Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Editorial Endorsement: The Role of Beauty in the Electoral Decision

The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute personally, or through their representatives, to its formation.   -- J.J. Roussean

It is that quadrennial season again and, as usual, the Woodchip Editorial Board is divided; in particular, over whether one should vote at all.  Although we have not editorialized on it previously, a majority of the Board do not believe in democracy; and there is, after all, no point participating in something one does not believe in — certainly not the electoral farce that prevails in the United States.

Fact is, all government is oligarchy, for the simple reason that not everyone can join in stirring the soup. No monarch rules by himself but only with and through a curia regis.  Even in the direct democracy of the Athenian Assembly, specific tasks were delegated to deputised nominees and their assistants.  

“Governance” and “Government” are comprised of a hierarchy of causes: final policy causes, effective managerial causes, driving material causes.  At each level, government is of and by a few. The real task in any given form of government is to insure that it is an aristos-cracy operating for the justly apportioned good of all. Moctezuma and his court come to mind.

What is meant by “democracy” is that, at periodic intervals, the mass of uninterested and usually uninformed (or worse yet, partially informed) people are given a choice in selecting final causes; i.e., the “direction” in which they want their country to move.  Apart from referenda and the devices of initiative and recall, this selection is accomplished by choosing representatives to sit in a national assembly or parliament.

U.S. elections are a farce because the constitutional system is structured to so as to nullify popular choice and initiative.  This malign purpose has been decked out with rhetorical tissues about “checks and balances” and “protecting the rights of minority.”  As is the case with all good brainwashing, Americans repeat these mantras as if they were self evident explanations and justifications of whatever point is being made.

James Madison, one of the leading architects of the U.S. Constitution, was very clear as to which minority he had in mind.  In Federalist Paper No. Ten, after describing the various acrimonious issues which divide people and the partisan factions which agitate society, Madison admits

"But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. ...  The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.   ...  The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.  ... To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of [a majoritarian] faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed."

God forbid the 99% should rule!!!

The Great American Invention of 1789 was actually a conservative (“Federalist”) coup d’etat by monied interests aimed at stifling Jacobin democratic tendencies.   They wanted to reassemble  the British Monarchy in a way that suited their interests (as distinct from the interests of the Tories whom they ran into Canada).  But, of course, to fool the demos, it had to be a monarchy dressed in a republican toga, a la Caesar Augustus.

Lest anyone think we are exaggerating, hearken to Gibbon,

"The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state, in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army.  ... A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince."  (Decline and Fall, Ch. III. (1776).)
That was obviously the gist which the Framers had in mind; only, as we have said, they preferred to stubborn the commons into as much impotence as possible. They gave every branch a veto except the popular assembly. The essential feature of Roman republicanism, the tribunician power, was omitted from the scheme. 

In parliamentary systems, tribunician vetoes are unnecessary because the general will of the whole people is directly expressed in “commanding majorities” which then constitute the government. In fact, under the English constitutional reforms of 1911, a species of tribunician power was vested in the House of Lords which was given the power to delay legislation while being deprived of the power to initiate or veto laws. 

In contrast, under American monarchical republicanism, what exists is a contrived deadlock that enables effectual and often invisible oligarchies to run the show.  Not surprisingly, U.S. presidential elections are colossal clown acts in which a person who can stand for much but can accomplish little legislatively is indirectly elected on the basis of an anti-democratic weighting of votes.  

This is not to say that the American monarch is powerless. The prerogative to deal with foreign nations, the power to dispatch the army and the choice and manner of executing the affairs of government are not inconsiderable powers. But, in contrast to parliamentary systems, in which the ministers who oversee the various functions of government are themselves democratically chosen, in the United States, the president, like a true monarch, chooses his own ministers (called “secretaries”) at will. The result is not a popularly chosen governing oligarchy but an insulated oligarchy irresponsible to the people for a term of four years.

The reason U.S. elections are so acrimonious is that, in inverse proportion to his actual power, each voter has an overweening sense of her self importance.  Each voter acts as if the election depended on his or her vote alone.  Conversely, when things do not turn out as desired, they blame the next nearest neighbour who voted the wrong way for ruining the country.

This idiocy is not entirely self-sprung. It is cultivated by the puppet masters of the show who urge voters to exercise their vote responsibly, (which is to say pragmatically),  by choosing the best of the two lesser evils they are presented with after the system (including a manipulative press) has been gamed to weed out other alternatives.

At face value, the civic moralising is nonsense.  To whom are people responsible seeing as the People are themselves Sovereign?  The result of the nonsense is that the People are trapped in practical sameness by a fostered sense of guilt -- a kind of political shaming in the name of pragmatism. The  intended result is that they never truly raise up their voices (and say what they really want) which is the true essence of democracy.

