Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. There’s a brilliant joke on this theme in Peter Cook’s film The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (a couple of quid for the DVD – it’s genius from about 1968). Rimmer gets to the top by ruthless tricks. He then has us all make decisions on everything, leading to sacks of work being delivered to us all by post everyday, Appalled at the work we are all burdened with, he becomes President in order to take all this work off us.
These days we have the technology to make representation unnecessary. All current ‘democracies’ are representative. We thus cede administrative power to a very few and to election processes involving a few parties. This may have been the best we could manage in history and did not prevent Hitler coming to power in what was the most cultured and scientific nation then on Earth. It did not stop the British or American Empires either. These may be seen as ‘holding positions’ for freedom if there is future history, though may be seen as considerably more vile than those of us bred to their propaganda currently believe.
Those in power have always been reluctant to accept that power can really be given to the people. It’s clear we could now organise reliable referendums that involved us very directly in decision-making. Questions around this are the ones we should be considering in our politics, not piss like AV.
Of course, power to the people on this scale can be ridiculed. 25% of our populations, even where there is education, remain functionally innumerate and illiterate. Critical reasoning capability is in very short supply – I doubt more than 5% can really do this (in terms, say, of the current ‘A’ level) – and I doubt we can ‘educate’ people up to it in academic terms. The resources Plato outlined for his Guardians were immense. Trying to equip everyone for the kind of citizenship apparently needed for genuine self-rule seem daunting.
Politics everywhere is a form of dictatorship of a rendered-docile proletariat. Rule is enforced through hierarchy of one form or another. We still give up to an absolute much as Hobbes described. I prefer what we do in the West to what goes on in Syria or Saudi, though this may well be ‘our doing’ too. I don’t want to give up government to half-wits who watch soap operas.
Yet surely, we should have dialogue on what we could do with new technology and the obvious abuses of representative and judicial power. Blair was Thatcher in drag and Cameron uses the ‘Blair touch’ as well as the war criminal himself. We are always at war, employers can always use the threat of moving to cheap labour and tax, or move the labour in. We are destroying the planet and … enough said. Harwood hasn’t been arrested and the DPP, really making a decision on himself, will try to quietly not have a trial, hoping time will kill off any fuss. We can do better than this.
That we can’t move instantly to voting on everything is obvious. What is so sad is that we don’t understand the importance of thought experiments and what they can reveal. We are rightly scared of countries with more or less no government where piracy and banditry prevail. Yet we are not aware of what is really going on in our own system, or whether this is remotely the best we can manage. In this ignorance we have moved from the potential of bildung to bulldung. We do not know there is something very rotten in the State of Denmark.