"Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers" - Voltaire
In my last post, I let fly at the true believers who support Obama no matter what he does. To them, he is just the coolest guy on the planet who has even won the Nobel Peace Prize while at the same time being tough enough to order the assassination of Bin Laden from the safety of the Oval Office. Little details like the four pages of broken manifesto promises and the massive expansion of Bush-era policies that 'liberals' screamed blue murder about daily at the time are conveniently put aside.
Psychological research has uncovered a very long list of cognitive and social biases that affect all of us to some degree. Only someone with remarkable mental discipline can be aware of and avoid the effects of all of them. One of the more telling social biases is known as system justification, which is the tendency of humans to bolster or support the status quo, even if it harms them or their interests.
Like much psychological research, the evidence and explanations can be woolly, but common sense and experience tells us that system justification is indeed alive and well, as it has been since time immemorial. From a primitive group-survival point of view, it also makes sense, as a group faced with adversity is more likely to survive if they are broadly of one mind as opposed to all members of the group being in random opposition.
One obvious recent example of system justification is the behavior of the members of the Tea Party movement in the US. This movement, funded and promoted by billionaires on a massive scale via corporate-owned Fox News, is made up of ordinary hard-working Americans who have had enough of the federal government and its meddling ways. Their quite justified anger was co-opted by corporate interests to fight Obama's healthcare reform, eventually forcing him (ostensibly) to abandon the single-payer option. As ordinary Americans, any improved access to healthcare would benefit the Tea Party members themselves, and yet they fought with notable passion against it.
The point of this little psychology treatise? Humans are not rational creatures. Billions possess beliefs that are based on erroneous assumptions, while many have an irrational distrust of science. There are also significant numbers of basic misconceptions: a 1996 Gallup poll, for example, found that only 67% of Britons knew the earth revolved around the sun, while 19% answered incorrectly and 14% said they did not know. If knowledge as basic as this is lacking in adults from a wealthy and developed nation, how much worse will it be for lesser-known facts? Hint: a lot worse.
So it is easy to sneer at the Obamabots, but it should be borne in mind that all of us are in the grip of psychological forces that can make us act and think irrationally. At the same time, system justification shows how hard it is for people to embrace change. Recent research suggests that people can accept change if they see it as either highly likely or inevitable, but for something like, say, the main focus of this blog (direct democracy), it will be a battle even to make people consider the idea.
Indeed, in my few months of writing this blog, while gratefully receiving a huge amount of support, the concept of direct democracy has also encountered resistance and even disdain from some established journalists, who obviously suffer from their own form of system justification. It is a sad fact, therefore, that this movement must fight not only the indifferent and openly hostile, but also even some 'progressives' who think their responsibility ends with writing articles on abuses by elites. While these articles are vital and often superbly written and researched, it is not enough just to piss and moan. Ordinary people are now involved in a life-and-death struggle with the financial elites and every progressive needs to overcome this phenomenon of system justification, especially established writers with international profiles.
To my point, then: the most dangerous people in the world are those who are certain they are right, people whose beliefs are beyond judgment. This applies not only to religion, but also to conventional beliefs about economics, politics, society, education, family, sexuality etc. Those who do not question their beliefs for one moment, even (and especially) their most closely-held ones, are frankly stuck on the very first rung of the enlightenment ladder.
Political partisans are particularly deadly members of this sorry group. Their lack of skepticism leads to unquestioning support of whoever or whatever they identify with, and any evidence that shows their beliefs to be destructive is either ignored, disdained, condemned or outright denied, often in aggressive ways. This is simply human nature - no one likes to admit they were wrong. After all, doing so would harm the ego, which is central to one's self-esteem. Further, very few can easily admit that their support leads directly or indirectly to atrocities or illegality in general.
Some people in power are either certain of the justifications for unethical behavior, or even worse, know that what they are doing is evil but also understand that they can get away with it due to the lack of accountability and transparency that plagues modern governments. Simply put these sociopaths are able to bomb children in a foreign sovereign nation because they have support from partisans willing to overlook such behavior.
The establishment media helps to keep ordinary people either misinformed or completely ignorant of the actions of their government. How many Americans, for example, know that their tax dollars have funded at least 60 drone bases around the world, dozens of bases encircling the supposedly aggressive Iran, 7,000 drone aircraft that are killing civilians almost daily in Northwest Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia? How many are aware that their government has attempted to overthrow the governments of more than fifty nations, many democratically elected, since 1945? How many know that thirty nations have been attacked and bombed causing the deaths of countless civilians?
Worse, because of these cognitive biases, even if they did know, how many would attack this incontrovertible evidence as unreliable or inaccurate? How many would attack the messenger? Endless sanitized media reporting has made war and the deaths of civilians an everyday, humdrum occurrence, justified lazily with the all-encompassing term, 'terrorism'. In other words, those giant swathes of the population who have neither the time or inclination to read past the headlines of a story have become sociopaths by default, desensitized by repetition.
