Fixing America: the choices are 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?  This is the third in a series about this, perhaps the most important issue for our generation of Americans.

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 post shows comments about possible solutions. 

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

Please post your views, 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.

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.

what to do about this? one thing would be to reassert our control of the airwaves we license to the craven moneychangers. but most important, i think would be to rethink our concept of how freedom and the consitution are connected.

that is, only voters should be entitled to the liberty our system offers. something like a tax for not voting, or denial of public services for not doing so, a fine for not doing so, money withheld and then refunded when one votes.

the theory, and to me this is utterly valid, would simply be that if the authority of the government derives from the just consent of the government, you have no right to anything from the government if you refuse to participate, period. this is not fascistic or unconstitutional, because it does not compel voting for any particular candidate or party, just participating in the process. the ‘none of the above’ choice could be required on all ballots, in case that would help people realize the fairness of this.

the point being that freedom should not include a free ride in terms of being able to not even exercise the most rudimentary act of choice and still receive the benefits. if people want the rights our consitution guarantees then, regardless of their political opinions or who they choose to vote for or against, their options should be these: vote, pay or leave. no more free lunch for deadbeat citizens. certainly this could not make our electoral results any worse than they have been…

Judasnoose, 4 June 2008

Ash wrote: “Well, it’s good that you encourage the public to vote: that has to be the first step. 60% of eligible voters turned out in 2004. Wouldn’t it be great if more than that turned out for 2008? ”

Apparently 40% of US voters think that their vote either makes a difference or is owed to the state.

I think the voters would make a stronger statement if 99% of them could agree to stay home until the jiggery-pokery of the election process had been abolished. A vote of no-confidence in the government would be inferred by such a voting strike, even though the American system does not formally recognize voter refusal as an effective vote of no-confidence. This tactic is often advocated by anarchists, which means that it is not likely to make dramatic advances into the currently compliant 40%. On the flip side, 60% of US voters either believe in anarchy or can’t be bothered to demonstrate that they don’t believe in it. The ideological former group is presumably much smaller than the apathetic latter group.

Fabius Maximus replies: Future historians may conclude that the special genius of the 21st century American may be to develop high-sounding justifications for doing nothing — and shifting blame for the resulting outcomes.

I urge you to get out there and write — organize — get involved in the political mechanics — write checks to candidates you like — and vote.

Judasnoose, 8 July 2008

“People’s power exists only collectively, acting together. … Collective responsibility is one spur to collective action. Otherwise we get what many Germans did under Hitler: enjoy the benefits, then deny responsibility when things end badly.”

If collective action comes down to “write your rep and then vote” I think it’s been nonfunctional in the USA for many years. Jeff Vail and John Robb have offered some thoughts on resilient communities. I suspect the non-voting behaviors of resilient communities will amount to more collective power than all the votes of all US voters — BUT if one could combine resilient community with voting, that would be an awesome force for change.

Also, I like Pete’s comment:”few of us common folk have the ability or the moral authority to topple an unjust government”…
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Fabius Maximus replies: I am astonished that the concept of collective action is so foreign to us that it should need the degree of explanation apparent from your reply. That is very depressing, suggesting that my theory (b) is correct, that we are no longer capable of (or perhaps interested in) carry the burden of self-government.

Perhaps we have evolved into passive, coach-potato, chip-eating serfs. Fortunately we have TV to keep us entertained, and the internet over which to exchange whines.

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.
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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.

goesdownbitter, 8 August 2008

First of all, Rush is an elitist to end all elitists. He doesn’t know anything about America and has only a passing understanding of the truth. The renewal starts at home and then your neighbor and then the next as we rebuild America house by house and block by block.

If a candidate wants your vote then they need to pledge to dismantle government and stop the reign of terror by law enforcement and the judicial system.

