Monday, September 10, 2012

It’s the System, Stupid!

[This article originally appeared on the blog on July 24, 2012]

Canada’s living journalistic icon Rex Murphy recently penned a characteristically blunt castigation of the present crop of political figures in this country. Yet, Mr. Murphy’s enduring career at Canada’s public broadcaster suggests that he has failed to stay completely true to the morals he seems to expound when wagging his righteous finger. Indeed, this veteran of political punditry, like the politicians he pours scorn on, is equally guilty of that all too prevalent abusive argument by the use of the fallacy of omission.

After listing just a sample of reasons why the Canadian public has rightly grown weary of its political class, Murphy offers a solution.
For a ploy of this magnitude, Dalton McGuinty and his energy minister should resign. But such gestures — resignation in the wake of incompetence, trickery, waste or deep mismanagement — belong to a time when politics had a noble status, public life retained a vestige of honour and politicians actually had an organ of conscience that occasionally allowed them to register real emotions of honest shame.
A reader’s comment quickly catches Murphy’s fallacy. A reader signed “bob klinck” rightly points out that
[t]he phrase “a time when politics had a noble status” needs more precise definition.  Just when was that Golden Age?  While occasionally the electorate’s hopes have been re-animated by a fresh face, the ultimate result for decades, centuries even, has been “throw the bums out”.
To be sure, we are taught in public schools of the noble politician-statesmen of old, the white headed father-figures who looked out for the state of their posterity, the Bismarcks, the John A. MacDonalds, the Honest Abes, the Charles de Gaulles[1]. Yet, an independent inquiry into the historical facts of any given political regime boils down to nearly the same flaws of corruption, cronyism and forceful coercion of the unwilling masses to partake in actions more or less detrimental to them. Democracy manifested by the rule of a minority elected by a supposed majority vote has not changed this fact.

A patient examination of society, the sort that has become verboten for fear of being labeled a “fringe element,” will show that the concept of rule by the people (democracy) has been bastardized and completely turned on its head. The important omission made by Murphy when he speaks of the “time when politics had a noble status” lies in the fact that he fails to acknowledge that victors write the official history, and official history is what is taught in schools and propagated through the public media. Likewise Murphy omits to point out that by its nature all government is incompetence, trickery, waste or deep mismanagement. Another important omission by Murphy and his ilk is in that when they talk about “us,” they bundle the entire population of a country in this all encompassing language without giving regard to the dissenters. For if we talk about government by the people, we must ask: Are those who disagree with the opinion of the omnipotent politician, bureaucrat or the members of the “majority” who put them there, not to be considered people? Are they a lower class whose wants, needs, desires and opinions are to be equated to some sub-human form? It is an unfortunate development that democracy has come to be a tyranny by majority vote, especially in light of the fact that throughout history majorities have displayed a tragic lack of wisdom. Here we ought to remind ourselves that majorities believed that the Earth was flat and persecuted those who refuted that belief, majorities organized witch hunts, majorities elected Hitler and supported his atrocities. So why are we forced to accept the majority as the ultimate arbiter? If we are to speak of democracy as a government by the people in any proper sense, then it must be a system of governance by each person. In other words, we are to speak of self-governance and an absolute respect for personal property as an extension of the person. Government elected by majority is government of some people for some (not necessarily same) people.

It is a logical contradiction to speak of politics as a noble occupation. This I say not because of the personal disdain I hold for politicians, rather because of the nature of the political system. Politicians seek the votes of diverse populations, which force them to shift their ideals as necessitated by the small group being addressed at the time. The “Etch-a-sketch” example given by a Romney campaign officer proves this point. In the search for a common denominator, politicians exploit that which is present in practically every person: profit seeking. Thus they promise impossible gains like “free” healthcare, “free” education, “government” guaranteed loans, more welfare, etc. What sort of nobility is to be expected out of contestants in popularity contests where the prize is unlimited power and the ability to enrich oneself beyond belief at the expense of others?

What is to hold these power seekers to resist the temptation of power and to hold themselves accountable? Why should an office holder not exercise his lawfully given immunity? No reasonable answer lends itself to these questions. There can scarcely be an idea more naïve than that of the responsible politician, for there is nothing to force office holders to be responsible guardians of the state. While history shows some statesmen ending their careers in front of the firing squad, they are the few and far between. At the same time, while the firing squad momentarily relieves public anger, it does not reverse the policies undertaken by the deposed statesman. Further, in modern Western societies, the most a statesman-politician stands to lose is an election. We are told that ousting a politician from office causes injury to his dignity, public standing and self respect. However, it can be observed that the rules that apply to these feelings within the state of mind of the politician vastly differ to those of the common citizen: once the statesman-politician exposes himself to the public in such profane fashion as he does, he becomes bound not by the social mores that govern the common voter, but by those that command the common whore (which is to be distinguished from the honest and honourable profession of prostitution).