The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to contribute personally, or through their representatives, to its formation.

There is some learned dispute as to exactly what Rousseau meant by general will.  Reading the context in which the term appears, he might have meant something along the lines of what the Germans a little later would call the organic gemeinschaft of a nation.  Sort of the “sum total of us.” 

However, the term has been usually interpreted more functionally, as referring the the “net result of us”  — the averaging out, the central tendency, of public sentiment.  Tolstoy hearkened to this usage in his Calculus of History which, he said, was driven by confluence of millions of imperceptible human impulses each operating in their idiosyncratic sphere.  It is in this latter sense that the concept of the general will is the cornerstone of any avowed democracy.

As everyone knows, republican governments are all founded on a principle of divided authority (Montesquieu).  There is a legislature (which passes laws), a judiciary (which unravel the contradictions and unclarity), an executive (which bungles their implementation)... and then there is le Peuple Souverain, whose obligation it is solely to say what they want. 

This is what elections are about. They are not really about choosing candidates but rather a polling occasion for the People to manifest their general will as to what they want for and from their country.

Let us suppose one is asked to state what one would like to eat for lunch — a taco, a pizza, a burger or some esoteric French morsel.  You don’t choose a burger because you think the majority of people are going to vote for a burger. You don’t select a burger even though you detest them because voting for some French delicacy is not a “practical option.”  The fact remains that it is an option.  It is the option you are asked to express when you are asked “what do you want?”  U.S. “practicality” nullifies the very idea of democracy.  If each voter does not say what he wants how can the general will of the people be calculated?

The difference between a direct and an indirect democracy is that, in the latter, the expression of distinct wants is represented by individual candidates.  But what matters is what the candidate “stands for”  — or as is said whether he or she “best reflects your views.” 

Of course, those who would seek to undermine the fundamental principle of democracy are more than delighted to shift the question from policy to personality; to urge voting for a candidate on the basis of some personal quality, such as stalwartness, sagacity, experience. Such a shift reduces democracy to mush.  “I vote for a sagacious Republic” is as pointless as Alexander Pope’s famous line “that government is best which governs best.”  Yeah... we know that...

Today, the menu of personal irrelevancies is much expanded to include things like voting for a person because he is black or she is a she.  “It’s time we had a woman in the White House” is not a policy choice. It doesn’t affect anything beyond the circumstance of there being a black or a woman in the House.  Its value is purely symbolic. One is free to vote for symbols but to do so (in our opinion) is as immaterial to anything as Mexican insurrectionists designating the Virgen de Guadalupe to be Captain General of their “army.”  (They did.)

Putting aside personality and symbolism, it is usually the case that during any given election there is more than one issue on the table and any given candidate stands for more than one thing.  Here, the individual voter has to calculate his own “general will” — that is,  he must take the average of his wants. 

The first step is to calculate what percentage of an individual’s positions a given candidate reflects (A = 40%  B= 60%  C = 80%.)

The second step is to weight the issues in terms of importance.  If the  20% over 60% that C represents includes a whole bunch of secondary or tertiary issues which are “nice and desirable” but not critical, in that case B and C stand effectively on par.

The calculus at this stage includes factoring in the fact that B might stand of something one opposes.  Here one has to go into a calculus of negatives.

Once the voter numbers his desires as seen reflected in the candidates, he or she can then factor in the practical chances of B wining over C or A over either.

In other words, the practical outcome of a vote is never entirely irrelevant.  But it must always be the last and the least factor of all.  The ballast in the decision must always be whether a candidate affirmatively reflects what the individual voter himself wants.  Once that primary issue is ignored or subordinated to other considerations, the voter ceases to discharge what his constitutional function actually he is.  He is simply running with the herd rather than bleating his point of view.

With this calculus in mind, the Woodchip Gazette endorses JILL STEIN for president.  We do so because on 95% of all issues she reflects what Editorial Board believes is necessary and critical to the country and the world.  What the general will of the American People is will be known on election day, but our contribution to that netting out is to state (and vote for) what we want see done.  That, as we have explained, is the primary and fundamental purpose of a democratic election.

As a practical matter, it is somewhat predictable that Stein will not command a majority of Electoral College votes.  But that is of no consequence to us because as an equally practical matter, neither of the other two candidates bring gifts we are interested in.

As Woodchip has written elsewhere, the single most important issue facing the U.S. electorate and the world at large is the looming ecological catastrophe.  We are witnessing a man-made event never before seen or dreamt of — the extermination and annihilation of life as we know it.

If we continue on the path we are on what existence is left will be an environmental dystopia of  orange skies, stagnant oceans, parched earth, dust-bowls, torrential floods and daily scrambles for recycled water and reconstituted edibles. When life itself is reduced to a scramble for existence, it is already half dead.  Everything beyond the scramble ceases to be of concern and, failing that, ceases to exist. 

