Has democracy jumped the shark? Is it “the end”? Ok, so perhaps I am a little behind the times with adding another word to the “end of” series. We’ve already had the “End of History,” a tribute to the moment when history ended with the triumph of American capitalism (distinct from actual American values… but that’s another story), The End of Empire, The End of Science, The End of Books, The End of Poverty, The End of Prosperity, The End of Work, The End of Iraq, The End of Faith, The End of Food, The End of Oil, The End of Overeating….. Actually, that last one is a self help book, but my point is the same. An entire book shelf or of “The End ofs” has flooded the market (kindle file sharing server thingy? ) for twenty years. We have been told about so many things one can put after the words “The End of…..” (while G/_/o/d/s/ess had perhaps launched that genera with Revelations an end to all end ofs) we are living a life of perpetual ends except that things seem to drag on and on. “The End of…” could be yet another fad in the mind-culture of the country or the pulse of whatever happening today is best described by German words like geist or zeitgeist or Dyngus or whatever describes the moment when a certain idea is all the rage and print is spilled over this idea, and people drink coffee and discuss, or text their opinion to a certain number and before said ink is dry or text is sent, another idea comes up into the Zeitdyngusgeist and we move on. And so we have, on that pile of books about The End of Easy Credit, Work, History, or America, more than enough to balance the table with or perhaps heat a home with books that start “the end of…” and see how many winters we can get before we have to switch to “Imagining the…” books or “Manufacturing…. . Nevertheless, to The End of…. we must really look beyond the forces of petty finances that work from one day to the next – albeit, not so petty when the police are at the door with an eviction notice – and look to the deeper forces at play on our lives. Perhaps it is time to sit down with the proverbial children and have a “facts of life” conversation about whether democracy itself has peaked and is or has or will soon, come to an end.
This is a difficult image to project onto the mind, as it is difficult to have this conversation with the national mind or lack of it in whatever public discourse remains in our country. To say that democracy has run its course is to then have to defend one’s self from the projection that the end of democracy means one wants kings, or more likely to be king. To question whether democracy has ended does not mean the old system didn’t have its moments or that one is “anti democracy” as much as one is anti the refrigerator that broke down or became too expensive to run since it was inefficient and no one was really using it other than to compost left overs at 45 to 50 degrees and we have switched to powdered food and no longer need to maintain things chilled. To say democracy is at its end differs from working to restore the old system or wishing democracy still had some life in her, as one mourns a really great car that while it can be endlessly fixed (reforms) it is no longer is safe for the road and won’t get you to where you need to be going. This is not a fail of democracy since things that fail can often be fixed – unless it is “epic fail” in which case get another life and try again…. This is the end of a system in the face or new or competing systems. At the beginning of the 20th Century there were several competing systems – royalist, socialist, communist, fascist, theocratic, etc. and by mid century all but two remained. Today, does democracy remain as the singular player in the world stage? If so, what does that democracy look like? We cannot confuse that “look like” with elderly people going to vote at their local school every two to four years. Ballot boxes are not the hallmark of a democracy. Even popes are elected. Even Hitler was elected. Voting doesn’t make it democracy. Voting for people who don’t have your interests in a system that could care less, even less a democracy. And that seems to be where we are right now.
Every so often we vote, and then tell our non voting friends about how democracy works. Our system of voting ushers in one or the other party, but continues the same power structures. The wheels of commerce play out. The country continues along. However, with each election, are we actually achieving democracy or otherwise spreading the freedoms at home we have attempted for over ten years to spread through bombs and our own brand of exported state terror? Last Tuesday we watched what MSM told us, almost educated us to expect. In two years, nothing for the average person will have shifted. Those who got out and voted, participated, but did they do so in a democracy? And to those non-democratic players. The countries like China, is a lack of democracy hurting them? Are they the future model for “what works” and our attempts at democracy as silly as any reenactment of ancient history as we assume Greek ideals of city states that themselves lasted only so many years before succumbing to more powerful and less democratic forces?
It is indeed hard to look towards history for answers as it is to just cut and paste the notes from the early 20th century and place them into our current set of issues since the days are strange and it is very hard to imagine what is the next step when the language of that step may yet to be created. The state we find ourselves in is a strange brew of people guessing and re-guessing as to where we are now or things to come. The end of democracy does not mean feudalism nor does it mean the world becomes one huge Grateful Dead concert. The end of democracy discussion is, however, a question many of us need to be asking when we see the system degenerate or at the very least become so divorced from life as we live it on the ground during an actual day seeing more and more distance between ourselves and the structures of power.