rn- democracy & elites, accident & design


Richard Moore

Dear rn,

Paul Isaacs sent in a resonse about the 'capitalist endgame' posting ("rn-
rkm re: facing eco-collapse and preparing for it", 10/22).  His whole
message is below, with some quotes clipped out.  There were two of his
points which I found particularly intriguing...

10/25/1999, Paul wrote:
    In fact, "democracy" is what happens between elections.
    "Democracy" is the give and take and compromise and change
    that take place between the introduction of a piece of
    legislation and its final passage. The "engine" of
    parliamentary democracy is the parliamentary committee

In an electoral representative system, and if we assume that each
representative is loyal to the interests of his or her electoral
constituency - then committee meetings would indeed be the place where
'democracy occurs'.  What such committees are doing is seeking to
'harmonize' among the interests of different constituencies.  The final
legislation, presumably, would be aimed at serving the interests of the
people.  It might unduly favor one constituency over another, or it might
be poorly-drafted legislation - but those are the inevitable problems of
human endeavor, no matter how well structured.  In this model, it is the
interests of the people - even if distorted - that drive the committee

In fact, Western politics typically goes more like this...  some candidate
has a group of backers, and he launches a campaign. ( Newt Gingrich comes
to mind, who was given a huge war-chest by several telecommunication
conglomerates.)  The candidate, with his professional campaign staff, then
designs his 'platform' and begins seeking TV spots, debates, and speaking
gigs - using the funding from his backers.  The 'platform' is likely to be
phrased in popular terms, and it will be related to issues which can arouse
typical voters in some way to choose the candidate.  The platform may have
nothing in it related to the interests of the backers.  Or it may present
the backers' agenda in a disguised form.  Newt, for example, empasized the
democratizing and educational value of communications technology.

Once in office, it is the interests of the backers which are of primary
concern to the candidate.  In Newt's case, his primary mission was to push
the Telecommmunications Act through.  The primary consequecnce of this bill
was to facilitate monopolization - the concentration of the communications
industry into a few giant conglomerates.  The backers got exactly what they
wanted, and the monopolization process is today already far advanced.  In
order to placate his _electoral constituency, there are some minor,
half-hearted provisions in the bill related to providing equipment to
schools and minorities, or something along those lines.

The debate in committee meetings was about the interests of constituencies
- but those were not the _electoral constituencies.  The 'constituencies'
which mattered, were the various backers behind the committee members.
Cable companies had one agenda, the regional phone companies had another,
and the long-distance companies had another.   Those were the agendas that
went into the construction of the bill.  A 'democratic' harmonization
process occurred - if you consider AT&T, SouthWest Bell, and CNN to be who
the 'citizens' are.

Once a candidate has fulfilled his primary mission - which has nothing to
do with his electoral constituency - he is then more or less free to 'play
politics'.  That is, he can take popular stands on issues his backers don't
care about, he can build his personal network in various ways, etc.  The
primary mission of Clinton's first term, it turns out, was the passage of
NAFTA. All that fun and games about gays and health care was our boy
playing political cowboy for a presumed liberal constituency.  Better he
should have entertained us with saxaphone.


    It has been my experience that things tend to happen more by
    accident than design. I, therefore, have a mental bias
    against elites making plans.

Certainly accident always plays a role in 'things', even in an engineering
project.  But it would not be reasonable to say that developing a new
electronic device happens "more by accident than design".  Lots of
'accidents' occurred in the form of technology developments that preceded
such a project.  But the project itself is much more one of conscious
design than 'accidental' discovery.

The role of 'accident' and 'design' in any given case is an _empirical
question, not a philosophical one.  It would be absurd to claim that _every
human endeavor is _always mostly accident.  Each case is different.

In political affairs, as anywhere else, one must look at the facts.  In the
case of Vietnam, for example, there came a point where Johnson and his
advisors wanted to escalate.  They very consciously decided to invent an
incident - to falsely claim torpedoes had been fired in international
waters.  They got their  Tonkin Resolution, and they proceeded, as planned,
with the escalation.  You must certainly agree there are at least _some
cases, where a very conscious elite plans can have an historic and desired

Consider the Newt Gingrich case, and the 'story of the communications
bill'.  The scenario can be accurately described this way:

        A group of elite telecommunications executives got together to
decide how the market might be opened up for expansion.  They came up with
an agenda of comprehensive deregulation.  (This represents a truly
revolutionary change in the industry - a total reversal of the philosphy
which broke up AT&T.).  They then agreed to set up a political war-chest
and seek a candidate.  For an agenda of such magnitude, they wanted someone
who could make a big popular impression, and who was very good at
Congressional deal making.  They found their man in Gingrich.  He used the
war chest to build up his popular image, won his campaign, and proceeded to
adroitly champion the bill through Congress. The telecommunication
companies then, as planned originally, began to expand by means of merger
and acquistion.

Is this not an historically significant episode?  And did it not proceed
more by design than accident?  And wouldn't you agree that a clique of
telecommunications executives can be referred to as an 'elite group'?

A more interesting example is provided by the CFR (Council on Foreign
Relations) planning sessions that began in 1939 and proceed through the war
years.  We can tell what happened in these councils from bulletins and
reports from the sessions themselves which are on the public record.

Since important parts of the world were coming under the control of Japan
and Germany, the US government was trying to figure out what response would
best serve US interests.  The CFR sessions systematically assessed market
sizes, and resource availability, in different parts of the world, seeking
to identify what 'sphere of influence' the US would require in order to
fulfill its trade 'needs'.  Out of these deliberations came the fundamental
framework for US war strategy.

