Friday, August 20, 2010

Democracy: Tastes like Chicken

by Tully

I should note that, as Antony Bourdain wrote: Chicken is for people who don't know what they want.

The worst form of government? The best? What do these mean? Does anyone honestly think, upon a moment's reflection, that this question can be decided without reference to the cultural and religious context of a given people's history? It's a belabored point...tainted irreparably with banal relativism. I would like to give it new luster, if it is in my power.

I guess I'll have to say it: a people must acquire a taste for democracy, for republics, for monarchy and for any form of government. Our food, our air, our music, our art...everything, in short, in our everyday lives, which is discursive without being politically or formally discursive, goes into our developing these tastes. Wagner and vegetarianism (of which Wagner was a zealous proponent) led to fascism in Germany, but one does not acquire a taste for Wagner out of the blue. Just try listening to The Ring Cycle today and this becomes obvious: one needs to listen to a series of Wagner's less Wagnerian influences. One needs to have available good potatoes and dumplings to become a vegetarian. One needs to breath the cool, loveless air of the North not to be appalled by Das Reingold.

But do we insist that, in spite of historical influences, there is a right and wrong form of government?

A government of, for, and by the people? Yes, any good government must be of, for, and by the people. But such is monarchy. Such is dictatorship. Such is every form of government that is sustainable. What is in question is merely a matter of succession. What "the people" want, invariably, is as little doubt as possible over the succession of their leaders. Democracy is one way to minimize this doubt. A preferred method in a world in which blood has lost its worth. But blood has not lost its worth, has not become a thing of deception, through a rational observation of the occasional madness of kings. Medical knowledge, the myth that individuality is thicker than blood, the American gastronomic obsession with meat, the marital myth of alliance, and later that of love...countless factors, in short, of all facets of our lives, have fed, in reciprocal motion, the taste for democracy. Thus did it become fitting and good to adopt a republic for our form of government. As our diets, our everyday relationships, our language and our climate (unless if that's a ploy to get Al Gore rich) change more and more, so must our understanding of what a tasteful democracy may be.

I speak no relativism. Relativism would say that our principles are right because we chose them to begin with. Legalism, absolutism, fundamentalism are relativist, because the choice remains unbound, floating upon the anachronism of a lost language into lost millenia. I speak of a moral fervor for history: This is how we have come to be as we are; our tastes being acquired, we commit ourselves to new and greater tastes. We challenge ourselves by improving our air, improving our diets, improving our music and our friendships. We destroy what we were, and in trying to destroy, with discipline as only honest toil can instill and with lightness of heart. There is nothing more moral than to challenge--through continual destruction and renewal--my own own own world. Finally it is God who needs reworking. God was once a destroyer. A creator by destruction, ex nihilo. If God is love, then God, like love, must destroy, as must we, made in her image. God is not a democrat. At least, not a life-long democrat.


tully said...

I can tell this is going to be a popular post!

my name is Amanda said...

The "writing too much" rule, Tully. It gets me, too. Not that *I* think you wrote too much. People just have different attention spans on the Internet. Personally, I let it bother me for a millisecond, before deciding that I didn't give a damn and that I would write as much as I felt I needed to write. Not that there's not a skill is making things easily digestible. But I don't think what you're written here is complicated, either.

Also, the posts that get the most comments are the ones associated with a lot of controversy. Or hot sauce, apparently. My most popular post, according to the comments, was about Cheezits. Sometimes, you just can't predict these things.

Also, the argument you have here allows a great degree of fluidity, so it's hard for people to argue with that, I think. Sometimes I don't comment when I think other people have it covered.

Anyway, I adore Anthony Bourdain, but I also genuinely like chicken. (Please - Fried Chicken?! Even Bourdain himself has got to love that.) All of the types of governments you mention can be said to be similar - in that they all rely on the few elite managing the many non-elite (or, the peasants), but I think the difference with Democracy, which was born of the ideals of the Enlightenment, integrating the ideals of Democratic philosphy from Ancient Greece, is that it attempts to work for The People, to be manipulated by the will of The People. It attempts to treat all people equality, and that is something markedly different from a Monarchy, in which Royals were often considered gods, descendants of gods, or imbued with holiness special to Royals, and it is different from Fascism, which relies on a weird mixture of totalitarianism of the government and collectivism of the people that comes off more like capitalism than liberalism (As liberalism is often referred to as equal to socialism and socialism is referred to as communism and Nazi-ism. It's so CRAZY when Liberals are referred to as Fascists. No, People! That is the Opposite. Look. It. Up. In fact, dictionaries all around for people who want to insist that these terms are synonyms!) - why, because it accentuates the needs of the business (or, government and gov-controlled industries) ahead of the needs people (who tend to die off by the thousands under Fascist regimes).

