Spokes 7: The Pathos of Politics
Democracy is a revolving door of toady incompetence. The future of the human race is in the hands of politicians. Are we doomed?
Spokes 7 unfurls the history of political thought and its actuality, arriving at modern times, where dysfunctionality reigns.
From the section on Religion, in the chapter on The Descent of Polity:
There can be no overstatement about the importance of religion in human sociological development. Beyond family ties, religion played a critical role in establishing group solidarity and social order, particularly in codifying behavioral norms. It is difficult to imagine how humans could have evolved beyond clans without religion and associated rituals that form the basis for cultural indoctrination.
Political philosophy has ever been inexorably entwined with religiosity. Modern states have not abandoned the religious mantra. Far from it. The supposedly secular United States is exemplary.
Reacting against godless communism, the phrase “under God” was tacked onto the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. President Dwight Eisenhower approved “In God we trust” as the national motto in 1956, following a Congressional joint resolution. “In God we trust” has been on US coins since 1864, and on paper currency since 1957. No objection has ever been made by any politician holding federal office.
From the section on Statehood:
All political regimes have been elaborate expressions of human territoriality. Governance has always been exercise in resource apportionment.
Historically, the surpluses that support civilization have been agricultural; the toil of peasants and slaves in the fields, propping up urbanity. Only since industrialization has ingenuity played an especial role in producing economic surplus outside of food production.
From the section on The American Revolution:
The United States of America began in the early 17th century as an appendage of Europe. Native Americans were slaughtered and African slaves imported by European interlopers, who for decades considered the country a place to mine precious metals or reap a rich harvest of tobacco before returning to the Old World to retire to a life of luxury. But by the 18th century, Americans began to think of their country as a place with a unique character and destiny of its own.
Time wore at the ties to the mother country. In their place sprouted new habits and ideals, and a cultural fabric spun from heritage, but with a strongly self-reliant weave.
The British engendered autonomy with a prolonged period of salutary neglect. John Adams accurately appraised the dynamic when he wrote “the revolution was effected before the war commenced. The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”
From the section on The American Constitution, with a tidbit on Philadelphia:
The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia from 25 May 1787 to 17 September 1787, ostensibly to revise the Articles of Confederation. Led by Virginian James Madison, Federalists had a grander scheme in mind all along.
Philadelphia at the time was a compact city. All of the delegates, wherever they stayed in town, were in easy walking distance to the State House where the convention was held.
The fetor of Philadelphia was fierce, especially during the summer months. Butchers and tanners threw used carcasses into the creek, which had long before turned into an open sewer.
The stench of rotting flesh combined with other industrial waste products, such as from soap boilers and brewers, as well as a constant flow of excrement seeping into the creek from neighboring privies.
The pungent air complemented the contamination of the water supply, which made dysentery a constant danger, topped off by flies and other insects which bred in stagnant pools and offered their own discomforts. Yellow fever outbreaks from mosquitos were a seasonal occasion.
In the respects of urban squalor amid pockets of prosperity and the leavings of free enterprise infected upon all in an unregulated state, Philadelphia well resembled other early American cities, and equally represented the outlines of governance that issued from it in the form of a constitution.
From the chapter on Modern Government:
Throughout history, the core functions of government have ever been essentially the same: to control the populace, but especially, to extract bounty, so that the government may rule over them. Ultimately, government is parasitic.
But more parasitic to some than others. Governmental revenue flows represent a redistribution from the less favored to the preferred.
With rare historical exception, the disadvantaged classes are squeezed to benefit those not needing further enrichment. As power flows to the powerful, governments are, by nature, plutocratic.
Select exerpts from the section on US Voting Irregularities:
The US runs an undemocratic regime. In many US states, convicted felons cannot vote: a disenfranchisement based on the idea that violators of society’s rules should not be allowed to help set them, irrespective of having paid their debt to society. This exclusion ensures that felons, most of whom are black, are forever 2nd-class citizens, unable to ever recover their basic civil rights. Over 6 million Americans have been stripped of their voting rights because of felony disenfranchisement laws.
There is no federal agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security, that concerns itself with the veracity of elections. State and local officials responsible for elections admit the process is subject to irregularities, but paradoxically insist the system is fundamentally sound. Efforts to investigate are roundly denounced as a threat to democracy.
Unsurprisingly, Congressional Republicans have repeatedly voted against measures that might help states improve their voting systems, including refusing to provide funding to ensure ballot counting.
The government is desperate to keep any information about election illegitimacy a secret, for public knowledge would rightly undermine confidence in the US election process.
One should be skeptical over the manifest circle-the-wagons mentality to what should be a transparent process with open records. Further, systematic denial of voting rights is a matter of record and law, demonstrating that the US election system is corrupted as an inclusive citizen democracy. Finally, constitutional disregard of proportional representation in the construction of its powerful upper house (Senate), and indirect election of presidents, ensures that the US has an ersatz facsimile of democracy which cannot be considered legitimate.
American voter tolerance of its dysfunctional electoral system can only be chalked up to ignorance or indifference. American society is riven by inequities; its politics merely symptomatic.
Mexico has a more secure and transparent election process than the United States, and Mexico is no pristine model of copasetic election practices.
From the section on US Homeland Security:
“Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be hard to get there.” This is very much the case for the Department of Homeland Security.” ~ American military officer, national defense and security specialist Steve Bucci in 2014
Police departments are not the only dysfunctional law enforcement arm in the United States. The federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US border patrol are riddled with corruption, including theft, bribery, and human trafficking.
