Leading by Soothing Lies
Politics is the process for making collective choices. Democratic politics endeavor to involve the “common man” because of his “common sense”: He has a right and the qualification to determine his destiny. Crucial assumptions support that thought. What people identify with produces an association which expresses a collective identity.
Furthermore, the participants of the decision making process are not only sovereign — to determine their affairs- but also trusted that their judgments express a reason-driven process. In terms of what could be known at the time of the choice, the verdict is the best one available. For that to hold water, the process requires informed participants that are thereby enabled to make sound choices.
This informed electorate is the product of interacting components. One is the people’s mature will to be knowledgeable about what determines the welfare of its commonwealth. The other is that the “full-time executive” in charge of daily affairs, shall provide the data reasonable men need to fell rational decisions. Regrettably, even in a democratic context, the risk exists that the functions of the governing class and that of the “led,” will cast them not only in different roles but that it will also endow them with divergent perceptions. From these clashing perceptions, the distance to conflicting interests is a short one. Although only a limited power is conferred by the sovereign people upon its executive committee, the element manning it, might be tempted to expand its job description to enhance its power. If such self-conferred attributes emerge, the consequence is an unintended nexus between the rulers and the ruled.
We hold that power is legitimized by the systemic evaluation of its use by its original source. The fountain of legitimacy is the people, meaning the governed. The people-governor relationship is inherently unstable. It can happen that elites come to view the fact that they hold power to be the source that legitimizes their actions and their inherited function. With that the affected society makes a step toward a form of dictatorship that might be camouflaged in a formal democratic cloak.
Holding power, whether by election or through membership in a bureaucracy, creates an interest group. Family ties will bolster it because, informally, certain functions will become inherited. Such claims will be supported by formal education dispersed by the “right” schools. The gap to the “mass” will be enhanced by life-style, connections, and “class.” Among these are certain table manners, accents, a dress-code, as well as properly furnished homes in comme-il-faut locations. With that, the privileged access to political power will be cemented as outsiders will hardly meet the required profile for admission, retention and promotion. Tellingly, even the governing clans subscribing to equalitarian ideologies, are not immune to elitist transmutation. The Soviet “nomenclatura” and contemporary China make the point.
As possessing power legitimizes the might of its holder, political power is likely to develop a metastasis to economic entitlements. Political muscle converts into economic influence and into access to coveted goods. (The latter is critical in the scarcity-defined economies of socialist rule.) If politics decides who gets what, then it is only natural, that power translates into material privileges.
The described process supports Acton’s observation that power corrupts. Similarly, earlier observations made here, confirm his bit about how absolute power will spoil its holder. Elite power, especially if abused to cause mass poverty, leads to material privilege and that relationship creates the bridge to corruption. A related thought tells that the rule of dictators will become the rule of thieves.
As the mold that separates the rulers from the subordinate solidifies, to the former, the “people” appears as incompetent that disturbs the serious business of governing by the knowing. This contempt explains why, in the few systems that practice “direct democracy,” the intervention of the voters in governance is resented as a “people’s dictatorship.” From “democracy is when the government acts with the people’s consent” we move to “the people consents to what the government does for it.”
The elite’s dislike of the subordination to the “unwashed,” leads to the attempt to steer the people. Outright coups being problematic in modern times, this is best accomplished by the management of information to gain the consent of the sedated. Part of that is to make the news “understandable” to the masses, and to adjust their content to what they can “digest.” Benign elites — some are openly contemptuous of the dumb crowd — assume having a tutorial mission to guide their wards. The good teachers sieve and select what is presented to fit the pupil’s maturity. This only limps because good teachers assume that their pupils will grow. Political elites, on the other hand, regard the relationship between the knowledgeable and therefore powerful, and the limited, and therefore dependent, as being permanent.
Our experience reveals that the resulting strategy consists of several tactics. One is to “feed them ‘Ersatz’.” The informational placebo supplies trivia to redirect attentions. The newest divorce of a celeb, a frivolous suit, an award for a trivial skill, is all part of the fare.
Second, feed distortions until a serious matter shrink to brain-spam that obfuscates the point. A classical case is the manhunt that withholds the suspect’s traits if he fits a protected victim category. Simplification is crucial, so report “enhanced benefits,” but withhold that the dues for all will also rise.
Third, claim to “combat populism” and retain information about matters that should not be: The dull ones should not be provoked with what might upset them as they are unable to evaluate it. Example: A treaty is concluded with a committed enemy. The agreement and the Leader’s statesmanship are applauded. Then evidence emerges of violations. Keep silent about that, or put it on a back page. Should the silent treatment fail, mention that “nagging critics are again showing their pathological deformation by underlining a trifle that… .”
It is common knowledge that “crying wolf” will be damaging when the real one decides to have you for lunch. The practice of selling an artificial construct to hide reality will work for some time. However, trying to “fool all the people all of a time” will make the nail of truth penetrate the thickest camouflage. Election results, new parties — good and bad ones — are an expression of not only the revolt of the hitherto silent ones, but also of the disillusion with the abuses of traditional politics and its engineers. The fact to communicate is: The trust is lost.
At this time, the distrust and disillusionment on account of the reality marketed and the one experienced, is growing and its fruits are ripening. Due to a web of lies created to continue to lead undisturbed, the unwillingness of the “common man” to follow, once forced to apply his “common sense,” has arrived. A conclusion demands that it be made: We are entering a new era of politics, methods and leadership. This change is, as it expresses a need to turn away from the past, truly revolutionary. About revolutions we may add that, they are easier to make than it is to manage their consequences.