European Democracy or European Technocracy?

The European Elections took place over the course of a few days in late May 2019. Across 28 Member States, Europeans went to the ballot box to elect 751 Members of the European Parliament. But did this have any tangible outcome on who will be the President of the European Commission? If the answer is no, then does the European Union violate the fundamental principles of the Social Contact which underpins Representative Democracy?

To answer we first need to rewind slightly to explain how the European Union functions. The European Union is made up four institutions, which maps haphazardly onto our normal understanding of the three branches of government, the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The only body to play a traditional role is the Court of Justice of the European Union, which acts as the supreme judicial authority and has the power to rule on matters of European Law.

For the other institutions though there is a weird mix of quasi executive and legislative powers that intersect with one another. For example, in the normal legislative procedure the European Commission proposes draft legislation (either regulations or directives). The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament then act as co-legislators who may propose amendments to the proposed legislation.

Yet, neither have the power to initiate legislation which is the essential role of a legislator i.e. the body which creates law. In a normal representative democracy, the legislature is easily identifiable in the form of a bicameral or unicameral parliament or house of representatives. This is not the case in the EU.

So what bearing do the European Elections have on this process. It turns out very little.

The European Parliament is made up of 751 members from across every European Member State according to a specific formula of degressive proportionality. With European Elections, the mandate of the European Commission also ends. Presidents of the European Commission, European Council, European Central Bank, and the High Representative appointed.

Unfortunately, the vote in the European Elections has zero relation to the outcome of these appointments. The most contentious of course is the role of President of the European Commission. In 2014, the European Union attempted to rectify this by proposing a Spitzenkandidaten process in which each of the political groups would nominate a candidate who would be considered by the Council for Commissioner President. The result was that Jean-Claude Juncker became the European Commission President for 2014-2019.

Following the European elections in 2019 however, the Council has completely ignored this process and nominated Ursula von der Leyen the German Minister of Defense, as President of the European Commission. This begs the question, why did European’s just go to the ballot box and vote? The result has no correlation to the result. Thus, the European Union will now be headed by someone who Europeans have never even heard of outside Germany.

The European Union claims to believe in the rule of law and democracy, but it makes a mockery of these. Liberal democracy is based on a social contract for which the Council and European elite run roughshod over. The social contract we have collectively agreed to is essentially that governments are accountable to the people.

While Europe criticizes nations like Russia for their fake elections, meanwhile the go about politics behind closed doors and in complete disregard for the election results. This is an absolute abhorrent outcome and the Council should be ashamed of itself. Many think it’s important to get out and vote. When you have outcomes like this we can see why 50 percent of people choose to stay home.

What the Council is attempting to do here is a coup d’etat against the legitimacy of the European Union and it will have negative repercussions for years to come. If there were any hope that the United Kingdom might somehow remain with the European Union, this has essentially evaporated with this nomination. The Council has essentially done the work for Brexiteers in showing the European Union to be a bureaucratic, technocratic, undemocratic behemoth.

Euroscepticism has been on the rise in Europe for the past ten years. With decisions from the Council like this, we can only expect Euroscepticism to increase. Citizens might be naïve and largely ignorant about European politics, but anyone with an ounce of reasonableness can see this for what it is, antidemocratic, which is what feeds Euroscpeticism as citizens turn away from parties and institutions which claim to be democratic and represent their interests.

If Europe had any hope of claiming the European Union is democratic, this is now as dead as the Spitzenkandidaten process. The Brexit party turned its back on the European Parliament, but now it’s time for European citizens to turn their back on the European Union. I do not mean break up the European Union, but citizens need to show that they stand for democracy not technocracy. Citizens demand that European leaders end the hypocrisy and do what is in the interests of Europe not just a group of powerful European Member States.

Bring Back the Guillotine

France only got rid of the guillotine in 1989. That’s not even 30 years – so it’s not too late, we could still bring it back! And by god we need it. It’s not for you or I, it’s just for the politicians. Given the way things are evolving in politics these days, I reckon a Terror would go a long way to culling the ranks of asshole politicians and restoring a human element to politics. I mean if it’s one thing humans are good at, it’s killing each other. In fact, it’s probably one of the most human things we do. You look at the definition of human and I think you’ll find murderer in there somewhere.

We really need to get rid of these dicks. Have you noticed how they lord themselves above us as if they’re special, making rules that benefit themselves and fucking everyday people every chance they get. Beyond losing their ‘job’ (more on that later) they’re basically untouchable which seems unfair to me. The prospect of the guillotine would light the fire under their ass for them to do their ‘jobs’ properly. And by doing their ‘jobs’ I mean they actually implement the will of the people, instead of using that will to serve their own ends passing it off as that of society.

More practically we need term limits for politicians. Being a politician is not a vocation like being a doctor, a builder, or a butcher. They have the unique role of wielding the sovereign power of the people. No other ‘profession’ has this role, hence why it’s not a ‘job’ in the normal sense.

