This is the final piece in my “Effective Populism” series. Read the introduction here.
So, What Have We Learned?
Politicians are rulers
Ruling well is determined by how our rulers materially improve our lives, not how well they performatively gesture towards different grievance groups or "represent" you
It is important to distinguish between an underlying power structure and the ideology that is used to justify that power structure. The answer to “why does this power structure exist” is an important component of a society’s social contract. It explains what matters to society, and why that is important.
The overlaid ideology truly transfigures the power structure: the structure transforms from a brute fact to a legitimate system, justified by a higher ‘Good’ than mere Power.
When society is structured in such a way that acting in one’s own self interest damages the common good, we have a perverse incentive structure.
These perverse incentive structures are both institutional (government officials using their time in office as a launchpad to become rich in the private sector) and societal (the "invisible hand" of the Free Market may not work the way ideologues think it works)
If a “sin tax” is supposed to dis-incentivize the consumption of some good/service X that we see as bad, there must be alternatives to X available. If there are no alternatives, you are just raising the price of a necessity, and impoverishing people ever further.
Powerful institutions, especially those that control narratives and socialization, are able to manufacture consent and shape the values and information people make decisions based on. This means "democracy" is, in many cases, nothing more than laundered oligarchy.
A distribution of formal power matters far less than a distribution of material power. In fact, one can centralize decision-making/formal power through the centralization of authority, while simultaneously distributing material power more broadly.
If your right to vote is contingent on a powerful elite not revoking or overriding it, of what use is that right to vote?
And going further, if your rights exist at the mercy of an entity more powerful than you, of what use are those rights?
The greatest tragedy of our world is that, lost in the endless array of kafkaesque bureaucracies and narrative-forming entities, it isn’t even clear who to blame! Who should I be mad at? “The Man”? That’s meaningless.
Certainly, the most democratic thing you can do in a highly federalized and complex system is make it explicitly clear who needs to be gui**otined when things go wrong.
Some rebels are just cynical grifters or virtue signallers, while other rebels have genuinely deluded themselves into thinking they're rebelling against a system they actually support
And so each side conjures up a phantom: fascism for the Left and communism for the Right.
Acknowledging that we live under neoliberal capitalism would demand conservatives realize their values of tradition, family, etc. is undermined by the economic system they support and would demand progressives to realize their value of autonomy is in support of an economic system they oppose. Hence why both prefer self delusion.
Many rebels affirm contradictory values and ignore the contradictions, even when these contradictions serve to support the current power structure:
Imagine you support value A and oppose some value B but the policies that support A end up also supporting B. So…what do you do? This comes down to whether supporting A or opposing B is more important.
And what happens if you decide A is more important than B…but B helps perpetuate the current elite/Power centers more than A threatens it? Well……I don’t think I need to spell this out for you.
So Where Do We Go From Here/What Do We Do Now?
It appears that I have painted a rather grim picture, but do not despair: there is much to do, and many pathways for meaningful resistance and alternatives to be built. We can split this up into two main categories: our attitudes towards politicians, and what we must do as individuals/groups outside of the political arena.
In terms of supporting politicians, we must support politicians who are willing to act as defenders of the Small and the Local, of individuals, families, towns, and small businesses, against the coercive powers of big intermediate institutions (and yes, "private" companies can be just as, if not more, coercive than the State). That means anti-trust legislation and active trust-busting. It means declaring many online platforms to be utilities if they are of sufficient size, and at the very least making sure that access to them is universal (and censorship is minimal beyond meaningful threats and harassment). Now, none of this is to say that small businesses are perfect; many of them are quite terrible to their workers. Part of supporting the Small and Local is supporting the individual workers against coercive and exploitative owners. A pro-worker policy is not "communism"; it is a far purer expression of "freedom" than "freedom of association...but only for people wealthy enough to afford it".
One final part is that politicians supporting the Local need to understand the kinds of conditions that allow for a town to flourish, and cultivate those conditions. They need to support individuals constructing alternative institutions, and also need to ensure that communities continue to thrive. Perhaps a "Neo-Homesteading Act" (not my idea, originally) wherein people are paid money to return to their hometowns after college and settle down would help. Of course, this won't work if there are no jobs, so we need more money being spent on increasing production and business activity. One manner might be to work on a national fiber broadband system to allow small businesses to have far greater access to markets, so that more niche small businesses can survive, even if they are geographically distant from their customers.
And one final point is that, if we are to take democracy seriously, it should be entirely illegal to donate money or time to candidates outside of where you live. Absurd that this is not already the case.
In terms of what we can/must do as individuals/groups outside of the political arena, I have continuously beat the drum of alternative institutions and I will do so again. We need to rebuild our communities. It means that there need to be neighborhood and local institutions, and proper gatekeeping to ensure these institutions are not taken over by outside influences aiming to distort or undermine their purposes. Remember: the only people who complain about gatekeeping are the people the gate was supposed to keep out in the first place.
Alternative institutions also mean building structures, such as local neighborhood schooling or small homeschools/"pod" schooling (I think that's the new term for it). And it means that these structures need to act as counter-weights against the socialization and narratives pushed by the dominant cultural entities today. You must carve out a space for resistance. And none of this is possible without a spirit of mutual aid amongst you and those willing to support you. Build out this spirit in your local community.
I hope you enjoyed the Effective Populism series. Not sure what my next series will be, but the next few posts will likely be disconnected, and responses to different topics.
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Thank you and enjoy the day my friends!