Thursday, November 13, 2008

We have seen before the dangers that lie ahead

The defeat of John McCain represents for many a triumph of educated secularism over the malign forces of parochialism and superstition. We are living in 21st century America, after all, not medieval Europe; and though most of us are not uncomfortable with some conception of god, at the very least let us use the fruits of human endeavor -- like science and reasoning -- to address our problems. Faith is fine in its place, and that is not the White House. Get some smart folks in there who've kept up on world affairs since the Bible and we are good to go. This characterizes a perspective which has held a number of disparate groups in alliance against a Republican victory this year.

It's a manifest tragedy that recent US history has only served to confirm this view. These are not lessons that should need revisiting, having been championed rather handily by the Enlightenment, and later weaved into the fabric of the American system, or so the story goes. But the Enlightenment went much further than merely advocating for rule by scholars or specialists -- in other words, by technocrats. It advocated rule by the subjects themselves. In other words, not "rule," but self-governance.

I'm fond of the idea that every victory poses a new set of problems, and this has informed much of my reaction to the defeat of superstition by technocracy. Technocracy is, frankly, a very dangerous thing. Because while knowledge and expertise may always trump ignorance and naiveté, power trumps them all. Remember that the Vietnam War was conceived and executed by the "best and the brightest": Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara hailed from the best universities and the biggest corporations. If this is meant to be what we are returning to, it should not be regarded with anything less than apprehension.

Rule by the educated and experienced, though different in form, is not itself a solution to rule by the idiot. The problem is "rule," not the personal quality of rulers. History knows no dearth of "exceptional" leaders who ground the powerless into a fine pulp when the occasion asked of it. This is why it is important to challenge the premise on which every "rulership" resides. It is quite often illegitimate in relation to the people it affects.

Perhaps a real life example can capture the concern best. A large portion of our time is taken up by submitting to the whims of one or another moron in order that we might afford the food we eat and the roof we keep. The process can take eight or more hours of the day; only if we are lucky do we find some modicum of satisfaction in the exchange. Mostly it is a time-consuming burden which almost invariably steals from our lives the chance to do what we would prefer to be doing, had we any choice in the matter. Thus we play the lottery, or smoke weed in the parking lot, or go so mind-bogglingly into debt that in several decades we may profit monetarily from the whole fucked-up situation that we refer affectionately to as a "career." Whatever the case, we are subjected to one or another variety of abuse, usually in the form of a superior who exercises authority over us, sometimes legitimately, but with little to no recourse in the event that they do not. We are told in response that we have the "freedom" to go elsewhere.

Are these social arrangements -- which nearly everyone dreams to escape, or at the very least aggressively solicits bribes to endure -- the result of GED aspirants chasing Jesus in executive suites? Or are they the rational product of an educated, secular class pursuing privilege and power for themselves? I submit that history has shown the phenomenon to be no safer when practiced in government than when utilized in the economy.

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