Democracy, a photo essay

From Despair, Inc.  But this poster is no cause for despair.  It’s just life.  A reminder that we are all in this together.


How did America get to our present situation?  What can we do to fix it?  The many posts on the FM site about Reforming America (see below) unfortunately provide few (if any answers).  The discussion in the comments are often far longer — and more interesting — than the posts themselves.  Often heated, the different views clash discordently.

Another perspective on the situation

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
— James Bovard’s 1994 book Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (in the Conclusion, page 333)

An improved version:

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.

At some point it will come down to a collective decision.  Do we choose to be sheep?  Or not?

Below are posts on the FM site about reforming America.


  1. About the Constitution and our government
  2. About the American spirit, the American soul
  3. A look at America’s past and present
  4. A look at America’s future
  5. A look at American politics
  6. America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop)
  7. Some solutions, ways to reform America

1.  About the Constitution and our government

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. The Constitution: wonderful, if we can keep it, 15 February 2008
  3. Congress shows us how our new government works, 14 April 2008
  4. See the last glimmers of the Constitution’s life…, 27 June 2008
  5. Remembering what we have lost… thoughts while looking at the embers of the Constitution, 29 June 2008
  6. A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
  7. Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008
  8. What comes after the Consitution? Can we see the outlines of the “Mark 3″ version?, 10 November 2008
  9. Are Americans still willing to bear the burden of self-government?, 27 March 2009
  10. “Lights, Camera, Democracy” by Lewis Lapham, 24 May 2009
  11. “The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living, but dead.” – Supreme Court Justice Scalia, 9 June 2009

2.  About the American spirit, the American soul

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
  2. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
  3. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  4. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  5. A philosphical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  6. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  7. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  8. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008
  9. Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture, 5 November 2008
  10. All we have to fear is our optimism, 12 November 2008
  11. The corruption of a nation is usually hidden, but sometimes becomes visible, 21 November 2008
  12. The war for America’s soul, 23 December 2008 — Our changing attitudes to “It’s a Wonderful Life”
  13. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008
  14. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009
  15. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009
  16. Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009
  17. Are we citizens? Or peasants?, 21 May 2009
  18. A famous guest speaker visits the FM site to tell us that we are not weak — we are strong, 8 June 2008
  19. A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009
  20. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009

3.  A look at America’s past and present

  1. An important thing to remember as we start a New Year, 29 December 2008
  2. American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties, 18 May 2008
  3. Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?, 6 June 2008
  4. Does America need a charismatic President?, 15 July 2008
  5. More about charisma, by Don Vandergriff…(#2 in the “getting ready for Obama” series), 16 July 2008
  6. A must-read for every American citizen: “The Fannie Mae Gang”, 25 July 2008
  7. Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?, 29 July 2008
  8. General Franks and Max Boot provide a valuable insight for all Americans, 13 August 2008
  9. The World’s biggest mess, 22 August 2008
  10. “Elegy for a rubber stamp”, by Lewis Lapham, 26 August 2008
  11. What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
  12. What to do? Advice for the new President, part two.“, 18 October 2008
  13. Dr. Gulliver explains why America has become so fearful of the future, 23 October 2008
  14. A sad picture of America, but important for us to understand, 3 November 2008 — Our low social mobility.
  15. “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008
  16. Quote of the day, by P. J. O’Rouke, 19 December 2008
  17. Inequality in the USA, 7 January 2009
  18. Does this economic crisis make the State stronger – or is it another step in the decline of the state?, 16 January 2009
  19. America passes a milestone!, 20 January 2009 — More working in government than manufacturing plus construction.
  20. America reaches a tipping point as Washington becomes its heart and soul, 29 January 2009
  21. Observations about America by Lewis Lapham, 8 March 2009
  22. A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2008

