Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?

My series about America has sparked much discussion, unusually intense (as it goes on the FM site).  How can we reform America?  Elections, with more and wider citizen involvement?  Or has America become unreformable, our ruling elites too strong — so that revolt or passivity are the only practical options?  This is IMO the most important of the many topics discussed on this site — perhaps the most important question of our time.

My opinion is simple (perhaps simplistic):

  1. We are in this together.  Reality/nature/God enforces collectively responsibility.
  2. Individually we are weak.  Collectively we are strong.
  3. Our reluctance to take personal responsibility for the Republic is our greatest problem.  Ingenuity at producing excuses does not substitute for taking action.
  4. What are the odds of success at fixing American?  It does not matter; nobody cares (not our forefathers, not our descendants).

Judging from the comments, this is a minority view.  All of the comments disagree, most suggesting that passivity or outright revolt are our only effective options.  This is the first in a series of posts showing the comments. 

  1. The problems
  2. Our responsibility for both the problems and fixing them
  3. Solutions
  4. Conclusions

Please post your views in the comments — and especially any evidence or citations supporting your view.  As always, comments should be brief, topical, and civil.  My posts about America are listed at the end.

Diagnosis:  what is most important problem with the American political regime?

gpanfile, 21 December 2007

one wants so much to feel optimistic and go in the direction of your recommendations… the problem is those pesky facts. we live in the most propagandized era of human history, unprecedented in its breadth and sophistication. the institutions that should have led us in the right direction from the beginning are now part of the problem… the government, the media, the corporations, the educational system… as they all drown us in propaganda and tell us about everything other than that, to serve their own short term ends.

given the core problem of our British roots, in that we have attempted to graft democracy atop a greed-based, imperialist elitist system, it’s no surprise things have come to this. royalty has essentially reasserted itself on all levels. all our institutions are discredited, having lied and failed and articulating no clear solutions to anything.…

Judasnoose, 1 March 2008

“In a democratic republic we are responsible for the actions of our government. Neither future historians nor our descendants will care for our excuses.”

Fabius, you have an over-developed sense of responsibility. The USA is not actually democratic. The votes don’t get counted honestly. Broadening the Inquiry into New Hampshire, Black Box Voting (28 February 2008).
Fabius Maximus replies: I am sure you do not believe this is a new phenomenon. Voting fraud was a major support for metro political machines in the 19th and 20th centuries. What’s missing is evidence about the size of modern voting fraud (that it exists does not mean that it is determinative). And it is easily prevented if enough people care. If we depend on Mommy to keep everything neat and tidy, then we cannot be a democracy because we are not citizens.

Judasnoose, 28 April 2008

“We elect our representatives, nor have their been widespread protests against the post-WWII expansion of the military-industrial complex. Nor can we complain that we have not been told. President Eisenhower’s warning was clear, and there have been countless stories in the mainstream media about this over the past few decades.

“If our response to these things is to blame others instead of our own fecklessness, then perhaps we are not capable of self-government.”

I don’t think you’re being fair to the American people, Fabius. Americans have voted, protested, written, and used every peaceful means to try to reform their government. They have not been entirely feckless and passive. They appear to have been outmaneuvered by those in power — that doesn’t mean they just sat around doing nothing.

Also, American voters do not elect their representatives. Diebold does, and exit polls make this abundantly obvious.

To be outmaneuvered by an oppresser is not the same thing as deserving to be oppressed.
Fabius Maximus replies: I believe this is overstated.

“Diebold does, and exit polls make this abundantly obvious.”

Diebold’s electronic voting machines are a new development — unlike the trends I discussed — and is used in only a fraction of America’s voting boths. Exit polls — like polling in general — has a long history of inaccurate results. Polls do not “prove” anything..

“Americans have voted, protested, written, and used every peaceful means to try to reform their government.”

Are you kidding? Did I miss the mass protests, the marches, the petitions, the widespread popular outrage?

Judasnoose, 8 July 2008

“The next step up is local organizing for political purposes. Recruiting, working the party system, donating cash and time.”

William S. Lind has gone on record as endorsing Ron Paul for President — but it appears that Ron Paul will not be entered as an actual candidate. I believe that this is due to corruption in the party system. They allow genuine reformers to go through the motions of running, but the puppetmasters will not permit real reformers the opportunity to get on the ballot.

Likewise I think it would have been sheer folly (or suicidal courage) for a German to say, in 1933, “If you don’t like this Chancellor, the next step is to organize a party and work within the legitimate party structures of the German state. Donate time and money! Make sure your neighbors vote!” At that point, Germany was beyond restoration to a functioning democracy, so going through the motions of organizing was simply counter-productive.

