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The World We Live In

The World We Live In

By Paty Moreno (3/24/14)

Editor’s Note: This is a student’s final paper in Classical Sociological Theory, Winter 2014

Do you know the type of world that you live in? Do you know everything there is to know? Of what you know, how do you know whether it is true or not? People are not fully aware of everything that [is] happening in our society. Most often they are blindfolded by what they believe to be true and unaware of the reality of what is really happening. To be able to understand fully everything that is happening in our world today, we must look at the various arenas within our society and how they actually work. What is our understanding of the world that we live in today, and what can be done to further understand the hidden reality? This country that we live in is supposed to be democratic, however is democracy really what we think it is?

What is democracy? Democracy can be described as equal opportunity for the people to participate by electing representatives, that people have the power in electing who they want to be represented by. However, is voting really representing “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” (Loo, Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 216). Many people do not realize that democracy is nothing but an illusion. In modern society today, people believe that simply by voting democracy has been fulfilled. “Getting politically involved in the US, in other words, means one thing: Vote!” (Loo, GDS, p. 218). But the reality is that these representatives are pre-selected for the people. They do not have a choice but to vote on what is available to them. Whether people like those elected or not, they do not have much of a choice but to choose one of them. Loo (2011) describes a similar example:

“If someone offers you vanilla ice cream and you eat it with relish, this does not mean that you decided that you would rather have vanilla than, say, chocolate. It merely means that you respond favorably to vanilla and are willing to eat it… you would rather have vanilla ice cream than nothing at all.” (GDS, p. 220)

This example is trying to demonstrate that people are only given certain representatives to vote from but it doesn’t entirely mean that you like one more over the other, but rather there is one which you preferred. You are willing to accept it even though you didn’t initiate that candidate. Most importantly to understand the meaning of democracy we must understand whether democracy is an end in itself, or a means to an end.

People do not realize the true meaning of democracy. They believe that democracy simply means being able to vote. If democracy is treated as an end in itself, nothing other than voting matters. It doesn’t matter the outcome of your vote, who you voted for, as long as you casted a ballot. If you are trying to make good decisions in society and you can only make decisions through voting it cannot guarantee you good results. The philosophical basis for democracy as an end in itself is agnosticism, which means that the truth is unknowable and it cannot be determined. “If truth is not knowable, the facts can all be disputed such that no decision can be made about their veracity, then it does not matter what one's opinion is because we cannot determine what is real anyway” (Loo, GDS, p. 252). In contrast, Engels (2007) believes that the truth will not always remain unknowable. He further explains “If a thing in itself becomes a thing for ourselves, then we know this thing. It is not unknowable any longer.” If we acknowledge that objective truth exists, and that it does matter, then we can conclude that democracy as an end in itself is not a good way to be running society. Objective reality therefore is important, and it brings us to an understanding of democracy in our society today. Furthermore, Loo (2011) explains:

“Representative democracy overwhelmingly confines public participation in political affairs to voting for or against one’s representatives. Even in the best of all possible scenarios, if voting comprises the best and highest political role that the people can play, then the people will never have any real power over politics.” (GDS, p. 241)

If voting is the only thing we have, then we don’t really have political power. As Karl Popper describes the meaning of democracy “it is representative not directly participatory, and the very most that the people can do politically is determine which public official will exercise political rule over them” (Loo, GDS, p. 240). Ultimately, if people realize that the truth matters then it brings us to our next point “Is democracy a means to an end?”

Democracy as a means to an end can be best understood as a radically different society. The philosophical basis for democracy as a means to an end is empiricism, which means that there is objective truth and it can be proven with empirical data. There is evidence to prove that what is happening in society is true. Many would ask the question “Democracy is a means to an end of what?” The basic answer is that society would be a radically different society in which people will no longer be oppressed, and exploited. In this end, it would describe what a real democracy should be like and that is as Loo describes “a just and fair society, a society that no longer has classes” (Lecture: State and Revolution). By having classes in society, people will continue to be in conflict with each other, where they have irreconcilable differences. Marx and Engels refer to the state as the irreconcilability of classes. “The state is the product and the manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises when, where and to the extent that class antagonisms cannot be objectively reconciled” (Lenin, p. 273).

According to Weber, power is the ability to get your way even against resistance, whether you exercise force through persuasion or coercion. In order to have political power, you need to exercise both forms of power. Additionally, Weber states those who hold political power are the ones who “monopolize the legitimate means of violence in a bureaucracy” (McIntosh, 1997). Bureaucracies are characterized by certain traits that allow them to organize and control the ways of handling activities in society. As Weber describes, they are characterized by fixed and official jurisdictional areas, ordered by rules, official duties, authority is distributed, and strict hierarchy (McIntosh, p. 142). “Democracies cannot do without bureaucracies, but their need for bureaucrats as well as the inherent nature of bureaucracy undercut democracy itself” (Loo, GDS, p. 242). Weber points out, “Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret” (McIntosh, CST, p. 151). They hold on to this secrecy by “hiding its knowledge and action from criticism” (p. 151). Leaders in the bureaucracy do not want people to be aware of what their full intentions are in society. Therefore they keep things hidden from the public in order to hold on to their political power.