The waste inside DHS is tremendous. An example illustrates. The agency spent over $430 million dollars for a secure-channel communication system that only 0.2% of its employees know how to use. 72% of DHS workers don’t even know that the channel exists. Another 25% knew of it but couldn’t find it.
For years, DHS workers have voted their own department the worst federal agency to work for. A survey found DHS people the least engaged in their work of all federal employees.
“The dysfunction, turf battles, and inherent limitations in an entity that does so much are exacerbated by the fact that, in many cases, the activities DHS engages in require enormous coordination with entities embedded in other federal departments.” ~ DHS official Matt Mayer
Port security is a major facet of homeland security, but you would not have much trouble shipping a weapon of mass destruction into the country, as container screening is nothing like it should be.
The electrical power grid and municipal water supplies are also easy targets for terrorism, as they are rather unprotected. Further, DHS has accomplished nothing when it comes to cybersecurity.
“We have spent billions to protect against cyber attacks, yet even White House computers have been susceptible to hacking.” ~ US Senate Committee on Homeland Security in 2015
In short, the federal department responsible for America’s everyday internal security is grossly incompetent.
From the synopsis of the chapter on Rule of Law:
“Law is born from despair of human nature.” ~ Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset
Rule of law theoretically aims at administration of equitable justice. It rarely works that way. Instead, stratified power is felt through the ‘justice’ system, with punishment mostly meted out to minorities and underclass miscreants. In much of the world, rule of law is a ruse for punishment à la plutocracy.
“Laws are always useful to those who possess and vexatious to those who have nothing.” ~ Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau
In all but a few countries, the criminal justice system is but a misnomer for a criminalization system. Corrupt police states are the norm worldwide.
From the section on Punishment:
“Punishment is just legalized crime.” ~ Indian guru Nisargardatta Maharaj
Punishment for crimes has varied widely throughout history. Much of it has been barbarity which typifies human callousness. That exercise remains unabated.
The quality of American prisons further deteriorated in the late 19th century. This came from a burgeoning prison population that was increasingly new immigrant groups.
State legislators, with little sympathy for the immigrant, saw scant reason to render prisons anything more than custodial confinement. This barbarous mind-set remains to this day and has been notably invigorated under the sordid reign of President Trump.
The evolution of incarceration continued. In the early 20th century, the institution was (again) modeled on the outside community: affording inmates the opportunity to mix in a communal yard and work in groups. Prison became a testing ground for judging readiness for release.
All the while, over the course of the 19th century, prisons started segregating their inhabitants; first by body and mind, then by criminality. Men, women, juveniles, and the mentally ill each had their own institution. Into the 20th century, inmates became confined to facilities according to the severity of their offense and extent of criminal record.
Another reform of the progressive era was a new type of prison: managed by penal professionals, designed to eradicate the prevailing abuses. Thus arose the “Big House”: large prisons, such as Sing Sing in New York and San Quentin in California, which might hold 4,000 or more men. These monuments to incarceration existed alongside unreformed state prisons.
The Big House exemplified the superficiality of reform. Cell blocks were still noisy, smelly, stifling hot in summer and frigid in winter. Despite milder treatment, the world inside prison walls was a depressing vista of cement and steel, with stultifying schedules and routines, and numbing isolation. Most long-term prisoners succumbed to institutionalization, and so had little prospect of successfully living free again, if the outside world would have them (which it would not). Thus, prisons in the pre-industrial era were much different than those during industrialization, which became even more monolithic in post-industrial times: monstrous warehouses of rejected humanity.
The institutionalization of inhumanity within prisons was mirrored by bureaucratic exercise in government and large corporations. Post-industrial American society did not so much evolve as rigidify.
In the 2010s, the federal government, led by Republicans, refused to fund prisons with sufficient staff. Riots became a sporadic feature of larger prisons throughout the country, with their timing determined by the dominant gangs. While the list of complaints by rioting prisoners is always the same – bad food, inadequate health care, unfair punishments, lack of rehabilitative programs – the real causes are social tensions and idleness. Invariably the intended targets of violence in these riots are other prisoners.
Though the government keeps no reliable statistics, the torture and abuse of inmates by prison guards is a regular feature of American incarceration. Use of force to quell the slightest insubordination is the policy of many US prisons. Rikers Island prison in New York has a long history of meting out medieval atrocities to inmates. Rikers’ legacy may be egregious, but it is by no means alone.
Extended incarceration is a societal illness of injustice which illustrates the moral corruption of modern man.
“The law must be seen as a mechanism by which the rights and privileges of dominant groups are protected and the continued subordination of weaker groups is enforced and maintained. Because the instruments of state power are disproportionately manned and controlled by dominants, the net results of the legal system is the substantial overrepresentation of subordinates within the prisons, dungeons, and gallows of all surplus-producing social systems.” ~ English psychologist Jim Sidanius & American social psychologist Felicia Pratto
From the section on Education:
From a political standpoint, an ill-educated electorate represents a danger to democracy, in easily being swayed by demagoguery. This prospect was so feared by the founders of the American republic that they refused to sanction democracy, opting instead for indirect election of senators and the President.
Thomas Jefferson saw universal education as “necessary” in “rendering the people guardians of their own liberty.” While Jefferson viewed public education as the only effective defense against tyranny, others were more concerned with the potential for anarchy and violence by the ignorant masses.
Spokes 7 surveys the impact that politics has had in shaping societies, and considers the fate of humankind. Leaving the fantasies of ideology behind, Spokes 8 answers the ultimate question: what is reality?