True Democracy is at Hand
Beneath the corporate scheming and political paralysis, a rebellion stirs. Empowered by an age of decentralized communication, everyday people are wielding power unseen in the history of mankind. Whether that power can be harnessed for a common good has yet to be seen.
With the storming of the Capitol, one thing was made clear — even in the most affluent of countries, people are seeking change. While most Americans don’t share the goals and aims of those who participated in that event, they do share the frustration.
Yet as heinous as the attack was, it represents the new future of Democracy.
The extremist populism that drove the charge didn’t evolve in a vacuum. Nor did it begin with Donald Trump. You can trace the origins back to the ’08 financial crisis which boosted the efforts of the Tea Party movement and spawned Occupy Wall Street. Discontent had been brewing for decades prior due to ineffective, stagnant governance, but the crash provided the catalyst.
The Tea Party has its roots in Ron Paul’s failed presidential bid of 2008. But by 2009, the movement had been co-opted by the Koch Brothers, and the original small-government, free-market principles were twisted into one of corporate slavery and personal greed. As this tide washed through Republican ranks, extremists of all stripes glommed on to ride the new wave.
Simultaneously, the Occupy movement rose to worldwide prominence.
Being so near the action has led us to forget the significance of this timing. Populist movements fueled by financial discontent, driven by social media and decentralized communication, spelled trouble for the establishment. A fracturing of the establishment duopoly.
By the time Trump ran for office in 2016, the Tea Party had hollowed out the Republicans. The Koch’s big money donor campaign backing the initially grassroots effort had mutated. In order to rattle the establishment, these corporate darlings had stitched together a wide swath of fringe groups already being courted by Republicans in a frantic pursuit of party unity.
That same election, the DNC famously spurned the Bernie Sanders movement, a direct offshoot of Occupy. Seeing the chaos leveled on Republicans trying to contain their own fringe voters, Democrats wanted nothing to do with populism. They instead advanced their establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.
As we all know, they lost.
Democracy, populism, won. Or did it? Four years later, we’re back to looking at the establishment as our savior.
Never mind the hot mess of one side of the duopoly bubbling in the background. A party we’ve sorted half of America into through gerrymandering, sensationalist news, and ever divisive all-or-nothing rhetoric. Who cares. Let the other half die. One side can rule through executive fiat and complete control of all branches. We’ll somehow pull through if only we just keep voting down party lines.
That’s Democracy, right? Or is there a different way?
Although the internet has been around for several decades, we’re just now witnessing the power of decentralized and worldwide communications. Likely this delay involves saturation and accessibility alongside the meteoric rise of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
One can’t dismiss either the personality-sorting algorithms which connect people and groups on these platforms. Bringing together like-minded people both for the good and ill of society.
But what is the good? This is the question we will struggle with most as the opportunity for a truly decentralized and pure Democracy unfolds.
Groups of individual investors empowered by online communications are currently launching an assault on Wall Street. They’re buying up stocks from companies on the brink of collapse. These stocks, already shorted heavily by Wall Street power players, then soar in value. This rise forces anyone who shorted (betting the price would drop further) to cover those shorts, essentially forcing them to buy the stock before they lose too much money. This sends the price spiraling even higher.
Through this “short squeeze,” the little guy is stealing from the rich. Nothing illegal. No collusion here. Just individuals bantering about stocks online. They can’t help it that this talk is in the public forum before the eyes of thousands of other individual investors.
That’s free speech. Democracy, winning.
Those actions though will destabilize the entire market if allowed to go unchecked. And whether or if to regulate these trades is the topic of heated debate.
But you can’t stop this tide, an extension of changes already long in motion, spanning back a full decade.
In this time, we’ve already seen media empires disrupted by the decentralization of publishing and media production. Banks will come next as cryptocurrency ledger mechanics prove them obsolete. The assault on the stock market is a precursor.
The same decentralization will impact energy. More and more homes will place panels on their roofs and turbines in their yards cutting out the massive power companies entirely. Those legacy power suppliers will, of course, fight this change. Already they’re lobbying to prevent adding wiring for solar and EV charging stations to new-home building codes. As the oil industry “commits to green energy” for more than a PR stunt, we might see laws proposed that limit how individual citizens can use or install renewables, much like some communities have outlawed personal water collection while selling the rights to billions of gallons of public water to bottling companies.
On social media, we’ve seen the same pushback. While those platforms have become a breeding ground for hate (and even helped promote genocide in one case), the technology has also allowed for the coordination of truly laudable resistance and revolution.
Where these advances always fail is the blind corporate control that prioritizes profit above social worth. Solutions abound, but most have been labeled as “anti-American”. But socialism! But communism! These are the rallying cry of the defenders of freedom.