Rush is the worst kind of elitist who pretends to be one of the little people while using his power and wealth to destroy not renew. Nothing Obama or any Democrat could ever say would meet his approval. An elitist is someone who is the best of, or most knowledgeable or superior in some way. We need elitists for leadership in all areas of society but politics is one area where there are few elite. Obama is not an elitist and the false claims of Rush and his Nation are simply a smokescreen to keep the baa baa baa happy in the Bitter Hinterlands.

Don’t mistake us for supporting either McCain or Obama, neither is qualified to be the next president. Don’t think that we support the howling from the left either. This country’s elites from academia, the media, government, judiciary, religion and business have been waging war on freedom and on the Republic before the ink even dried on the Constitution.

No one in power currently deserves our support. No one.
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Fabius Maximus replies: What does is mean that Rush is an “elitist”? How do you this that he is one, and that Obama is not? My any usual meaning of the word, so were many great people in American history.

 Judasnoose, 15 August 2008

There is a simple way to maintain a “modern military,” but one that would ultimately destroy the state to save the nation.

Simply start training with firearms in grammar school. Require basic proficiency in military science for all high-school graduates. Require all college graduates to know enough chemistry to synthesize explosives. Make home arsenals more common than home computers. Be prepared to keep the policies in place despite a massive uptick in American-versus-American gun violence.

Of course, revolution and civil war would break out, because the USA is no longer a unified nation but rather a divided empire of subcultures. But there would a gun behind every blade of grass, and no one would dare to invade.

For the less bloodthirsty, an alternative would be to simply stop going “abroad in search of monsters to destroy” and focus the effort on healing America’s numerous subcultural divisions. That would mean a vastly diminished military, and a vastly decreased amount of foreign policy bribery. The US would have to shrink back into being a republic — it would be a loss of glory! God forbid that the US might no longer lead the world in military modernity!

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.
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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.

Judasnoose, 16 August 2008

“Reform efforts repeatedly failed in France’s Ancien Regime, leading to the bloody French Revolution and the dictatorship of Napoleon. Signing on to a program going in that direction by passivity does not seem wise…”

Refusing to work inside the system does not mean total passivity. There are also ways to work outside the system. Consider a Jane Q. Hypothetical, a Daughter of the American Revolution who decides it is impossible to work within the system.

  1. She could remain within US territory and arrange a high-publicity civil disobedience arrest;
  2. She could emigrate to Russia and set up a newspaper telling the world why America has gone wrong;
  3. She could emigrate to the Gaza Strip, and try to help Palestinians as a protest against US-Israel collusion;
  4. She could become a Quaker war correspondent, write for justworldnews.com, and get linked by Fabius;
  5. She could devote her life to spray-painting anarchist slogans in public places;
  6. etc.

Fabius Maximus replies: These conversations on this site are astonishing. It appears that are many folks who evidently consider the US a dictatorship like NAZI Germany, justifying the extreme steps you describe in these comments.

Folks will apparently go to great lengths to avoid real work, like organizing and working elections and the many simple steps that produce real change in societies. Comic book fantasies that you’ll never actually do are so much more fun.

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

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

14 thoughts on “Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity

  1. It’s hard to add anything to this sampling of sage comment. One common theme is the hollowness of the US electoral process. Candidates rely on image rather than policy; and once in office, mainly follow expediant party dictates. We all know that behind their stern manliness or concerned thoughtfulness, the script has already been written for them by the major donors and lobbyists.

    This is a Congress-wide phenomenon, a systemic warping, and it’s unrealistic to think that any single candidate (whom we might be excited by and “work for”)will change it. The system welcomes a few “radicals” (like Russ Feingold, or Henry Waxman) but makes sure their legislation or committee resolutions never get to the floor.

    I recommend a critical step for anyone interested in changing the system: go take a look at your county records of donors to recent political candidates. Find out who’s funding your local government. Then figure out how/if you can beat them. — running for office, petitioning, building citizens’ awareness. It’s too bad there are so few active labor unions. I dont think, in our atomized society, we will ever a better vehicle for demanding change.