4.  A look at America’s future

  1. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part I), 11 July 2006
  2. The Future of America – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 2), 17 July 2008
  3. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 3), 17 July 2006
  4. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 4), 17 July 2006
  5. Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008
  6. A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
  7. The transition between Imperial reigns: what will it mean for America?, 16 December 2008
  8. America reaches a tipping point as Washington becomes its heart and soul, 29 January 2009
  9. A look at America’s future – grim unless we get smart and pull together, 12 March 2009
  10. “American capitalism gone with a whimper“ by Stanislav Mishin, 30 May 2009

5.  A look at American politics

6.  America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop)

  1. News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
  2. The two tracks of discussion about the Iraq War, never intersecting, 10 November 2007
  3. Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
  4. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008
  5. What do blogs do for America?, 26 February 2008
  6. Everything written about the economic crisis overlooks its true nature, 24 February 2009
  7. The housing crisis allows America to look in the mirror. What do we see?, 8 March 2009
  8. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  9. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
  10. We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009
  11. The decay of our government, visible for all to see, 3 June 2009
  12. A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
  13. Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009

7.  Some solutions, ways to reform America

  1. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  2. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008
  3. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  4. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  5. Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  6. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  7. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
  8. What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
  9. What to do? Advice for the new President, part two., 18 October 2008
  10. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  11. The first step on the road to America’s reform, 29 May 2009

20 thoughts on “Democracy, a photo essay”

  1. In his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton recently made me aware of an article from The Economist describing the absurdity of the registry of “sex offenders” in the United States. What has this to do with the concerns of Fabius Maximus? I discern two important points:

    1. This is a clear example of the faulty decision-making process (what Fabius Maximus calls our broken OODA loop) in American politics. Were our nation a person under psychiatric observation, our defective reality testing would provide ample cause to diagnose dementia.

    2. Here is a demonstration of what a red herring is the common belief that our political failures result from the disproportionate influence of ”special interests.” Special interests merely fill a power vacuum: when there are no “special interests” at the helm, no one is steering at all. We have no effective mechanism in place for making intelligent, informed decisions in the absence of the self-serving dictates of our masters.

    The great American delusion is that democracy is an accomplished fact. It is not. It is a work in progress, and no one has yet solved its fundamental problems. It is a house with three walls and no roof; and only when a critical mass of the people understand that there is much more serious work to be done can we hope to build a durable shelter from the storm.

    I do not counsel despair, but neither do I encourage smug self-satisfaction. I do not know the answer, nor have seen evidence that anyone does. That does not mean we cannot learn, if we can first admit our ignorance.
    Fabius Maximus: Thank you for posting this great comment. Also, I agree that our laws about sexual behavior are to a large extent irrational — perhaps unavoidable for a society whose moral codes are in the midst of such a massive revolution. But the human cost paid is high — for example, by men with lives unjustly ruined by our legal system.

  2. @ Coises, “We have no effective mechanism in place for making intelligent, informed decisions in the absence of the self-serving dictates of our masters.”

    Au contraire, mon fraire. Markets, if truly free, are remarkable information systems that give immediate indication on the value that people place on just about everything, including ideas. The hidden assumption of your comment is that someone, somewhere must make “intelligent, informed decisions” for the rest of us or we are lost.

    Nonsense. The brilliance of Liberty is that the government functions mainly to enforce contracts between free people and protect the rights of those people, and people vote with their wallets, so to speak. This is the truest form of democracy. But a government that dispenses favors instead of justice becomes a menace to its citizens, and is no longer their servant.

    The American Republic worked pretty well under a federalist model before the politicians discovered that they could print money. Audit the Fed!

  3. FM: “At some point it will come down to a collective decision. Do we choose to be sheep? Or not?

    Fabius, my belief is that so many people in America are sheltered from the cold, hard facts of reality and life, by the afluence built for them by previous generations, that only a dramatic shock will snap (some of)them out of their denial, ignorance, and enui. I do not know what that shock will be, simply note that no lasting or real changes will occur in the system until the vast numbers of disconnnected, apathetic voters are compelled to engage in the political process, be it through civil disobedience, strikes, a new third party, or whatever. What will compell them? If enough people lose their jobs, if hyperinflation cripples us, if the house of cards of debt we live in suddenly colapses, or perhaps some geopolitical event – open warfare in Mexico crossing over into the SW USA. Who knows? Whatever the provocative event is, it will be severe enough to effect many citizens at the personal level, where they feel it, and not simply someone down the street, or otherwise distant to them.

