Sometimes things happen in the world that make a difference to all of us, irrespective of our political leanings or affiliations, and which therefore expose more substantial political forces and powers at large. I have always wanted to keep politics in the first sense out of this blog, but I have no problem engaging directly with the latter.
For the last few days I have been extremely troubled by films and images I have seen on newsfeeds of heavily armoured thugs beating up Catalonians for staging what the Spanish state describes as an illegal referendum. These men are clearly highly skilled at what they do, and seem genuinely to enjoy their work. The governing powers of Spain moreover are evidently not at all bothered that their servants have been filmed so openly carrying out their business and upholding the law with such violence. Allied governments from Brussels to Washington, but not including Edinburgh, regard these events as an internal matter and regurgitate the propaganda shat out from Madrid; these are police upholding the law and preventing the staging of an illegal vote.
As the phrase “illegal vote” should indicate, democracy is a notoriously meaningless concept, possibly even oxymoronic, and I have never really believed it to be practical with groups of people larger than about a dozen. It is a Greek concept, signifying more or less rule of the people, that came into existence in a culture that excluded women from all serious discourse and relied upon slavery and conquest for social stability and economic prosperity. These days we are led to believe that each individual is in possession of unique opinions that she or he can compare with the programmes and manifestos of political parties which compete for political power in order then to vote for one of these. This voting is the core of the democratic process that creates governments, which then carry out the duties of the state, using institutions that have been developed over history to do this. Sometimes too, states offer choices to people on matters that cut through party lines. Each nation state and country has its own way of organising its democracy and each tends to believe its own to to be the ideal form.
Humanity is facing a profound existential crisis. On the one hand, in the name of democracy, people are given the opportunity to vote to decide whether the region where they live should become autonomous from a larger state. On the other, in the name of democracy, that same state employs extreme and public violence to ensure that the vote is disrupted and voters made aware of who is actually in power. This is not a problem confined to Spain – although it is perhaps appropriate that these struggles emerge into prominence in Catalonia, which has always been a hotbed of radical ideas and often had to defend itself against imperial domination – it is becoming more obvious that the concept of democracy has developed two absolutely incompatible meanings.
Firstly, there are those who take it to be a process. That the objective of rule by the people is never complete; that continuing dialogue, discussion and good faith are required in order to organise any social body that recognises the authority of individual reason, experience and opinion; that these processes are the essence of democracy.
Secondly, there are those who take it to be a competition to choose who gets to wield power. As if the outcome of an election were like the result of a game of football, where there are winners and losers, where the winners get to party and shout about how right they are to have the opinions they have, and the losers have to shut up and suck it up.
The powers that be really do not give a fuck any more. It does not matter to them that their violence is on public display, against which moral outrage is about as much use as chocolate teapot. It does matter matter that their propaganda is bizarrely false, transparently self serving and idiotic, because it has been fed into the headlines and soundbites of the press and media to be beamed around the world before the more complex truth can be discovered. This is the structure now of world events. It is how we are kept docile and obedient. By consuming the stories we are fed on the news, subliminally accepting the morality of power, believing always in its legitimacy.
In the name of democracy.
Time to wake up.