People who stay in power, get drunk on power – and they do anything to not give it up. Imagine Sméagol is a politician, and the one ring political power – this is what it’s like.

This leads politicians to lie, cheat and steal from the rest of us just like Sméagol. For the modern politician it’s: “thanks for the vote and taxes, now eat my shit and bask in my glory”.

What have politicians done to advance the prosperity of humanity? Did they invent some amazing medicine that cured millions? Have they constructed a road with the labour and toil of their own hands? Have they fed the needy and helped the poor? No, none of that. They claim they take decisions and set up programs to do these things, but it’s with your money. So really, it was the community that did those things, not politicians.

What’s also repugnant is the air of moral superiority politicians have when they take a decision that benefits people.

It’s like yeah, congratulations for being the bare minimum level of someone that is ethical.

But I’m no saint myself. Unlike politicians, the difference is that I don’t stand up pretending to be one. Murders, thieves, fraudsters, epithets that all describe politicians.

Now we want the best people to be going into politics, don’t we? Yes, and giving politicians money is not the way to get the best people. Not for politics. As I noted above, politics is not like a normal ‘job’, its unique because it has a unique role to play. If someone is going into politics for money they are exactly the wrong sort of people to be in that job. It’s like giving the keys of the vault to the thief. As Weber described almost a century ago, the state has the monopoly on the means of legitimate violence. The power to wield that power against the citizens is the terrifying prospect.

And this is why we need to bring back the guillotine. Politicians have had a free run for too long. We limit their terms, stop paying them so much with public (and private) money, we bring back the guillotine, and maybe then they’ll actually start to implement the will of the people. Until then, fuck politicians and their corrupt, good-for-nothing asses.

The Seperation of Powers

Inherent within our liberal democracies, the separation of powers doctrine is designed to ensure that no one branch of government can come to dominate the others. In simple terms, the executive cannot interpret law, the legislator cannot not enforce it, and the judiciary cannot (shouldn’t) create it. Reminding ourselves of this important doctrine could act as the basis for improving our democracies and re=empowring citizens.

This principle, widely recognised in the modern period, serves as a foundation for our political systems even today. The likes of Montesquieu, John Locke, and Rousseau pioneered the modern approach but the idea that the power of the government goes as far back as the Greeks. Herodotus, for example, noted distinctions between institutions as much as between factions within the Greek City-States,  and in the famous Constitutional Debate three Persian nobles debate the merits of government and the extent of its power. Inherent within Herodotus’ ideological scope is also the idea that political power should be limited.

Among ancient writers Polybius perhaps stands out from the rest. He famously argues that what made the Romans superior to the Greeks was their ability to harness Monarchy, Oligarchy and Democracy within one system. This was the Republic, or Res Publica to the Romans. By doing so the Romans were able to harness the benefits that each of these systems created whilst simultaneously mitigating the negative aspects of each system. Scholars to this day doubt that the system Polybius describes  ever existed and functioned as he would have us believe, but the staying power of this idea

had profound effect on later thinkers and leaders who founded our modern democracies. The Founding Fathers of the United States were particularly influenced and aimed to balance the powers of each branch of the government against one another and with the powers of the states. Indeed, among the Founding Fathers there was a fierce debate as to the balance of these powers and interests.

Some, like Thomas Jefferson fought tooth and nail to ensure that the Federal Government was not too strong, and advocated that Congress be the most important institution of the Republic. Others, like Alexander Hamilton, wanted a more centralized state lead by a strong executive represented by the President. Of course, over the centuries the balance of these powers has waxed and waned depending on the circumstance. This is true of the United States, and it is true elsewhere.

Important to understand within this concept of the separation of powers is the idea, or perhaps the recognition that power tends to accumulate and consolidate towards a single institution. This simple tenet led some political theorists in the early 20th century to turn towards fascism as the natural conclusion.

Robert Michels argued that within democratic structures there always exists an ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ progressively moving the democratic structures towards an oligarchical one that serves the interests of the few.

Karl Schmidt also thought that democracy created the conditions for fascism because each constitutional crisis lead to a consolidation of more powers within a single institution in order to resolve that crisis. This idea remains prevalent still today among those who believe that governments are concentrating too much power and leaving citizens feeling alienated from the political process, in turn feeding radical reactions on both sides of the political spectrum.

The separation of powers is the cornerstone of our modern liberal democracies. As our economies and societies become increasingly complex governments are struggling to maintain pace. This is turn places strains on the political system forcing governments to operate more efficiently. Unfortunately for citizens, this can mean a reduction in liberties and freedoms for the sake of efficiency. The consolidation of powers by an institution, or a group of institutions is often justified on this basis.

