Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Role of Hope in the Politics of Democracy

Ridiculing Hope and Change

After being thoroughly looted under the autocracy,
 no one could afford much more.

MeanMesa has to suspect that the "Hope and Change" campaign motto adopted during the Obama candidacy had to be, at some point, "run by" the candidate himself. All the inevitable ridicule and sardonic squealing the motto would undoubtedly draw in the future were surely elements in the calculus employed to reach the final decision to use it.

Interestingly, the concepts of hope and change are actually so closely laced together in terms of human sentiment and behavior as to be inextricable from one another. The title of this post cites "hope" specifically, but most of the things possibly said about hope will naturally also entail the concept of "change."

The relationship between the two is intricately causal. Humans devoid of hope have no logical foundation for dreaming of change, a necessary precursor to potential action. Instead, humans devoid of hope are stranded only with the cold comfort of perpetual desperation [One form of the Latin word for "hope" is "spera." In the English word, desperation, we see the Latin origin -- de...spera...tion.]

A Quick Visit to Philadelphia, 1760

The country's founders lived in a world where democracy was considered an academic curiosity attributed primarily to the classical politics of places such as Athens and Rome. The world around them as the time of the Declaration approached was populated almost entirely by monarchies of various sorts. Worse, those monarchies -- especially the most geo-politically powerful among them -- were ossified relics already in power for centuries. In almost every case they had patiently adopted an arcane collection of, shall we say, "bad habits."

We are all familiar with the history. As the founders thought of a new model for the government they were considering, the list of "common choices" was not particularly promising. There was, of course, the "monarchy idea" which was already growing quite unpopular in the Colonies, but there were others. Theocracies, autocracies, dictatorships and good old fashioned war lords were a few.

When these men "selected" democracy, many of the moving parts of such a plan remained ill defined. Granted, there had been a good deal of writing and thinking done on the subject, but the task of formulating the "nuts and bolts" practicalities required to create an operational model was daunting.

They did pretty well.

One way to look at their solution was that they wanted the citizens of the new Republic to have a way to meet the challenges facing them based on their own plans and values, hence the "representative" part of the idea. Citizens, they assumed, would hope that changes could be made, problems solved and progress, generally, realized, and those hopes would pilot the government's actions more or less along the lines of a majority opinion in such matters.

The idea which was being rejected by these founders was the European model where policies and changes seemed to descend from the powerful in a way essentially independent of the hopes of the citizens. The European plan worked well enough until the "citizen hope" level finally grew enough to permanently challenge it.

In the United States all of this would be accomplished in the mechanism described by the Constitution. There were always plenty of "loose ends" in the system, but in the long term the Constitution's proposal turned out to be a good one. "Citizen hopes" occasionally raised hell in the Republic before they were finally sorted out in the democratic process, but centuries passed without any guillotines.

The point here is not to write another history of the United States, but, instead, to simply point out without any "hemming and hawing" whatsoever that what these men proposed was a representational democracy which would be controlled by, yes, politics.

Politics as Pandora's Box

Politics and Pandora [image source]
The mythological story of Pandora may be fascinating, but here we must consider specifically "the box" part.

Zeus gave the gods-crafted Pandora as bride to Epimetheus, along with a box with a warning label telling the couple never to open it. Epimetheus was dazzled by his bride, Pandora. Perhaps he forgot the advice of his prescient brother. Perhaps he thought they were supposed to hold the box in safe-keeping for Zeus against his return -- that it wasn't a gift, at all.

Pandora Opens the Box. 

Epimetheus insisted that his wife obey the letter of the label. Unfortunately, one day Pandora's husband left her side for a few hours. Pandora was gifted with curiosity as much as the other attributes given her by the gods. For her the box was a gift, not something to be kept in trust. What business had Zeus to tell her not to open it? Perhaps she'd listened to her brother-in-law's tales of tricking the king of the gods. Perhaps she saw nothing to fear. Maybe if she just took a quick peak.... Looking around to make sure no one was watching, she opened the box Zeus had given them just a crack. As Pandora did so, ghostly forms gushed forth from the crack. Pandora had unleashed all the evils now known to man. No longer could man loll about all day, but he would have to work and would succumb to illnesses.

At the very bottom of the container was the last thing to come out. It was something that wasn't evil. We call the good that Pandora unleashed by the name of hope.                       [Visit the site here.]

There are various "embellished" interpretations of precisely what Zeus's world wrecking, suddenly released evils were, but most versions arrive roughly at this list:  disease, despair, malice, greed, old age, death, hatred, violence, cruelty and war. The mythology's "implied" message is that before disobedient Pandora's curiosity unleashed these things, the world was a peaceful, well fed happy place.

While the democracy designed by the founders certainly didn't "unleash" such grave dilemmas as Zeus "punishments," we can see that it has done fairly well at "unleashing" quite a collection of humanity's ugliest appetites. But the last "item" to fly forth from the bottom of Pandora's box was, famously, hope.

This post is about the role played by hope in the politics of democracy.

Hope, Risk Taking and Politics

The mechanism of the interplay between hope and change usually accompanies a question of risk taking. In the "devoid of hope" sense, risk taking demands that there be "odds" which can be weighed to potentially justify taking action. Vast political ambitions have been founded on creating odds justifying such action or, in more cynical cases, "establishing the perception" of such odds.

