Friday, January 27, 2017

Preparing for Life after Democracy

I’ve been reading some recent articles, trying to get a sense of what the next few decades of life under a semi-democratic government might look like. And I think I'm starting to figure it out.

Sales of Orwell’s 1984 are spiking as I write this, but even in that book, people had jobs, kids, and lives, all while operating under a cartoonishly evil surveillance state.

Obviously, real governments have far more effective tools for neutralizing dissent. In a practical, real-world sense, 1984's Winston never did anything to destabilize the Party. His quiet, personal rebellion had no consequence to anyone other than himself and Julia, the government would never have cared enough to get involved. Neutering any threat he posed would been as simple as firing him, as his immediate economic and survival needs would ensure that making any bigger plans was impossible.

Opposing the government would make his life, not just dangerous, but profoundly unpleasant.

That’s the hidden trick, and why I made this digression. People say they value liberty and democracy, but what they really care about is safety and happiness. For all but a few small outliers, the preference is a comfortable, safe life with kids. This is an explicitly cynical view, but even a cursory review of past political platforms shows that people’s wants and needs don’t drastically change over time.

In non-democracies, people sit around complaining that the government sucks, but are realistic enough to know that there isn’t much they can do about it. Fatalism becomes a way of life. And if people think they can’t become meaningfully involved in civic life, and can’t change their government, then it becomes true (whether or not it was true already).

A rational response to this is the uncoupling of goods and services from a non-responsive government. Take education, as an example.

In many countries, both democratic and otherwise, the state guarantees education for all children, paid for through taxation. But if the government is not to be trusted, where "trusted" in this case merely means “relied upon”, then enterprising and/or rich people will take matters into their own hands. If it’s a necessary service, then people are still willing to pay for it, even if they’re already being provided with a substandard product. So you quickly see a proliferation of non-government services that mirror the government’s supposed offerings. The bourgeoisie of any country are going to live in comfort, and it doesn’t matter so much whether they approve of the government.

But this behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum, the poor and less well off become acutely aware that those with means are opting out of governmental services. But there’s no use appealing to government bureaucrats, they’re the same ones sending their children to private school.

Identifying the similarities with our current system is left as an exercise for the reader, but the net result is a society with an unhappy underclass, a comfortable rich, and an utterly dysfunctional government.

And why bother making a fuss, when it’s hard enough to get a job already.

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