    FM, many of us feel as sheep in the sense we see limited options for affecting change in national or state politics. I have spoken to a dozen people or so recently, all of whom profess profound frustration with Washington, but say they don’t know what to do about it, except write letters, place phone calls and send e-mails, those sort of things.

    What other tools are in this toolbox of citizens affecting change?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I cannot imagine why people consider such things as letters and emails as anything other than therapy. We hold elections every two years. People can get involved in a thousand ways. Running for office (ever school boards and such weild real power). Organizing. Helping candidates with your time and money. Collectively these are more than sufficiently powerful tools.

  4. This is a stunning archive of relevant and challenging comments on our contemporary situation. Congratulations to the captain!

    FM will accuse me of being defeatest or determinist for saying this, but there is not one article in the whole list on America’s power structure. There IS a power structure, and it is not limited to the theatrical shouting matches between the two parties in Congress. The power structure reveals itself in the control of former Goldman Sachs executives over the Treasury; the control of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries over the framing of health care reform; the control of money from many sources over Congress, and so on.

    Since the people, that agency that FM singles out most often for failing to fulfill their duties as citizens, are dependent on the power structure for their livelihoods, and aren’t likely to challenge their employers (especially since organized laboris now thoroughly defanged or coopted), the most likely place to look challenges to the system is the emerging ranks of unemployed, uninsured, and soon to lose their homes.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You must be kidding. There is nothing about America’s power structure other than thousands of mentions about its dynamics and effects, other than discussion of the means to change it. Afterwards taxidermists can study it at their leisure.

    As for your last paragraph, do you believe there will be massing firings of American workers due to their activity in elections? If so, I think you are just concocting another fictional excuse for inaction.

  5. Bravo Pete (#3). We will know that the country has resumed its engagement with our permanent challenge, keeping the Republic alive, when there are a hundred sites or a hundred x 100 even approaching this site. None of us know where this country is heading except it is becoming clear that more and more of those who dropped out of political life are becoming aroused. So much depends on accident and incident. What if Lincoln had lived? If FDR had not run for a third term? If America had chosen not to confront the Soviet Union, instead engaged with China in 1948? (I am not suggesting we SHOULD have.) Living under the threat of nuclear holocaust and the reality that mass murder is again in the political toolbox (There is only one lesson to be learned from the Shoah: IT WORKS.),human populations are growing at rates that simply undermine all understanding of its consequence. Pessimism is strong in America, growing strongly since Vietnam. Our degraded popular culture, promoting drugs and promiscuity, reflects this. (This is not a message for abstinence of any kind but the simple statement of Stoic principle.) It is early days, everyone keep reading and screaming. There is sadly no other way forward. Again,my deep thanks to you F.M.

  6. the most likely place to look challenges to the system is the emerging ranks of unemployed, uninsured, and soon to lose their homes.

    I’ve often thought that change will come after some outraged young law professor – somewhat spontaneously and without having given the matter enormous thought – posts his 95 theses on the courthouse door.

    Then change will come – and it will be precipitous.

  7. Good thought, Duncan! The problem with waiting for the truly miserable to rebel is that they are just as likely to rebel in a totalitarian/Peronist direction as a democratic one. The problem with the law professor is that he/she is unlikely to radically challenge the system that pays him. John Dean (former Nixon counsel) and Chalmers Johnson (political science professor who defended the Vietnam war) are exceptions to the generality, but they both waited until retirement, and generally their critiques stay within the existing system.

  8. Arms Merchant:

    Markets, if truly free, are remarkable information systems that give immediate indication on the value that people place on just about everything, including ideas.

