Manipulation Masked as Democracy

In 1999, even as we forged into the new millennium, the Gallup Poll found that 68% of Americans still favored teaching creationism together with evolution in the schools, with 40% favoring exclusively creationism; 47% percent subscribed to the view that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years of so” (up from 44% in 1982!). In the words of the theologian John C. Fletcher, such “controversy clouds rational discussion with fear and misunderstanding.

The genetic bases of social and political structures constitute a topic that even bolder sociologists and political scientists have been leery of raising for two-thirds of a century. It is a taboo which grossly distorts our understanding of ourselves. There probably has never existed a society with a totally rigid structure in which ability played no role. Under the Caesars, the Pharaohs, the Ottomans, the Tsars, and probably even the Mayan princes, the gifted slave could on occasion demonstrate his ability and achieve high rank. In modern society, however, where such mobility has been immensely increased, universal education combined with assortative mating is creating greater and greater genetic stratification into classes which are then overlaid with stratifications of wealth and power.

In a dictatorship, government is more inclined to determine directly the various functions performed by its citizens, whereas in a democracy the citizenry usually enjoys greater freedom of selection. But even in the most permissive democracy, if the individual does not possess independent means and does not want to starve to death, he must perform some function to which society assigns a value. Compulsion is a key word in both systems. This is not stated as a value judgment, but is simply a fact of life. The distinction between democracy and dictatorship has to do primarily with how the authorities get the same tasks accomplished – everything from trash hauling to school teaching – and thus make it possible to maintain a functioning social mechanism and allow those in power to remain in power.

The Skinner box of capitalism has proven to be far more efficient than the Gulag in raising production/consumption. Evidently we have much more in common with cattle than with cats, for we are herded with amazing ease. True democracy is not possible if the people fail to understand the issues. Political history is really nothing more than a broken string of days that will live in infamy. Dictatorships are difficult to maintain, since a leader who refuses to take account of the disposition of forces in that society will eventually be overthrown. Democracies, on the other hand, possess considerably greater flexibility through manipulation of the popular will.
As for political dialogue, it takes place on three levels: a) sham issues intended to manipulate the masses; b) the true (usually clandestine) views of the ruling elite; and c) longterm species survival issues, which, since the beneficiaries do not constitute a constituency, are generally more ignored than suppressed.

In 1933, gazing around him in dismay at the Great Depression and peering back at the “holy war fought to make the world safe for democracy,” the former civil servant John McConaughy in Who Rules America? defined his country’s “invisible government” as “the political control for selfish, if not sinister, economic purposes – by individual men, or groups or organizations, who are careful to evade the responsibility which should always accompany power. They operate behind a mask of puppets in politics and business.”59 Exactly a half century later the sociologist G. William Domhoff, whose political views were far to the left of McConaughy’s, arrived at similar conclusions in his Who Rules America Now? when he described a cohesive ruling class that shapes the social and political climate and plays a dominant role in the economy and the government with the goal of promoting its own self-interest.

No human interaction is more fiercely competitive than politics. What is the true nature of that process? To take but one example, Washington, D.C. is home to a society of “networked,” monied, politically sophisticated individuals, while 37% of that same city’s residents read at a third-grade level or lower.60 The situation is comparable to a champion sprinter competing against a 90-year-old in a wheelchair. Not surprisingly, the “winners” in this race favor the process that allows them to achieve and maintain their spoils system, and to do so without any sense of guilt.

One percent of American citizens now own 40% of the nation’s wealth. In elections vested interests make electoral campaign contributions, parts of which are used for polling the voters to learn what they want to hear, while the lion’s share is invested in advertising that is as based as little on logic as an ad for a soft drink. The resulting advertising presents a combination of what the pollsters discover and what the propaganda specialists consider the populace will accept. To make matters worse, literally a handful of people now control most of the media, and there is no talk of applying antitrust legislation to stop even further amalgamations. And the system functions incredibly smoothly – exactly as intended. When the candidate is eventually elected, having outspent his opponent, he then goes on to do the bidding of those who paid the bill. Should the electoral results be in doubt, the candidate has merely to wrap himself in the flag while denouncing his opponents. The result is an unbridgeable chasm of understanding between elites and the broad masses. A serious book published by a university press may have a print run of a few hundred copies, while a television show of only middling popularity will measure its viewership in the tens of millions, and Hollywood aspires to an audience of billions all over the world. Intellectuals are supposedly free to express their opinions (as least as long as they do not threaten the powers that be), but informed opinion is irrelevant to the political process.

This situation has been made possible by the failure of the general populace to comprehend the true nature of the issues. Indeed, how can any rational observer view any human society as a collective of informed individuals making rational decisions? In a 2000 Gallup poll, 34% of those questioned were unable to name the probable presidential candidates. For persons having a high school education or less and earning less than $20,000 annually, this particular quotient of ignorance rose to 55%. According to a survey done by the National Assessment of Education Progress, 56% of those tested could not correctly subtract 55 and 37 from 100; 18% could not multiply 43 x 67; 24% could not convert .35 to 35%; and 28% were unable to express “three hundred fifty-six thousand and ninety-seven” as “356,097. In addition, 24% of adult Americans were unaware that the United States had fought the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, and 21% had no idea that the Earth revolves around the sun. According to the Northeast Midwest Institute, a nonprofit and education research group, 60 million adult Americans cannot read the front page of a newspaper. Three Americans in ten between the ages of 18 and 24 could not find the Pacific Ocean on a world map, while 67% of Brits did not know the year World War II ended and 64% did now know which country the French Alps were located in.

As for art, philosophy, serious music, literature, and so on – that intellectual thought and creativity which should lend greater meaning to our lives than those of other animals that love, hate, and dream much as we do – such matters are a subject of disinterest for the overwhelming majority of people. But even this does not represent the furthest extreme of egalitarianist politics. The millions of people ill with dementia to the point that they are unable to dress themselves or recognize family members also participate in selecting national leadership. Surveys of patients at dementia clinics in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania found that 60% and 64% had voted, respectively. Brian R. Ott of Brown University found that 37% of patients with moderate dementia and about 18% with severe dementia had voted. In selecting out individuals of ability, modern society now has stripped the broad masses of society of the brilliant artisans and poets who formerly created and maintained national cultures.68 A visit to the magazine section of the local supermarket or a flip through the hundreds of television channels is a dismaying experience.




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