By Belle Alcasid (3/7/12)
Editor's Note: This is an undergraduate's paper in one of Dennis Loo's university courses. We post it as an example of what this student got out of reading these two chapters from Loo's book GDS and what difference reading this book can make in someone's views. Posted by permission from the author.
In Chapter 5 of Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Loo argues that the main problem of a democracy is not the people. It is not the apathy that many people feel toward voting, nor is it a corrupt government or the power of the corporations that cause the problems of a democracy. Rather, it goes deeper than what most people see on the surface. It goes beyond what most people are quick to blame for the failures of “popular rule.” The problem, Loo argues, is the theory of democracy. He argues that it is the paradigm with which a democracy represents that contains all the flaws. And unfortunately for the people that live, breathe, and follow that dominant paradigm of democracy, it continues to persist despite all the contradictions it produces and the inequality that it reinforces in our society.
To have a better understanding of what democratic theory is based on, it carries the premise that political leaders as well as the mass media exist to serve the people because they supposedly reflect what the people want. Another way to put it is that it holds that the chosen political leaders are based on who the people vote for and that the audiences of the mass media are the ones who decide what the content of the media is. It is the people who mold the public opinion that is portrayed through the media. This basically follows the first premise that the people supposedly are the ones in control, and thus they get what they want. Likewise, if an unpopular political leader is chosen or if people don’t like what they see on the media, the ones that are blamed are the ones who voted for that leader or the ones who watch that piece of media. People assume automatically that it is the public’s fault. This phenomenon makes sense, considering the paradigm we live in. The paradigm of democratic theory shapes our attitudes in ways that puts the blame on the wrong target.
For example, Loo uses a very simple yet meaningful analogy. If you are offered to pick vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream to eat, and you pick vanilla ice cream, does that mean you really wanted vanilla ice cream? Or does it mean that you preferred vanilla over strawberry, chocolate, and not eating ice cream at all? What if instead you wanted a hamburger instead of ice cream? The cook did not offer you a hamburger, so instead you settle for one of the very few options given to you, vanilla ice cream. The same can be said about political leaders. We are given the choice of a select batch of political leaders to choose from, but what if none of them suit our needs? If that is the case, voters still pick the “best” option out of the batch. Many people don’t see it this way and assume that the choices we are given are sound and that they must be good choices if they are presented to us. People often don’t challenge existing conditions such as that. Perhaps if they didn’t agree, they would rather be apathetic and not vote at all. But for those who do vote, why should they have faith in their options of political leaders? This idea asserts the argument that the results of an election don’t truly reflect popular vote or what the public really wants because it is up to the elites to decide who our choices are in the first place. We are given the illusion of “options,” which makes it easy for people to blame the voters. But is it really our fault if our options are so limited? Just because we make these political decisions, is it enough to say that we are really the ones in control? No.
Loo also discusses the common confusion between public sentiment and public policies. People are quick to believe that public sentiments cause public policy because according to our paradigm, the people get what they want. This is deeply flawed, however. Loo argues that this oversimplification of something so complicated distorts how media coverage is framed and how public policy becomes enacted. To take the events of 9/11, for example, even though the tragic events on that day brought anger and grief among many Americans, it does not mean that the anger and the grief equated to the Americans wanting to go into war with Iraq. However the media heightens the sensationalism of the events of 9/11 as an attempt to sway Americans to relive that tragic day, which helps to justify the War on Terror. The media coverage on 9/11 every year since 2001 has been a way to keep reinforcing American hatred of terrorists and people of the Middle East. It’s a scam to brainwash our minds and justify the wrongdoings of our government, and sadly, it works.
Another example regarding 9/11 is the sequence of events in which ‘A’ caused ‘B.’ ‘A’ represents the desire to retaliate against the people who attacked us on 9/11 and ‘B’ represents America’s invasion of Iraq. But Loo argues that the truth is ‘A’ did not necessarily happen before ‘B.’ Plans to invade Iraq happened way before the events of 9/11, but most people are not informed of that vital piece of information. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt people not believing it even if they were told the truth because many people would rather have faith in their government and the (illusion of) safety that they provide us with instead of challenging what has been told to them by the media and the authority figures. After all, the definition of a government is having the power to make the people do what they don’t want to do. It has the power to control them, in a sense. This is another reason why democratic theory is flawed, because whether or not we have a democratic government, it is still a government. How can we believe that the people are the ones in control when it is the government’s duty to control the people?
Loo goes on to explain the dialectical relationship between the leaders and the people who are led. Even in an ideal democratic world where the leaders aim to serve the needs and desires of the public, the leaders still play a large role in influencing and determining the actions and ideas of the people that are being led. One major flaw that democratic theory creates is not placing the responsibility of decision-making powers on the state leaders or the mass media. They have such a huge impact on the public, yet the public still continues to be blamed. The state and the media are the ones that “set the table,” as Loo puts it. And the public are the ones who are given the limited choices of “food” placed on the “table” for them to pick from. Another important aspect that Loo points out in Chapter 5 is the gap between elections. If people are unhappy with a political leader, they must accept their position in office and be ruled by that person for the interval in which is set for that specific title: two years, four years, six years. What happens in those years between elections? The public doesn’t have control if they are forced to wait numerous years to see hope of any change again (if there even is any hope among the next few options that they are given to vote for).