Furthermore, bureaucracies are undemocratic by nature. Bureaucracies operate the way that you would expect them to operate. It does not necessarily mean that they are corrupt; it’s simply their way of functioning. Organizing things in society in inevitable and necessary, however bureaucracies by their nature are secretive, lack transparency, and lie. We are continually told that their use of coercion is used for our protection and we continue to believe that it is legitimate; however that is all a lie. For instance, “The 2003 Iraq War was predicated on lying to the American people repeatedly, persistently, and ubiquitously about the connection between Iraq and 9/11” (Loo, GDS, p. 220).  They will continue to hold political power in society as long as they hold on to these qualities. Weber’s solution is having a charismatic leader that would come in and shake things up. People follow charismatic leaders and if one were to emerge, people might try to revolt against the bureaucracies. Although this might rattle the iron cage, it cannot destroy a bureaucracy because it is much stronger and powerful. Weber observed, “Bureaucracies would prevail and dominate because they are, as an ensemble of characteristics, the most efficient, predictable, dependable, and controllable way of doing things.” (Loo, GDS, p. 242) Although mass movement may be larger than bureaucracies they do not have the level of specialization and rationalization of tasks. (p. 242) In addition to bureaucracies prevailing, Robert Michels also concluded that as long as there is organization involved then it would inevitably become an oligarchy- run by a few.

How do you get rid of bureaucracies, and ultimately obtain authentic popular rule? In order to overcome this issue, you need to supersede bureaucracies. Marx and Engels say that the way to get rid of bureaucracies is to “Smash this machine, to break it up - this is what is truly in the interests of the ‘people,’ of the majority, the workers and most of the peasants, this is what is ‘essential’ for the free alliance between the poor peasantry and the proletarians” (Lenin, p. 299).  Marx further explains, smashing the state unites the workers and the peasants in removing the bureaucracy - what he calls the “parasite” - and replace it with something new(Lenin, p. 299).  Moreover, Marx and Engels stand by the empirical nature of society and see democracy as a means to an end. Society needs to be one that is classless, where there is no longer exploitation and oppression. In Marx’s letter to Weydemyer he mentions, “the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society” (McIntosh, CST, p. 107). In relation to this, Lenin analyzed imperialism, which he concluded was the highest and last stage of capitalism. He argues that imperialism is the era of war and revolution.

What exactly do you replace the bureaucracies with? If democracy is understood as a means to an end then experience, knowledge, and expertise matter. This brings up an important concept of what Loo describes as “bridging the gap between the leaders and the led.” Groups cannot operate without leaders, therefore you need leaders who are well educated and hold the best interest of the people. “Leadership and the led exist as a unity of opposites, they co-occur, and one does not and cannot exist without the other” (Loo, GDS, p. 257).  A similar illustration of the relationship between the leaders and the led is the connection between freedom and necessity. According to Loo (2011) “freedom is not the absence of necessity; it is based on the recognition of necessity… Ignoring necessity, acting as if it does not exist, does not produce freedom; it produces disappointment at best and disaster at worst” (Loo, GDS, p. 256).

As compared to one another, leaders and led, you cannot have one without the other. For instance, if you want to fly you cannot ignore gravity because it is a material reality. You can be free to fly if you deal with the necessities that you are confronted with first (Loo, GDS, p. 256). Therefore, leaders are a necessity for groups. “Groups cannot operate without group leaders… the strength of a group cannot be realized without organization, and organization means and requires leadership” (Loo, GDS, p. 257). For groups leadership is a necessity to organize themselves through leaders and be properly trained. Leaders need to be knowledgeable about what is going on in our society, having the people’s best interest can help bridge this gap between them. People in society need to understand how the system works, and when they do. lying would no longer work. The led will never realize that what the system is doing is a lie unless they understand how the political system actually operates. You can’t just simply tell people that the people who are in charge are liars; they need to actually be exposed to the truth about it and increasingly take charge themselves. The only way to understand the truth and learn about what is really happening is to engage in it. Loo (2011) further explains:

“For a mass participation to prevail that will eventually supersede the very word ‘democracy,’ two things must happen: leaders must play a larger role in leading others in ways that raise the led’s grasps of what is going on in the society as a whole, and the led must resist the temptation to settle into lives of indifference.” (GDS, p. 259)

Furthermore, not everyone has an equal understanding of objective truth; therefore involving people in the decisions of what has to be done in society through authentic popular rule is necessary. As Dr. Loo describes:

“The Left seeks a society in which authentic popular rule is increasingly realized, and for that to happen, educating people about what is really going on, treating people as ends in themselves rather than as spectators who cheer on the real actors and real leaders, and getting people involved in the political process directly—as well as in every other arena of human existence including science and art—are both necessary and desirable.” (GDS, p. 322)

People believe that democracy is an end in itself, however they are wrong. People in society need to be exposed to the objective reality, and through raising the level of understanding through proper leadership the led can eventually become leaders themselves (Loo, GDS, p. 259).

Thereby, the co-existence of democracies and bureaucracies should not occur within the same society. As a result of their naturally pure forms, they cannot operate simultaneously within the same government. If you recognize that democracy is an end in itself which ultimately grants you no political power, then democracy can be viewed as a means to an end. Thus, the development of social change can be accomplished.


0 # princessDah 2014-03-26 06:41
The ignorance for political issues are at an ultimate high for many Americans. With social media only telling people what they want them to know it is hard for people to know more information. many people do not know their rights in this world and just go about life as one person says they should. When it comes to voting for a candidate or bill their is lack of information. the recent voting for Obama i feel has been more based on race and something new. And although he might seem to be a democratic he is partially republican because of the positions he takes on many issues. His position to say he will close Guantanamo bay yet use drones to kill is not looking out for the people but the looking out for the money.
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0 # MarieB 2014-04-07 03:00
The analogy of ice cream and democracy helped articulate the amount of choices people have. Say vanilla is the democratic and chocolate is republican, but you like swirl best, swirl is not always an option. It can be said that democracy is the best that our large society can offer, because it is not realistically possible for everyone to have their exact flavor of ice cream, but must choose between the two given options. This side of politics has always been a dead ended subject for me, so I look forward to discussing this in class.
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Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12