Ritual Voting and the Illusion of Democracy
By Keith Keller at Sep 29, 2011
“It is axiomatic that political power aligns with economic power” (David C. Korten)
One of the great myths of our time is that elections and voting constitute the essence of democracy. To the degree that democracy constitutes self-rule, even in the limited sense of citizen control of the political system, democracy is an oxymoron in a capitalist political economy. The very essence of capitalism is the rule of capital, that is the rule of money, that is the rule of those who control and direct the flow of money. To anyone not blinded by mythology, it is obvious that we live in a capitalist oligarchy, not a democracy.
Elections are rituals, pure and simple. As such they serve multiple functions. The simplest function is that of a political circus, full of color and noise, diverting attention away from the underlying systems of power and control. The next is the distraction of organized ritualistic behavior - phone banking, sign building, rallies, etc. - which keep activists busy while imparting the illusion of meaningful participation in the political process. Next is the symbolic legitimatization of government and its actions by associating voting with citizen approval of subsequent policy and actions. Finally, the whole process tends to misrepresent the role of government in our political economy while simultaneously bringing the market to bear on the political system. That is, to hide the fact that our government is subservient to business interests and elite pressure.
Currently, our economic system has totally overwhelmed our political system and is the decisive locus of power in our political economy. It is businessmen in large corporations and financial institutions who make the decisions which most effect our lives. They are the ones who decide whether to invest in solar power or oil exploration, whether to build a factory in the US or overseas, whether to build affordable housing or luxury homes, whether to support fuel efficiency and mass transit or to develop tar sands oil, whether to support living wages or to slash benefits, whether to invest in the real economy or engage in financial speculation. These are the things which fall under the domain of business decision making. Additionally, the economic elites exert strong influence on governmental decision making and infrastructure development.
The American economic elites exercise de facto control of the political system through several means. The first is the most obvious: those who control significant wealth fund political candidates who demonstrate a commitment to elite objectives and have the ability to get results. This is particularly important at the start of a campaign when candidates need to obtain significant initial funding to be viable. Thereafter, the ongoing need for future campaign financing biases elected officials in favor of “business friendly” legislation and executive actions. In this way, the market is brought to bear on elected officials. Another aspect of elite control is through the doctrinal system whereby the funding of think tanks and the control of commercial media, the elites construct the ideological framework within which political decision making occurs. It is important to note that the average person has negligible impact upon the creation of social mythology which informs our perceptions and guides our decisions, and which has been created by the elites to facilitate the attainment of elite objectives. Finally, our privately controlled financial system is debt based which creates a systemic need for growth. Additionally, the private banks, bondholders and Federal Reserve have the power to stimulate or depress the economy through monetary means to achieve their objectives.
The point is that the US and other Western “democracies” present themselves as democratic, and are viewed by their citizenry as essentially democratic when, in fact, they are not. In this regard, voting and elections constitute an elaborate charade to create the illusion of democracy. The best one can say is that the US has democratic forms which are totally ineffective in achieving the stated goal. Money is the big corruptor of representative democracy, however, to simply state that concentrated money power corrupts the system and leave it at that is inadequate. The implications of why expensive political advertising is as effective as it is has profound implications for the very concept of democracy.
I have come to several conclusions about human nature and political economy which are at odds with just about everything I have ever heard or read. The core concept undergirding these conclusions concerns what I refer to as the logic of irrationality. I define reasoning as logical if it is consistent with relevant assumptions, whereas, thinking is rational if consistent with empirical reality. They are not the same thing. For most people, the logic of ideology and bias tend to overwhelm rational thought. That is, when individual/group bias and ideology conflict with rational interpretation, rationality is usually ignored in favor of an ideologically consistent interpretation. This is true for most people and is probably an inevitable consequence of human evolution. For all or most of human history, being a member of a supportive group/tribe was an essential component of survival, hence, the majority of people willingly adapted their individual biases and simplifying paradigms to be consistent with the group ideology/mythology so as to fit in and promote harmony and solidarity.
The tendency for individuals in a group to evaluate situations from the perspective of a shared ideology creates a de facto internalized behavioral guidance system consistent with group objectives. The subordination of individual bias to group ideology is essential for group cohesion and direction, and a key to group success. It should be noted that group ideology and group objectives do not reflect the input of the various members of the group, rather, they reflect the biases and objectives of the group elites who basically control the overall thrust of group activity. Most groups of any significant size tend to form a hierarchy, with the majority following the direction of the group leaders. Most subconsciously align with power. Those who don’t tend to suffer consequences. Dissent which threatens to undermine group solidarity and effectiveness is considered treasonous.
The implications of all of this is that the elites basically control the actions of the majority through the control of information and social mythology. This appears to be changing somewhat as elite implementation of structural adjustment produces the inevitable (and anticipated) civil disobedience which, in turn, is dealt with by a return to the more traditional modes of coercive force to augment the psychological manipulation of the population.
Be that as it may, social control in the US still relies primarily upon information manipulation. While in theory there is nothing to prevent the electorate from voting for Third Party candidates and throwing the Republicans and Democrats out of office, this is not likely to happen. The electorate is not rational, the notion of a “rational” political man (or “rational” economic man) is a myth. The vast majority of the people are faithful followers who can’t seem to help being seduced by the logic of elite propaganda. Reality is misrepresented in such a way as to produce an anticipated response in the polity. As a consequence, people will satisfy themselves with the illusion of choice within the framework of established power, or opt out completely, rather than stage a rebellion at the polls.
Taking all of this a step further, the notion of the US spreading democracy or opposing tyranny or being concerned by dictators is ludicrous. We live in what has been described as the dictatorship of capital, the tyranny of money. This reality is camouflaged by elections and voting which give the illusion of popular participation in political decision making. A sham which tends to ameliorate popular discontent without significantly impacting elite goal seeking. Also, nowadays, how many nations don’t have elections? Most do, with the outcomes frequently manipulated. The elections of allies will be lauded as free and fair, those of regimes we wish to destabilize will be presented as illegitimate. In almost all case, voting is symbolic only, a means of manufacturing consent.
What does the future hold? I am not going to even attempt to discuss democracy in the broadest sense of the term. Rather, what, if anything, could be done to create a situation whereby elections and voting are more than a money driven charade? I am pessimistic about the extent to which the majority of citizens can become rational voters, at least in the short run. The human need for most to subsume themselves to group mythology and to align with power appears resistant to change. Realistically, the best hope would appear to be to seek to reduce the concentration of economic power as much as possible. While people would still be susceptible to the logic of propaganda, hopefully, having many more potential message senders would result in some ideological competition rather than our current consistent bias and propaganda.
See also "Keith's NO EMPIRE Blog" at http://saskck.blogspot.com