A Bit of Politics
Just a Bit of Politics. 16 Theses on the Good Society
One’s regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living.
Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.
– Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891)
1. The Good Society. To save the planet, civilisation and the human spirit from extreme suffering and almost-extinction, ‘all’ that is needed is the institutionalisation of the ‘good society’.
2. Presence. For the emergence of the good society, ‘all’ that is needed is the liberation of the ‘good society’ that is already present, as seed, bud or flower, wherever and whenever people spontaneously practice solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, collective ‘autonomy’.
3. Autonomy means self-government, i.e. the negotiating of rules, order, laws (‘nomos’) by the people themselves in direct democracy (e.g. assemblies). The opposite is ‘heteronomy’: the rule of some over others (‘hetero’).
4. Politics. What most usually understand (and distrust and dislike) as ‘politics’ are various versions of heteronomy, even when labelled ‘democratic’ or ‘progressive’: a tedious jockeying amongst a separate political class for positions of status, privilege and power over others.
5. Human Nature. Autonomy, solidarity and disobedience are always present aspects of human nature and potential , in all cultures and at all times. There is a long and inspiring transcultural legacy of autonomous social movements, thinkers and artists throughout history.
6. Heteronomy. Like its various expressions ‒ possessive individualism, egoism, xenophobia, power-hunger, obedience, authoritarianism, voluntary slavery ‒ heteronomy is also always present as an aspect of human nature and potential.
7. Alienation. Patriarchy, the State and capitalism are, by definition, repressive institutions based on heteronomy, the reinforcing of the alienation of human nature and potential for autonomy, solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation. This alienation from our human nature is a version of our alienation from nature, an alienation of our deep selves.
8. Patriarchy. The patriarchal family, clan and tribe developed into patriarchal war-lordism, monarchies, empires, modern states, all firmly anchored in patriarchal kinship relations, religions and violence. No longer necessary for class domination, modern states and capitalism now continue to de-patriarchalise and feminise their kinship, wealth and power structures.
9. The State has always been based on, and cultivated, heteronomy and tribal/national xenophobia mainly for the purposes of maintaining its ruling power elites. War, expansion, colonialism, imperialism have always been coterminous with the State: ‘War is the health of the state’ (Randolph Bourne).
10. Even the parliamentary modern state represses our autonomy: it wants us to live as isolated taxpayers, mere voters, party members and passive consumers of political spectacles and, when necessary, obedient cannon fodder.
11. The alternative to the State is participatory democracy, an institutionalisation of collective autonomy. This is the grassroots political form of the good society in which the people directly make the rules and call the shots. Any delegation is temporary, specific, recallable, rotational.
12. Capitalism has always been based on, and cultivated, heteronomy and competitive and possessive individualism for the purposes of maintaining the wealth and power of its class elites. Advanced capitalism represses our autonomy: it wants us to live as distracted, isolated consumers and over-worked, competitive workers without solidarity and community or any say whatsoever in investment, production, allocation, workplaces, technology.
13. The alternative to capitalism is worker and consumer self-management in production, allocation and consumption, an institutionalisation of collective autonomy. This is the grassroots economic form of the good society, direct democracy in the workplace and neighbourhood, and where wider coordination may take the form of self-federation from below.
14. The Abyss. The dynamics of this double institutional alienation, the State and hyper-industrial capitalism, are now leading humanity, civilisation and the planet to the abyss of almost-extinction and extreme suffering.
15. Emergence. The ‘good society’ is globally emergent, and absent. Like most of us, it needs to ‘find itself’, expand and develop consciousness of itself and its tasks, network and communicate more intensively. From this global-local process, this diverse and evolving super-complexity, something qualitatively new, and old, could emerge that might just save us and the planet.
16. The Choice. No tinkering within the old state institutions and capitalist mind-sets that have led us to the abyss can save us. It’s the ‘utopia’ of the good society, or it’s the dystopia of barbarism and/or oblivion. It is the choice between our autonomous and heteronomous natures.
Notes and Quotes
Ad 4. Many polls over the years have shown majority distrust of politician, albeit in fluctuating patterns. In Australia, the shift from the Rudd Labor government to the Abbot Coalition government resulted in a massive decline in trust, with only 27% in 2013 saying they ‘almost always’ or ‘most of the time’ trusted the government as against 48% still trusting the government in 2009. The poll’s author, Professor Andrew Markus was quoted as saying that, in terms of distrust, ‘The politicians are nudging real estate agents for bottom position.” (C. Lucas, ‘Trust in the nation’s government and politicians has fallen to record lows, study finds’, SMH 21/10/2013, p. 10).
This is a world-wide phenomenon. The Guardian Weekly 23-29/9/2005, p. 7 contained the following article:
“Worldwide poll –
Politicians least trusted people
Most people believe that their government does not act according to their wishes, a worldwide opinion survey shows. Lack of confidence in governments is highest in the former Soviet bloc, where 75% say their country is not governed by the will of the people. But similar views are held by most Europeans (64%) and North Americans (60%).
