Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


The Age of Post-Democracy

*Pic: Image from here

There are increasing signs that what we know as the Western democratic world is entering an era which I think can best be described as post-democratic.

Political systems have always reflected, in fact been brought about by, their underlying economic systems. Feudal economic structures naturally produced hierarchical societies ultimately ruled by monarchs and emperors. As capitalism developed, so too did representative democracy, with the push for universal franchise driven first by working men and then by women.

Today we are enmeshed in a neo-liberal economy, and the traditional (albeit only about a century old) democratic structures and processes are seen to stand in the way of the complete success of capitalism in its new form. People, when allowed to express their desires through a ballot box, tend to opt for policies which suit the majority, not the few at the top.

This can be, and usually has been, overcome by propaganda through the mainstream media, by rallying the masses behind a phony war or security scare, or by controlling the policies of all major political parties so that any electoral outcome is acceptable. There are growing problems with these approaches.

First, the mainstream media are losing influence compared to social media, which are less predictable. Secondly, both propaganda and war are becoming more expensive, and capital always seeks to maximise return on investment. Thirdly, the ideological convergence of major political parties creates a vacuum which might be filled by less controllable forces. There is, therefore, a need (from the point of view of capital) for these structures to be dismantled and these processes to be discontinued.

This is already under way. Two familiar examples are the lack of transparency around public-private partnerships to develop infrastructure (because of so-called “commercial-in-confidence” matters) and the lack of participation by ordinary people or their elected representatives in so-called free trade agreements. The equation of information and power is universally recognised now and we who lack information concerning these two kinds of project are rendered powerless.

The free trade agreements, through the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses, actually make elected governments subservient to big corporations. One might say that most governments are like that anyhow, but the fact that a law passed by a parliament which is in the interests of the majority of the population can be overturned by the decision of an international tribunal set up by corporate interests adds a new impenetrable layer between what people want and what we get.

On the other side of the coin, if lack of information means lack of power, then the increased gathering of information about us by government authorities and corporate interests further shifts the balance of power against ordinary citizens.

There have been, in the decades since capitalism started developing into its current form, many examples of democratically elected governments being overthrown because they were threatening the interests of capital. Chile in 1973 was perhaps the best known. The USA’s attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002 failed, and NATO’s intervention against the Ukraine government in 2013/14 has produced a less than decisive outcome, but thousands of people have died or suffered as a result.

But acts like this are discrete direct attacks on democracy. What is worse in the long term is that, before it has even been established in much of the world, democracy is becoming obsolete. It stands in the way of the unfettered profitability, and therefore of the growth, of capital.

The horror of two world wars …

The nation state was the building block of the kind of world which, after the horror of two world wars, established the United Nations with its idealism and its practical programs in such fields as health, education, labour rights, cultural exchange and so on. The nation state is becoming subservient to the corporate entity, and so the democracy which is fundamental to a healthy nation is becoming irrelevant. As we saw during the Iraq War, even some of the world’s largest armies are owned by the corporate sector.

In Australia in recent months we have seen some of the Abbott government’s budget proposals stalled or amended in the Senate. It is instructive to contrast the response by Abbott to that by Paul Keating when he as PM was unable to get his way with the Senate. Keating famously called the senators “unrepresentative swill.”. His argument was that the Upper House was less democratic and therefore should not have the influence it has, Abbott has not couched his frustration with the Senate in such terms. To his mind, the non-government senators, in standing up against some of the worst excesses of Abbott’s far right agenda, are actually too democratic, too responsive to the interests of the people who elected them.

We are used to large corporations using their wealth to lobby governments, but in the post-democratic age they will merely bypass government and have direct control over matters that affect our lives. We on the Left are used to fighting the excesses and the cruelties of capital through the ballot box, through petitions to governments and through lobbying individual politicians.

Street demonstrations and direct actions have historically been resorted to when these more “acceptable” means have failed. In the age of post-democracy it will be pointless to fight within the political system. The “withering away of the state” will have taken place not, as Marx predicted, because of the triumph of the proletariat, but because the state has become redundant for the forces of capital.