    I agree that well-functioning markets are wonderful things, and that when available and applicable they are virtually always the best means of decision-making, though I contend that a strictly free market is no guarantee against market failure severe enough to make it less desirable than a controlled or regulated market. That a market approaches its theoretical benefits in practice must be an empirical conclusion, not a formal one.

    Yet not every question can be resolved by any market. A market cannot decide whether to identify driving while intoxicated by blood alcohol content (and what content) or by field sobriety tests — or whether to subsume it under “reckless endangerment” rather than make it a unique offence. A market cannot resolve the problems described in the article I cited from The Economist, America’s unjust sex laws. A market cannot determine whether and how government should intervene to redress market failures (such as the externalities imposed by air pollution from fossil fuels).

    Properly qualified, my statement should have been, “We have no effective mechanism in place for making intelligent, informed collective decisions regarding problems which are not aptly addressed by a superposition of independent, individual decisions motivated by rational self-interest.”

    The hidden assumption of your comment is that someone, somewhere must make “intelligent, informed decisions” for the rest of us or we are lost.

    I make no such assumption. My observation is that our collective decisions are either usurped by special interests, or else they have no coherent relationship to reality at all; from this I conclude that our collective decision-making process is dysfunctional. In fact, my second point was precisely that the reason “someone, somewhere” so often manages to hijack the decision-making process is that the system by which “the will of the people” is theoretically brought forth is so deeply inadequate to the task.

  9. The problem with the law professor is that he/she is unlikely to radically challenge the system that pays him.

    I was making a reference to some later day Martin Luther. ( A law professor being somewhat a modern equivalent. A courthouse being somewhat the equivalent of a cathedral, where Luther posted his theses.).

    It’s pretty well agreed that Luther had no intention and no idea to launch the Reformation when he posted his theses. That incident was just a spark that ignited things both for him individually and an Europe collectively.

    It was not a matter of conscious choice but rather of the collective unconscious.

  10. Crackpot claims for the alleged glories of the laissez faire free market, which worked so well for us on Wall Street in 2008 and for Long Term Capital Management in the late 1990s and giant investment banks like Lehman Brothers and with Enron and the real estate market and Bernie Madoff’s ponzi schemes, show that the kooks remain firmly in charge in American society. The Sarah Palin crowd and Joe the Plumber continue to guide destiny. The recent global financial meltdown has taught us nothing. Only that we need to strip away more regulation from the financial markets, that we need even less oversight. Keep those markets free, free, FREE!


    A perfect example of the demented mindset dissected in Douglas Rushkoff’s article Economics Is Not A Natural Science.

  11. I still think the idea of a trial by jury system for decision making , has some merit .
    The Prosecutor could be the gov . The Defender ( of the status quo ) – I imagine there would be a number of lawyers or barristers who liked challenging the establishment , who would be prepared to offer their services for free .
    The submissions to court could be limited to , say , 12 ( expert )witnesses on each side ; prosecutor , defender or witness , only allowed to present one normal font ,single side A4 piece of evidence and be given 10 mins cross examination . The jury could ask short questions or for further witnesses . New evidence could come up in the course of the trial , or some jurors be lost , without having to restart .
    Jurors should be selected from anyone who knew which day of the year it was , over age of 18 , with no upper age limit . The self employed should be given sufficient compensation to attend , if picked , that they need not opt out .
    If you take example of the Iraq Invasion : if the Defence had summoned the boss of Jane’s Reviews , and whats his name ( Barracuda ? from the inspection agency ) , and someone from the Audit Office re Costs , Blair’s lies would have been exposed , and its very unlikely our gov would have got the green light to invade. And if the jury had voted Yes , by that time it would have been March 2008 , and a bit too late to bother getting dressed up and invading .