But a true democracy that treats everyone fairly and equally is not socialist or communist. And that democracy is coming.
What needs to be understood is that by prioritizing profit, we devalue the individuals meant to control a democratic government. They become less than human. They become not a consumer, but a resource to be consumed. Social Media devours your privacy for their profit. Private prisons are incentivized to create and criminals, the more the better, not rehabilitate and reduce numbers. Profit-driven healthcare seeks money for shareholders over preventive health and lasting cures.
In the everyday workplace, we place those at the top on unreachable pedestals. We encourage everyone else to strive to be as rich as the corporate gods when, in truth, all that hard work won’t make anyone centi-billionaires, it simply lines the centi-billionaire’s overflowing pockets. So much cash, they feel the need to “philanthropically” become our de facto government.
How is that democratic?
Yes, a world without criminals, without disease, with fairly distributed wealth could be a Utopian impossibility. But we should strive for that world and not double down on the dystopia. That said, is there truly any disagreement over which is the good?
Given only two political options, a “good” and “evil”, this conflict will absolutely rip our society apart. My side. Your side. There can be no other.
With a binary view, one side must always “lose” entirely. Completely. But there is only one side in a Democracy — us. What pathway allows the most freedom for all?
This might seem difficult question to answer. What about this question, one I think a majority might agree on: Do we continue to worship the rich and hand them more and more control over every facet of our society?
When we dismantle national, centralized governance in the face of a national emergency, corporations step up to fill in the gaps. Are we okay with that? Should Amazon deliver our medicine and our books and our clothes and our food and every other essential?
Should we then blame these same corporations when they seek to also determine our freedom of speech? Or control the routes into space and beyond?
Republicans seem to think this is the way. Decentralization and small government with no regulations on corporate largess are their central tenants. Yet when a corporation fills in the vacuum of governance they’ve created, they take offense.
As for the Democrats, they talk a big game about Universal Healthcare. About controlling banks and being for the little people. But when their people’s champion rises up, they shut him down. Hard. Because, really, their vote is with their sponsors.
As always, with our entrenched duopoly, you must pick a side.
However, we can treat people fairly AND decentralize governance using the same technologies emerging to wreak havoc on the status quo. While these advances have sown their share of chaos, they have also proven smaller and smaller groups of individuals are capable of astounding efforts.
There is a way to navigate this change.
What must happen first is the removal of roadblocks to new ideas. Movements like Occupy and the Tea Party, need to be allowed to form and exist outside the establishment lanes. There is no way the duopoly can contain the coming rush without birthing further monsters.
Qanon even deserves the same treatment. For them, Trump has become a messianic figure. That movement is, without saying, batshit crazy. Yet, their existence is a sign of things to come.
Let them exist in their fringe reality. Subject them to law when they violate it, but let them prophesy and conspire without spreading their disease throughout a political establishment that by design we are currently forced to vote for. Give them their own party if that’s what it takes. They’ll have two or three crazies showing up in war paint to congress, but the damage they can do will be limited. Maybe they’ll even be able to absorb Trumpism and give the Republican party some breathing room.
Without change, we could easily vote one of their ilk into the presidency because of the “party first, society second” mentality. We may not recover from that. Not again.
Democrats must do the same. The green party needs to be given legitimate voice without being a “spoiler”. Progressives deserve their own representation aside from a maligned clique in the greater whole. Unless we act now, the future will breed their own Qanon, their own Trump.
We shouldn’t, of course, cater to dangerous, ridiculous ideas. Being able to isolate and contain them though is the first step to disempowerment (a lesson we have yet to learn about this pandemic…).
Once we’ve completed the steps to dismantle all-or-nothing politics, we can then turn to problematic issues such as executive orders and the electoral college. Neither represent a truly democratic system, but one where a privileged minority or single leader can force their will on an entire system.
The next challenge will be finding the good among the bad. But we can’t evaluate ideas we refuse to hear. And a common good isn’t as complicated as our duopoly wants us to believe. We must first cease framing this good in familiar terms because that terminology is already obsolete.
A belief that all “Republicans” encompass racism, nationalism, and fascism, only deepens the divide. A belief that all “Democrats” encourage socialism, communism, and anarchy does the same. Hitler versus Stalin. No middle ground. When we paint with broad brushes, it tends to stain even adjacent, promising ideas from any camp. When we mire our development in the trappings of a war fought over seventy six years ago, we actively stunt our growth
Our most enduring societal paradigms of the future will likely come from the fringes. People once thought crazy will provide the answers we don’t have. They deserve to be heard in a controlled, less toxic environment.
Without those new voices, our reckoning is at hand. A true democracy of, by, and for the people waits right over the horizon on a distant, gleaming shore. Best if we don’t sink the ship before we reach it.