The democratic deficits that modern democracies are facing will not be solved by political powers who seek to “reform” institutions and make government processes more bureaucratic and obscurer for citizens.

Going back to the fundamentals of our democracies should act as the roadmap for governments and citizens alike. Personal freedom and legitimate means for citizens to control their lives outside of mere economic choices will lessen the democratic deficit and lead to less extremism on both sides of the political spectrum.

Lies and Demagoguery

I hate to be the one to tell the Brexiters, “told you so”. I lie. I’m somewhat revelling in it. The day after the decision to leave the EU, two pledges from the leave camp have been redacted. Note in my previous article I warned not to listen to the demagogues, because they are lying to you. Turns out I was right. THEY WERE!

Nigel Farage stated less than 24 hours after victory that the promise of £350 million pounds currently sent to the EU budget each week to be sent to the NHS instead, was not accurate. Lie, he had said previously on television:

“Do you know what I’d like to do with the £10 billion? I’d like that £10 billion to be spent helping the communities in Britain that [the] Government damaged so badly by opening up the doors to former communist countries. What people need is schools, hospitals, and GPs. That’s what they need.”

Yesterday, clarified when challenged about that there would be £10 billion a year to spend where they want on healthcare, education, or whatever. Pay close attention to that phrase or whatever. A far-right politician in favour promising money to the NHS should have had alarm bells ringing in the first place. £10 billion a year to spend where they want for a right wing candidate we can expect to go towards tax breaks for companies, likely those who are will threaten in the near future to quit England.

The leave camp also redacted the second promise to limit European immigration, which was the principal issue for many voters. Hannan said free movement could result in similar levels of immigration after Brexit.

“Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”

This is the near definition of demagoguery. These people need to be held accountable, criminally. In the hours after the Brexit vote, the pound crashed to a 30 year low. Global markets lost $2 trillion of value. Standard and Poor’s has warned it will lower Britain’s AAA credit rating after recent events.

Do the retards who voted for Brexit even know what this means. It means increased interest rates for Britain, which flows on through to effect the cost of their mortgages, and limits people’s ability to borrow to invest in the market. This means slower growth, even recession. In turn leading to job losses, and more expensive bills across the board. The very people, vulnerable and hurting, who voted to leave, will suffer even more.

Moreover, the 1.5 million Britons living on the continent just had the rug pulled out from underneath them. If Britons think immigration is bad now, just wait until the hundreds of thousands of Britons,legally return because they can no longer stay in Europe having their visa status revoked.

Another point is this idea of sovereignty. In order to be a part of the EU, all of the member countries agree to give up some of their sovereignty in return for certain benefits. The people who claim they want to take back British sovereignty so they can make their own decisions have no idea what they are talking about. The people have never exercised sovereignty in Britain. The queen is the sovereign and also has been dickheads. Sovereignty in any case is just social construct, it isn’t actually a real think. The leave campaign promised something they couldn’t give, and people fell for it.

People’s shortsightedness and ignorance has literally threatened a global recession for nothing and screwed over the working classes. The people have gained nothing and been robbed of their own protections. The only winners in all this are the far right, and wealthy, who in the future will be able to run rough shod over workers. Good work idiots, you just fucked yourselves. 17 million people just pulled down their pants and fucked the other half of the country. For nothing. Nice work assholes.

Oh and all you dickheads who made a protest vote. Fuck you too.

Hip, Hip, Hypocrisy!

A recent holiday to Spain has made me realise more than ever that many in the Brexit campaign are choking on a giant cock of hypocrisy. The area I visited is a great microcosm of the shear ignorance surrounding the thinking of the Leave camp. Javea is a small resort town in the eastern most point of Spain about 1 hour north of Alicante. Thousands of British have come here to retire, and you can see why. Beautiful weather year round, nice landscape, and its cheap, real cheap.

Yet, most of the people I spoke to about the issue of Brexit one night were vocal supporters of leaving. This was a bizarre plot twist for me. They each in their own way parroted the reasons given for leaving given by the likes of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and the Sun magazine. Top of the list of complaints, and most baffling of all to me, was the issue of immigration. Onlookers were flabbergasted as to why I burst out laughing. It had not dawned for one iota of a second to these people that they themselves at that very moment were immigrants in Spain. They living in this cosy villas, sipping cheap sangria on the seashore couldn’t even look around them to see that the country they were in was not their own.

To them immigration was bad for many reasons, but one particular gripe was that immigrants didn’t integrate into society. Again, I was left speechless. None of these people at this party had any Spanish friends. Of the people there, only my aunt can speak Spanish at a competent level. The restaurants, against local tradition, have to serve the English at English eating hours, all the menus are in English. For god’s sake, there is an Iceland there where all the British food is shipped over from English for the local English to consume. Failing to integrate is the least of these people’s problems.