We must devise ways of restoring to the populace at large, and to those who are oppressed or marginalised in particular, the ability to shape our lives free from the forces that would control them in the interests of capital. I believe that the SEARCH Foundation has a role to play in helping to develop networks and information channels which will facilitate discussion about how this is to happen, first among the existing progressive bodies and structures, and eventually as part of a global mass movement.

Overseas examples of resistance to the extreme measures enforced by predatory capital, such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, can be useful to those of us elsewhere in the world who have not yet had to deal with the worst of selective austerity. These two movements, and others which have not yet achieved the same breadth of popular acceptance, are providing radically alternative policies within the framework of democratic political structures.

But it is valuable to look at them, not merely in terms of electoral success, but in terms of how they have developed, what community, labour, environmental etc organisations and networks they started from or attracted, and how they coordinated and enhanced those groups’ various programs and aims. It is these aspects of the work of the Left that will be needed in a post-democratic future. In fact, they are needed now, so that we can be ready.

*Tim Thorne is a former columnist for the Hobart Mercury and the author of 14 collections of poetry. He is currently the President of TAP Into a Better Tasmania and of the SEARCH (Social Education, Action and Research Concerned with Humanity) Foundation.

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  1. John Biggs

    July 15, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you Tim. You are spot on. Democracy is dead in neoliberal societies like ours. Your sentence is the key: “The free trade agreements, through the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses, actually make elected governments subservient to big corporations. One might say that most governments are like that anyhow, but the fact that a law passed by a parliament which is in the interests of the majority of the population can be overturned by the decision of an international tribunal set up by corporate interests adds a new impenetrable layer between what people want and what we get.”

    But it’s not only free trade agreements of course. Tax arrangements, giving licences to Shenhua and Adani, privileging rich minorities against the interests of ordinary citizens is all part of neoliberalisnm and is anti-democratic.

    We have been stuffed because both ALP and Libveral are neoliberal (and Shorten is a traitor to his own constituency).

  2. Ben Cannon

    July 7, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Automated production and service is the issue that requires a different system. Even if the whole world set a 38 hour maximum working week and the same minimum wage, we would still end up with ever increasing unemployment.

    I think the most likely outcome if the system stays as it is, unemployment continues to climb. 25% across all age groups shouldn’t be far away. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, property crime and riots increase. We end up in some kind of segregated dystopia where the rich are protected by robot armies and served by robot workers and the poor are herded into heavily surveillanced ghettos and given the bare necessities to survive if they’re lucky. Even the untouched wilderness may be scanned by satellite for unauthorised pioneers.

    Obviously before that happens there are opportunities to head this off, as is starting to happen in countries like Greece, and the resurgence of socialism in South America now that the USA is more concerned with fighting a holy war than a ‘cold’ war. As long as democracy survives those without capital or hope of ever getting any capital through employment or otherwise won’t be lured to vote for the ‘everyone has a share’ promise. They’ll go for grassroots parties of various political persuasions, as is the growing trend. All that’s propping up the lablib vote at present is fearmongering. The longer you have between terrorist attacks on Australians, the more that fear will wear off, despite what’s going on overseas. It’s ironic to think that the Martin Place massacre may have thrown the status quo an extra lifeline.

  3. Mike Bolan

    July 7, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    #12. Great idea Kim. What I see happening is the development of a 2 (or mayb3 3) tier economy with many people unable to find a source of income as work is roboticised, sent overseas or otherwise rendered irrelevant by the introduction of technologies. Trouble is the governments only have the one idea – join the existing economy.

    Instead we could build rural communities using renewables at all possible moments to create rural based communities that were entirely self-sustaining and ‘didn’t need to put a burden on the existing economy’!

    This would create safe (no traffic etc) havens for those who wished to live there plus only require a modest capital investment ($100,000) to acquire a modest living space. No connection to grid, grow own food etc. It could probably be a real utopia because the psycho’s wouldn’t be able to control the people, in fact probably wouldn’t even want to be there.

  4. Kim Peart

    July 7, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Re: 4 ~ There is a simple and direct solution to the unemployment problem.

    Our political economy now demands around 5% unemployment, to keep the wheels of growth turning, so that the well-off can grab a larger share of the national pie.

