Or perhaps, merely another much too lengthy diatribe!
On a very personal, intimate level, 2021 was a success for me. I survived somehow. The same was probably true for many people, perhaps for most, despite all the obstacles put in play in order for those in power to maintain their unfettered control. They count on that; keep us at least barely satisfied with our lots and frightened by manufactured crises and we’ll grumble but stay in line. But in 2021, they almost went too far, all too recklessly skating on thin ice. Unfortunately for us, to them that means they did a great job. The ice seemingly held. Their prime tools this time around were:
- The generation of hysteria over the January 6 political protests, characterized as an insurrection on the scale of the Civil War and terrorism akin to the attacks on September 11, 2001 and even, to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1946. To some extent such comparisons are valid, they all distort reality, ignoring the reasons such events took place and in their stead, manufacturing fictional noble causes; and
- The Covid 19 pandemic and its related isolation and economic constraints, especially the false preventive efficiency attributed to purported vaccines and the ostracism that those opposed to vaccinations should be made to suffer.
Each of those tools were amplified thanks to the subservient corporate media and Internet platforms which managed to polarize us more than ever, permitting those who rule us to massively enrich and empower themselves while we were kept busy snapping at each other, a polarized population being, ironically, a docile population as far as those who control us are concerned, easy to confuse and manipulate. An allegory for 2021 might have been a large pack of dogs viciously biting their own tails as each ran around in futile circles while their handlers guffawed.
While it gets tiring (as in the case of quixotic tilting at windmills), for many years I have sought to clarify what real progressives and leftists are about, what they definitively do not embrace, and that the Democratic Party is neither liberal nor progressive nor leftist (even though too many who share those perspectives are perpetually trapped there, spinning their wheels furiously in the futile aspiration of attaining “change from within”). As the year turns from 2021 to 2022, I will once again masochistically share certain premises important to my personal political philosophy, a blend between democratic socialism and libertarianism, knowing that, assuming my views are not censored, they will be trolled and distorted and then, as deformed, ridiculed by the zombie-like-walking-silly (i.e., the purportedly “Woke” cancel culture groupies).
Here goes:; …, one more time!!!
First of all, the foundation. My sociopolitical and economic perspectives are premised on the realization that every human being is both an individual and a member of a concentric series of collectives varying from personal relationships with other individuals to membership in the human species as a whole. Among them are the diverse levels of the State which, for good or ill, is used as a tool to hold our individualistic nature in check. As a result of such dual nature, conflicts requiring resolution arise. Such conflicts should, when possible, be reconciled so that the demands of both natures are met but when they cannot be reconciled, I believe the collective interest must prevail: Libertarians believe the converse. The corrupt believe something else and that third perspective, incoherent and counterproductive, is currently the One Ring that rules us all. The producers of the old television series “Star Trek” put my collectivist perspective well when they had its most popular fictional figure, the Vulcan Spock, state “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. That is even more true, of course, when it involves needs of the many and whims of the privileged few.
Second, on the importance of an open mind willing to listen as well as to pontificate and thus, to grow and improve. The one thing I most admired about the late Ross Perot during his independent candidacy for the presidency of the United States was his defense of his willingness to change his position on diverse issues. The corporate media and most politicians consider that anathema, wishy washy and a sign of hypocrisy and in many cases, they’re right. But Mr. Perot wisely noted that only a fool, and a selfish one at that, is unwilling to admit when he’s wrong, and to seek to correct related errors. Notwithstanding my current strongly held views (they’ve been drastically different in the past), I’ve always felt that an open mind leads to growth (and transition), thus my sociopolitical and economic perspectives are also premised on the reality that almost all political and economic interactions involve pragmatic collectivist “conventions” (as described below) rather than objectively verifiable “truths”. That is the foundation for the “scientific method” of inquiry, a continuing process and work in progress changing with the context and evolving as time and experience change prior realities, as true for the social as for the physical sciences. Interestingly, that was a fundamental premise in Marxist-Hegel influenced ideology involving dialectics. “Conventions” are social constructs created and enforced though our collective natures but impacted in their development by our individuality, as in Galileo and Newton and Einstein revolutionizing previously held beliefs. They are, in essence, a pragmatic solution to the improbability of proving absolute truths predicated on the realization that “faith alone” does not constitute proof. They involve a collectivist agreement to treat something as true, because it works, for so long as it continues to function, something on which both mathematics and physics are premised. But conventions can be easily distorted and manipulated by those who control the mechanisms through which we exchange information, especially through the tools made available to them by behavioral psychology. Consequently, reality can become almost impossible to accurately discern, especially since it is so readily manipulated by those who have cornered the market on power.