To be fair, a lot of these people were elderly and wishing for an earlier epoch when Britain still ruled the world. They think a British exit will go somewhere to restoring that. As a young millennial I was left in the awkward position of telling my elders that that just isn’t how the world works. You can’t just snap your fingers and make things the way they were 100 years ago. For a people who claim to be pragmatic and users of common sense, this lot were the some of the most deluded people I’ve ever met.

Of course, Brexit is more than just about immigration though. At the core of the argument is the issue of Britain’s economic future. In this area, again, the Brexit camp live in a fairy land. In my little testing pool of British opinion many thought trading once again with the commonwealth would be better. Have the likes of Boris Johnson actually done their homework on this. For Britain to remain wealthy, they must trade. Outside of Europe who are they going to trade with? Have the Leave Camp actually approached ruling political parties to ask if this is something they could negotiate. The President of the United States has already stated frankly that there would be no free trade agreement forthcoming for the British. The US have bigger fish to fry with the TPP, and now more recently TAFTA. Moreover, as it stands the like of Britain hammering out a deal with, say, New Zealand, a former colony, are slim. The only politician in New Zealand to raise the prospect has been Winston Peters, ironically one who matches almost exactly the demographic I was having this little discussion with. It’s a shame for the Brexit camp though, Peters currently polls between 1-5% likeability in New Zealand. Lack of free trade will make Britain uncompetitive losing out to cheaper competition.

Of course I am generalising on much of this but it leads to my more general point that the Leave camp can’t just snap their fingers and make the world in their image. Sorry to burst the British bubble, but your country just isn’t that Great anymore, (your main sports teams are rubbish for one) and the sooner you realise this the sooner you might realise that despite its many problems, and there are many believe me, Britain is better inside the EU with other partners such as France and Germany, than outside. Europe is the largest market economy in the world. Fact. Access to that market is vital for the prosperity of Britain, Europe, and even the world. One significant factor prolonging the global recession has been a sluggish Europe. A British exit threatens this, and really, is a rather selfish thing to do, whilst also being monumentally stupid.

A great moment in one of Jean Jacque Rousseau’s famous treatises, Du Contrat Social (On the Social Contrat) sums up my admittedly rather contemptuous opinion of the Brexit camp. He says

“Le peuple Anglais pense être libre, il se trompe fort ; il ne l’est que durant l’élection des membres du parlement : sitôt qu’ils sont élus, il est esclave, il n’est rien. Dans les courts moments de sa liberté, l’usage qu’il en fait mérite bien qu’il la perde.” (Livre III, Chapitre XV).

“The English people thinks itself to be free, but that’s quite wrong; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, the populace goes into slavery, and is nothing. The use it makes of its short moments of liberty shows that it deserves to lose its liberty.” (Book 3, Chapter 15).

If a large turnout shows that the English want to leave Europe I feat that Rousseau will be proven right in this instance. For the short moment they have liberty to choose their future, they will believe the demagogues who seek only power for themselves and their friends and so deserve what will come to them afterwards.

Smoke and Mirrors

There have been two polarising issues at centre stage in New Zealand recently, the TTPA and the flag change. Together they demonstrated how little John Key and the National Party think of the New Zealand voting population, but, moreover, they highlight the glaring contradiction in the rhetoric of politicians. On the one the hand John Key stood in front of us and declared that ‘the people of New Zealand have the right to choose the future of this nation because we live in a democracy’. While on the other hand they actively stifled public debate on the TPPA and did not allow other interested stakeholders from seeing the agreement as it currently stands. Even so, now it will go through the normal parliamentary process and not via a referendum from the people.

Technically we live in a constitutional monarchy with a unicameral parliament which has supremacy. What this means is that real, true democracy is restricted and we are offered piecemeal offerings of democracy in the form of elections every three years, and occasional referendums, which, by the way, are not binding on parliament.  The reason for this political structure has a long and often at times complicated history. On the whole the system works fine for the elite who secretly disdain democracy and argue the millions of eligible voters make the processes of real democracy apparently too inefficient. On balance, the situation is not bad, we swallow the pill and allow representatives to make decisions for us in the name of efficiency so that the rest of us can get on with our lives – it seems pretty fair.

However, when it comes to the big stuff, like a free trade agreement which will affect everyone in the country from rich to poor, old and young, and future generations in very tangible ways, then we should, by the very fact that we live nominally in a democracy have a say in this. Under the current circumstances public debate and public power are asphyxiated by the blanket of government. This huge deficit of democracy is brought into relief when we compare the actions of the government over the flag referendum.

Again this was another controversial issue because many saw it as a waste of time and a waste of money – talk about a top down social movement. What many seem to have missed here is not whether the flag change was a waste of time and money, which I think it wasn’t by the way, but rather the hypocrisy of the government.

They allowed us to decide which flag we wanted and in the same sentence denied us the ability to decide on an issue just as important if not more important than the flag change.