Not that you are saying these are the same thing, but you kind of are saying that. And not that it's not fun to bandy about with theory and such. I just think that Democracy is ethical intrinsically, in a way that the others are not.

tully said...

Thanks for your comment and conciliations! I hope you aren't paying heed to the "too much rule" yourself: it's always good to get a break from my opinions.

As you say, I have no intention of confusing fascism with anything. My rule, for the most part, is to ascribe to fascism nothing more than the use of force. Historically, there are other tendencies that tie fascist states together, but fundamentally we can go by the etymology: a fascia being a bundle of sticks used to scourge slaves. Fascism in Italy and Germany involved the nationalization of industry. That is a hallmark of socialism, but there are plenty of governments that nationalize industry without the use of force. Clearly in nationalizing GM, it was not a matter of forcing GM to sell 60% of its stocks to the taxpayers! I do wonder to some extent whether the taxpayers were forced to buy this stock. But that would only be the case if this were a democracy.

To be more concrete: what I have in mind is that Iraq, down whose throat we have shoved democracy in defiance of the whole history of that millenia-old civilization whose golden age was under monarchy, thrives best under a strong ruler. That doesn't mean its people are inferior or less intelligent. Nor does it mean they don't deserve self-government. It does seem to me that monarchy is self rule just as democracy is self-rule. That would seem to be controversial enough a proposition to raise eyebrows. In short, if the people don't like a dynasty, they throw it out, or they swear greater allegiance to their feudal lords, who use that power to weaken or overthrow the monarchs. In this part of the world, I would doubt that everyday self-government is a taste having-been-acquired. It's not, by the way, a matter of laziness. It's a matter of "this is my job, and governing is the king's job,"

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Well, when you get beyond the level that human empathy will work, there is a form of government that is better than the alternative:
a government of laws.

Even really bad, stupid laws will work out better than trusting in the good nature of a series of someones who doesn't have a personal attachment to your well-being.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

I would wholeheartedly agree that democracy isn't the best form of government. That's become part of the American mythology. It was never "democracy" that made America great.

Foxfier gets at it, a government of laws. Democracy, when subordinated to law, is an excellent form of government. It satisfies the very human need for stability, while avoiding tyranny.

But we do need destruction because law will be perverted over time. Left to it's way those who respect law will be protecting its perversion. And that's a strange place to be.

I would take monarchy over pure democracy, but republicanism is surely superior to them both.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Ah, but that's the thing about a government of laws-- when the laws are bad enough, you either tear it down and build something new or you're destroyed.

I'm not a big fan of untemptered democracy, but I've always been the minority in the room.

tully said...

I suppose I chose the wrong title. My argument aims not at democracy in particular, as a pure form of government, but at republicanism as well. At whatever we've come to accept in America.

And yes, a nation of laws has its best defense in destruction. The point here is indeed the legitimacy of succession, which is always through destruction. "The King is Dead, Long Live the King!" must be shouted, to ring in the new regime. But much of America has developed a taste for keeping old kings alive, much to the detriment of the new. Constitutionalism is one thing. Strict-constructionism is quite another. It pursues the stability of tradition through the evasion of destruction. But tradition is continually built upon destruction. The Revolutionary War and Civil War stand as our example. But the time is coming for another violent affirmation of tradition.

tully said...

That's what she said.

K-Rod said...

What about Obama shoving Liberal Fascism down our throats?

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

How many times have you said "he can't do that! It's not legal!"-- but nobody enforces the law?

A law that isn't enforced isn't much of a law-- it drags on those who follow it, and empowers those who violate it with impunity. That's the dark side of a Republic, just like a mob is the dark side of a Democracy.

tully said...

That's why the law only lives through destruction: through the mortality of the ruler, and the immortality of his or her right of succession. By virtue of these, the ruler breathes life into the law, which otherwise is so many dead words. So also must he or she give breath as a wind bears off the chaff, carrying off the superfluous and unenforceable and leaving, more powerful than before, the law.

