Cringe Hard as Leo and Simon Try to Look Human


If you want to cringe hard, watch the Fine Gael PR team's latest attempt to make Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney look human.  The comments section is uplifting and worth a read, another case of an arrogant elitist organisation thinking they can put out any auld waffle without a kickback from the people they abuse.

As the picture says, we agree with minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney on one thing, that 'the strength of politics is at the base, not at the top'.

Well, we agree with those words anyway. If you watch the video you'll hear him say that as he tries to convince us that Fine Gael is some kind of grassroots democratic organisation. Of course this is just more empty spin and FG are a highly centralised party run from the top down with little internal democracy to speak of. A smaller-scale version of the society the leadership wishes to preside over. When we say we agree, we mean something else. Politics is usually thought of as something driven by 'great men', a pursuit of a select few who govern while the rest of us watch politics happen from the sidelines basically as a spectator sport.

Even establishment jackals like Coveney know that this isn't really how the world works though. The reality is that Coveney, Varadkar, Doherty, Burton, and the rest of the ruling class are just apes in suits who have no magical powers to shape society. They only reason they exert influence is because we, the vast majority, obey them and the institution of the state which they manage. We've seen a major case of this truth in the water charges struggle. Here 'the base' rebelled against the wishes of 'the top', and greatly outnumbered the top realised they couldn't get their way (N.B. the charges haven't been abolished yet though). But it's not unique to the water charges at all. What happens in society is determined by the contest between social movements driven by the masses and the diktats of the privileged.

Even reform through the parliament is decided by these social movements outside the parliament. It isn't so much the politicians inside who shape history, it's the thousands of us outside who get active and through our campaigning together force the hand of the politicians and create the conditions for that legal change. If you stop to think about it, those who are at the very top of society and hence make the decisions are only a very small fraction of the population. If you think of all the politicians, top civil servants, judges, clerics, bankers, cops, corporate executives, and so on, how many could that be? 0.1% maybe? 0.1% is 1 in a thousand people, or about 6,500 people for this island. Less?

Those aren't very good odds at all from their side. This raises some interesting questions.

The big question is 'if the strength of politics is at the base, why does our political system not actually reflect this reality?'. There's an odd contradiction. A tiny group of people (e.g. 166 TDs or 90 MLAs) make whatever decisions they like, and everybody else has to spend their spare time chasing them around doing damage control. Why do we not have a political system where the vast majority, the people actually affected by these political decisions, have control?

Well, the short answer is that if you had that, a system of direct or participatory democracy, then the rich and powerful would quickly find themselves turfed out by the people - the people being a lot more interested in justice than maintaining inequality through state force. Therefore it's very important to keep the people away from decision making, and to only allow a very small number to have power. That way it's a much more controllable situation for the elite, since the small number of politicians (professional life decision-makers for everybody) are highly filtered, and a small group is a lot easier to influence or even buy off.

This way the base are disenfranchised. 'Disenfranchised' in the technical sense means you can't vote, but we all know that when it comes to actually having a say over our society and our lives, our votes count about as much as a Tesco receipt with a doodle on it.

And that's really the point of our political system. Parliamentary democracy emerged in the transition between feudalism and capitalism a few hundred years ago. Many people wanted real democracy, a democracy where the masses were truly in charge. But this was a very threatening prospect to the newly ascended bourgeoisie (capitalist class), who knew that democracy would mean a fair re-distribution of wealth and power. So a phony compromise was made, where 'democracy' consisted of electing 'representatives' to parliament. This was a perfect fudge, as it gave the illusion of popular control but really left the most privileged in society at the helm (even including many of the aristocrats from the feudal regime). It talked the democratic talk, but it did not walk the democratic walk.

That this is what representative democracy was always about it even clearer when you note that the first modern representative democracies only allowed property owning men to vote. This would have only been a tiny fraction of the population, i.e. the upper class. In the actual words of the American 'founding father' James Madison, the purpose of representative democracy is to 'protect the opulent minority'.

There were lively debates among the upper class about who should be allowed vote, and how many votes each person should get (for instance, a property owning man might get 3, while a male manual worker might get 1). The dark punchline is that in 2017 this same political system exists in Ireland, and in almost every country on Earth which aren't dictatorships. Its purpose didn't change just because we feel more modern and just because the ruling class have gotten a lot smarter at talking the democratic talk.

To get back to that tiny fraction of powerful people versus the rest of us, it becomes clear why parliament is so important to that very small elite in improving their odds. If the rest of us decided to actually do something to change things, if we just cut to the chase and fixed things, took control over our own lives, then well that would actually change things and make the tiny elite redundant. This is what 'direct action' is by the way.

So what our political system does is put a middle man between us and what we want. Instead of just fixing things ourselves, we are encouraged and often legally required to pursue some kind of obscure process through the state - lobbying, and bills, all of that bureaucracy. This places the ball firmly in the elite's court. 99% of people taking action are unstoppable. But if you make them come to your house then you can make them play by your rules, and you can maintain control. Furthermore, if you keep making them turn up to your incredibly boring house, people will switch off and become less active. In fact, there's a saying that 'parliament is where movements go to die' partially for this reason. This transforms the unwieldy 99.9% into a 0.1% of regular 'activists', a much more manageable number for your 0.3% of police to keep in line.

The truth is that 99% of people won't come together and unite under a common interest, for instance considering those who aren't at the very top of society but who are in the highest 10-20% income brackets and hence have their interests more closely linked to the status quo and are more shielded form its effects. However, we can reasonably expect a relatively large proportion to be able to unite, and we don't even need 99% of people to be active. Even 10% of people (650,000) rebelling would shake the stilts that our rulers walk upon. Our power together is enormous. We learn to think that we are impotent - 'I am only one person', but we can see flashes of that power all the time.

We say cut off the top like a mouldy bit of fruit. All power to the base.

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