As for my union comparison, it is still entirely possible for a native-born American to get killed for trying to organize a union.
Fabius Maximus replies: I feared it would come to this point of absurdity, comparing political action in today’s America to 1933 Germany. Godwin’s Law prevents an adequate reply to this interesting excuse for our collective inaction, which is probably just as well.

“Ron Paul will not be entered as an actual candidate. I believe that this is due to corruption in the party system.”

Quite an statement. And the evidence for this? I have been an active Republican for almost 30 years, and know nobody who thought he could win the Republican vote. Even those I know who voted for him considered him a long-shot. (Republican humor: “Foreign wars, massive growth of government, large deficits — if we had elected a Republican President none of this would have happened.”)

“As for my union comparison, it is still entirely possible for a native-born American to get killed for trying to organize a union.”

It is possible to get killed going into the wrong restaurant in Philly (it happened to a friend of mine). But we do not declare eating out a dangerous activity, because the odds are quite favorable. Do you have any evidence that unionizing is a dangerous activity, relatively speaking?

Plato’s Cave, 8 August 2008

I will propose, for the sake of argument, that Fabius’ suggestion that we just vote in the next election is hollow. Merely voting is about as meaningful as choosing which tv channel to watch. Or, as a friend says, it has the same effect on the outcome of the game as rooting for your home team.

Elections are a sham and a distraction in our current system. Both major parties agree on the essentials of foreign and national economic policy. No one gets to run for national office without being vetted by the party elders, and indebted to the corporate interests which finance his campaign. A US Senator like Feingold is a miracle in the US Congress.

My favorite blog, after Fabius’, is Stop Me Before I Vote Again, a site “devoted to the deconstruction of the Democratic party.” I hope there’s a similar one on the Rebublican side.
Fabius Maximus replies: Voting is just the beginning of citizenship, not the entirety of it. As I have said many times: Vote. Get involved. Donate your time and money. Write. Talk to friends and strangers (e.g., walk precincts).

How wonderful a world it would be if progress could be achieved by sitting on our couch while complaining about America and deciding if any of the candidates were worthy of exerting ourself to vote.

While widespread adoption of this attitude would mean rapid collapse of the Republic, it would be good preparation for life in the new regime. Each of could choose a viewpoint suitable for a subject: irony, detachment, or resignation. For those interested in philosophy or religion, there were the traditional choices of a Roman aristocrat under the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity.

 FxConde, 8 August 2008

The problem is that the nation has turned self centered. Unable to make decisions beyond themselves they cannot see the benefit of doing bigger things. Sacrifice, discipline are alien and painful concepts to many Americans maybe even to a small majority. I am not talking about taxes or war, I am talking about their day to day lives.

Kipling’s “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” describes the slide and end result. Until the majority of people put there personal houses in order and vote accordingly the next step will some form despotism. I am at this point not very confident of the outcome.

But at least it’s Friday!

Judasnoose, 15 August 2008

Fabius Maximus replies:…”our leaders are just people like us. As a long-term average, probably no better than us, no worse.”

The USA’s political “leaders” mostly do not lead. There are lobbyist mouthpieces, whose jobs revolve around maintaining a sham democracy. There are hard-core sociopaths, who make decisions. Neither class is a “leader” in the sense that David Hackworth was a leader.

The US political class is almost entirely taken from the plutocrat class. Plutocrats are much more likely than average to be sociopaths. The political class *is* much more antisocial, much less moral, much more destructive than the average American.

I don’t have a good way to choose good leaders, but I have a good way to avoid bad ones. It is as follows: learn to diagnose sociopaths at a distance, and do whatever it takes to avoid having them as leaders.
Fabius Maximus replies: An interesting series of bold assertions. And your evidence for this is …? I trust it quite firm, considering the extraordinary nature of your allegations.

Also, what is your evidence that other nations’ leadership class are superior to ours in some way (this was the original point of the discussion)?

Judasnoose, 15 August 2008

… The USA is parasitized by plutocrats. The plutocrats make money from US social decay. Ergo, one must either get rid of the plutocrats or tolerate the social decay.

If one tries to rebuild neighborhoods, walk the precincts, get the vote out, and otherwise work within the system — the plutocrats will skim all the profits out of the system, and all your effort will merely serve to enrich your enemies.
Fabius Maximus replies: Interesting analysis.