In what can be seen as an anticipation of FA Hayek’s chapter on why the worst get on top in a democratic society from his legendary The Road to Serfdom, Arthur Schopenhauer gives an honest depiction of the character of the man whose “object is success in political life, where favour, friends and connections are all-important, in order to mount by their aid step by step on the ladder of promotion, and perhaps gain the topmost rung.” Unsurprisingly, the sharp intellect of Schopenhauer cuts much clearer than Murphy’s apologia. Schopenhauer evades any omissions when considering the nature of politics when he says:
In this kind of life, it is much better to be cast upon the world without a penny; and if the aspirant is not of noble family, but is a man of some talent, it will redound to his advantage to be an absolute pauper. For what every one [sic.] most aims at in ordinary contact with his fellows is to prove them inferior to himself; and how much more is this the case in politics. Now, it is only an absolute pauper who has such a thorough conviction of his own complete, profound and positive inferiority from every point of view, of his own utter insignificance and worthlessness, that he can take his place quietly in the political machine. He is the only one who can keep on bowing low enough, and even go right down upon his face if necessary; he alone can submit to everything and laugh at it; he alone knows the entire worthlessness of merit; he alone uses his loudest voice and his boldest type whenever he has to speak or write of those who are placed over his head, or occupy any position of influence; and if they do a little scribbling, he is ready to applaud it as a masterwork. He alone understands how to beg, and so betimes, when he is hardly out of his boyhood, he becomes a high priest of that hidden mystery which Goethe brings to light. (On the Wisdom of Life; Chapter III. PROPERTY, OR WHAT A MAN HAS.)
Hayek understood that the system is to blame for the proliferation of the lowest of the low. What both these great men failed to see, however, is that the system makes tyrants even out of noble persons. A tyrant is a tyrant, whether it’s Harper over a country like Canada, McGuinty over a former “have” province like Ontario, Ford over a metropolis like Toronto, McMillan over a backwater town like St. Catharines, or the local councilor over his ward. It is the fact that once elected these persons are de facto granted unlimited power. A point missed is that a politician of the “Right” will inevitably be a tyrant to a person of the “Left,” and vice versa, simply because the one has one vision, while the other a different one, and a compromise that cuts down the middle is no solution. It represents only a smaller tyranny to the one person, but greater tyranny to the other. The comparison of political with commercial compromise where two parties spilt the difference in valuation of a good in order to make a deal is improper. In commercial dealings the parties negotiate over specific goods which they own and specific amounts of them. The fact that they agree to a common valuation means that both parties are satisfied with it or they would not have come to the agreement. Political dealings treat aggregates of goods that the politicians do not own. The people whose lives are affected by the compromise have no say in the ultimate decision, thus their satisfaction with the outcome cannot be, and is not measured.

Furthermore, unlike commerce, where the maxim “The customer is always right” rules—and therefore each merchant’s mission is satisfying his potential buyer, politics is ruled by words. Politicians sell broad visions of “cities on a hill,” “sustainable ecosystems,” “better tomorrows,” and other catchphrases that ignite the voter’s imagination and let him define them his own way. Our own James E. Miller recently wrote quite ably about this issue.
The most influential men of history were important precisely because they used words to effectively communicate their ideals.  The masses won’t adopt an idea if they are unable to comprehend its full meaning.  Governments are never toppled by force but by the ideas that spark the flames of liberty.
Comprehending the concept of human action as purposeful behavior takes reading a number of volumes of history and logical reasoning. Understanding the concept and origin of money or the history of money and banking, likewise, require long hours of study and research. The concept of liberty is often broadly defined. Worse still, bondage is depicted only with a ball and chain—not as it is: the banning of non-aggressive actions and interactions. The concepts of a “living wage” and a “better future” leave it to each person to make of it what his mind can conjure up. No effort, no study is necessary to achieve that, as most people are hopelessly ignorant of their ignorance. Indeed, it takes knowledge to get a glimpse of one’s own lack of it. Thus, the Rex Murphys of the world can speak of a time that never was to an audience ignorant of the fact. In doing so, they perpetuate the chimera of the good politician—usually a man of the official Left—who is out there somewhere, but is either not seen by his peers, or if elected is blocked in his noble efforts by those irreparably bad politicians—usually men of what is called the Right. (The fallacy of this dichotomy was dealt with by Herbert Spencer in “The New Torries.”) For these reasons the candidate propagating prudence and realism has no place in politics.

Mr. Murphy speaks of noble politicians with a straight face because the vast majorities of the population never bother to consider the question “Whose interests do politicians serve?” It is widely understood that politicians serve that poorly defined body referred to as “the public;” yet in earnest, the delegates, the members of the various assemblies, once elected, do not steward the platform of the citizen who voted for them, nor of the one who did not: the elected representatives find themselves subservient to the interests of the political party to whose caucuses they belongs; the political party’s sole interest being gaining power. In order to achieve their goals politicians must create wedges in the population in order to pull on irrational emotional strings of the voters. Reason must take precedence: how are statesmen-politicians to be trusted to make useful policies for their constituencies when their preeminent goals are to further their own employment. This they cannot accomplish by means of peace, prosperity and harmony; for, the statesmen-politicians’ interests are their own welfare, rather than ensuring that they create the conditions for a fair and free competition among their constituents and thus leaving it to them to produce the best arrangements for themselves as they see them fit. After all, when each citizen is given an opportunity to seek out his own best interest, it is foolish to expect some opinion-poll driven, career politician who never in his life held a real job, living in a bubble with his comrades, to know what is really best for every single member of body politic.

When taking the above into consideration, only one logically consistent solution that presents itself. It is nothing more than the filling of the gap that Mr. Murphy leaves when he demands the resignations of some public office holders and bureaucrats. The solution is the demanding and actuation of the resignations of all public office holders and bureaucrats and the abolition of the collectivistic system. For no matter their personal qualities, the system makes them all lousy servants to society.

Now, our problem is that this article will be read by a dozen or so people, who already have come to most of the conclusions of it prior to reading it. These few understand that the political system as is, is curtailing their potentials; they ask themselves “Who drinks my milkshake?!” The masses, they drink the statist cool-aid and ask for more. They dare not pose any uncomfortable questions for fear of rocking the boat and losing what they have.

[1]I often get asked by Westerners how it is that I have no respect for the murderous dictator of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito, when the “noble man” built roads and bridges for people.

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