Third; on democracy, liberty, pluralism and human rights. In the segment of our planet which, for political purposes, we have arbitrarily denominated the “West” (an illusory concept in a revolving globe), we claim to base our society on “participatory, representative democracy” limited by “human rights”. Unfortunately, neither exist nor have ever existed, not even as conventions.
Democracy has a meaning, government by a majority, but the meaning has been utterly distorted by insisting that it also includes liberty and pluralism, concepts utterly at odds with majority rule. Liberty is that within us which no one can require us to change, no matter what, and pluralism is the opposite of majority rule, it is the right of minorities to establish their own rules. Even if the term “democracy” was given its logical meaning, limited to majority rule, it has rarely if ever functioned because massive participation is required to attain a majority. Majority means more than half, not of those willing to participate, but of everyone impacted. At best we sometimes attain majorities of those who participate, which is not a real majority, and most often we attain mere pluralities, i.e., the largest single number although the combination of those opposed is larger. An example is a field of three candidates where the “victor” receives 35% of the vote and those utterly opposed to the perspectives of the victor divide the remaining 65% of the vote (the majority), with one candidate receiving 33% of the vote and the other, 32%. As a consequence, for example, in the United States, because of political abstention, majorities are rarely if ever attained. Those abstaining frequently do so because the political system enshrined by law gives collectives in the form of political parties a virtual monopoly on selecting candidates and platforms, none of which appeal to them. Consequently, power is held by those opposed by the disunited majority of abstainers and the opposition party or parties. The illusion of democracy (its orchestrated verisimilitude), is used by the tiny groups who long ago consolidated real power, what today is referred to as the “Deep State”, to infuse their use of the monopoly of force embodied in the State with apparent legitimacy in order to “persuade” (more accurately “force”) us to comply with their personal objectives, to our collective detriment. Consequences include:
- Futile armed conflicts where we and our families do the suffering, and they profit, and related expenditures on maintaining standing armies equipped with the latest technological toys
- Abuse of the concept of intellectual property to generate long term, counter-competitive monopolies and force us to pay for inferior products, with the holders of such rights rarely being those who developed the intellectual property;
- Monopolistic control, frequently through government action, over the economy, means of communication, transportation, etc.
Human rights involve a similar illusory construct, a pabulum enunciated based on truths purportedly so obvious that the the need for proof is disdained (e.g., the Declaration of Independence’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident”, penned by slaveholder Thomas Jefferson), an argument ironically based on assertions by empiricist John Locke who wrote that all individuals are equal in the sense that they are born with certain self-obvious (and thus exempt from requirements of proof) “inalienable” natural rights” (i.e., rights that are God-given and can never be taken or even given away, among which are “life, liberty and property”). Other empiricist philosophers including David Hume subsequently demolished such argument noting that nothing was too self-obvious to do away with the need for proof, and then illustrating why that was so. Instead, Hume argued (as previously addressed) that absolute truth being impossible to prove, humans utilize the concept of “conventions”, agreements to treat certain postulates as true because doing so is convenient until proved otherwise.