We quote the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar,

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. 
“Whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens... where 'faith' and 'knowledge' are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated ...”
And yet, as clear evidence of mankind’s depravity, nations are fighting over who gets to pump more oil and people are wrangling over immigration, college debt, health care, abortion rights, cultural identity and gender pronouns. 

NONE of these issues will be worth a damn; all of them will be moot if we do not have an earth to live on or if life is reduced to the most desperate and primitive fight for physiological survival.  At this juncture in history, the ultimate issue in America’s depraved election is actually theological and existential.

Neither of the majority party candidates address this preeminent issue.   Trump doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change; Hillary peddles toxic nostrums like “clean coal” and “safe fracking” while she takes money from the polluting industry. Both pander to all that subsidiary and  trivial. 

After the environment, the most pressing issue is the misnamed “trade” treaties which are as we have discussed, a global coup d’etat by trans-national capital aimed at installing a supra-national, unaccountable corporate dictatorship of no recourse.  The fundamental problem with that is that the dictatorship is not motivated any concept of public good but rather is driven by the imperative of profit — that is the same imperative of plunder, rapine and exploitation that is destroying the world in the first place.

Again, neither candidate stands up for democratic self-determination guided by principles of sustainability and public welfare over and above and to the preemption of private profit.  Trump avows to block or renegotiate the trade treaties but only in order to unleash an unrestrained grab for profit on a national level.  Hillary, just bullshits the issue as we have discussed elsewhere.   Despite her misleading innuendos, she will back the trade treaties regardless of whether they have environmental and labor safeguards.

Corporate rule and environmental survival are a dual-first issue.  The “trade” treaties exterminate the polis and render utterly pointless the calculation of the general will.  The treaties exterminate the polis so that corporations and investors can pursue economies which are at this moment destroying God’s beautiful creation.

Neither major party candidate has spoken out on behalf of elephants.  If any reader thinks this is “silly” then he or she has severed the relationship between nature and grace, and has subscribed to a stunted and suffocating understanding that abets extermination.

Von Balthasar

Pope Francis is no stranger to von Balthasar and when he said “Capitalism is dung” he is telling you that both Trump and Hillary are shovelling very vile shit.

On all the subsidiary issues, the candidates serve up popcorn and toys for tots.  In fact, the entire boasted  premise of the Hillary campaign is her so-called ability to make “small incremental” changes. Being a “practical progressive” as she shamelessly calls it.  We have written about this as well. Needless to say, to speak of small incremental steps to avoid catastrophic ecollapse is an obscenity.  But even on the subsidiary issues, these small incremental changes — aka chicken feed — do nothing to address senior poverty, student debt, usurious but ineffective health care, affordable and secure housing or the right to remunerative employment. 

On the issue of war and peace, both candidates call for more military spending, squandering the national wealth on implements of death and destruction.   Trump offers the better prospect of only  bombing the hell out ISIS while avoiding confrontation with Russia and China.  Hillary, on the other hand, has acquiesced in Saudi Arabia’s support for ISIS while going out of her way to look for confrontation with Russia.  Hillary is a war-hawk.  She is and is supported by the entire neocon establishment, except for Zbigniew Brzezinski', who has actually recanted his erstwhile anti-Russian confrontationalism and has, this year, denounced the direction of Hillary’s foreign policy.

In short, what the Establishment has by hook and by crook  connived to offer a public that is lulled and whipped up at the same time is a choice of miserables.  Both the major party candidates would take the country in horrible directions in opposite ways, but horrible nonetheless.

It is true that politics is the art of the possible.  But that is the job of politicians.  Assuming for the sake of argument that U.S. politicians actually listen to the people, they cannot work the magic of the possible unless they know what the general will sets out as desirable.

It is the collective duty of the people to tell their representatives what they want (not what they think is possible) and that cannot be done unless and until every individual voter says — absolutely and unconditionally — what he or she wants.
The typical answer to this simple and forthright stance is to whine and cavil that “we can’t let the [fill in name of greater evil] win because [fill in list of subsidiary causes and obsessions au gout.]

Americans are a boastful and timid people.  They are afraid to stand up for what they believe in.  They back down from confrontation from fear of the immediate and transient consequences...  But one doesn’t back down from a fight because he might get punched in the nose.  If the people don’t tell their rulers what they want on what basis should rulers give them what they want?  If people do not manifest the courage of their convictions why should rulers feel constrained to give them anything?

The Woodchip Gazette refuses to endorse dung.  It votes for genuine democracy, social justice, sustainable economy and most of all for beauty, for elephants and for all creatures everywhere.


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