This kind of planning proceeded throughout the war, and plans were refined
as the outcome of the war began to become apparent.  In the end they had
come up with a comprehensive blueprint for the UN, the IMF, and the other
Bretton Woods institutions.  The _expressed intent of this postwar
architecture was to facilitate development of what we now call the third
world, under terms favorable to Western business interests.

In this case - which is not theory but historical fact - an elite group of
planners, reporting secretly to top levels of governemnt, _designed the
main outline of US war strategy and the architecture of the postwar world.
The strategy was followed, successfully and as planned, and the
world-system architecture was implemented.  The architecture performed as
planned, and the process of third-world development proceeded as planned.

Are these not momentous historic episodes?  Are we not seeing design more
than accident?  Is that design not once again the work of an 'elite' group?
True enough, the emergence of Japan and Germany can be seen as an
'accident', as can the stunning victory at Midway, or the fact that Hitler
couldn't build the A Bomb.  But in the midst of that random turbulence, an
elite group designed the US response, and the design was successfully


From: Paul Isaacs <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 00:13:29 -0500


>That is, true democracy becomes possible when the 'citizen role
>in governance' is defined as 'participating in the solving of societal
>problems', instead of as 'voting for candidates or referenda'.   'Problem
>solving' and 'need to plan' are, I believe, the very same notion.

As far as I am concerned democracy has precious little to do with voting. The
tendency to conflate and equate democracy and voting is one of the more
serious problems facing the Western "democracies". The need to elect
"representatives" is a consequence of scale and is not in any way a definition
of democracy. In fact, "democracy" is what happens between elections.
"Democracy" is the give and take and compromise and change that take place
between the introduction of a piece of legislation and its final passage. The
"engine" of parliamentary democracy is the parliamentary committee system.
That engine has just about completely broken down in Canada. It seems to be in
better shape in the U.S. where senate committees are forces to be reckoned


The End-Game:

It has been my experience that things tend to happen more by accident than
design. I, therefore, have a mental bias against elites making plans.

If I were one of the people planning to survive - with my considerable
"wealth" still able to assert itself to my benefit within some kind of
functioning society - a collapse, I think that I would have been seeing to it
that major ecological disasters were prevented. To that end: I would have made
sure that the U.S. senate passed the test ban treaty; I would be putting the
brakes on genetically modified food; I would be trimming pollution and CO2
emissions. In short, I would be making sure that there was a planet to live on
- it doesn't seem to be happening.

>What I'm suggesting is that this is _one example of how our elite planners
>are dealing with the collapse scenario.

We all think that way in the West. These are our sins of omission. There is no
need to be deliberate about it. These things are happening by default and we
all must shoulder the blame. As the problems worsen, the tendency to look the
other way becomes the normal.

>We need to pay closer attention to how they are playing this 'end game'.

We-they is a difficult construct at the best of times. I wonder if it is a
fruitful mindset given the current state of affairs. Even if "they" were no
longer hindering "us", what would/could "we" do to make things right?

I suspect that humanity has constructed a physical infrastructure that can no
longer be maintained. The infrastructure has permitted the global population
to grow to the point that, in order to maintain the population level, the
physical resources of the planet must be depleted unsustainably - energy,
water, arable land.

>You might say they're making a multi-dimensional video of the end
>of the world.


With respect to your paragraph above, Ontario is an interesting case.

In 1995 Ontarians elected an extreme right-wing government. I though for some
time that Ontarians, who have a long history of mutual caring and compromise,
had made an error in judgement that they would soon see needed correcting. It
didn't happen. The same government has been re-elected with a majority.


I have come to the conclusion that a signficant proportion of Ontarians have
lost their confidence. A confident electorate would not re-elect such a
boorish and callous government. In fact, I think that unarticulated fear
underlies the lost confidence. Job loss fear and, deeper still, environmental

The mainfestation is as you describe but even more disturbing. Ontarians have
turned on one another - as have other Western societies - in a quest to
maintain their status. The decision is not live or die - yet - but it
certainly is antagonistic and selfish rather than co-operative. From Ontario's
example it is not at all comforting to contemplate the ease with which people
in the West would turn on people from other continents.

>They're going to use this
>information to figure out which populations should be culled when, so as to
>keep the West on its consumption binge for as long as possible.

If they can keep the West from imploding itself. As cited above, I have my

>way the scenario is being played out, it will be take longer than you think
>to reach a point where we in the West are likely to experience a full
>collapse of the economic commons.

I'm not so sure. There is an enormous amount of "invested" "money" out there.
If enough - and it wouldn't take too many - people decide that they want to
"cash out" and get real money instead of virtual ( i.e. invested ) money, the
entire "global" economy could crash almost overnight. My suspicion is that we
have only lasted this long because the mutual fund managers know that they
have to keep the "money" in the "market" or its game over. The teachers of
Ontario wanted to "get a better return" so they hired a "manager" for their
pension fund - about $70 billion. They got a better "return". They also got
78% of their money in "equities". Unfortunately, the $70 billion is "virtual".
God knows how much hard cash it is going to produce.

>In this way, waiting for the collapse of the
>economic commons becomes almost equivalent to those millenial cults, who
>wait for flying saucers or second comings.  It becomes a way to buffer
>ourselves from the unacceptability of the reality around us, and a way to
>forgive ourselves for not being able to do anything about it.

The buffer is not working in Ontario. The distress is so evident that we have
come to the point of needing to punish those whose destitution is an
embarrassment to our sense of "achievement", "progress" and "success".


I think that the next two to three months might have a big story to tell.

If the WTO corporacy successfully sells Seattle and the Y2K bug doesn't bite,
we are going to have a very difficult time convincing anyone that things are
not fine and dandy. If the "protesters" wound the WTO and the Y2K bug chomps
down hard, this discussion will become much more likely to bear fruit.

Whatever the case, we will remain in deep trouble.


Paul Isaacs


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