11 December 2007

The biggest meme of the modern era

At this juncture in history, the meme pushed hardest by the industries that shape the global noosphere is the meme of polyarchy. At its simplest, this is the idea that fragmentation and paralysis are actually the preferred state of human society. Any attempt at systemic organisation or solidarity spreading beyond the village, clique or family is evil, anti-human, inefficient, doomed to failure or some combination of the above. You can see this all over not only popular discourse but intellectual narrative - from all those stories where people who want to organise or build large-scale collective action are villains, dupes or egomaniacs, to lazy use of non-concepts such as "mob rule" or "majority dictatorship", to its repackaging in a more learned form in the works of Foucault and other post-modernists.

When, in the 1940s, Joseph Schumpeter argued that ordinary citizens should limit their participation in a democracy to electing its leaders, he was effectively arguing for polyarchy.... According to Schumpeter, massive political participation is regarded as undesirable and even dangerous. Schumpeter thought that the electoral masses are incapable of political participation other than voting for their leaders. Most political issues are so remote from the daily lives of ordinary people, that they can not make sound judgements about opinions, policies and ideologies.

In Preface to Democratic Theory (1956) Dahl argues that an increase in citizen political involvement may not always be beneficial for polyarchy. An increase in the political participation of members of "lower" socioeconomic classes, for example, could reduce the support for the basic norms of polyarchy, because members of those classes are more pre-disposed to be authoritarian-minded (by which we, of course, mean in favour of actual majority rule - DlaP).

According to William I. Robinson, democracy is a contested concept. He argues that when U.S. policymakers use the term democracy, they mean polyarchy - a system in which a small group rules and mass participation in decision-making is confined to leadership choice in elections carefully managed by competing elites. Polyarchy then may be thought of as "low intensity democracy" or "consensual domination". In contrast to polyarchy, Robinson posits "popular democracy", which refers to a dispersal throughout society of political power that can be used to change unjust social and economic structures.


What polyarchy actually represents is a "hollowing-out" of democratic government in particular and all human society in general. Interestingly, it is the form of "democracy" most aggressively pushed by the actual state apparatuses, most particularly against actually democratic movements that they don't approve of. They want a "harmless", laissez-faire form of democracy that will not have either the power or the will to challenge the truly undemocratic, hypercentralised and anti-human interests of corporate capitalism. You see the contradiction here - when a political or social entity promotes centralisation and concentrated power it's evil, but somehow they don't notice that that's the natural direction of growth of capitalism. (People threw a fit about Hugo Chávez having more than 12 years in power, but how long as Bill Gates been in control of an entity with more power than Venezuela?)

"Polyarchy" is simply the system of organisation natural to capitalism - hundreds of different and competing systems of power, all dictatorial within their own little fields, but engaging in anarchic and destructive competition with each other. Democracy, as we would understand it, is certainly dictatorship - seen from their point of view, since they recognize the authority of only the government which deflects and makes harmless actual democracy, and actively attempts to fragment and atomise human consciousness.

While some push polyarchy cynically as a stick to beat democratic reformists with in places like Venezuela, others (typically members of the ideological priesthood) seem to really believe in it, and think that fragmentation and dispersal, can destroy the centralised capitalist-state system of this world, rather than it being just what that system wants its enemies to do. That's right, workers and ordinary people worldwide will simply walk out of the corporate machine and join your organic yoghurt-knitting commune en masse. Right.

Against this religious belief that somehow if we're good enough - "good" defined as adherence to the religious maxims dictated by our enemies - our enemies will simply be swept aside by good fairies, Chaos Marxism counterposes the idea that to defeat an enemy you must be symmetrical to it. We must counterpose democratic centralism to dictatorial or bureaucratic centralism. (Sadly, the term "democratic centralism" is often used to mean "idiot sect leaders playing toy-Stalin" - but I think we have to reclaim it.) I do like the way in which Ma'at Magick takes on the dialectical conclusion that it is possible for a real collective consciousness to exist without destruction of, and even contributing to the growth of, individual consciousness.

We have to take this particular demon or egregore and thoughtform on. It is so deeply embedded in the consciousness of those of us who grew up in the consumerist-corporate noosphere that we don't even notice it's there most of the time - but we certainly see its effects when it encourages us to splinter our movements, pride our private ego over the effectiveness of our collective thoughtforms, and distrust actually effective leaders. Conversely, it's in small splinter-groups that you get the really nasty dictatorial behaviour.