Monday, March 08, 2010

Purple Fingers Do Not A Democracy Make...

In re: Iraqi Elections.

The newscasts are making a big deal of this. If you were a supporter of G.W.B., the fact that Iraqis can vote is a sign that the invasion and the death of so many thousands of Americans and allied soldiers was worth it. Iraq is now "on it's way" to becoming a "stable democratic nation" which will "take it's rightful place in the world" and serve as a "shining example to the Muslim world" that pluralistic society and free-market economics is a better system than dictatorial rule of both church and madman.

If you opposed the war., Iraqis flashing dyed fingers is a symbol that Obi-Won Obama can finally fulfill his campaign promise to begin bringing Americans home from an ill-advised foreign adventure that was undertaken on behalf of Haliburton, Big Oil and McDonalds by the Evil Shrubby McBushhitler, and which caused the deaths of millions of innocents (Their innocents somehow still have more moral standing that Our innocents to Lefties). Yet, somehow, Joe Biden can still claim "victory" for a strategy of "stay the course" that his own side bitterly opposed (but somehow couldn't bring themselves to de-fund), in the name of the Great Obambi.

My view is simply this: so fucking what? Your view of democracy is seriously warped if you believe either theory. Democracy,as I've said here many times before, is not like a piece of software; you don't just "install" it and have it run seamlessly after some minor technical troubles and customization. One of the reasons, I think, why American diplomacy often fails in some respects is because people who think this way happen to be in charge of the government, or at least, ensconced within the bureaucracy. We somehow believe that democracy is easily transportable, and therefore, are eager to believe any asshole in a Third-World Shithole who claims to be a Democrat (it's why we keep supporting "Iranian Opposition" groups, and "dissident" Chinese, you know, with no tangible results or even an indication that many people actually believe them or would follow them). There is a belief in the upper eschelons of government that "Inside every ________ is an American dying to get out!".

This is a very poor formulation, which discounts the history and culture of democratic nations.

Because Democracy is a cultural phenomenon, with a 4,000-year old pedigree. It is not just a set of rules which people agree to follow, as it involves much more esoteric features than just The Law and Government. It is a system which has evolved in those 40 centuries to include a bunch of often-mutually-exclusive conventions which have all been modified, tempered, and adjusted by experience. I call these, for lack of a better term, Institutions.

The Institutions required for true democracy are as follows: Secular Rationalism -- the separation of politics, science and economics, and just about every other human endeavor, from the tyranny of religious orthodoxy. The Word of God is not always the final arbiter of what "works" for the greater good of society, particularly when cold, demonstrable experience contradicts the Scripture. A secular-rational society does not dismiss God entirely, but it does diminish the power of religion and superstition when these threaten to narrow the human worldview, deny the impeus towards achievement and discovery, or when they prevent the individual from being included in the Second Institution, which is;

A belief in the Rights of the Individual. All people are born with the assumption of equal capacities, if not actual, equal talents, and equal worth. We are entitled to certain courtesies (rights) by virtue of the fact that we are alive and may contribute, in whatever way we might, to the greater (but never-perfect) communal good. This means that the Individual is born with the right to own property, to enjoy a measure of personal safety against the use of arbitrary power, and to be able to use their talents, skills, and energies for their personal enrichment and growth. For this reason, Systems of Law have evolved from their predecessors --enacted and enforced precisely to protect the exalted status of Church or Monarch, and excuse and justify their arbitrary use of power -- to where they now (theoretically) protect the individual citizen against tyranny. This attribution of rights to the individual brings us to the Third Institution:

Equal Application of the Law. It's all well-and-fine to be free from the use of power of the church and state, and recognized as an individual with rights, but these mean nothing if there is no system within which they can be exercised freely, securely, and with some corresponding responsibilities. This is where the Law and Governments enter the equation, as they are specifically created and empowered by the free citizen for our mutual support and protection. In our own Western culture we have experimented with various forms of government; direct democracy, republics, proportional representation, Socialism and Communism in various forms, Anarchy, Feudalism, Dictatorship, and so forth, but always these systems come up short in some respects, and are continually refined by the application of experience (that is, by the use of secular-rationalist methods being exercised by people enjoying the right to do so without threat of retribution by those in power). One of my heroes, Winston Churchill, once described democracy as "the least-worst system of government yet devised by man..." which tells you that he, at least, thought the experiment was not over.

But, government only really exists to ensure that "The System" is fair, equitable and applied (yes, through use of force, Libertarians!) in a way which ensures that liberty is protected against those who would pervert it, or take it away. The Law is simply one of the more powerful weapons in the arsenal of free peoples, but it, too, is not perfect. It also evolves through a process which is similar to the one which creates governments -- free people, accorded equality, who are able to apply the lessons of experience to it's betterment and refinement. When this requirement is met, you are now ready for the final cornerstone of democracy:

Economic Freedom. This is the ability to exercise your rights to own, trade, sell, and profit from your work, talents, mind, skills and assets. It is the right to pass on your property from one generation to the next without it being taken away (except by reasonable circumstance, like fair taxation for the benefit of the citizenry as a whole) by the use of the overwhelming power of the state. Without the Marketplace, the place where the whole system of secular-rationalism, individual rights, the Law and Government all meet, whether of goods, services or ideas, the system as a whole could never be supported.

Without Economic Freedom, people are reluctant to work. They would refuse to co-operate except in the most extreme of circumstances. They would fight amongst themselves even more than they do now. Without the knowledge that there is some reward (a full belly, a roof over one's head, the ability to afford a minimum of comfort beyond those base requirements), people are not motivated to better themselves, their community, or their country. There must be a system of rewards for work and success (and this, naturally, also requires there be penalties for failure), regulated by fair law and custom, equally applied by governments given the authority to do so by free individuals by mutual consent, and always subject to public audit.

If you do not have those Four Institutions, you cannot have a democracy. If you have no history, no cultural record at all, of these conventions then it doesn't matter how many purple fingers there are, you're only going through the motions.

The real test as to whether voting Iraqis ultimately create anything of lasting value to the world or themselves, is whether or not they manage to establish these institutions on their own, or whether they will continue to be implemented under the cover of American guns for the next few centuries. Because what is passing for "democracy in action" in Iraq is nothing of the sort: Arab nations, and especially Arab nations under the influence of Islam, don't believe in Secular Rationalism, Individual Rights, Equality under the Law, Government by Consent of the Governed, or Economic or Intellectual freedom.

Right now, we might be protecting the next generation of would-be Saddam Husseins who are simply waiting for us to go home so that they can start blowing each other up in earnest in order to re-establish the pre-War status quo. It's what their history and their culture, compels them to do. We'll see if the fledgling "Iraqi Democracy" (and ditto for Afghanistan) manages to survive the removal of the American prop, but I wouldn't bet on it.

In the meantime, let's stop all this nonsense that George W. Bush is now somehow vindicated, or that Barack Obama has, miraculously and vicariously, accomplished something where his efforts were so much in obvious opposition. If memories really are that short -- Because Bush cited WMD's, and Obama was against the War and the Surge that seems to have "won" it --or that fungible, then we have some serious problems here at home to fix.

Note: As for me, my support for the Iraq War was always predicated on a much baser and cruder formulation; anything which promised to kill Muslims in large numbers in the wake of 9/11 was just fine by me. Where I opposed the War was the timid nature in which it was fought; there was less War -- and more Public Relations Campaign with Guns.


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