Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Structures of power and the rise of the fool

There's been a trend in politics lately. We bitch and moan on a daily basis about politicians and politics. It has become a natural default setting almost in some corners of the media. Yet there is another trend, and it’s this: we vote in these imbeciles. 

We have gone for a certain type of character, just like me and you, an everyman, whose distaste for politics is matched by our own. We like these people, voted them in, allowed them to sit in some of the highest offices in all over the world.

Does this mean that there has been a shift in our attitude towards politics and politicians? It's like we now view politicians as managers of a system beyond their control. This is exactly Adam Curtis's point in his documentary All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. We worship at the alter of the notion of the self-organising systems. 

This can be seen at both ends of the political spectrum. The anarchists believe that humanity will self-organise without need for state or nation, while those on the far-right champion the will of the market as the ultimate governing force for humanity.

A vote in a general election or a presidential election like the one last month, in such a case, becomes something akin to a vote for a contestant on X-Factor. It becomes a popularity contest, focussed on the individual. While this seems to point to a championing of individualism above all other ideological cause (such as Socialism), perhaps it also points to a belief, a utopian dream, in a self-organising system. It is the belief that human affairs culminate in a system greater than the sum of its parts. It is the idea of the equilibrium of naturally occurring systems, such as ecosystems in nature. It is the idea that conscious manipulation of these balanced systems will through them into imbalance. Consciousness is bad. Just leave it be, it’ll sort itself out. This is exactly what the neoconservatives in the US have been saying for years about the flow of capital in the global markets.

And so, we voted as if our vote doesn't really count, as if political ideology or ideas of how to organise society didn't matter a jot. In fact, as the cash was flowing and the economies around the world - such as our own - were booming, we seemed to almost hope that this was the case, that the world had reached that kind of systemic equilibrium that the neoconservatives hoped and promised.

In the US they voted in Ronald Reagan, an ex-movie star. Slavoj Zizek tells of the time he first began to despair in the face of this new type of politician. A journalist asked Reagan about a complex economic issue that the president had make a mistake about. Reagan "leveled" with him, shrugging it off, saying that he shouldn't be expected to remember everything. Everybody laughed. 'Cause this was just how he was, uncle Ronald, a safe hand, even if he's a bit forgetful.

Zizek holds Berlusconi up not simply as the clown that he is, but also as a warning of how the dictatorship of the future might take shape. He controlled politics and the media up until he reluctantly stepped down well after the writing was on the wall. Because we view these people as powerless, we vote them in, we give them a certain kind of underhand access to power. That is the paradox embedded within all of this.

Then there's our own example of this - one Mister Bertie Ahern. Poor Bertie. He was in over his head. All he wanted to do was drink a pint of Harp, and watch the United match. That money was just resting in his account. No one told him about the economy, especially not those future suicide victims (or so he hoped).

Just there in the presidential elections, we nearly voted in that chap from Dragon's Den. He seemed suave and straight talking, emphasising jobs, jobs, jobs. He would be Ireland's modern president, not too concerned with politics, all about the business, all about showing the godlike entity of the Market that Ireland was open for business.

Forget the links to Fianna Fail. This was the real problem with Gallagher. Instead we voted in Michael D. Higgins who, in his last speech to the Dail, espoused the power of parliamentary democracy, a power that he was seeing erode around him. He also pointed to studies which showed that markets were always irrational. It is through the political that rationality enters into the affairs of humanity as a whole. This might not be completely true, but if we believe we have no such free will, no power to act against these market forces, then what a sorry state of affairs that would be.

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