decide on key positions. Party executives and apparatchiks hold great internal power. Candidates chosen by the local rank and file, if at all, can be replaced by those chosen by head office when necessary. Party discipline and perceived unity are always placed above open debate and dissent. Even parties that start off with greater grassroots participation end up with oligarchic power structures. The term ‘democratic party’ is an oxymoron.

3. Elections are very important and provide real alternatives between parties (The Election Fallacy).

This reduces the core political notion of freedom to the freedom to choose between the two wings of the one pro-capitalist and neo-liberal party. We live in a de facto One Party state. We are left with the freedom to choose which current faction of the ruling political elite will probably be less disastrous.

The key investment decisions are not made by politicians and thus elections are only of secondary importance. (The next four points are simply corollaries of this fallacy.)

4. The key decisions are made in cabinet and parliament after rational debate and in the interest of the common good. (The Parliamentary Fallacy).

Key investment decisions are made behind closed doors by the democratically unaccountable corporate bureaucrats of big business. Key political decisions are made by the top levels of the political executive in close consultation with unelected top bureaucrats and business lobbyists. ‘Revolving doors’ between these groups assure their fundamental unity of interest. As in Communist systems, parliaments merely rubber stamp these decisions along party lines. The term ‘parliamentary debate’ is also an oxymoron. ‘Question time’ is schoolboy-level grandstanding and bullying because it is nothing but a pseudo-event of clashing ‘personalities’ designed for the media.

5. The differing personalities of politicians are important things to consider. (The Personalist Fallacy 1).

Politicians with different personalities may set up differing cultural atmospheres and political priorities in non-core areas. These may at times be important. However, personalities make as little difference to the core power/class relations as do gender or race. For ruling elites and democrats alike, politicians are not to be judged by what they may or may not privately be but by what they publicly do or fail to do.

6. When politicians lie and deceive, it is a personal failing. (The Personalist Fallacy 2)

Politicians may be personally honest or dishonest to varying degrees. However, all are systemically caught between meeting popular demands (election time ‘idealism’ and ‘hope’, polls) and meeting big business and state-systemic demands (post-election time ‘realism’). When they then lie or ‘betray’ their popular election promises and their previous ‘idealism’ magically and inevitably becomes ‘realistic’ and ‘pragmatic’, they are in fact simply meeting the demands of the system and its very real power relations. Politicians are necessarily two-faced because they are always serving two masters, the public and the powerful, but in the end only the powerful master is really the master and calls the shots.

7. The planet can be saved by pressuring politicians into developing ‘political will’. (The Lobbying Fallacy)

Persistent and massive grass roots direct action (demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience etc) and lobbying may sometimes change politicians’ ‘will’ in many non-core areas. When this popular pressure is lessened, this ‘will’ will always quickly weaken or backtrack back to systemic ‘realism’ (power maintenance). If focussed exclusively on politicians (instead of on big business power and creative self-activity), this lobbying activity will, by definition, sap creative energy, not change the system itself and thus not save the planet.

8. Public opinion is made by the public. (The Public Opinion Fallacy)

It isn’t. It is made for the public by a process of selective filtering and re-framing on the part of the owners, managers and employed commentators of the corporate media. Corporate think tanks and PR machines also play important public opinion-forming roles, often behind the scenes. The important ideological and manipulative work of all these ‘pundits’ is to keep public discourse within the tight parameters and limited concepts of allowed official discourse. The purpose is to manufacture consent for the decisions and policies of the ruling elites. There is no conspiracy involved here, it is a ‘natural’ part of the system and works largely by cultural osmosis and conformity.

9. This might not be a perfect system, but there is no alternative (Margaret Thatcher: ‘TINA’). Democracy and capitalism necessarily go together. Socialism has failed spectacularly. (The TINA Fallacy)

Capitalism and outright terror states are quite compatible (fascism, third world dictatorships). Democratic imperialism has also killed millions of innocent people. ‘Socialism’ itself has never been tried anywhere. Despite their labels the Soviet and Chinese systems were/are not socialist in any sense. They were authoritarian forms of state capitalism that have now morphed into more modern forms of McStalinism. Whether still called ‘socialism’ or not, the alternative is a radically democratic, both decentralised and globalised society in which economic and local community self-management, solidarity and mutual aid are maximised.

10. Economically, this is a Free Market Society. (The Free Market Fallacy)

There is no free market and never has been, even under the rule of the deregulating, neo-liberal state. A completely free market system would self-destruct in no time. Because it can, by definition, only care for its individual vested interests and not for the good of the whole system, capitalism needs constant saving from itself by the state. The capitalist state has always been there to massively support, gently oversee, subsidize and bail out the capitalist economy in countless ways, not only in times of crisis. Corporate and middle class welfare is actually its main game. The state helps capital privatise the profits and socialise the costs. It provides the physical infrastructure, educational development of the ‘human capital’ and picks up the immense social, health and environmental costs of the latter’s wrecking balls. All this happens whether the state is neo-liberal or social democratic (Keynesian) in nature.

11. Wars of aggression and military humanitarian interventions are foreign policy mistakes or blunders. (The Mistaken Foreign Policy Fallacy)

They are not mistakes. Official humanitarian aims are pretexts. Initially, they are planned military interventions for geo-strategic, financial, ideological gain or (in Australia’s case) as mercenary down payments on alliance insurance policies. The so-called ‘mistakes’ or ‘blunders’ are usually military and financial over-reaches and misjudgements of popular resistance. Millions of innocent civilians and duped soldiers die or are maimed or displaced in the process.

12. World peace is possible without world social justice. (The Peace Fallacy)

When the rich 20% of the world lay claim to about 80% of the world’s resources, leaving the poor 80% with 20% of the resources and billions in poverty, there can be no lasting peace until this exploitative imbalance and historical injustice are redressed.

13. Capitalism can function without growing infinitely. (The Natural Capitalism Fallacy)

When capital ceases growing, it ceases being capital and reverts to being mere money. Capital must accumulate and expand to survive. Nothing like this exists in nature except perhaps certain forms of virus.

14. There can be infinite growth within a finite world. (The Growth Fallacy)

A fallacy obvious to any pre-schooler but not to economists, politicians and their media pundits.

15. Capitalism and this planet are compatible. (The Business as Usual Fallacy)

I rest my case.

[This article was also published at the zmag website 0n 19/12/09]

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on December 12, 2009.

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