Monday, June 02, 2008

Democracy of the Dreikäsehochs

I've decided that maybe I'm not as much of a democrat as I sometimes think I am. Or maybe that's putting it the wrong way: I'm not as much of a fan of our western style of representative government as I should be in order to be politically correct.

Readers of my books will not find this surprising. After all, on Tethys there isn't a system of Representative Democracy in sight; and neither is there on any of the worlds in the systems controlled by 'The Authority' as they are revealed in the currently-last novel of the series.

I didn't really plan it that way; it just happened. It may have been because of genre conventions. Who ever heard of a representative democracy context for a far-off-sf/f story? It was also necessary to tell this particular story, because if Armist and Tahlia hadn't been obliged to assume responsibilities imposed on them by 'tradition' that had to do with some kind of royalty-issue it wouldn't have been half as much fun. If that 'tradition' had involved merely some pathetic royalty-knockoff as currently exists, for example, in the UK, that wouldn't really have worked either. The UK royals and aristocracy are a bunch of losers, acting out a stage play for fools, albeit mostly rather rich fools. There are some other royalist systems extant in other parts of the world that are closer to what might be usable for writers like me. I guess I stole some ideas from the way those systems work, though I believe that the scheme by which the 'House of Keaen' connects with the common folk through a twisted ritual of breeding hasn't been used before. It might have, because there's nothing new under the sun, but I certainly haven't read anything along those lines. (The practice of bartering off 'royal' brides for favors from noblemen or other royals, on the other hand, used to be commonplace and still is in certain places. It's just a variant of the basic despicable practice of bartering women—or anybody who suits the purpose, but mainly women—for goods and/or services.)

Back to democracy, which basically means, 'rule of the people'. Wikipedia's entry will do:

Democracy is a system of government by which political sovereignty is retained by the people and either exercised directly by citizens or through their elected representatives. It is derived from the Greek δημοκρατία ([demokratia]), "popular government" which was coined from δήμος (dēmos), "people" and κράτος (kratos), "rule, strength" in the middle of the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens.

Or 'strength of the people'. Interesting that the term 'kratos' should express two things.

Of course, nowadays, democracy is synonymous with 'representative democracy', which usually involved a bunch of elected 'representatives' doing law-mongering, administrating and 'governing', with the due support from public servants of all kinds, from bureaucrats to law-enforcers. A former teacher of mine—long time ago, I know—referred to democracy as the 'Rule of the Dreikäsehochs'. (Mixing languages here!) The English translation for Dreikäsehoch, which literally means 'Three cheeses tall', is something like 'squirt' or 'nipper'. 'Little boy' basically, with no knowledge of anything that matters, and preoccupied with play and day-to-day affairs; ignorant, shortsighted, foolish. You get the idea. And remember that cheese also smells to the point of 'stink', is greasy, soft... There's a world of meaning and meta-meaning in the term.

The implication of putting things this way is that there are people presumed not to be of a similar disposition, but knowledgeable, far-sighted, intelligent, wise, benevolent, benignly disposed toward the people in their care, and so on. You know, the kind of crap that aristocrats often put forward to make themselves appear—to themselves and everybody else—less loser-ish and pretentious-asshole-ish than they tend to be. And, yes, there are those in the 'demos' who believe that kind of crap. I have a friend, a highly intelligent person of great erudition and otherwise pretty good thought processes, who basically completely buys into this kind of nonsense.

'Rulers' who are wise and benevolent and unselfish and interested more in the welfare of their people than their own or their cronies', are of course only the stuff of heroic fantasies. The Tethys series is an example of such a fantasy. So was, for example, the most recent version of the Arthurian tale, King Arthur, which ended with 'Arthur' being crowned 'King' with he full approval of the populace. One would presume, within the context of this particular heroic fantasy, that he ruled wisely and reponsibly and so on. That's no guarantee that his heirs would end up doing the same, of course.