And when these certain people encounter criticism or see protests on the news, those presenting a contrary view are 'hippies' or 'ignorant' people who should 'get a job'. This is, of course, a classic reaction for those who are blissfully unaware of their cognitive biases.
This is why it is vital to question one's beliefs, no matter how deeply they are held, at every opportunity. Authorities love those driven by certainty because it is easy to manipulate them into doing what they want, to channel their misguided passions in ways that may even be harmful to them. Skeptics terrify those in power because they question everything they are told and do not blindly accept authoritarian policies or laws. They agitate and can rally support, raise awkward objections to the status quo. These people have to be silenced, or at least smeared, ridiculed and condemned.
As things stand we live in a world where the huge corporations and banks now act as arms of the NATO countries and their allies (and vice versa). The fact that these entities do not need to respect democratic values makes them able to act in ways nation states can not. As explained succinctly in this George Monbiot article, international law itself is now simply a byword for empire, and bodies like the IMF and the UNSC with the ridiculous veto power of five arbitrary nations (one practicing no form of democracy itself) are simply part of the imperial effort. For an example of how corporations act in concert with the foreign policy of nation states, see this article regarding ExxonMobil in Indonesia.
This merging of corporate and state power, famously defined as fascism by Benito Mussolini, at both national and global levels is already well along the road to being irreversible. Democratic elections, particularly in the United States, do not give adequate choice to citizens and disenfranchise huge segments of populations. Protest is brutally suppressed thanks to increasing militarization of police forces as well as dubious laws designed to negate even the possibility of large groups congregating. Surveillance drone technology is advancing quickly and over the next decade people will have to begin getting used to drones flitting around above their heads wherever they go, as if the millions of surveillance cameras were not enough. And all the while, man-made climate change grinds ever onward; the greatest existential threat to humanity by far, its existence confirmed by an overwhelming majority (97%) of the world's scientists, dismissed and ridiculed by numerous public figures and politicians in the pay of the energy companies. Yet the International Energy Agency said last year that any new fossil-fuel infrastructure built in the next five years will make destructive climate change irreversible.
In other words, unless these people are stopped, we are all in serious trouble. These dire warnings are not science fiction; they are demonstrable fact. A tiny financial elite in control of all vital strategic areas and governments has brought this about. Almost every other person on the planet will suffer because of their actions, and as can be seen in global inequality statistics, the poor and vulnerable are already suffering.
In order to remove this threat, a massive online grassroots movement needs to form. Occupy Wall Street and protests like it are simply not enough. They will not bring about significant societal change, and the bankers looking down on the protesters from their ivory towers will be laughing over their champagne at the very idea that they can. That is not to say protests are pointless; indeed, they serve to raise awareness and Occupy has done extremely well in this regard, raising the issue of inequality to the level of global debate. Unfortunately, the protesters themselves need to overcome their own form of system justification and realize that protest will not lead to any changes except cosmetic concessions by politicians who will say anything just to get their vote. Things can never change while the underlying societal systems are rotten to the core: these systems need to be completely reformed in ways to suit the modern era.
This online movement needs to create a people's government in each nation, to form the backbone of a future direct democracy. It can only grow with massive support from both ordinary people and those in the media who have a platform to attract more followers. One method of achieving this is described in my FREE book (see below), although it is by no means the only possible way. The book also suggests a free global education system created in the same way as Wikipedia that can lead to real, accredited qualifications for anyone, especially those who are not able to afford exorbitant tuition fees. Education is a human right, and should not be a profit industry - the online global movement I suggest in my book will in part allow people to empower themselves with free education. This independence from the state and private educational systems would be a vital step in countering the ongoing creation of a poor, under-educated, unskilled underclass (even in rich, developed countries) caused by ever-increasing tuition fees.
This post was written with some trepidation; forecasts of doom are generally ridiculed. The end of the world is nigh, and all that. However, the end of the world is not nigh...nothing so dramatic, although global warming does indeed present a serious threat to life and land. What is at stake is the kind of world we want.
Do we want a world where lawless corporations run rampant over the lives and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people, where up to 27 million people are slaves, where multitudes of children are trafficked into the sex industry, where endless war and drone strikes bring horror, trauma and grief to millions upon millions of people, who suffer unseen, where Wall Street criminals remain free to ravage even national economies, where every email and phone call is checked by some giant, quietly whirring machine, where every move we make is tracked, and where every interest we express on social media is sold on to be used for targeted marketing?
Or do we want a world that enforces peace, equality and human rights, punishes war, embraces true freedom, democracy and cultural plurality? One in which health and education are seen as human rights for all, not just the privileged elites?
If you prefer the latter, you need to overcome your system justification and join the movement towards direct democracy at national and global levels. To stop the criminal elites, it is simply the only viable option, and the sooner everyone realizes this and stops tacitly endorsing the status quo, the better. And if you feel certain of anything, stop it now!
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog.