Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Fruits of Modern Democracy

"We're human...and we're killing ourselves...and no-one seems to see that...and it bothers me..." - PFC Bradley Manning

In this short but informative article at globalsecurity.org, we learn some unsettling facts about the nature and consequences of war in the new millennium.

From the article:

The United Nations defines "major wars" as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen "lesser" conflicts ongoing with varrying (sic) degrees of intensity.

We also learn that civilian deaths now greatly outweigh military ones:

Most of these are civil or "intrastate" wars, fueled as much by racial, ethnic, or religious animosities as by ideological fervor. Most victims are civilians, a feature that distinguishes modern conflicts. During World War I, civilians made up fewer than 5 percent of all casualties. Today, 75 percent or more of those killed or wounded in wars are non-combatants.

In addition the US alone has covert operations in at least seventy nations and the number of countries blighted by Obama's drone bombing campaign is now seven and counting.

In an era where medical science can perform miracles, where we can conceivably put humans on Mars, where we have the scientific and technical expertise to map the human genome or build supercomputers that can execute trillions of operations in the blink of an eye, how can one explain this regression into violence and human misery?

War is not the only area in which humanity has de-evolved. Much of the world, including the so-called rich Western nations, now suffers huge inequality, with a small rich elite controlling vast resources while the large majority endure an ever diminishing quality of life, with more and more struggling simply to survive from day to day.

The UN said in 2010 that more people die due to a lack of access to clean water than violence. One in seven, almost a billion people, suffer from hunger; 80% of the world live on less than $10 a day, with 50% on $2.50 a day; 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. Read that again. Twenty-two thousand kids die every day. The fact that this preventable disgrace is permitted to continue speaks volumes about the priorities of leaders, democratically elected or not.

Again, war is a major culprit. Food production in war zones becomes impossible and famines are therefore common. Refugees put massive strain on the infrastructures of neighboring and often resentful states, leading to multiple other serious issues.

The progression of the ratio of those in poverty to the wealthy also demonstrates humanity's failure to care for its own:

1820: 3 to 1

1913: 11 to 1

1950: 35 to 1

1973: 44 to 1

1992: 72 to 1

Any fool can see that we are going in the wrong direction at an increasing pace.

These basic issues can be addressed, but unfortunately there is a problem; one so enormous that serious measures aimed at eradicating these evils are unlikely ever to be enacted. It is a problem so pervasive that many do not even consider it an issue, and will likely even spout it uncritically as a virtue.

And here it is: the yardstick by which societies are measured and judged is what the establishment media labels 'economic growth', namely the increase of GDP per capita. While it is true that economic growth is essential for poor countries in order to improve quality of life to a decent level, after that level is attained, overall welfare will no longer necessarily improve. Further, as it is a broad measure of society as a whole, it tells us nothing of internal wealth distribution or inequality. Even worse, GDP makes no distinction between production that is positive or negative; in other words, a disaster like an oil spill can actually drive up GDP, although this will obviously have a detrimental effect on welfare, not to mention the environment.

This obsessive focus on economic growth provides governments who preside over gross inequality and poverty for significant portions of their populations with a ready-made excuse and mask for their failure. It is vital that instead of adopting such a limited measure of welfare of a society, we instead utilize a more accurate measure, one that is based on quality of life, universal access to decent health care and education, a minimum wage that allows people to live with a measure of dignity, and other factors that are directly linked to happiness. Using GDP as a measure of an entity as complex as society is as preposterous as using a single number (IQ) to measure human intelligence.

Human rights and welfare must become the default measure of human happiness and societal success throughout the media. Until it does, the public at large will only be vaguely aware that people are suffering from preventable calamities all over the world, and their only exposure might come from the occasional TV documentary about a dying kid in Africa that will bring tears to their eyes for a brief time.

However, under current democratic systems, particularly in Western Europe and the US, endless war is likely to be just that: endless, thanks to a massive arms industry which has ultra-cozy ties to the governments of these nations, giving arms manufacturers enormous lobbying power via contributions to political campaigns and a pervasive revolving door policy that is the very epitome of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Allow the excellent Andrew Feinstein to talk you through the tragedies of the (legal and illegal) global arms industry. I defy anyone to watch his short speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum and not feel outrage.

A major problem with modern governance is that people who want power can easily gain power in society and in the business world, and it should be obvious that the last person we need in any executive position is someone who wants or craves power. Indeed, via various studies, it is becoming increasingly clear that a significant percentage of humans display traits associated with the psychiatric condition known as psychopathy.

Psychopaths are all around us - they appear perfectly normal and are possibly even popular in their circle, as they are particularly adept at manipulating their environment in order to get what they want. Recent estimates from psychiatric professionals are that 1% of the population (3 million people in the US) display such qualities, one of which is an inability to feel guilt or remorse at causing suffering to others. The popular idea that psychopaths are mindless and violent killers is a concept that needs prompt revision.

Reliable data on this issue is scarce as most studies on psychopathy concern prison populations but we can draw our own conclusions. Human history is replete with examples of government and business leaders being party to unspeakable acts causing death and misery for thousands, even millions of people. As a modern example, consider the behavior of the Wall Street criminals who sold cleverly repackaged financial products that they knew were toxic in full awareness that their gains would potentially lead to misery on an industrial scale for people whose homes were foreclosed upon or who otherwise suffered in the 2008 financial collapse. So adept are these psychopaths that they have successfully made governments not only bail them out so they can continue their obscene practices, but have also escaped any meaningful punishment or regulation.

Our democratic systems actively encourage and permit these people to attain positions of power from which they exert great influence over the welfare of populations, something which is obviously undesirable. One way to neuter these people is to utilize a system of direct democracy, a system that is eminently workable and is actively used in Switzerland, a clean, safe society with a strong economy. Under such a system, psychopaths are unable to thrive because instead of an elite elected in demonstrably flawed electoral systems, the people at large vote on policy, aided by a neutral and informative media and a strong education system, two societal elements without which true democracy cannot function.

Various methods of implementing direct democracy exist, and I have written about one in my free book. Pay no heed to the ignorant people who dismiss direct democracy as 'mob rule', something it absolutely is not. Such a system, combined with strict adherence to the rule of law based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and backed up by a United Nations with real power to bring rogue nations into line, not the current impotent mess, is the real key to tackling the root societal issues that allow war, poverty and injustice; the root issues being education and a media without a profit motive.

We live in a world in which up to 27 million people are slaves, where endless war is engendered by corporate psychopaths in the boardrooms of the arms industry; where climate change, now a serious global emergency, is nigh on ignored and even dismissed or ridiculed by public figures and the establishment media; where thousands of kids die daily in unnecessary ways; where inequality and financial misery for millions is gleefully brought about by the willfully callous and self-interested actions of the leaders of Goldman Sachs and financial corporations like it. This will continue if we allow the systems that have permitted this to happen to persist. It is up to us, ordinary people, the non-psychopathic among us who feel great sorrow for every single child who dies or suffers needlessly...it is up to us to bring about the change that the world
desperately needs.

Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.

'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. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

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