My sociopolitical and economic perspectives with respect to the concept of so-called rights are premised on the more realistic belief that the illusory concept of rights should become a reality, while recognizing that while we tend to worship the concept of rights, as we do our religions, both are merely collective constructs which we honor most in the breach. That is because, while rights are purportedly inherent rather than granted and thus necessarily unconditional, all interactions involving such concept are in fact conditional (many such conditions being not only reasonable but necessary) and thus none are inherent, much though we may wish they were. They are all merely conditional promises by the State and now the international community, thus, rather than inherent, they are promises of grants from above, either to refrain from acting or promising to act, if certain conditions are met, and if such inaction or actions are convenient at any given time. While the so-called “first generation rights” involved restrictions on action by the State that cost nothing, all subsequent generations of rights are not only costly, but require action not only by the State but by everyone and sometimes more recently, by nature and the universe itself. While laudable, none can, in fact, be guaranteed. “Guarantees” (another illusory concept) of what we call rights is impossible, which is why all rights are violated more frequently than they are respected. That is especially true as the concept of rights is expanded to positive actions such as decent housing, decent wages, access to healthcare, access to education, a healthy sustainable environment and peace. Consequently, purported “rights” are merely aspirational deceptions; mere sociopolitical and economic goals that should be governmental priorities but which are usually ignored resulting in popular discontent and in the loss of faith in communal governing structures. That they are embodied at the pinnacle of constitutions does not make them any more real.
Fourth, on constitutions. So, about constitutions, the highest level norms of the land … Unless they’re not. In the best sense, constitutions are the collective conventions we use to try and reconcile opposing concepts by prioritizing them in different context so as to derive the best each has to offer. They do so by establishing organs for collective governance and detailing the broad outlines of how they are supposed to operate, limiting the authority of majorities, and establishing priorities on which the governed are entitled to rely, if they meet designated conditions. However, notwithstanding consistent use of purported “guarantees”, they in fact guarantee nothing, they couldn’t even if their authors truly hoped they would. Even worse, once constitutions are used to centralize power, it becomes almost impossible to compel its appropriate exercise through constitutional means. As in the case of religions and sacred texts, constitutional guarantees too often become extraneous in practice. Being merely social constructs, constitutions, per se, are neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Indeed, rather than being the crystallization of norms insisted upon by the populace, i.e., norms percolating from below, they are almost always constructs imposed from above designed to maintain economic elites in power through deception with illusory promises of democracy, rarely if ever kept.
Constitutions are poorly understood, even by academics and jurists, too often because they are drenched in propaganda. Thus, in the purportedly liberal “West”, many assert that without “division of powers”, a national charter cannot properly be denominated a constitution, the same is purportedly true about a constitution that does not specifically “guarantee” human rights. To use an appropriate albeit anachronistic term, “balderdash”! Division of Powers was an eighteenth century concept designed to avoid authoritarian government by dividing political power into three purportedly coequal branches (executive, legislative and judicial) and insisting that no single person or institution could exercise more than one. Several additional branches have emerged over the centuries, most importantly the power of constitutional review, the power to regulate elections and the power to police against governmental corruption but in many countries (e.g., the United States), they are all subsumed among the three traditional branches.
Division of Functions is a slightly similar albeit vastly different concept which recognizes, in essence, that government power comes in three flavors, but does not prohibit their comingling in one person or institution. The fusion of all three flavors in one person or entity has historically been referred to as “dictatorship” but has not been universally or historically been seen as a negative, rather, it is a highly efficient form of government most useful in emergencies. Even dictatorships with power vested in a single person (e.g., Saudi Arabia) honor Division of Functions with power administratively delegated to subordinates.