“If one tries to rebuild neighborhoods, walk the precincts, get the vote out, and otherwise work within the system — the plutocrats will skim all the profits out of the system, and all your effort will merely serve to enrich your enemies.”

Is this said on the basis of extensive analysis by multi-disciplinary teams and extensive computer modeling? Revelation from God? Psychic powers? It must be something certain, to justify abandoning any civic responsibility. Nothing like certainty of failure to rationalize passivity.

 Two more comment (as the proprietor, I get the last word).

First, many of the above statements about America’s ills are quite bold.  If true, they leave us little alternative to resignation or revolt.  But before giving up on our regime, I for one would like evidence that it is beyond reform.  As the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. 

Second, a quote from one of my comments.

The rulers of every regime demand flattery. Democracy is no different. We are the rulers, and demand that we be considered vituous. Hence all ills of society must be blamed on others. Evil, perhaps insane our traitorous, follow Americans (of the right or left, depending on our current mood). Or evil foreigners. Best of all, the “system” — through the wonder of abstraction avoiding the painful necessity of assigning responsibility.

In this view, our role as citizens is waiting for politicos to arrive that are worthy of us, for whom we can vote and begin a new age. Or, alternatively, these evils will grow until things collapse in a cleansing fire. On these ashes a new world will arise.

Perhaps so. I’ll bet that instead …

  1. The government continues more or less corrupt as are we ourselves.
  2. The government improves (or deteriorates) more or less proportionate to changes in our willingness to get involved in it.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other posts in this series about America, how we got here and how we can recover it

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  3. A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
  4. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  5. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  6. A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
  7. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  8. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  9. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  10. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  11. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008

For all posts on this subject see America – how can we reform it?.

15 thoughts on “Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?”

  1. To judge from the past, things have further to fall before significant change happens. It took the depression to shuffle the underpinnings of the gilded age. It may take a despot to shift the electoral basis we have for selecting leaders. We could well see one as the long war stretches out, and the financial fabric frays ever further. A substantial reversal in fortune, say a financial crash or a military loss, could start the ball rolling. History is full of such.

  2. Fab,

    First of all, I think you’re right that more Americans need to take responsibility. We are, however, unlikely to. I’d like to suggest two contributing factors to the decline in civic responsibility. There are others, I think, but they’re much more subtle and less amenable to concrete solutions; and I think you’ve talked about them here, re: Nietzsche, failure of Enlightment project, etc.

    For more mundane problems, I’d start with the fact that our educational system is absolutely terrible. This isn’t a very original observation, but it might be worth restating: it is hard to exaggerate just how badly educated we are in this country.

    Beyond that, the US as global power has mimicked Athens too closely. Athens used its power to collected tribute, and the influx of unearned money had a toxic effect on morals there. (At least so it seems. It’s hard to tell with things that happened that long ago.) The US has used its power to position itself in the global credit markets such that we’ve been able to borrow huge amounts of money at low interest rates– the modern equivalent of tribute, I guess. I’d suspect that this has been bad for our moral integrity. The idea that money is available without working for it is not going to promote virtues of responsibility.

    For what it’s worth, Athens bounced back pretty quickly after the Peloponnesian disaster. While it never had the level of military dominance it had briefly enjoyed, it was the economic and intellectual powerhouse of the region for the next century. So maybe our credit drying up and imperial ambitions giving way will have a positive long term effect, provided neither happens in a cataclysmic way.

  3. Well, there’s always the remark attributed to Leon Trotsky: “Worse is better.” Maybe it is not the disaster it seems on the surface if things keep getting worse. As has already been pointed out, the mass protests, huge popular outrage, and so on have not occurred. Maybe, as with alcoholics, a bottom needs to be hit before true change can occur. But I have children and grandchildren, and want them to live their lives free from a Hobbsean fear of violent death.

  4. ‘Gitmo On The Platte’ Set As Holding Cell For DNC“, CBS 4 Denver, 13 August 2008 — Opening:

    CBS4 News has learned if mass arrests happen at the Democratic Convention, those taken into custody will be jailed in a warehouse owned by the City of Denver. Investigator Rick Sallinger discovered the location and managed to get inside for a look.

    The newly created lockup is on the northeast side of Denver. Protesters have already given this place a name: “Gitmo on the Platte.” Inside are dozens are metal cages. They are made out of chain link fence material and topped by rolls of barbed wire.

    “This is a secured environment,” Capt. Frank Gale of the Denver Sheriff’s Department told CBS4. “We’re concerned about how that’s going to be utilized by people who will be potentially disruptive.”