RW said...

The law lives only through destruction? Bakunin, I thought you were dead.

tully said...

Well thanks...I think! But if anyone, I had in mind Machiavelli, via Arendt.

Gino said...

well tully...
looks like you started a discusion here.

kr said...

[ My word verification is dedeaded. I like the Google wv's a lot more since they designed the program to create "word-like non-words" :). I think De-Dead is actually a word in Erfworld.]

* * * * *

A book series I read, The Wheel of Time, sets up an interesting dialectic which I think is pertinent here ... and for the record, the series is written by a man. A man's man, who in this case goes by Robert Jordan. Who wrote also the Conan series.

In any case, in The Wheel of Time series, Jordan set up a universe in which some humans have access to a force that can shape and shift things around them in what might be considered a magical or supernatural way--but he casts it as natural and scientifically discoverable.

For a variety of story reasons, males were disenfranchised from this heritage for a couple thousand years; during the series (of course) they begin to regain their foothold. (Re-)discoveries ensue. At one point, a woman, trained by other women, tries to talk to man about a task both genders are equally capable of: connecting two physical spaces so that one (or many) can simply step from the one to the other via an opening in the air.

She is horrified to discover that his experience of this is (more or less): reaching across a void, grabbing hold of the desired destination so it can't escape, wrenching it into place, and ripping the hole open between there and his current location--and then fighting to keep it open.

Because to accomplish this same task, a woman psychically seeks the desired destination, and brings the desired destination into accord with the current location (by finding similarities and building on them), until opening a Gate between them is gentle and natural. Holding it requires an expenditure of energy, and its size is dependent on her strength, but there isn't anything like the fight the author describes for the man.

This is very nearly a throwaway detail in the books. But probably only because the books are such massive intellectual undertakings. I was shocked to see a male author, who *very clearly* has nothing against males or masculinity, so clearly and concisely capture this politically incorrect dynamic.

* * * * *

LC, I reject your assertion that change must come through destruction, as merely resonant of all the patriarchal assumptions history necessarily records, since history came into being right around the time the patriarchal militaristic cultures started beating people up and taking stuff that wasn't theirs, and self-justifying it to eternity via humanity's then-new skill at writing. Unfortunately this self-justification looked so formal and official in the Emperors New Clothes, that people forgot it was navel-gazing/a desperate attempt to force the gods to see things their way before they died and couldn't argue their own convenience anymore, and just thought it was Justification.

Your turn ;).

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Yeah, SURE that's the male/female dynamic... in romance novels. It's a classic way of contrasting the male and the female, with the male as power and the female as subtle. I've tried several times to get into the Wheel of Time, but the characters keep turning me off-- I don't mind formalistic, but jeeze!

That women tend to be more nurturing, I'll accept-- just as men tend to be more protective. Both of these come with the natural darkside of turning those virtues, manipulation and overpowering.

Any woman who has been a voice of disagreement in an all female group could tell you that women will brow-beat and bully with every bit of passion Mr. Jordon wrote into that scene, and I know men can and do act the great diplomat.

If I had to guess, it comes out of the needful adjustments for dealing with physical things. My mom and I are never going to be all that good at bulling through heavy physical work that a 6'6 marine could easily get done by sheer force. People develop tools to fill needs.

(BTW, Jordan wrote *A* Conan series, not the Conan series-- my uncles are Howard fanboys, to the point that I have a cousin named a form of Conan.)

kr said...


I've never looked into the Conan series; good to know.

Yeah, no, I'm not arguing that All Women do this and All Men do that -- and women can for sure be completely destructive (although usually socially/emotionally/psychologically), and men can for sure be diplomatic (but I note that if popular culture is an accurate measure, the grand lot of men consider those men who are diplomatic to have special skills ... or at least incomprehensible patience and self-control ... and/or they instinctively don't trust them).

I'm arguing that, like a great many assumptions people often assert are "true," the assertion that real change must happen through destruction may be an artifact of our extremely masculine cultural history ... and the *negative* side of masculinity, unfortunately, is what has (according to history, which has been a record of the victors) been running human affairs for the last few thousand years.

Wheel of Time does take a particular brand of patience ;).