If John Key does not trust New Zealanders to be able to make up their own mind about this free trade agreement then he thinks very little of you. He does not respect us, our opinions, and our ability to make the right decisions for ourselves.

This is patronising and utterly nanny state dressed in wolves’ clothing. He will march out his old mantra of ‘you are entitled to your opinion’ before completely disregarding it out of hand and doing what he always intended to do in the first place. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that John Key does not care whatsoever about your thoughts on these issues, he only cares that he gets his way and that his party continues to be re-elected so he can rinse and repeat the same process. Thus, not only does John Key think you are stupid, he, and along with the rest of his party, are hypocrites.

Neither of these issues, I might add, were actually asked for by the people. At the last election, did John Key stand up in front of us and say that free trade was one of the pillars of his next term of office? Although the TPPA was on the political horizon, since talks have been in the pipeline for some years now, the TPPA was kept well out of the limelight. The National Party must have known this was going to be a contentious issue, and therefore it seems natural that they would have done everything to bury that hornets’ nest while their grip on power came up for the public’s choosing. It follows therefore, that the National Party have been dishonest to us, and will pass this free trade agreement, which has very little to do with free trade, despite significant backlash from the population not only here but around the globe.

Now with the release of the Panama Papers, John Key has shown himself and government to be completely incompetent, bringing international criticism to the country. Indeed, the “100% Pure New Zealand” tourism campaign has lied to the world not just in the realm of the environment, which the National government has had a terrible record, but now in terms of our business and banking sectors.  John Keys alleged involvement in stifling the inquiry into the international trust industry explicates this point all the more.

The fact he still polls so high in the polls is a disgrace. John Key doesn’t care about the people of New Zealand. He is corrupt oligarch who will give your job away to someone offshore, suppress your wages, make you pay more for prescription medicine, and when you decide to actually fix a problem take your tax dollars and give them to foreign multinational corporations in the payment of fines, all the while stashing these corporate profits in safe trusts which collect almost no tax. But the flag mattered guys, he trusts us with that.

The State of Democracy

In New Zealand we live in a supposed democracy. But what does this actually mean? Can the average person on the street honestly give a decent definition of democracy? I doubt they could, since people have a very limited knowledge of the political process and the context in which it has developed. Often, the slogan “by the people, for the people, of the people” is thrown about, but this is just a slogan, it has no real substance, it does not offer a detailed definition of this institution that we supposedly take seriously in our country.

In the present times, a period of mass media, fast-paced change and global interconnectedness where ideas are quickly exchanged, I think the real message behind democracy is lost on most people. Indeed, for many people, although you might say a small minority, democracy is out of favour for a plethora of reasons. Many believe that the politicians do not adequately represent us, while some believe that the process is cumbersome, slow, and hinders progress.

On one side we often have, in the vein of Russell Brand, those who look for a utopian egalitarian state. On the other side there are those who wish we could do away with democracy and hand power to those who provide the most for society, the business owners. Both sides of the argument have some important criticisms to make, and yet both sides detest each other, while simultaneously both wishing for the same the thing, getting rid of the current system. My own view on this is that the system is dysfunctional but those of the past can offer us some hope and a model by which we can move forward.

The disillusionment in democracy is unsurprising when society feels disconnected from the political process and each other. Those in power know this and benefit from our inaction all the while presenting a façade of concern that voter turnout is low. Sorry, to burst these people’s bubble, but voter turnout is not democracy. The Athenian democracy, which by all accounts is the first democracy, at least in the western tradition did not believe in electing people to make decisions. This, from the people who invented the very word democracy (demos = people, kratos = power).

The concept of voting to the Athenians was, in fact, undemocratic and in was used only for the election of generals out of necessity. The rest of the political system was direct whereby the people voted on issues themselves. Other aspects of the system were controlled by a glorified lottery system. Most importantly, the political ideology was controlled by the people. This means that issues affecting people were brought before the rest of the population to discuss and resolve. The system we live under is a far cry from what the Athenians had. Political ideology is controlled by those in power. We can see this when politicians offer change piecemeal, discuss issues that only they wish to discuss, pass laws to protect themselves in power and all the while blaming us, the people, those who put these people in power, for low voter turnout.

One of the greatest aspects of the Athenian system was its inner contradictions. On the one hand decisions had to be discussed by the population, while at the same time political consensus was essential for the state to function. The rich and powerful were subservient to the masses, and yet were the leaders of the state. The Athenian system gives us something to think about. While the people controlled what was discussed and the issues brought forward it was those most capable of leading who lead the state. The Athenians faced issues similar to our own such as: how should we redistribute wealth? How do we involve more people in the political process? How can we make the system more efficient and fair? More importantly, they asked and answered I think very capably, how do we stop a small minority of the population having too much power in the state.