    All that’s needed now is for Bush to declare that the protesters are “enemy combatants.” The resulting “catastrophic emergency” might require that our next election be “delayed.” And then it’s on.

    I don’t want to find out how well COIN would work in my neighborhood. Or go missing after a visit from Homeland Security.

    What was that other choice again?
    Fabius Maximus replies: A powerful article, showing that the bad trends of the past few years are just the evil Bush, but represent trends of our political class as a whole. Perhaps Obama will ask Bush to take such a step.

    The other choice is that so often taken in our history: liberation of slave, women’s sufferage, civil rights, ending wars: Writing, voting, protests, etc.

  5. “We are the rulers, and demand that we be considered vituous. ”

    I love it when FM talks like this. I must remember to write Senator Feinstein and tell her I’m fed up with her!

    May I suggest that someone read Kevin Phillips’ “Wealth in America”? It traces the growth of the great wealth concentrations from revolutionary times forward — many of them through times of war. This book, in combination with Howard Zinn’s “Peoples’ History of America”, or Michael Parenti’s “Democracy for the Few”, to mention just a couple, show how private wealth and later corporate power have captured American government. No suprise, really — the same story has evolved in virtually every western country. Democracy, whatever it was in the beginning, is now a formal or virtual exercise which gives the illusion of citizen participation, while retaining the power of choosing candidates, writing legislation and executing the laws in the hands of the ruling few. Just look at the resumes of the last 100 years of Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, Agriculture, and Commerce, and recently, Labor and EPA, and you’ll see the steady hand of Wall Street, Corporate Law and business guiding the American ship of state.

    There is a solid logic to this, but it is not one which will respond to domestic labor needs when corporations start shifting jobs overseas. On the contrary, it will help the corporations out with tax laws.

    My point of view is not one of hopelessness or passivity; it only says you won’t regain political power unless you recognize who holds it at present. Of course we have to be active and involved, but we have to pick the arena where we can be effective. It’s not the national government, and it’s not the internet. It is in local government, local schools, local issues. Once in awhile, some local issue takes fire, gets national publicity, and becomes a political movement — civil rights, and environmental protection are examples. I’m curious, right now, why unconstitutional domestic surveillance and torture have not become public issues.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Flattery is the opiate of the masses, a powerful tool of the ruling elites. Prozac also.

    As we have discussed before, I agree with much of this. This is the objective condition we have to work against, as there were objective conditions our forefathers faced. Tree of Liberty and all that.

    Local organizing might be the key. Or not, perhaps national is best. Perhaps both is best. This not my field, so I’ll defer on this to folks with actual knowledge and experience.

    “I’m curious, right now, why unconstitutional domestic surveillance and torture have not become public issues.”

    Me, too. Like so much in recent years, our passivity amazes me. Hence my posts speculating about the causes of this, which might be the primary barrier to reform.

  6. Nicholas Weaver

    Although I believe the democractic party is toothless, cowardly, and weak, unwilling to tell voters the hard truths instead of comforting lies, the past 8 years of republican rule have shown a gross contempt for the rule of law. And it is this gross contempt for the rule of law that is a huge weakness should they lose control of the executive branch.

    I actually hold some hope that, should there be a democratic administration, that a Democratic DOJ behaves like the previous Republican DOJ. The precident has been well and truely set already that the Department of Justice should prosecute the other party for malfeasance.

    Now the Democrats have been only middling-corrupt, enough to support a few prosecutions but not much, and those cases have been rather weak. Yet with the gross lawbreaking on the part of the current administration, there are enough solid criminal counts to keep a battalion of lawyers buisy for the next 4 years.

    This is NOT enough, but it may be a start. Its a dangerous precident that the Bush DoJ created, but its a dangerous precident that might actually prove useful in recovering over the years ahead.

    (Yes, the previous was a fantasy. Hope and two bucks will buy you a coffee at starbucks.)

  7. One could easily write a book or series thereof on all the interlinked topics here. At present I believe that it is impossible, however desirable, for the US to have a national strategy, as such is unachievable given the external dependencies we have to cope with… examples being illegal immigration from Mexico, and foreign oil, although these are the two greatest. At the very least, we would have to construct a ‘model’ of what a ‘working US’ would look like. To cure whatever the diseases are, we have first to identify what health is, much as any veterinarian or physician does.