While most parliamentary (Westminster) systems claim to honor the doctrine of Division of Powers, none do so as the legislative and executive functions both stem from the parliament, from which the executive is selected and serves at the pleasure of the parliamentary majority, and in some cases, the ultimate judicial power as well as the power of constitutional review is also vested in parliament. The United Kingdom is an example as is Israel although neither have formal constitutions embodied in a supreme written charter. Presidential systems such as that established by the United States Constitution of 1787-89 give lip service to the doctrine of Separation of Powers but through huge loopholes denominated “checks and balances” and the power to issue administrative “decrees” create more of an incoherent hybrid system which in practice centralizes power in the executive.
Neither Division of Powers, Division of Functions or dictatorship have anything to do with “democracy”, in the sense of universal participatory government by the majority, which deals only with how those who govern are selected. Adolf Hitler’s Nazis were initially empowered through democratic elections while the Union led by Abraham Lincoln was not, he having been a minority president. Of course, both were dictators. Indeed, most governments identify themselves as democracies insisting that opponents who also identify as democracies are doing so dishonestly. Interestingly, the major blocs in conflict all have a point. Actually, several. First of all, there is no truly democratic constitution anywhere so they’re all half-right. But the issue that divides involves a misinterpretation which, as previously indicated, in the “West”, merges the conflicting concepts of liberty and majority rule. Thus, to “Western” constitutional scholars, the constitutions of, for example, socialist states lack libertarian guarantees and are thus not “democratic. Conversely and more accurately, constitutional scholars in such states stress that they in fact have far greater participation by their citizens in elections, usually in excess of 90%, and that real majorities of all eligible voters are required, although such participation is compelled. Western scholars reply that candidates in socialist states are pre-vetted, but socialist scholars argue that political parties in the West serve the same function. Apparently, the only sure thing is that electoral systems everywhere serve to deprive the electorate of a meaningful voice in candidate selection, hence my assertion that democracy does not exist anywhere. Nonetheless, notwithstanding the fact that in practice there are no truly democratic constitutions, or libertarian constitutions, or pluralistic constitutions, or equitable constitutions, or constitutions that “guarantee” human rights, they are still essential as the means through which such opposing concepts are prioritized, even in a dysfunctional fashion; the organic nature of government is established; and, the manner in which those charged with the power to govern are, at least formally, selected.
Depressing realities, I know. Real progressives and leftists recognize that, as in the case of the illusory concept of rights, the concept of constitutions involves a structure potentially useful in reconciling conflicting interests and thus useful, indeed necessary, to attain progressive and leftist sociopolitical and economic goals. Unfortunately, constitutions are more than anything works of art with beautiful platitudes, such as “constituent power” and sources of constitutional authority based on the People or the Nation and the “consent of the governed” and “representative government”, but little else. Of course, constitutions could serve extremely useful, pragmatic functions, … theoretically. Progressives and leftists recognize that the concepts of majority rule, liberty and minority rights are antagonistic and contradictory and thus difficult to implement concurrently, but that they are all desirable and thus require real supreme norms in the form of constitutions to provide a mechanism to prioritize such concepts in specific instances as a means of resolving their inherent contradictions, and that such mechanisms involve development and implementation of policies, policies that should evolve over time to reflect changing circumstances and that may differ based on geographical values and cultural traditions.
Fifth, on policies.
Personally, I see immense values in two conflicting political schools of thought, democratic socialism and libertarianism, something I believe characterizes real leftists and real progressives. Based on a synthesis of such perspectives, there are a number of policies that I personally currently support which I believe should be implemented through the collective we refer to as the State under the mechanisms we refer to as government. These include, among others: free education at all levels; free healthcare; free insurance against unavoidable risks; equality of opportunity; freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, religion or ethnicity; a guaranteed minimum income adequate to meet basic needs to food, clothing and shelter; freedom of expression, even if one is wrong; equal rights to political participation; protection of personal integrity from assault; a functional system of justice and conflict resolution; and, elimination of corruption at any level. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party, while seemingly supporting them, manipulates the foregoing in a manner that, rather than leading to their implementation, polarizes us all through use of ridicule, virtue shaming and coercion, all in a quest for political dominance.