The counter policy also holds true. When the prospect of "taking action" based on hope must be squelched, materially decreasing the odds to a more pessimistic state or, of course, decreasing the perception of the odds to such a state by an artificial manner is, predictably, the usual mechanism.

This kind of political manipulation of the electorate, MeanMesa dares to presume, is, at least, probably one of the wicked little vapors which emerged from the founders' "political box" if not, in fact, from Pandora's. In any event precisely this style of "odds manipulation" -- and especially the manipulation of the perception of the odds -- has become absolutely nothing less than a burgeoning "career opportunity" for the denizens of the oligarchic think tanks now infesting the country.

The point here is that not far below the necessity of such schemes manipulating the odds or the apparent odds lies the dynamic of the hope which drives the risk taking in the first place. In other words anyone "betting the farm" on artificially manipulating the odds arising from dreams derived from a certain kind of hope will, sooner or later, need to address the hope directly. Naturally, too much out of control hoping can throw a wrench in just about any such scheme. Most of them are, instead, counting on the political inertia to be found in lots of voters with plenty of cynical, hopeless pessimism.

Predictably, this is an the outline of the orders issued to the oligarchs' think tanks. If voters can be reduced to a hopeless, frightened, angry desperation, all sorts of political "opportunities" will emerge from the ensuing mayhem -- none of them boding well for the democracy.

Risk Taking: The Order of the Day
Americans are quite used to handling politics this way.

While things were "rolling along" in a more or less usual manner in the democracy, no one had perfect hope, that is, an impossibly high quality of hope predicating action to be undertaken with perfect odds of success. There are always risks. For example the founders themselves found the idea of adversarial conflict between counselors and prosecutors at trial to be a great way to insure dynamic legal verdicts.

Voters were faced with "taking risks" as they elected candidates to run their government, and the risks were always there. The winning candidate might have deceived his constituency during his campaign. Once elected, those in power might have abandoned their campaign principles or even the personal positions they had traditionally held. These are all risks. Every one of these decisions is weighed by a voter as the likelihood of one of these outcomes is estimated. In other words the "odds are established," then the risks are taken, and the ballot is cast.

The thread of hope runs inextricably through all of this. Political campaigns become, generously perhaps, "risk management" exercises. Fears detected in the minds of the electorate must be addressed and assuaged to make the odds of them materializing seem less likely if the candidate is elected. Likewise, a candidate's campaign must work to make the odds of realizing dreams and ambitions -- hopes -- held by the same electorate either to be greater, or at least, appear greater.

The Right Wing's Necessary War on Hope

A great deal can be garnered from an objective examination of the general theme employed in the right wing's propaganda effort, but perhaps the most chilling revelation will be the obsession with deforming hope and exploiting the consequences. Let's look a little more closely at that conclusion.

The idea that hopes [Fears can be presumed to be "hopes of avoidance."] entertained by an electorate are, at least theoretically, the "engine" driving representational government openly invites those wishing to manipulate the process to address hope itself. Should the hope of some portion of voters become somehow controllable under the assault of carefully designed propaganda, the consequential "impulses of hope" directing the government would also become conveniently controllable.

Want to be a tea bag? [image source]
In the traditional case hope is "transitive." One with hope is "hoping" for "something." Although this hardly seems to be "rocket science," it represents precisely the deceptive tactic incorporated into the right's propaganda program. While the strategy itself may be somewhat obscured by design, an over view of the issues presented in the propaganda still expose the larger, underlying purpose in a very revealing way.

It won't require looking at too many of the doggerel "protest signs" at a tea party anti-immigration rally to begin to get the picture. Those voters operating under the influence of the propaganda's maxims are, in fact "hoping" for things. For example, they probably might be hoping that the United States population demographic return to the Caucasian majority of the halcyon days of 1950.

Other sign bearers might be hoping that taxes be reduced to an unworkably low rate, that public schools cease teaching science, that the enfranchisement of certain voting blocks be truncated or that their personal Biblical priorities about abortion and gay marriage become statutory law, and so on. We are familiar with the varying "messages" of the propagandized minority.

However, considered in a larger picture all these "hopes" share at least one chilling commonality. None of them -- not a single one -- is ever likely to be realized. In most cases there is not even so much as the existential possibility hosted by the most unlikely of all possible "special conditions" imaginable which might ever develop into anything even remotely similar to the "completely corrected dream world" of their political fantasy.

The propaganda, once it is stripped of all its incendiary psychology, is merely enticing these poor sign carriers to hope for impossible things, in most cases grumbling that they "feel" that "everyone knows this is right." Once this is accomplished by the relentless application of right wing propaganda, there remains no likelihood whatsoever that any of these carefully manicured "conceptual victims" will ever take another breath of satisfaction or contentment for the remainder of their painful, hopeless lives.

It is, of course, only when they are in this precise state that the oligarchs' think tanks officially consider such a political base properly prepared to enter a voting booth.

We cannot fail to appreciate the exquisite work of psychological manipulation which has delivered these educationally challenged voters to such a widely held, grim, political eschatology -- or the apparent permanence of it. It is absolutely a "challenge well met" when a right wing American -- traditionally an impressive example of hope -- can be transformed into a grumpy, desolate nihilist.

When MeanMesa ponders a possible "path back" to some sort of functional politics, this is what springs to this tired old mind first.

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