Some argue that direct democracy is unrealistic because nothing would be accomplished if everybody had a say on every issue. This does not seem the case in Athens where the demos decided on all issues including foreign policy and even conducting war. This was in society that was not face-to-face as some people think, and perhaps even less so than our own, given that nowadays we can communicate quickly via the internet. We also ought not to forget that under the democracy Athens lived through one of the most important golden ages in history of unprecedented wealth. They built the Parthenon, and developed many of the things we take for granted in the 21st century.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Athenians. Despite their many flaws, they are more like us than we give them credit. The most important gifts to us are the ideas of political equality before the law and freedom of speech. The positive right for every citizen to have their say on any issue he pleased not just those offered to us by politicians. One’s advice might be ignored. Nevertheless, the citizen was included directly in the process. These important aspects supposedly underpin our democracy, yet while we each have the right to freedom of speech, this freedom has no real power anymore. Things in New Zealand might not be as bad as they are overseas, but this does not make it right to just neglect our principles are dabble in hypocrisy. If we supposedly care about democracy we ought to take notice. Before long it could be gone.

If You are Dying You Should be Looking for Work

New Zealanders think their country is a land of milk and honey. While this might be true if you live on a dairy farm which also keeps bees, nothing could be farther from the truth. There are systemic problems in New Zealand society that have flow on effects. These problems should make us question our morals and ethics as a nation, and yet, they don’t.

Many of us Kiwis are raised to be ambitious and wanting the most out of life. This is certainly a cause for praise. However, a culture of stupidity pervades society and is best represented in the sounds that some might call words spilling forth from politicians’ word holes. This rhetoric is meant to appeal to ‘middle’ New Zealand, and it does, very much so. Indeed, ‘middle’ New Zealand dominates the political landscape, but is, unfortunately, populated by stupid uneducated people. Labour and the Greens have lost ground in the last ten years to National precisely because National speaks a unique dialect of stupid which middle New Zealand laps up.

If one was to ask an average New Zealander what the ‘social contract’ is they might probably think it had something to do with dole bludging and welfare. Successive governments have violated the New Zealand social contract systematically. When people don’t learn, or understand, what the social contract is, they are ignorant of the fact governments have power because we cede power to them in exchange for certain things.

One of those things is to be looked after and cared for when we are sick. You pay taxes so that others might have proper healthcare, and also so that, in the event you become sick, there is a wellspring of support for you and your family. Not so if you might literally be dying in New Zealand. No the government in response to Middle New Zealand’s desire to stop them dole bludging loser from stealing their tax dollars, have set up a benefits system whereby you can be literally dying and they will ask you to still look for work.

We have come to the point in New Zealand where ethics no longer factor into any social equation. Recently, the government changed the benefit system, requiring all those previously on the sickness benefit to now prove they are sick and also continue to search for work. If you are going to demand people who are quite literally on their death bed to work, we might as well just get rid of the pension scheme and make everyone work till they die.

Minister Anne Tolley’s response to issues raised by the Cancer Society illustrates that the New Zealand government is run by a well-oiled machine of chipmunks. Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has defended the system of making cancer patients prove their illness and asking them to look for work, saying the government had to draw a line somewhere, and giving special consideration to cancer patients would undermine the simplicity of the benefits scheme. Things in New Zealand need to be simplified so the humble idea of helping another person when they are down might be palatable to people.

This is just a taste of the dark side of New Zealand. At moments like these some people call for the masses to “wake up!” I won’t give that advice today. No, today I am asking New Zealand to go read a book or two so they can understand that we can’t just let stupid people control the political discourse. We can let a bureaucracy of chipmunks led by the supreme leader John Chipmunk destroy what little conscience New Zealand has left.

At the end of the day, we give up power to the government in exchange for certain rights and guarantees. It’s time we actually demanded these things from government. Let’s start by telling dying people, “Actually no, you don’t have to work right now, just focus on getting better.”

NZ Fun Police Strike Again

The political establishment from all sides have rallied this week against freedom of speech and expression. Wicked Campervans, a holiday van hire company, graffiti their vans with ‘offensive’ art and slogans for marketing purposes to distinguish themselves from the other players in the field. Admittedly the slogans are sexist, crass, and might even say, rude. In other news apparently government ministers from both sides of the aisle received memos from the North Korean regime instructing them on how to crush differing opinions that do not fit within the narrow band of white middle-class discourse.

New Zealanders think they are supporters of freedom, a centre pillar of which is the freedom to say and express whatever they will. It’s a shame though that New Zealanders wouldn’t recognise a political principle if it were a grain of sand on a beach. “Freedom of speech, but only in certain circumstances, and only for me”. Those that defend the company’s right to have these slogans on their vans generally say that it’s funny and people need to get a sense of humour. While this might be true, all one needs to do is point to the principle of freedom of speech. Voltaire has been misquoted as saying that, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” This doesn’t just apply to political rhetoric. All speech is protected, even the most heinous and odious.