    Sadly, there is no intention to shift to a full-employment society, so we have a system that is creating under-employment, unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

    An article by three academics tells me ~
    “This is basic maths: 657,407 young people plus another 1,197,057 underemployed and unemployed adults 24 years and older looking for work minus 149,900 job vacancies equals not enough jobs. Assuming one job per person, this means 92 in every 100 of these people won’t get a job vacancy. Competition is fierce.”

    Could we launch a new ship and sail in a different direction?

    If it became popular to deliver real work with real pay for all able citizens, then we would eliminate unemployment, increase government revenue through wages taxed, shrink Centrelink and make the job network disappear.

    Instead of controlling, disciplining and humiliating those forced into unemployment, we would lift the spirit of the nation and increase wealth.

    Creating real full-employment would become the primary service expected of all Australians.

    Could we popularise that?

    I had a couple of articles published in the Tasmanian Times recently on unemployment, which can be found in search ~
    ‘Liberating Australia from an Addiction to Unemployment’
    ‘Help! Saving Australia’

    I organised a conference on the unemployment problem in Hobart in the 1990s as part of Human Rights Week, on the basis of being employed is a human right ~ Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    I am hoping that there will be interest in a seminar in Tasmania later this year to explore solutions to unemployment and other community issues.

    I wonder if a foundation could be founded with the aim of creating full employment in Australia (real work with real pay for all able citizens).

    If this initiative became popular, we could call on all fellow Australians to help create work where work is needed.

    Could cooperatives offer a solution?

    Cooperatives must be just as competitive as any other form of free enterprise.

    We will need alternatives for work, as the now dawning robot revolution is predicted to remove half of current paid work in the next couple of decades.

    We will need to empower people and get really creative, or we could end up with 50% and more unemployment in a real police state.

    We need to think and plan very differently, to build a nation fit for people, not just an economy filled with machines.

    Kim Peart

  5. Kim Peart

    July 7, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Re: 8 ~ Reminds me of the 1974 Monty Python football match ~

  6. Tim Thorne

    July 6, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you, Barbara, for your comment (#7) and the questions you raise.

    I think there is still some use in the terms “left” and “right” in a general sense. They can be a useful shorthand for where to place attitudes and policies on a spectrum of, for example, cooperation v competition, or high v low taxation, or attitudes towards asylum seekers. You are right, however, in considering that the substance is always more important than the label.

    Unfortunately the “long term agenda of all political parties” are irrelevant when politicians are locked out of the decision making processes.

  7. Philip Lowe

    July 6, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Please,try to read ‘The Establishment and how they get away with it’.It will make you cynicly depressed and make you realise just how much propaganda you are constantly being exposed to.
    Viva characters,eccentrics,differents,quality nutters and a pox on the gaggers,the establishment ‘yes’ men(and women);and thankyou Tassie Times for being a stage where people can perform as individuals.

  8. Karl Stevens

    July 5, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Mike Bolan 4. Wasn’t more leisure time the goal of a robotics-techno society? Looks like the “Protestant Work Ethic’ turned our new found leisure time into guilt.
    Hopefully robots can be programmed to fight religious wars amongst each other. That’s obviously where Greece failed. An annual AFL premiership between competing teams of religious robots.
    As a matter of fact why haven’t we got an entire team of George Brandis cyborgs?
    That’s all it would take to turn an economy around. Ask anyone in Victoria or Tasmania?

  9. Barbara Mitchell

    July 5, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    You are quite correct in your assessment of modern democracy, Tim. It is monumentally stuffed. The notion of majority rule for the benefit of all is nothing but a quaint, long forgotten ideal.

    But I wonder why you persist with the Right/Left ideological dichotomy. As you acknowledge, it is now meaningless from a political party perspective. Does it still make any sense in the broader social context?

    Shouldn’t we be exploring the true meaning of the policies governing our lives, and the long term agenda of all political parties, rather than merely assigning them a simplistic colour or direction?

  10. Dr Buck Emberg

    July 5, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Very thoughtful Tim….Thank you. Buck

  11. Mike Howe

    July 5, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Tim has evaluated the present world situation accurately. We, the people, now seem to have little say in our future.
    It is becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary people to know what is going on, whether it is with trade agreements conducted in secret, or legislation which sneaks through without any public consultation at both state and federal levels.
    But what can we do about this situation? It is no good just relying on elections.
    The people must find other ways of influencing events.