Furthermore, Loo discusses an idea that states that democracy is an end in itself. This means that regardless of which political leader is chosen, whether good or bad, what’s important is the fact that the people chose that leader. Political participation of the people has been accomplished and that’s all that matters. Loo argues that this idea means that the truth can never be known because what is real can never be determined since participation is the focus. This means that everyone’s opinions are equal, but the problem with this is that the decisions made upon these circumstances are completely meaningless. In contrast, Loo discusses the idea that democracy is a means to an end. This idea carries the exact opposite view of what was just discussed. It means that true knowledge does exist and a true reality really is knowable. It states that informed opinions matter exponentially more than uninformed opinions because mass participation based on informed opinions represents hope to address the inequalities that exist between the leaders and the led. And this could mean real, beneficial change for society.
In Chapter 7 of Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Loo discusses Emile Durkheim’s view about inequality, which falls under functionalist theory. Durkheim basically believes that inequalities are meant to keep the society functioning properly. He says that the working class should be denied a higher education because having one would distract them from their constrained roles. He believes that the exposure to knowledge of the lower classes will broaden their horizons and make them appreciate that knowledge, but that their place in the division of labor is more important than having knowledge, so it should be avoided. He believed that their constrained roles contributed to a larger goal which mattered more than them going beyond the status quo. Loo argues against this and questions why certain groups of people should be excluded from the benefits that the privileged have. He argues that such a division of labor and social stratification in a society destroys the people’s capabilities. He doesn’t believe that it is the people’s fault, but rather, they are oppressed from reaching their full potential based on the inequalities that are established in the foundations of our society. And just because the inequality persists does not mean it is right. Unfortunately many aspects of society keep reinforcing the inequalities, whether people are aware of it or not.
Based on functionalist theory, it is believed that the people who are equipped with the proper, desired skills are the ones who must perform the important functions in society, and thus be rewarded disproportionately. This means that they are deemed to be more worthy than everyone else. This justifies social inequality, and it is the theory that most Americans follow because we are told that we live in a meritocracy in which people earn their high positions. However what is largely not brought to the public’s general attention is the fact that many groups of people are oppressed and are not given equal opportunities to reach those high positions. Instead the individual is blamed for being lazy or not trying hard enough when in fact they could be the hardest worker ever to exist, but if she’s an African American female, her fate of oppression is automatically decided. She may be able to reach the goals she intended to reach, but even going as far as that, she will never get paid as much a white male who holds the same exact position as her.
We live in a society in which success is equated to material possessions that the unsuccessful lack. Most people agree with this statement. After all, material possessions are the incentives to make it rich. The American dream says you get an education, make a lot of money, buy a house, buy a car, start a family, and live an ignorantly blissful life. The ads that we are bombarded with on a daily basis reinforce the desire to reach this American dream. There are only the rare ones that believe enjoying their career is much more important than the money they make. I know this from firsthand experience because I am a Sociology major and most people are aware that you cannot become rich in this field. But I would rather be rich with knowledge, awareness, and the tools to contribute to social change, which many people find to be ridiculous, stupid, or crazy. I can honestly say that the majority of people who ask me what my major is always have that puzzled look on their face that says, “What? Why??” Unfortunately there are not enough people who care about the betterment of society and the progression of positive social change because most people are wrapped up in their independence, their individuality, and the goal to feel better than everyone else. And if they want to feel better than everyone else, of course they wouldn’t care about helping the people who are oppressed. I find this to be a reality, although with the Occupy movement that sprouted quite recently, I am starting to see more hope in my generation.
In conclusion, Loo argues that it is not the people who are to blame for the flaws of the society, as most people assume. The way that society is structured is the true culprit, but unfortunately people don’t ever think deeply enough to the roots of American society to understand this. Or perhaps if they did inquire into such an idea, they don’t have the resources of information to understand it as clearly as it should be understood. And another example of inequality is that the only people who are allowed access to such truths are the people who can afford a higher education. With tuition increases every year, the people at the top are purposely making it harder for people to attend college because they want to dumb down America. Of course people are able to find credible resources online or go to the library and learn about the truths that we have always been concealed from, but how common is it for a person to come up with the idea themselves that our system is flawed? I’m sure it exists out there, but I’m sure it is also extremely rare.
From my own experience, I praise the privilege of college that allowed me to open my eyes to ideas, realities, truths, and lies that I probably would never have cared about had I not gone to school. On top of that, I praise my decision to be a Sociology major for all the significant knowledge I have collected in the past five years. But unfortunately there are millions out there who will never get a chance to receive the enlightenment that I did in my college years. So as a solution, Loo argues that in order to restructure the system we live in, there must be a crisis. But we cannot wait for that crisis to come about because the majority of people will still continue to follow the existing system. Therefore what is needed is an alternative leadership who the majority will be willing to follow. We would need a leader who can organize the pathway to social change. People need to stop believing that their perceptions equate to truth because it will disallow them to see the real truth; the truth that can bring about enough sentiment to produce social change.