Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not So Different, Us And Them

If you ever get arrested, dear Reader, if the police ever want to charge you with a crime, well, I’m not your lawyer, but if it were me, I would say nothing at all. “You have the right to remain silent,” response: a smile. “Do you want a lawyer present?” Response: a smile. You’ll get a lawyer soon enough, if they want to charge you with something. Let them find their own evidence, if they can. If they arraign you for a crime, you may clearly say, “not guilty.” Save the rest of your story for the trial.

It’s about the same for me regarding local politics over here in Asia. Saying nothing is the best policy, whatever is happening. Who cares what I think anyway? Some stupid foreigner, virtually illiterate, who cares? Whatever terrible, pre-meditated, self-destructive thing is happening, of what possible importance could my ungelernte opinion be?

I do, however, have opinions about my own miserable country, and I am not loathe to express them, and things are not so different in America as you may suspect. America is now in the throws of it’s own unfolding drama, and it’s quite similar to, and just as dangerous as, the dramas unfolding around us in the Second and Third World backwaters that we civilized people tend to laugh at, and just as terrible, pre-meditated and self-destructive.

There are, most essentially, two basic political theories: Top Down; and Bottom Up. The basic tension in political thought is between these two preferences. One great problem is that the Top Down side cannot clearly state it’s agenda to the people to be so managed. So they dress it up with political fictions, they masquerade as Bottom Up’s. Sometimes spectacularly, such as the “Communist” Chinese, or the Soviets, who claimed that all political power came from the workers, the “bottom,” whereas any fool could see that the Communist Party higher-ups were the only ones with any power at all (and enough food, big houses, and Mercedes Benz, or any, automobiles too).

Many Democratic countries resort to Populist Politics, where the people at the top simply claim to be men of the people, and give benefits of some kind to a sufficient number of the voting population to insure that they continue to be elected. If the people at the top are clever, the benefits that are passed out are paid for by the country itself, and do not represent any out-of-pocket expense at all to the Populists. In some instances, they may pass actual currency to voters in return for a vote, often in the form of loans not intended to be repaid. The Populists, of course, go home with the real money.

In America, it’s all very sub rosa, but the effect is the same: electoral success that leads to self-enrichment. Vast amounts of money are spent in America, on both ends of the political spectrum, to affect the outcome of elections, but in America, the Top-Downers have had great success getting the people-to-be-managed to vote for them without actually giving them anything. They do this by re-framing the dialog: “Family Values;” “Law and order;” “Patriotism;” “Freedom;” and hiding their real agenda.

After they get elected, they set about to line their own pockets, like some President a’ Vie out in darkest Africa somewhere. It happens in America too. Don’t believe it? Here too, this kind of corruption is a lot more subtle in America than it is in the backwaters. Consider the money that has been added to our national deficit since the end of the Clinton presidency (during which all of those numbers tended downward). How much of that money was paid to American corporations in certain industries? War related industries? Or industries that provided support and construction services for the prosecution of wars? Wars that we now know were unnecessary and, in fact, counterproductive? Notice also that our two current wars benefit the energy industry, look it up, minerals, pipelines. Just a basic example. (And who owns the defense industries? Look up the Bush family’s connections for a starter.)

Whatever, the real problem in America, and elsewhere, is that the two sides of the political universe can no longer talk together or work with one another. The two sides have calcified into mutually exclusive camps. The political dialog, if such screaming from a distance can be so characterized, has become so hyperbolic and paranoid that the debate has assumed the form of a battle between good and evil. In America, and elsewhere, compromise, that indispensible mainstay of Democracy, has become impossible. In this paranoid* debate, any compromise is seen as a surrender to the forces of evil.

Like I said, the best course for me is to be quiet about my host country, and leave them to create the politics that best suit them. Herein I’m just talking about my own homeland, of course I am.

*See also: “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” by Richard Hofstadter, originally appearing in the November, 1964 issue of Harper’s Magazine, but still all over the web.


Anonymous said...

Police have their own sort of juris prudence do they not? Some "porcus prudence" if you would kind sir.

fred c said...

Police like to close files; and prosecutors like to convict people. Personally, I think guilt or innocence should have more to do with it.