  2. “Candidates rely on image rather than policy;”

    Well, merely packaged ad sold like every other consumer comodity, for example dish soap.
    The Mass wholesale advertising mentality and the ensuant shallowness largely permiates our culture.
    I have a member of my family who’s been emerced in the comercial advertising world most of his life, and am still frequently astonished by his take on complex issues, that attitude coming from that specific background.

    Losing a war ? Sure, just make a lot of comercials and generate publicty to the contrary. It’s as simple as that.

    “It’s too bad there are so few active labor unions.”

    There, I must part company. Sorry no sale, but that’s fine.

    Now back to your cave,,, Luv y’all. M

  3. 1. We ARE in this together — we all pay taxes. The greens have been failing to call for higher gas taxes, which would help push folks to change behavior, because gas taxes and high gas prices are unpopular.

    Few want to pay themselves for solutions they advocate. The basic problem is the voter desire for a “free lunch”. These DO exist, from the standpoint of eating without paying, but don’t completely exist, because somebody pays for it. Politics in economics is trying to vote for a free lunch for your group, to be paid for by some other group.

    2. Collectively we are strong ONLY when we agree. It’s easy to agree on what to be against (war, genocide, lies, poverty, dictatorship, the draft, etc.). What is hard is to agree on what to be in favor of, what is worth paying for? For instance, I probably agree with a lot of critique here, but disagree on policy.

    3. “Personal Responsibility” means … paying for oneself. It is the desire to force others to pay for one’s benefits that is the core problem.

    Voting ‘for one darn fool or the other’ is NOT going to make major change — all who want to do so should be voting for the “third party” of your choice: Libertarian, Green, Reform, Constitution, Peace & Freedom, whatever.
    When a third party gets more votes than the difference between the winning & losing Dem-Rep, the losing party will more likely change policy to absorb the most popular policy of that third party.

    Also, the active/ responsible/ caring folk should be … running for office in these third parties. Like I did: Libertarian for CA State Assembly, 1986; Lib for US Congress, 1988.
    “Winning” means changing the policy debates.

    It’s pretty silly to support ‘personal responsibility’ and vote Democratic, insofar as the Dems, on education, are consistently and strongly opposed to parents exercising parental responsibility and, thru vouchers (or tax credits), choosing which local school to send their children.

    The Free Market is the embodiment of democracy in a marketplace, where nobody’s single decision is decisive, yet the mass decisions are, on a daily basis.
    But no Freedom-based system can be much better than ones who do the choosing. Thus, voters get the gov’t they collectively deserve, as well as the products they are individually willing to pay for.

  4. In general I’m in agreement with Tom Grey until I get to his last paragraph. If you watch the marketplace day in and day out, you see it consistently make foolish short-sighted decisions that cause tremendous long-term problems such as the tech boom and the credit crunch.

    While I agree that we need something like the marketplace for democracy, we also need some tools to protect us from ourselves.

  5. I agree with Pluto — Tom Grey is right on until the last paragraph. There is no free-market of democracy, just as there is no real free market in the economy. Both spheres are heavily biased by the presence of large players (the military/industrial complex, IBM, ADM, Halliburton, Time-Warner, etc.) We must face the fact that we as individuals are very small, almost non-existant in this system, and the formal means of representation available to us are fixed in advance not to respond to us. Not quite like Kafka’s “Castle”, but getting close!

  6. “While I agree that we need something like the marketplace for democracy, we also need some tools to protect us from ourselves”

    Maybe, but any radical change might be to throw out the baby with the bath water. That is to say that if America can get away from the Imperial Presidency, curtail the lobbiests & the unwarranted influence of our favourite Mil. Congr. Ind. Thinktank & services sector, and get back to the fundementals of the Constitution, Declaration of Indpendence, and Bill Of Rights, it could get back on an even keel. That is to dream the impossible dream. M

  7. “Fabius Maximus replies: Future historians may conclude that the special genius of the 21st century American may be to develop high-sounding justifications for doing nothing”

    Agreed, The abrigation of personel responsibility and accountability throughout scociety, top to bottom, inside and out, throughout this era will be a favourite topic. That’s my prediction as well.

