Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Iron Law and the Malleable Will

When I wake up (sometimes in the afternoons at the moment…) I find myself swamped by emails. Today I had a look over at the Philosophy Community on Google+ for the first time in a couple of weeks, and after only a moment’s scrolling, discovered this:

“Elite oligarchy is the unbendable law of human nature, due largely to the apathy and division of the masses. Democratic institutions do no more than shift the exercise of power from oppression to manipulation.”

I thought to myself, hmm. And I continue to think, hmm.
            One of my first questions (to myself, mainly) was: imagine a political system whereby parties did not use elected officials, but their entire membership or affiliation; in a situation with mass gatherings and convergences of views, opinions, beliefs, that will all have different tints, how would the exercise of power be managed? Would progress be seen, conclusions made, actions performed?
            Having read quotes from Robert Michels and Darcy K. Leach, it seems futile to write something antithetical to the stance of the quote. Much of what is argued, particularly by Michels, has great weight. First, that when a democratic body initiates in a small number, it exists in a healthier state to reach conclusions in a form that could be described as democratic, that is to say, through the will of the people. Second, that when there is a growing democratic machine, party or vessel, it becomes increasingly difficult to organize. Organize what? Discussions, debates, voting ceremonies, speeches. Despite being in what might be termed the Technological Age, no country has the power to rally hundreds of thousands of people quickly into one place, and provide the necessary order, peace and understanding for topics or matters of debate and discussion to be addressed en masse. That is, imagine attempting to fit, oh, say, three million people into a public city square for five hours on a Saturday afternoon, in order to address a wholly-reaching, all important matter regarding human rights. It would require vast, punctual, efficient transport; not to mention large and powerful sound equipment, law enforcement, refreshments, a latrine or toilet system of some kind or other, and probably a prohibition, or at the very least, limitation, on the amount of alcohol people could not just purchase (think proxy, here), but consume. How would this be established? There would have to be some sort of stamp-card system for each drink bought, with, perhaps, three drinks being the maximum. Taking all of these considerations into account, the party or group would discover on Monday morning a rather large chit. How could this be managed — through the use of a “member” system? Whereby, to be a member of said democratic party, one must contribute, say, £3 a year? Fair enough, this amount is small and for many people it can be earned in half an hour of paid work. Less fortunate people, however, cannot piece together even half of this sum for a cup of coffee on a cold winter’s Tuesday. What this small membership also comes with, concomitantly, is the implication (perhaps even accusation) that a person is being charged, not to have a voice, but to have a voice which is legitimized. To be able to hold one’s hand up and know that their words are being absorbed, chewed on, spun around and considered with some level of meaning, and not merely cast aside as mere verbal dung. Where membership is concerned, money is both authenticity and (to a lesser degree) authority.
            There is both logic and merit, therefore, in having elected officials. A much smaller number would mean less of a stress on transport, law enforcement and alcohol; having a parliamentary establishment would fully enforce rules of etiquette and behaviour, enabling these representatives to get down to the business of representing.
These elected delegates would likely be people of intelligence, charisma and authority. MPs, for example. Hailing from constituencies spread across a country or region, each carrying the views of (in the case of Great Britain’s First Past the Post system) the highest accumulation of any party represented in a constituency (that is to say, if one party held support from 8% of a constituency, and twenty-three other parties could only muster 4% each, then the 8% would be the party elected as the “winner”). Thankfully, this probably won’t ever happen to the extremity of only 8% of a constituency being the so-called enfranchised by the time the voting is counted and finalized. Worryingly, this number, if the party with 8% were to storm their way to victory with much higher accumulations across the rest of the country, could easily be forgotten provided any form of hung parliament or absence of a clear majority are avoided. Nevertheless, it seems that there is an absence of democracy if 8% of constituents are represented, and 92% with varying views are left in a state of disarray.
            Robert Michels, who coined the phrase Iron Law of Oligarchy, claimed that ‘Who says organization, says Oligarchy’. In a so called democratic state, people elect officials as a manifestation of the representative voice of a country, region, constituency, to be a rational and logistical means (no doubt suggested by people that have, down the years, been elected, no less) of converging en masse. These elected are the mages of this world. The chosen ones, each with an aspect of views, desires and social, economic, racial, political hues that differ from opinion to opinion, from class to class, from psyche to psyche. However, considering this part of the statement I found, “due largely to the apathy and division of the masses,” it seems naïve to propose that, beyond being the sword of their constituency, the elected official has no other role where organization is concerned. Apathy and division. Aristotle argued that a large and stable middle class, bearing much smaller edges of wealth and poverty either side of it, would be the best possible social conglomeration through which to achieve democratic polity. According to university research, the Great Britain of 2013 has seven recognizable social classes, all the way from “precariat” (precarious proletariat) through to “elite”. These two diametrical groups include a total of between 21-22% of the population, meaning that 78% of Great Britain is somewhere between poor and rich. It is extremely easy to simply say these things and come up with ostensibly logical redistribution plans or to sit down, ponder and then contrive various vessels for investment. Easy in theory; in practice, far more difficult. The 6% which account for Britain’s social elite are likely the people with contacts all around the globe; with real investments and sure monetary strategies. Some of it might well be inherited; some if it could very possibly be hard-earned. A new, reworked tax system, however, is not where I’m looking.
