The Weapon of Criticism Part 3: Humans’ Conscious Dynamism
By Dennis Loo (4/7/14)
I am going to expand on the central point I made in Part 2 regarding the chronic and pronounced underestimation by existing systems of humans’ conscious dynamic role. (Part 1 is here.) This is a point worth elaboration; it’s a perspective that very few people in the world have ever been exposed to.
According to Democratic Theory, the public’s role in politics is at most to vote every few years to determine who will rule over them. As Karl Popper put it:
[D]emocracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled.
Popper thus rules off the table from the start that the people can and should move over time to more and more actually govern themselves. The very best that democratic theory offers is that the people can “protect ourselves against the misuse of political power” by those who the people elect. The goal of genuine self-governance is treated as not even worth considering.
Democracy, according to this view, is at the very most a barrier against tyranny. Democratic rule, according to this view, is satisfied when people vote. In other words, democracy = the vote. If the rulers become too tyrannical, the people can “throw them out” through their votes and replace them with rulers who are less tyrannical.
How does this truncated version of authentic popular rule in any real way constitute popular rule? The actual decision-making is being carried out by elected officials who can readily promise that they will do such and such while running for office, and then once in office, use their positions to misrepresent and conceal their actions and do largely as they please. Consider all of the promises that Obama made before his election and the promises and representations that he has made since being in office. In almost every single instance, he has done the exact opposite of what he promised to do, even as he continues to claim rhetorically the opposite of this. When his predecessor Bush was running for office he campaigned against “nation building” but this is exactly what he (wildly unsuccessfully) attempted to do with Afghanistan and Iraq, and that Obama has continued to try (also unsuccessfully) to do.
Those few individuals who might be running for office honestly trying to represent the public interest and who manage against the odds to get elected find out once in office that they are vastly outnumbered by careerists, bureaucrats, lobbyists and the major party bosses who let the upstarts in on how things are really done. If you persist in trying to act on behalf of the public interest in the face of the institutional forces in play, you are swallowed up, marginalized, or ejected. Consider what happened to then NY Governor Eliot Spitzer when he moved to try to clamp down on Wall Street bankers’ reckless practices prior to the 2007-8 economic crisis. Had he proceeded the crisis might have been at least mitigated. But he ignored the warnings he got to desist and in return all of a sudden his personal penchant for high-priced call girls was made public and ended his political career. Among journalists and politicos, the personal foibles, corruption, or scandalous behavior of public officials is an open secret that is almost never revealed publicly, except when such persons violate the unofficial codes for co-operating with the powers that be, and then all of a sudden those hidden flaws are “discovered.” For those whose personal lives and histories contain no scandals, it is enough for false accusations repeated over and over again by prominent figures to ruin their careers and reputations.
The political institutions themselves and the economic structures that they represent are not designed to treat democracy as a means to an end but to perpetuate a facade of authentic popular rule by treating democracy as an end in itself, satisfied by virtue of the fact that the people have voted. See here for elaboration on this further.
This brings me to the heart of this essay: humans’ conscious dynamic role.
What do I mean by this phrase? People are capable of doing great things, even people who are below average in intelligence and even people who are handicapped in various ways – physically, psychologically, emotionally, etc. But this potential for great things is something that doesn’t come automatically or easily and it cannot be unleashed without a certain approach being applied.
An illustration of this is can be seen in the worlds of sports and music. It takes a great coach/teacher/mentor to guide athletes and musicians to reach their potential. What a great coach does is help individuals and teams become much more than those individuals and teams thought that they were capable of. Everyone who has had the gift of having a great mentor in their life knows what I’m speaking of here: we can do much more than we think but it takes someone who believes in us and who has the requisite skills and knowledge to help make this happen. This requires training and great effort.
If you subscribe to the dominant theory about politics – democratic theory – then you have already discounted and devalued humans’ conscious dynamism by believing that the public’s role is to merely vote every few years. Even if the public wasn’t being lied to systematically and continuously, even if they were being told the unvarnished truth, if their sole political role is to vote every few years, then they couldn’t possibly ever exercise real power. Hence, democratic theory’s perspective on the conscious dynamic role of people is that it doesn’t exist. Humankind will never achieve what it is capable of as long as democratic theory continues to be the dominant perspective.
As I wrote in the last segment of this series, the other expression of this erroneous perspective is that those who hold power are invincible and that the task of overturning their oppressive manipulation and repression is too much, will take a very long time, or at least, there is no guarantee that revolutionary efforts will be successful and therefore it is better not to try.
This also severely and dramatically underestimates people’s conscious dynamic role. First, as to the question of guarantees: what person being recruited to a top basketball program as a prospect is going to tell the coach that they will come “only if s/he can guarantee a basketball championship”? What would a recruiting coach think about such a ballplayer? You know the answer to this already: they’d think this player was weak-willed and self-centered and they would not recruit such a player. No one can guarantee you specific results. No one can guarantee you victories, let alone championships. They can only guarantee that they will try their best and that if you try your best that good things will happen. Anyone who seeks guarantees in life is a coward and humanity would never have managed any of the great things that it has done if the people responsible for leading the efforts to do those things would only do such things if there were guarantees ahead of time of success.
Second, as to the question of how long such an effort for revolutionary changes might take. This is essentially a variant on the insistence of a guarantee. No one can tell you when efforts will be successful and anyone who asks for such a guarantee or who says that it “might take a lifetime” or “several generations” is looking for an easy way out and an excuse not to do what needs to be done. As the great investigative journalist I.F. Stone once said, to see social change you have to be willing to lose and lose and lose until one day someone who believes in what you believe in wins because you were willing to lose over and over again so that the chain of efforts that you were part of could happen.
Third, as to the question of feeling like you’re just one person and what can one person do: this goes back to the conscious dynamic role of people – all social change originates in small groups of people initially and in single individuals who decide that they are going to fight for what’s right, no matter what. Social change is not for those who scare easily. It takes backbone and a willingness to be unpopular and to do things, say things, and stand for things that the masses are not doing, saying, or standing for. What brave and determined people do as individuals has a huge impact on what those who witness this are willing to now consider and subsequently do. Brave people aren’t really born. Bravery is the willingness to do what needs to be done and you emerge as a leader by virtue of what you’ve decided to do, not who you are or think you are or what others think you are before that point.
The history of humanity demonstrates over and over again what extraordinary achievements are possible when people commit to a path and are not hemmed in by beliefs about the alleged limitations of humanity. We are exceptional beings, especially as groups led by courageous individuals, if we allow this to blossom and consciously grasp that dialectic between groups and their leaders.
People who have received the requisite training to see through the bald-faced lies and hidden flaws of exploitive systems are a force that it is nearly impossible to stop.