    ” and the internet over which to exchange whines. ”

    Works for me. M

  8. Fear and Politics

    I would like to look a little more closely at the apathy angle and our lack of participation.
    What is often labeled as apathy is, in many cases, fear.

    I’ve noticed over the years that even responding to a web-site posting often requires overcoming internal verbal messages indicating that such a posting is largely a waste of time or might somehow get one into trouble.

    We can all imagine the fear barrior that has to be overcome when contemplating taking the first steps in political involvement, yet it is these very first steps which often push people through the barrier of fear.

    It seem imperative that the link between fear and apathy be discussed in more detail. It also seems imperative to discuss how our culture tends to intimidate us into silence.

  9. “or might somehow get one into trouble.”

    You can probably bet you’re farm that the department of Homeland security monitors this, amoung all blogs. MaX
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I consider that very unlikely.

    Looking just at WordPress, one of the many blogging sites: it has 3,842,005 blogs which have made 133,964 new posts so far today. They probably have software looking for key words and phrases, few of which I suspect appear on this site.

  10. The DHS may well have enough equipment to monitor 4 million blogs. It certainly doesn’t have 4 million people to look at them. So smile, even if you are on candid camera, there is nobody watching it. The film will rot away on a shelf in some dusty warehouse.

  11. I’ve said it several times before on this blog, and I will say it again. There are solutions to the many problems plaguing the west, but popular apathy prevents people from doing anything much about it.

    FM is right. I live in Australia, and the machinations of government here are not too dissimilar from the US. Governments here as they do elsewhere, take extraordinary liberties that are difficult to speak up against, because you are subject to government and media propaganda.

    We have a lot less religion in politics, and right wing US politics can be regarded with a sense of embarressment. We are probably not as left leaning as Canada, and even less than New Zealand. I would suspect that most Australians are probably actually Centrists (I would consider myself a centrist, or centre right), just that they have never heard of the term, and are therefore accustomed to associating with either left leaning or right leaning parties.

    It happens like this: You have a realisation that something is wrong with the direction of the country, you analyse the problem, do some research and understand that there needs to be some sort of reform. The problem is that you look around and realise that noone is particulary interested about doing anything. Eventually you turn to blogs like this to speak to like minded individuals and get ideas.

    But it is like anything and it takes effort, and it demands sacrifice. Do you expect to loose weight by still eating junk food and not exercising? You have to make sactifices, eat fruit and generally eat healthy. You need to spend a few hundred dollars and get a mountain bike, and run yourself until you can’t go any further. You have to stick to a regimen, and it will take months, a lot of pain and hard work, but those kilos will come off. You wont get fit by sitting on your backside drinking beer and playing Halo3 on Xbox live.

    You don’t like your job? Over worked and under paid you say? the work is boring … it doesn’t keep you interested. You need challenge. Hate your boss? Other people are getting the promotions… So are you just going to sit there or are you going to grit your teeth and bear it whilst you apply and keep applying for something else until you get something better. Send out those applications to all the adverts for new positions that you fancy. Send out cold call letters to companies that you think you would like to work for. Even do it the old fashioned way and turn up in person and ask if theres anything going.

    The point of this rant, is that if you want something bad enough you will do pretty much anything to get it. If youre angry with government, then the first step to getting it changed is to stand up and be counted.

    Either work within a current party to reform it by doing as FM said, rallying support etc, or set up another party to fix the mess. Judging by the number of people that don’t vote in the states suggest theres an unmet demand for a new party to enter the political fray.

  12. The sort of government you have is a reflection of your willingness to change it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I strongly agree!

  13. To CELEBAU & FM : if only those sheep living in the region where I’m staying have the cajones to DO SOMETHING.

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