Notwithstanding claims by the Democratic Party and the corporate media, real progressives and leftists do not support censorship, whether by governments or by private monopolies, nor do we support divisive identity politics or cancel culture. We reject attempts to fictionalize history more than it already is by destroying monuments just as we have always opposed book burnings. We certainly do not support impunity on any level, including the impunity now enjoyed by purported journalists spewing propaganda instead of news, and impunity enjoyed by government officials at any level, including the judiciary, the legislature, the executive, the military or the police. While we believe that we should be free to act, we also believe that we must all be held responsible for the consequences of our actions. We do not believe that corrective reactions to illegal conduct should be punitive but rather, that they should be restorative, corrective and no more harmful to the violator than necessary, and that once the corrective actions demanded have been met, the violator must be fully and unconditionally restored to full status as a member of the collective involved.
Sixth, on the realization that not all solutions involve State action. As a real progressives and leftist, I seek to reconcile libertarian and collective goals prioritizing non-State intervention, recognizing that most conflict resolution should not involve the coercive power of the State. Thus many serious and troubling issues will not have generic solutions but must be left to specific individual and collective interaction. Such issues include medical decisions involving our own bodies such as abortion and vaccination against pandemic diseases where no answer seems right for everyone; issues such as most aspects of consensual sexual practices or use of intoxicants and recreational drugs; issues involving consensual intimate associations among mentally competent adults; issues involving child rearing and education. Those issues should be addressed either individually or by non-governmental collectives such as families, religions, philosophies and other voluntary groupings.
Seventh, on the importance of tolerance and empathy. As a real progressives and leftist, I recognize that the foregoing all involve a permanent experiment and a permanent state of transition all too frequently unsettling and uncomfortable and that as in the case of evolution in nature, our individual and collective interactions sometimes result in negative aberrations that require correction but that transition is essential in a non-static setting such as that in which the human milieu exists. I believe that much of the foregoing does not reflect perspectives exclusive to the left and to progressives but is shared among people of good faith with varying perspectives. I believe that the vast majority of people everywhere share common goals, we want to be happy, healthy and secure, and to make our own decisions without being subjected to ridicule and slander. To be free to say and do what we want while understanding that our liberty and autonomy has boundaries when it negatively impacts others. That were it not for successful efforts to divide and polarize us, most of us are opposed to calcifying permanent authoritarian and totalitarian solutions, especially given the non-absolute and transitory nature of collective conventions. Collective conventions only work when there is adequate communication, transparency and honesty in an empathic setting based on mutual respect, respect for the rights of others to hold and express contrary opinions.
While in many cases for diverse reasons we all reach incorrect conclusions on important issues involving how we attain shared goals, it is very rare for anyone to alter wrongly held views because they are being scorned. All scorn and ridicule do is discourage people from openly and honestly sharing their beliefs making effective dialogue improbable. A great deal of the current social and political polarization is caused by lack of empathy and comprehension of the perspectives of others. We are too insistent on being heard while being unprepared to listen with open minds and in that, too easily manipulated by those for whom our confusion and polarization are all too useful tools.
In conclusion, sort of.
So, … a bit too long (I know) and perhaps easily forgotten amidst the onslaught of truly fake news from every direction and the opiates with which we are distracted from taking meaningful corrective action, opiates that not only include organized religion but also sports and television and action movies and videogames and our pets and our pet peeves and other distractions, I leave you all with this somewhat inappropriate and certain to be unappreciated gift, sort of like underwear and handkerchiefs at Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza, etc.: useful, but not all that much fun.
Things to consider as our artificial calendar once more turns after another very unpleasant and non-productive year.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.
 Freedom of expression, religion, assembly, etc., the so called political rights. Noteworthy, the right to political participation was not among such rights (see, for example, the United States Constitution in its original version and the Bill of Rights), despite the American Revolution having purportedly been fought because of “taxation without representation”.