  12. Mike Bolan

    July 5, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    We need to deal with the reality of insuffucient jobs for a growing percentage of the population. Modern telecomms, internet, robotics and A.I. are eliminating the need for humans even as the population burgeons. We are reaching an economic system in which many cannot participate. What can/should we do?

  13. Karl Stevens

    July 5, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks Tim Thorne for this article.
    People can have all the ‘democracy’ they want but without any moral values they are doomed.
    I see Australia as a country with no political moral values. Look at how we fawn over China? We have decoupled democracy, human rights and the invasion of Tibet from our ‘trading’ relationship with China, and then realise rich Chinese own a lot of Australia. (wealthy communists?)
    Why is trade elevated above everything else on the NeoCon board game? Why do we claim to enshrine democracy but accept a complete lack of democracy in China and even in our Royal Family’?
    Many Asian nations are much worse, with some like Malaysia and Indonesia now resembling corrupt ‘theocracies’. Actually the emerging Asian theocracies are Australia’s biggest threat in my view and yet our NeoCon politicians can’t do enough for them.
    Look at how the West watched Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen and did nothing? Once a dictatorship becomes ‘religious’ they are above the Australian legal system because we have laws protecting the ‘beliefs’ of all, including the clinically insane.
    Our cute, Westminster-based legal system is a massive trojan horse protecting all of our enemies from the slightest criticism in my view. In fact, I now call Australia a ‘trojan horse democracy’. A place that is so compromised, stupid and self destructive that we lavish political correctness on to the very people who want to destroy us. The amazing thing is hardly anyone can see it happening and definitely nobody in Tasmania.
    What did Greece expect? No trees, no ideas, no resources and no intellectual property. Of course they failed capitalism just like the street people in any Australian city.
    Maybe Germany could put them on a ‘work for dole scheme’? Building Porsches and BMWs for Saudi theocrats and Australian NeoCon politicians.
    I think ‘karma’ could be such a powerful force in the universe that all a human can really do in one lifetime is watch the fools reap what they sow.

  14. Kim Peart

    July 5, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Greece is voting “no” to harsh austerity and may soon be divorced from Europe.

    But was Greece ever really married to Europe?

    If it was a marriage, the Greek debt would not be a Greek problem, but a European problem and dealt with in the family.

    Until European states enter into genuine marriage as a democratic union, which makes problems in any member state a European problem, there can be no real European union and a Greek “no” to Europe’s pretend marriage may just be the first.

    Whether Europe ever becomes a democratic union is now a moot point.

    Old ways may return and the economic war on Russia return to bite Europe.

    The lack of democracy across Europe may help to explain the European willingness to support a coup in Ukraine against a democratically elected government, which has seen the rise of neo-Nazis in the parliament and on the battle-field.

    The last time Europe lost democracy, there was a terrible war across the World, followed by decades of nuclear Cold conflict.

    The European desire to defeat Russia and control Greece may yet prove to be a bad sign for global democracy and world peace.

    French and German attempts to defeat Russia failed and kicked back on both rather badly.

    The United States led economic war on Russia may yet get physical.

    Will they do any better?

    Russia sees the battlefield as Ukraine, where Hitler and Napoleon attempted to defeat them and did well, for a while.

    That is why moves by the West across Ukraine are seen darkly by Russia.

    We are on a landslide in the post-democratic age and who knows where we will end up.

    Will Greece now move closer to Russia?

    Do we risk a nuclear Hot conflict?

    Kim Peart

  15. phill Parsons

    July 5, 2015 at 11:43 am

    It appears that the PM has unilaterally decided that QandA is one of those dangerous people’s organs, liable to challenge the one ideology Abbott knows by broadcasting opinions.

    This is a dilemma for the public broadcaster as its charter requires it to broadcast opinions.

    As a result the Prime Minister has decreed the the Australian Submarine Corporation, to ensure the security of his rule in this national emergency when ideas are roaming the streets and will get every Australian, will manufacture 22million tin foil hats to be worn at all times to cut off the infrasound broadcasts of anti-Abbott bias by anyone anywhere.

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