            78-79% of a so-called world power’s population is somewhere in the middle, a middle which itself is divided into five categories. Consider then, the three biggest political parties in Britain; the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (currently in a coalition government together) and the opposition party, Labour. Labour, as a political party, speaks out in its very title to its intended class. The very word labour is almost laborious in and of itself. Say it, labour, feel the -bour pull you onwards at the end. There’s almost a we’re in this together psychological message coming through. Or maybe I’m just good at contriving bullshit.
Could apathetic and divisive be states of being attached to the 78% of Britain’s middle spectrum? Age, wealth, living location, cultural and social capital, can all be considered to separate these groups in one fashion or another. There exist people with a social climbing ambition; equally, some people are happy in their situation, content with working 9-5 each day in an industry, with two or three children and an awareness of no real economic danger without ever being able to jump out of bed one day and buy a brand new sports car.
Why are people apathetic towards politics and the political philosophy? Life for many people is a twenty-four hour cycle. This cycle involves the early morning cries of the alarm, the steaming kettle and buzzing toaster at breakfast. The cold, frosty morning meets you on your commute to work, be it via train, bus, car or another method, and it is uncomfortable. Hustle and bustle, nobody with the time to stop and greet with a smile; suits only half-ironed revealing creases around the edges; people’s hair might not be fully arranged. Life is a rush. Come the end of the working day, the only eagerness driving most is to return home safely, have dinner and finally settle down with a book or a television programme and sip a warm drink or a glass of red in order to wind down. Then they sleep, and repeat. This is a never-ending cycle, which might also include driving children to and from school, helping them with homework, engaging with them, bathing them and reading their bedtime story; yes, oh yes, and in this cycle, where are people supposed to make the time to consider their political principals? When spare time is found, people are wont to steal away those precious moments in a state of languor, because they feel the rest of their time is spent working towards the next day and the next. This, then, is where we might see apathy. Less and less, I suspect, are elected officials chosen and supported through a passion that is white-hot. These political delegates are selected to make decisions on behalf of people with whom, yes, some ideology might be shared, but they are people who simply don’t believe they have the time to make these decisions themselves anyway.
Seven billion humans, give or take a few million, inhabit earth. Among those lucky enough to voice their opinions, it is indubitable that there will be conflict. Different interpretations leading to people standing on opposite sides of the chasm; be the debate political or religious, and whether or not there are fully-fledged differences in individual’s standpoints, or only minor distinctions, there always exist these oppositions. Debate is perceived as a useful tool; a tool with which people can define standpoints. Debate is a form of expression that shelters speakers in an agreed level of respect from peers and listeners. Division and debate together are a positive mixture; they illustrate that human beings are always thinking; making calculations to find a new and improved system to execute that will hopefully give a fairer future to more people than the current system does. However, the fact remains that these debates are voiced by the elected political manifestations of a constituency, and not the whole scope of its constituents. This in itself is a form of manipulation. When one person speaks on behalf of three million, there is bound to be at least one instance of division; it is the delegate, however, who ultimately has the voice, and because this oligarchical form of government, which will always supplant a messy and disorganized mass attempt at democracy, has succeeded over a monarchical form of rule (in Great Britain, anyway), it continues to stand, sometimes camouflaged under the term democracy. The larger the population, the more paperwork and minor quandaries, meaning, of course, the birth and utilization of bureaucracy to take care of these nuances.
Ultimately, as much as I wished to disagree with the statement that Oligarchy is the unbendable law of human nature, I see no evidence to form an argument. All around us people are delegating tasks. All around us there are people privileged enough to have an opinion they can voice, but still society is poisoned by an insecurity in the self, whereby people lack the courage of their convictions and this is why, when a leader bravely presents his or her self to their electorate, people already hope this potential prime being has the qualities a leader should have.

As an aside. I have begun a blog dedicated to book reviews, to be updated as and when I'm able to finish reading books. The first post is on Scott Lynch's The Republic of Thieves and the Gentleman Bastards Sequence. Take a look at
Secondly, I have written an article on the Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean over at - please feel free to give it a read. Credit for Gus Harris, too, the owner of the site, for some excellent sports reading. 


No comments:

Post a Comment