Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Nasty Truth About Living Within the Big Lie

Today, living within the big lie requires that one consents to the belief in free markets, representative democracy, and sustainable development, regardless of the gaping flaws in each of the concepts. Taken together they represent the so-called noble lie that provides the social cohesion that allows for our society to function. Dissent is for the most part fruitless since there exits an implicit consensus within the society to ignore or quickly forget any speech or gesture that calls into question the truthfulness about the foundation concepts. Nevertheless, having been the recipient of a quality public education, I feel obliged to expose the myths for what they are and hope that by gaining a better understanding of how they function others will be better able to lead more authentic lives.

Upon close analysis, each one of the cultural myths underlying the big lie puts forward a belief that is contrary to what the myth attempts to conceal.

For example, the belief that markets function better when left to themselves is political propaganda at best. First, in order for markets to function at all, they need to be enabled by a legal system that respects contractual obligations and offers dispute resolution. Governments provide this much needed feature at public expense. Second, favorable market intervention from government offers corporations sizable competitive advantage, so much so that it is more profitable to invest billions of dollars in lobbying and political donations than to reinvest the said amounts into improving the quality of existing goods and services in hopes of gaining a greater share of the market. Third, markets, financial markets in particular, are prone to systemic failure if not properly regulated. Indeed, failure to regulate the financial markets brought about a global economic recession that made necessary huge injections of public funds so to avoid a full scale collapse and possible depression. Profits remained profit and risk was socialized.

One might argue that a democratic response from the electorate would supply the appropriate corrective. However, it should be noted that representative democracy in North America provides for popular elections, but this in itself does not render the political institutions democratic. Hardly. At the most fundamental level, democracy entails that the majority of the citizens hold and exercise political power. This is not the case in North America. In fact, a combination of electoral practices, the influence of money and a voting method that discards the majority of votes, thwarts the demos from exercising its political will and power is effectively held and exercised by a monied elite. The advent of universal suffrage has done little to change electoral dynamics except to heighten the property requirements to become a member of the ruling class.

Finally, to overcome any misgivings that might arise among the population upon reflection about the consequences of ever-increasing levels of consumption, the term "sustainable development" has been appropriated to mean something far different from its original meaning. No longer used to signify economic development that sustains a healthy social sphere and maintains a healthy environment, the term is widely used as a means to greenwash the continued unsustainable consumption of nonrenewable resources. By framing economic activity as being part of sustainable development the inconvenient fact that nonrenewable resources are finite is conveniently ignored and the much-needed development of the large scale use of renewable energy sources is further delayed.

In short, the virtuous connotations surrounding the concept of sustainability are linked to economic development in a similar manner that the virtuous connotations surrounding the concept of democracy are linked to representation. In neither case are the virtues to be found in practice and the much sought legitimacy is just a front.

And this brings me to the nasty truth about living within the big lie. As the renowned playwright Vaclev Havel once wrote, "the individual, declares his loyalty . . . in the only way the regime is capable of hearing; that is, by accepting the prescribed ritual, by accepting appearances as reality, by accepting the given rules of the game. In doing so, however, he has himself become a player in the game, thus making it possible for the game to go on, for it to exist in the first place."

Compliance allows the game to continue. So, in 2011 don't be compliant. In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudo-life. Be authentic and choose to live within the truth.

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