    Further steps would be based on such basic assumptions, and use, I think, organic models for analysis, as this country and the world populace are aggregations of living things, each of which are aggregations of living things (cells, bacteria, etc.). Undesirable behaviors by citizens would be classified as different types of diseases, and treated with what appears to be the optimal therapy from a list thereof… depending on whether a ‘problem’ is innate/genetic, or the product of an external pathogen (analogous to bacteria or virus), the result of an ‘injury’ and so on. One would have to define an order of criticality, as when in emergency rooms access to oxygen is prioritized, then blood to the brain, and so forth, and things are treated in their order of seriousness.

    Difficult decisions will have to be made, ones that will seem to many to be unethical or impractical. As one example, after the Civil War the US essentially refused to choose between the only two healthy long-term solutions to the situation of a freed slave population: full integration into the society, or repatriation to Africa. Similarly, at present we would have to evaluate how to handle the illegal immigration problem by choosing one of the two analogous alternatives, and on the global scale to go for self-sufficiency (on the basis of a projection that external ‘bacteria’ and ‘viruses’ are best excluded from our body politic), or a limited but cleary defined interface with some subset of the outside world, or to attempt to deal with ‘everything’ in a chaotic and unpredictable way as we are doing now.

    What does seem obvious is that both nationally and globally, the information needed to have a healthy world exists. Our collective information base around psychology, physics, ecology, biology, what have you, is unprecendented and more than sufficient. What remains to be seen is if there is the will, the wisdom, to use that to define a methodology for health and survival, and implement same. The thought modes, behaviors, terminologies, and institutions that got us into this clearly cannot get us out, or they would have already.

  8. “It is what the people want, just not the majority”, -Stephen Colbert.

    Sorry for the above quote and this silly question, but what do you intend to reform America into?

    IMO democracy is a process without a goal or ultimate purpose. The EU (read: Experimental Union) is trying to get away from this by focusing on liberal economics and institutions while relegating traditional power politics to the history books, in an attempt to bring together many different cultures on an economic basis. I will save my opinions on this…

    So going back to my question, what path would you prefer America to take or how would you prefer it structured? Once you have this ‘model’ and everyone/majority approves of it then you could have the basis of the reformed USA. How many things would need to be fixed, new rules applied and so on?

    Worse case scenario is that the Founding Fathers created the best roadmap that can be created and like all things, the idea was right, just got the implementation wrong.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great questions! Everyone much find their own answers. I have discussed these in the posts about America. IMO our ruling elites have become disfunctional, and are leading us to destruction (by the sure slow road). Fixing this is important.

  9. Maybe some of us should peacefully assemble in Denver, and sit out the convention inside these cages. We might see the ghost of Thoreau, Ghandi, or MLK. We might hear the echoes of shots fired at Kent State, or Dealy Plaza?
    Fabius Maximus replies: That sounds to me like an excellent idea, a great first step.

  10. Definative critical analysis and commentary. Imperative study.

    Interview with history and international relations expert and former US Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich on Bill Moyers “Journal” on PBS, 15 August 2008.

  11. The most encouraging thing I know about Barack Obama is that he worked with Saul Alinsky and that Alinsky offered him a job. I can’t think of a higher recommendation. (Incidentally, the woman he defeated for the nomination did her senior thesis at college on Alinsky. . .) if “local organizing might be the key, or not. . .” we have a chance to have as President somebody who learned from a master. (If you’ve never read Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” make the time to do so. I wonder how Alinsky and Boyd would have gotten along. . .)

  12. Pingback: More from Fabius Maximus…We must do something « Don Vandergriff

  13. In response to Keith (Comment #8) I’d like to see America reformed (back) into a country where the government focuses its attentions on protecting natural or God-given rights, namely the rights to life, liberty and property. It would be a country where each person takes responsibility for protecting their own life, liberty and property. “Government” would be a cooperative effort of the “law-abiding” to hear disputes between people and to organize for common defense against people outside our borders infringing on those previously mentioned three rights. It would be defensive in nature, not offensive, and would place the greatest amount of liberty/responsibility in the hands of the individual. Wise and/or hard-working people would excel, while foolish and/or lazy people would find themselves needing to “sink or swim”. This idea rejects government by the majority, as the majority can be as little as 51%, which effectively can over-rule/enslave the other 49%. In that situation there is no liberty for the 49%. If only a little over half have liberty… that’s not liberty.

    I think the previous commentor who spoke of the solution being at the local level, and FM’s remarks about local and national are well said. It may take 200 years to get back to where we started from. We certainly didn’t get where we are in a single night. We have to undo the ignorance and apathy that have been purposely instituted into our society over the last many decades. We have truly been destroyed from within.

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