There's no doubt that the likes of the Antoine Fuqua version of King Arthur are the stuff of fantasy. There's nothing in history to suggest that there have been, and even less that there are, people around in those roles who qualify as wise and benevolent and caring and all that. Therefore—and also for reasons based on 'human rights', especially those relating to 'determining your own political destiny' and stuff like that; all fictitious—so the narrative goes, the 'representative democracy' version of ruler-dom is far preferable. Meaning that people prefer systems where, on a regular basis, everybody of a suitable age and disposition to be considered a 'citizen', is allowed to—and, in Australia, compelled to!—go and vote for a number of individuals to represent 'popular' interests and administer nations and their affairs, internal and external.

Said individuals are almost always of inferior personal quality; far too desirous of assuming the mantle of what they like to call 'public service'; will basically lie and cheat and tell people whatever it takes to make them be elected to the office they aspire to; and which almost invariably have no qualification to act as 'rulers' or even makers of sensible laws. At the top of the pyramid of these elected 'representatives' reside a class of more-equal-than-others, who end up in the roles of 'ministers' with a 'prime minister' at the top—or, in the case of the US, with a 'president', who at least is able to select his cabinet of 'secretaries' from anywhere, rather than having to choose it from the pool of those that were 'elected'.

When I watch this system of government in action I sometimes ask myself whether the only reason for its existence isn't that those who support it don't also actually live in a fantasy world, which is based on the assumption that indeed this kind of system is somehow 'best' for those living under it. There's a whole host of assumptions going with the 'representative democracy' mythos that are at least as hair-raisingly unfounded and simply dumb-ass as those that would support a 'constitutional monarchy' kind of system. We can start with the whole notion that those wallies we elect to 'parliament' actually 'represent' anything but the gullibility of those who thought they 'represented' them. And that's just the start. I am a great admirer of Roger Scruton's The West and the Rest, but as of recent I've begin to doubt, not his historical analyses or theses, but his assertion that indeed, 'representative democracy' is actually the best thing for ensuring personal 'freedom', or 'liberty' as the American Founders would have put it, that's ever come our way.

Nor do I see it as stable, as is evidenced by the current trends in state-individual relationships the world over. That doesn't mean that I think in the Western Democracies there's going to be a return to autocracy or royalism or something truly off-putting like sharia law. But it must be clear that modern 'democracies' are rapidly turning into something worse than 'police states'; and that those on the 'left' of the political spectrum are just as dangerous, if not more so, to 'liberty' than those on the right.

Over-regulation of life—no matter whether 'benevolently' or not. Over-surveillance in public places. Infiltration of governments with 'special interests', from capitalist enterprise to 'missionary Green-dom'. These are just three areas that immediately stand out.

It is probable that 'representative democracy' has systemic flaws that will ultimately pervert it into something else; and doing so by basically re-defining itself as the perversion proceeds. If this is so, then in a comparative few years we will still call it that, but it will just be a label without substance. The 'Authority' in the Tethys series is the not-so-far-removed offspring of 'representative democracy', with all the perversions that will bring—for people will remain people for a long, long time to come.

The worst thing about the 'democratic' systems of government we have is possibly their power to delude. The rituals are all there and are followed and paid homage to ad nauseam, to make us believe that the Dreikäsehochs actually do have a say in what happens to them. This deception is not performed, by and large, with the intention to deceive, but simply because people are stupid and those doing the deceiving—with the vast majority of 'media' people leading the charge—actually believe this bullshit themselves. On the part of others, of course, the deception is intentional, deliberate, self-serving, cynical, ruthless, devoid of respect for anybody but their own interests.

So, I ask and I wonder, is it maybe better for the sake of 'liberty' itself, to have a system of government that doesn't bear the seeds of such deception? Which fantasy 'works' better in the long run: that of the constitutional monarch who is also a ruler, or that of the 'elected representatives' of 'the people'?

If we speak about 'liberty' the question then becomes: 'liberty' to do what?

For those not adverse to some very troubling notions, I recommend not only Jack Vance's short-story Ulan Dhor, but also the Normal Spinrad novel The Men in the Jungle.

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