People who disagree with the company’s rhetoric say they should be censored, and forced to change their vans because it offends them. One woman worried about the kids! Always the kids! Their precious little minds if exposed to such words might shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. Guess what fucktards your shitty arguments offend me, and my mind might explode in second if you don’t shut up. Does that mean I should censor you? No. Of course not, because that would be ridiculous. I’m being hyperbolic to get my point across. Since people disagree on what is and isn’t offensive in different times and places, the principle of freedom to express whatever one wishes, has the added bonus that we don’t have to decide. Everything is on the table, we all free to say what we will, and no one has the right to censor any other.

But how then do we stop an anarchic state of mud-slinging from developing in public discourse. Through reason. Liberal ideas that most of us all agree with in the 21st century have come about because they have been argued for with stronger reasoned arguments, not because we forcibly shut our opponents’ mouths. If you think sexism is wrong, have some reasons for that, not just because you were told to think that way. Censoring people like Wicked Campers does nothing to educate the young people of the difference between acceptable and unacceptable public discourse. If parents are worried that their children will be exposed to such content, they should do their jobs as parents and teach their children to think for themselves critically and to recognise of their own fruition that sexist comments are wrong.

The involvement of the government in all of this demonstrates firstly that they don’t give a crap about freedom of speech, and second, they will swing on the pendulum of public opinion in order to appear as though they are expressing the will of the majority. Some things are off the table for discussion for a reason; to stop dipshit governments from attacking fundamental rights. The worst part of the government’s role in this however is the crackdown on fun they are so hell-bent on pursuing. The vans’ slogans are intended as jokes, and are meant to be a bit of fun. As soon as anyone has fun outside the narrow band of middle white New Zealand the sky falls in and people go into a nervous meltdown worse than any Fukushima or Chernobyl.

New Zealanders like the person who wrote this article (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11608638) need to grow up, and maybe read a book or two on political rights. There are more important things happening in the world than some words on the backs of some vans. Instead of writing easy fluff pieces about how the nation is outraged at some “not very nice looking vans”, how’s about they do their job and critique the government.

Democracy Trumped! Plato and the Degenertion of Democracy

Much has been said already about the phenomena which is Donald Trump. How is that he has become so popular despite his vulgarity, crudeness and fascist policies? Most of the establishment is left dumbfounded because they wouldn’t know grassroots populism if it came and punched them in the face. A similar situation is occurring on the democratic side of the American spectrum with Bernie Sanders. Both candidates are tapping into a strong populist streak that rejects establishment politics. The differences between the two are of course the different countries and time periods each candidate is taking their inspiration from. Bernie wishes to take a leaf out the book of countries like Sweden, Denmark and other social democratic states. Trump on the other hand looks to emulate policies of 1930’s Germany. Stark differences between the two, and yet both are so very different from establishment politics (which is essentially conservative as both parties perpetuate the existing socio-economic order), that they can almost be clumped together.

Many would see this election as a degeneration of democracy, and some could be justifiably afraid that democracy is in serious danger if Trump was to be elected. Certainly the language Trump is using when describing how he would implement many of his policies suggests that he would ‘rule’ in an authoritarian manner. Taken with his populism and relatability to a large cross section of the American population, I think some who point to Trump’s similarity to Hitler in the 1930’s are not wholly inaccurate in their analysis. Outside of the American context Trump is a fascist and is essentially running on that ticket. People forget that Hitler was voted to power, and the German parliament voted itself out of existence, it wasn’t some glorious coup d’état, and neither will Trump’s rise to power.

Plato describes such a situation in book 8 of the Republic (543a-569c) when returns to the topic of morality which has supposed to have been the main topic of discussion in the dialogue (543c). As he had done previously, Plato decides to map different types of human constitutions on the four main types of political constitutions as existed in his own times (543c-d). It is important to note that Plato recognises that there are certainly more than four different types of constitutions (544c-e), but that the four he discusses are the essential archetypes of the rest and will serve well for the analogy. It is important to stress that the Republic is not a serious exercise in political theory as so many scholars have interpreted it over the years.[1]  What follows is in an insightful discussion on how the ideal society which Socrates and his interlocutors have just created will decay and degenerate; first, into ‘timarchy’, followed by oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. The entire section is worth reading but for the purpose of this article, the final discussion on how democracy degenerates into tyranny is interesting for contemporary analysis of the Trump phenomenon.

Prior to the discussion on democracy and tyranny, in his account of oligarchy Plato discusses the flaws of an oligarchical system. This is an important aspect to consider. One oligarchy’s main flaws, Plato points out, is that positions of authority are chosen based on wealth and not skill (551c). This is a topic I have discussed before,[2] and is relevant here given the political context of America, where money now has a huge corrupting influence on the politicians while also posing as a severe hindrance to poorer people who seek election for office. We should point out from the get go that Trump exists purely because people admire anyone who is rich, while also despising anyone poor despite their morality (551a).

