Saturday, March 3, 2018

Democracy & The Rest

Image result for democracy

- I was asked a while ago what was so special about the Western world. Was it democracy? No, every part of the world has had more or less democratic societies. Was it technology? No, it can be found everywhere. What about our modern science, which cycles between experiment and discovery, application to technology, new observations, new experiment, new discovery? Yes, I thought, that is I guess unique to us.* But it doesn't define us, right? So what does?
- Is that as far as you got?
- No. I thought then, don't we do the same in science as we do with our friends and with our democracy?
- And those democracies all over the world don't?
- They don't. The rules of shared power in social life for them are fixed. Even material technology tends to develop to a certain point, then stop for good. The way the world of that shared activity looks is formalized in ritual and is also unchanging. For us Westerners, getting to know our friends, and how to make our lives with others, doesn't have to end in a formalized relation.
- Why not?
- Because we get to know our friend for the pleasure of knowing our friend. The activity that gave us the knowledge has no value in itself. We go on spending time with our friend, expecting and finding more to learn. Same goes for our democracy, at least in theory: what we are interested in is not some state or government of fixed laws we establish, but the beautiful discoveries we make in the company of our fellow sharers of power. The laws that define the state have no value in themselves.
- We Westerners are not unlike others in our technology, our democracy; we are unlike in our modern science, unlike in our friendships and unlike in our democracies. In theory.
- I like that 'in theory'. Wouldn't it be simpler to describe us as combining the religious idea of sabbath - resting in beauty, understanding, peace, truth, etc., after activity directed towards achieving that rest - with the idea of democratic sharing of power?
- You'd lose out of the implication of progress that is in the idea of cycles.
- Then there will just have to have three elements to the explanation! Or no, simply insert the component of rest into all the cycles: in science, it is the sight of new knowledge that determines what is progress and what not. You absolutely need the idea of rest to explain why we Westerners are failing so bad at living up to what defines us. Our ideology of nothing matters but making money has effectively put an end to all possibility of shared power, of democracy.
- Why?
- Because if we can't rest, we have no way of deciding what is good and what is bad in how we share our lives. We assign instead to the system itself the criteria of good or bad. What makes it run better is good, what makes it run worse is bad. Those who do more in the economy claim and exercise more power in that economy to make it do more. Because there is no longer any rest, no external criteria of good, therefore no more cyclical progress to maintain order, the fixed rules of the small scale societies make their return. However this time around they are without democracy. A permanent agency of force, the government, is necessary to make people obey rules that have neither tradition behind them nor any real connection with what people want. Everything has been turned upside down. Our goal is the resting sight of the things in the world when we've learned more about them, not an unchanging relation. The same is true of friends. The same is true of making better how we live together with the generality of others.
- To explain the failure of the Western world to live up to theory you're applying the idea of the sabbath to the state.
- Yes. With its fixed laws, unceasingly regulating activity, constant threat of force, the state is devoid of rest. Therefore people encountered according to the rules and mores of unending production and profit cannot be joined with democratically. They don't want to be known. They demand from us unending activity, demand that we be an opportunity for their profit, demand our acquiescence to their political regression. For those not confined within the regulations of the state and money making for its own sake a stranger encountered is not alienating, not a contest, but is like experiment in science, or getting to know a friend: simply another kind of activity leading to rest in knowledge.**

Further Reading:
Real Democracy
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
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Consciousness, Science, Perception  (cycles, their breakdown)
** Listen: Them Heavy People