Commissioned by the BBC World Service, Gallup interviewed more than 50,000 people in 68 countries, representative of the views of 1.3 billion people. […]
Overall, slightly less than half of those surveyed (47%) felt that elections in their country were free and fair. […]
Worldwide, politicians represent the least trusted occupation, scoring only 13% [i.e. percentage willing to affirm them as trusted people, PLN]. […]
There is a low level of trust in all types of leaders in Europe, and particularly [in] the media. Religious leaders are most trusted in Africa […]. In the US 50% trust religious leaders and 40% would give them more power.”
No wonder such polls are not front page or prime time news, but hidden away in small articles on page seven of intellectual broadsheets like the Guardian Weekly. In any true democracy the ramifications of such a poll would be devastating. They show that the systems officially called ‘democratic’ are not felt to be such at all by clear majorities. This would also be a rational explanation for a widespread disinterest in (or even disgust with) voting and party politics in most developed countries, even, or especially, where voting is compulsory. It is sometimes comforting to know one’s own views are ‘mainstream’ rather than ‘fringe’; that it is in fact the system-believers who are ‘fringe’.
If this apparent disbelief in the system is so widespread, it would, however, seem to often strangely co-exist with people’s widespread belief in leaders and elections and a belief in leaders’ willingness and ability to solve their problems for them. This may just be another version of widespread ambivalence and cognitive dissonance about people’s own power, confidence and responsibility, and lack thereof; an internal struggle between the inner-directed autonomy of the ‘inner adult’ and the outer-directed heteronomy of the ‘inner child’ perhaps. The role of anti-authoritarian social and cultural activists would then seem to be to find practical and creative ways of facilitating the strengthening of the former over the latter, both in themselves and in others.
As for the heteronomous, anti-democratic nature of mainstream party and parliamentary politics per se, here for example is an ex-minister of the Australian Labor Party on the real nature of the ALP (and mutatis mutandis all ‘democratic’ parties in one way or another):
“Every factional operative is a liege of the union. The careers of those who have risen to the top of the ALP are built on a sea of apathy. Some come directly through union staff; others via ALP and ministers’ staff. An executive placement agency – a cabal of operatives selecting people in their own image – determines who gets what, and where. The price is unquestioning upward loyalty. […] An iron law of NSW Labor politics is that no important decision requires the attendance of a greater number of people than can sit comfortably around a table in a Chines restaurant. The diners are union officials and their lieges.”
(R. Cavalier, ‘Union cabal keeps Labor in death grip’, SMH 21/10/2013, p. 19).
For more on this cf. also my article ‘Political Myths We Live by’.
Ad 5. Cf. the list of thinkers in my articles ‘Credo quia absurdum’ and of social movements in ‘Echoes of Autonomy’.
Ad 6. As a recent expression of widespread xenophobia and heteronomy in Australia, the land of the ‘fair go’, a poll in January 2014 had 60% urging the Abbott government to actually ‘increase the severity’ of government policies towards asylum seekers, as if the brutality and abuse of human rights on Manus and Nauru were not inhuman enough. (W. Aly, ‘The point of detention is to horrify’, SMH 21/2/2014, p.20)
For an example of cultural heteronomy, here an example from Japan, after the Kobe earthquake in 1995:
“In your article on the earthquake, you rightly praised Kobe’s citizens for refraining from looting and for queuing patiently for food and blankets. But you overlooked other, equally revealing responses, of which the most remarkable was the lack of group solidarity. Most Kobe citizens who survived the quake unhurt stayed home or fled to shelters, thinking that the authorities would take care of those left behind. As it became clear that rescue teams could not cope with the situation, these people continued to cling to their own safety. Had they joined the rare volunteer emergency crews or formed their own, hundreds of their fellow citizens might have been saved. In the critical hours after the quake, those trapped in the debris could have done with a little less law and order and a little more disorderly, spontaneous cooperation and help.”
(R. Mencken in Tokyo, letter to Time Magazine, 27/2/1995, italics added.)
Ad 13. According to a federally funded research centre at the University of Melbourne, 75% of surveyed employees in Australia believe their workplace suffers from poor leadership and needs better management. 75% also believe they have the knowledge to be a good leader. 84% said they used their own initiative to carry out tasks not required as part of their job. (C. Lucas, ‘The boss sucks: study reveals most workers feel they should be in charge’, SMH 20/2/2014, p. 2)
~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on February 22, 2014.
Posted in climate change, critical theory, eco-social theory, peak oil, social change, social theory
Tags: alienation, anti-capitalism, autonomy, civil disobedience, direct action, direct democracy, emergence, heteronomy, human nature, participatory democracy, self-management, the good society, the State, voluntary slavery