Moving on Plato describes how tyranny arises out of a democratic state. He states explicitly that he thinks tyranny arises out of democracy (562a). His account for the decay of democracy seems odd to the modern reader, but hinges on the idea that the people become relentless in their pursuit of freedom. Plato uses a metaphor in this section which has particular resonance with a Greco-Roman audience because bees and ants were thought to the most superior of the animal kingdom because they lived in communities resembling human societies.[3] The people refuse to take orders from the authorities, they become indignant at any idea of restraint in their freedom and the laws, both written and unwritten, are unobserved (5563d). Here is where the potential for dictatorship apparently develops.

While everyone is trying to make money, only the most undisciplined become rich. These men become a pot of honey to the buzzing crowds around them, giving them extravagant gifts (564e). The people begin to forcibly take the wealth of the rich who are forced to defend themselves. In doing so they become oligarchs not because they want to, but more because they are perceived as such (565b). The people raze up a champion against the foul oligarchs and give him prodigious power (565d).

This is the situation we find ourselves with in this American election cycle. To be fair, the policies of Senator Sanders, by Plato’s account could also be construed as tyrannical, except for the fact Sanders’ character is such that it seems unlikely that he would transform from the champion to the dictator as Trump would. Trump’s policies and rhetoric go far beyond anything Sanders is asking. Trump is an every-man candidate precisely because he has no one policy position.

The people are able to project their desires onto him as they wish. For example, in debates and interviews, he will express a wish both for and against a single payer healthcare system; for and against military intervention around the world; and both for and against low taxes and free trade. No one knows what his policies really are because he doesn’t really have any. Except for perhaps the “really big wall, which Mexico will pay for.” He captures votes from both side of the aisle. Contrary to mainstream media bubble-think, most Republicans are in favour of Medicare and Medicaid. Many also want universal background checks. A large portion also want to stop foreign interventions. Trump appears on the Republican side just as Plato describes the people raising a champion up to combat the rich. Trump said in a recent interview:

“you know the funny thing, I don’t get along with rich people. I get along with middle and poor people better than I get along with rich people.”

Plato gives us a reason how a figure like Trump is able to emerge. He says that the democratic man who becomes a dictator exists because he was brought up by a father, who only cares about desires, acting without restraint (572e). The son is spoilt b
y the offering of indulgent pleasures. He is person purged of self-restraint and shame (573a). In Plato this is intended as another metaphor. In this case however, it is almost precisely the biography of Trump, who was raised in an environment where he could have whatever he wanted. He now thinks he is “just the best” and worked hard to make the money he inherited from his father. Moreover, the words that come forth from his word-hole show little sign of self-restraint. Plato concludes, perhaps forebodingly:

“people who are insane and mentally disturbed try to dominate…other human beings, and expect to be able to do so…the dictatorial type is the result of someone’s nature or conditioning – or both – making him a drunken, lustful maniac” (573c).

Even as a critic of democracy in many places, Plato gives us much food for thought on the degeneration of democracy and the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. Plato’s account makes it seem inevitable that this will happen. We don’t have to accept this to recognise the threat that Trump poses to democracy in America and around the world. Most importantly however, Plato makes it clear that a large factor that creates a dictator is the environment in which he is raised and exposed. For Plato, environment has a profound influence on the constitution of a person. Ultimately this means that we ought to recognise that Trump is not an exceptional phenomena, he is product of our society. If you think Trump is a madman, maybe we should change society for the better. Like Marx, who thought the mechanisms for socialism were built into capitalism (making socialism inevitable), Plato thought the mechanism for dictatorship was built into democracy. This is exactly why founding documents of modern nation-states like the American Constitution have procedures to try and avoid this eventuality. This leaves no guarantee however and we should remain ever vigilant to long term threats on our freedoms.

[1] Robin Waterfield stresses this emphatically in his edition of Plato’s Republic. See: Plato, The Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press.1993. pp. xiv-xviii. esp. xvii.

[2] https://welcomeintothecave.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/expertise-in-the-polis-and-democratic-governance/

[3] This is common trope in Greek and Roman intellectual thought. The relevancy of this metaphor is striking. See: Ober J. (2015). The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. Princeton University Press. Particularly Chapters 1-4; Virgil uses the same metaphor in the fourth Georgic and Aeneid. See: Polleichtner von W. (2005). ‘The Bee Simile: How Vergil Emulated Apollonius in His Use of Homeric Poetry’; Winsor Leach E. (1977). ‘”SEDES APIBUS”: FROM THE “GEORGICS” TO THE “AENEID”’, Vergilius No. 23 (1977), pp. 2-16.

Bibliography:

Plato, Republic. translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press. 1993.