This Is What “Demockracy” Looks Like

As long as we’re on the topic (for the last time, at least for a good long while) I decided to move this post up (and several others still to appear).

The context is this video by Katie Goodman of Broad Comedy. It’s a little ditty that uses “f**ked” as a hook and to entertain, but that nonetheless touches on some important points relevant to mobilizing the public.

For most of the points I am going to do no more than note them in the expectation of returning to them at some later time. You may argue that I read too much into a comedic song, but I think that the lyrics resonate with the audience because they touch on truths regardless of the light nature of this particular context.

OK, that’s understated. In a microcosm it pretty much sums up where we are and why we are stuck here.  Kudos to Katie for raising those points, but the really scary interesting scary thing about this video is the comments people made.

First watch the video if you care to (and are not too offended by the F-word) and then we can get to my points.

When I first saw the video my immediate thought was that it should be the anthem for the youth climate justice movement. Let’s take a quick walk through some of the lyrics:

There’s never been a time
as fucked up as this

No argument there, not for humans anyway. Maybe the Toba eruption, and I understand the PETM was pretty nasty for most species, but that’s pedantic quibbling.

I didn’t fuck it up
You probably didn’t fuck it up

Pretty much true if the audience is under 25 (plus or minus) or not from the privileged 20% of the global population. Other than that, not so true. However, I am willing to bet that virtually everyone feels that it applies to them. That’s a key point and a difficult one for us. No one wants to feel responsible, yet in the privileged industrialized world pretty much all of us are.

That’s right, shift the blame

The lyrics resonate as they both avoid responsibility for the mess, with the added bonus of implying that one is also unable to do anything about it. This is probably as important as not being culpable. After all, even if one is not responsible for creating the mess some might argue that you should help clean it up if you are able to do so.

I can’t unfuck it up
You probably can’t unfuck it up

Trivially true as it applies to individuals, blatantly false if referring to individuals organizing themselves. Here again most will take it as a more or less 100% exoneration of responsibility to act. The cultural assumption is that all we can do is try to “elect the right people” and hope for the best.

If we’re counting on them to unfuck it up
then we’re all fucked

Speaks for itself, but note the contradiction. If I can’t, and you can’t, and they can’t or won’t, then who will? Does no one wonder about this? and if so, what do they conclude? Too often I suspect that the conclusion is that it is hopeless.

You just can’t help feeling bitter that it’s fucked up to begin with,
you just go round and round

A lot of people, particularly younger people, are understandably already pretty angry about the bleak future that will be inflicted on them, particularly because it was totally avoidable. That as a society we care more about inconsequential conveniences and self-indulgence than the well being of other people, most particularly our own children, would sure have me wicked off if I was 18.

Directing that anger into positive actions that may do something to change that future is going to be one of the greatest challenges we face. The default is the anger manifesting itself as violence and adding social chaos, a more entrenched opposition, and a Balkanized progressive movement to the considerable obstacles we already face.

The problem is deep down inside you’re feeling depressed and hopeless, right?

The down side of convincing yourself that there is nothing you can do is that you are left feeling helpless and and depressed. It may serve the short term desire to rationalize inaction, but reinforcing the social meme that you are an insignificant nothing is ultimately quite self-destructive.

Let’s all unfuck it up
I want to be an unfucker (repeat)

Notwithstanding the impulse to embrace being guiltless and disempowerment as rationalizations, there is the deep desire to matter, to participate meaningfully, to do the right thing. It is this voice that the rationalizations are trying to silence.

I believe that most people do sincerely want to be “unfuckers.” They want to do the right thing. To be courageous and moral. Unfortunately doing the right thing is not so simple in the sense that at least in the short term we also naturally benefit from the status quo.

Now look at the comments. Ignoring the usual poor attempts at wit and asinine irrelevancies, I could not help noticing three things.

  1. For the most part people do express that desire to do the right thing, to contribute to solutions;
  2. Notwithstanding #1, and with the exception of #3, no one articulates what they are going to actually do.
  3. The only action even referred to is which of the 2 major political parties in the US to support.

Excuse me? Which part of

If we’re counting on them to unfuck it up
then we’re all fucked

was unclear?

When did democracy and politics become narrowed to voting for one of a selected few options for representation every now and then?

It was not really that long ago that the populace of a country were always referred to as “citizens.” Except when there is an election imminent they are now referred to only as “consumers.”

Somehow we went from being thought of as active participants in shaping our own  socieities to being nothing more than the receptacle into which consumer goods are dumped prior to their disposal. From active agents determining the shape of civilization to economic way stations, the place for products to pause on their way to the garbage dump.

Why didn’t we object?

For explanation I mostly favour the neurotic paradox over the paranoid conspiracy. It is easier and cheaper for every minor functionary from clerks to potentates to nurture our indifference rather than our intelligence. For our part it was much easier to to be absent than to participate; more time for other things that way.

Not that elections and participating at every level from school board up to the federal don’t have their place, not to mention advisory panels and citizens boards and what have you. They do. Regardless they are always the first step, and insofar as the system is functioning correctly they are all that is required.

However, the system is not functioning correctly. It is profoundly broken, some argue that it is irreparably so.

I never cease being surprised. I know perfectly well that most people have no notion of how to participate in actually changing society, or at most can think only of petitions and protest. Even so, I am always surprised when I witness it yet again.

We are so out of touch with how to be citizens that many activists cannot even articulate exactly how it is that a petition or protest is supposed to actually bring about change, how to design one that is part of a strategic vision for change, or knows quite what should happen next if that particular action didn’t result in change.

But that is nothing compared to a citizenry so inculcated that they cannot even imagine any action they might undertake actually change things.  There are of course at least 198 forms of nonviolent political action.

Further, the actions are not substitutes for one another to be used randomly as opportunity presents. They are tools that each have their particular utility depending on what one is trying to achieve at that time. To be really effective they need to fit together in a coherent strategy for change that is based on understanding how successful social movements evolve.

We who self-identify as activists have not done a particularly good job of knowing our craft, much less of teaching it. That has to change.For my part my blog is going to see a lot more information about these basics from now on.

Not that everyone in any given group or action needs to be able to discuss theories of power and change knowledgeably, but some of the people should be able to do so. We cannot expect our societies to be Democracies until we expect ourselves to be Citizens. Until then they will continue to be one form or other of  “Demockracy” and

If we’re counting on them to unfuck it up
then we’re all fucked

Image Credits:

Protest 11 by marcovdz

Protest by Simon Shek

Anti-Chen Protest Day 32 – Million Men March by My Hourglass [Cloud]

Protest im MQ by _dChris

Protest in front of Georgian Embassy against arrests of Armenians in Javakhk by 517design

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