  12. # 10 makes a powerful point. Social science died a very long time ago, quietly replaced by sociology which has died a slow death as it morphed into several domains, including “social psychology” where clever sadists created some interesting experiments that provide fodder for anthropologists not the profound insights claimed for them. Political economy as it was known in the 19th century became economics as a result of the Russian Revolution. The disastrous Versailles Treaty promoted the demand for deeper and more careful analysis of consequence but even Keynes made no claims for “science”. There are many domains of science, for example, medical sciences which do not have the rigor of the King and Queen — particle physics and physical chemistry — but which retain methodologies and techniques that permit replication etc. Economics as we all know is founded on a black box — money or even gold which have only transactional value, what we give it, nothing absolute. But it is going to take a few more rounds of disaster before we offload economics as science.

  13. Re #10:

    Why do so many liberals confuse advocating more freedom of exchange with defense of crony corporatism? Rushkoff’s main point seems to be that artificial scarcity of currency, a holdover from feudalism, drives economic theory today toward a particularly unhealthy vector.

    Look, you’ll get no argument from me on that. At this time the federal government is picking the winners and losers through massive interference in the economy. I say it’s better that the people vote with their wallets for who they think should be the winners and losers. Freedom of currency would be a good step toward that (and we may very well see it when the dollar collapses). I’ll say it again: Audit the Fed!

  14. Here’s a good primer with regards to the structure of power in America, in answer to senecal’s #4 query: “The Four Networks Theory of Power: A Theoretical Home for Power Structure Research“, G. William Domhoff (Prof Sociology, USC Santa Cruz), posted at his website Who Rules America, April 2005.

    Most refreshing in that it enables a view of power where political machinations are put into context/reference to the other networks that wield the real power. The Great Satan of big government from this analysis is at best a fool hardy hapless bag man – which seems to be the case more evidently everyday.

  15. Thanks,am. I can use a refresher on Domhoff. Power structure was an awkward word choice on my part. I was trying to avoid seeming to blame the usual suspects –big business and finance — which always pushes FM’s buttons. But truly, what can a citizen do, within the existing system of representative government, which is wholly owned by the plutocracy?

    an @ #11: I’m a little unsure but I think you’re suggesting something like a citizens court. Cool idea! As in criminal trials, the jurors would have to be isolated from any contact with the media.

  16. Re 15 : I dont think the jurors could be isolated from the media . We dont isolate Presidents or top Civil Servants from the media . Take something like your healthcare debate ,or the bank bailout . “These things are too complex for ordinary proles to understand ”
    I disagree. If they cant be understood in a reasonable time frame they probably dont make sense : the Emperor has no clothes .
    By including older people , and not allowing selfemployed and ” indispensable” people to opt out , the experience quotient of juries would increase.
    The adversarial nature of a court sets the jurors in a mind to seek out bias .
    The seriousness , and potential impact on themselves , of the issues would make most jurors treat the presentations seriously .
    There could be an issue with jurors being intimidated or nobbled. But isnt this already a huge issue for politicians ? Jurors at leat would be anonymous until the trial started , so couldnt be groomed in advance .

  17. If the US President is said to be the most powerful person in the world , each citizen , potentially pickable for a jury decision system might be the most powerful person in the world. So if you were a doctor treating a homeless drunk , you would perhaps do everything to ensure he was rehabilitated .If you were a teacher with an angry vandal of a kid , you would sweat blood to educate them .
    Or would the doc bump off the drunk , and the teacher drip feed the kid with sweeties ?

  18. “I dont think the jurors could be isolated from the media . We dont isolate Presidents or top Civil Servants from the media” (#16)

    Unfortunately, then, the NYT will control the debate.

  19. Don’t forget that the constitution explicitly grants congress the right to regulate commerce. Regulation isn’t intrinsically good or bad, it depends on what it is. Do you like getting uncontaminated meat at the super market? Do you like that your car doesn’t explode when you get rear ended?

    Sure, most actors in the market want to sell you safe products and they regulate themselves. But people are weak and fallible. They succumb to pressure. Like this guy. You could say that eventually the market would correct itself – at what cost?

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