No one today would gasp in disbelief at the observation that the institutional pillars of modern societies — government, business, religion, journalism — are convulsing through one crisis of legitimacy after another. It sounds scandalous and subversive, but the argument simply provides a penetrating glimpse into an obvious and bitter truth.
Today, we know that putatively democratic governments no longer enact or express the will of the people. They couldn’t care less about the consent of the governed; instead, they wholeheartedly embrace their subservience to corporations, leaving everyone complicit in this collusion free to perpetrate fraud with impunity. We also know that neither the media nor religious institutions have the will or the moral authority to oppose systemic fraud. The handful of thinkers eloquently exposing the collapse of institutional legitimacy — e.g., George Monbiot, Chris Hedges — are as sincere as they are ineffectual.
In simpler times, governments used to exile or exterminate prophets and visionaries who dared to voice these counter-cultural truths. Today, governments simply co-opt sparks of rebellion. With some exceptions, they don’t yet need to resort to repressive force. They can usually count on the deeply conditioned passivity and complacency of the emasculated and entranced citizenry.
Still, modern bards of discontent keep howling and blowing whistles. Yesterday, George Monbiot at The Guardian emitted another primal scream (It’s business that really rules us now).
“It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.”
“They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main political parties in Britain.”
“Most of the scandals that leave people in despair about politics arise from this source. On Monday, for instance, the Guardian revealed that the government’s subsidy system for gas-burning power stations is being designed by an executive from the Dublin-based company ESB International, who has been seconded into the Department of Energy. What does ESB do? Oh, it builds gas-burning power stations.”
What a thundering argument! Well done, George. Monbiot is not alone, of course. He is part of a chorus of notional revolutionaries speaking the truth about the emperor’s new clothes. Aside from the numerous articles and broadcast commentary on this subject, books on the bankruptcy of our political process have created a burgeoning genre in the publishing world. Here are a few examples:
- Death of the Liberal Class, by Chris Hedges
- The Age of Consent, By George Monbiot
- Citizens DisUnited, by Robert A.G. Monks (my former employer)
- Manifesto for a New World Order, by George Monbiot
- Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, by George Monbiot
- State-Corporate Crime: Wrongdoing at the Intersection of Business and Government
There’s no shortage of astute critiques of the corporate state. We don’t need any more of these critiques. We also don’t need another wave of Occupy protests. These are all well-intended but failed forms of protest. We have a more effective alternative that millions of eligible voters are already exercising. They simply don’t vote.
Some of them don’t vote out of sheer apathy. But a deliberate boycott of the electoral process — a refusal to elect the lesser of two evils — could reduce voter turnouts to a level that would immediately remove any veneer of legitimacy from the business-as-usual political culture. This outcome would speak more eloquently and persuasively than a thousand manifestos. Under this scenario, the kind of fundamental change that Obama promised (whether naively or insincerely) would become an inevitability.
Of course, this idea typically elicits predictable objections often summarized in slogans and bumper stickers such as “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” The fact that many intelligent people today take this bit of propaganda seriously poses a major obstacle to fundamental change. We will not improve the global political/economic system’s health by confining ourselves to the menu of malignancies offered by the current red-blue political duopoly.
True, the current electoral process allows us to choose between cancer and heart disease. But we can also choose none of the above. This is our best chance to compel the next generation of political contenders to cut the crap and get real.