Thoughts on democracy are generally considered to be high-minded – detached from reality, the concern of others. I would allege that to be deliberate; the effect of social conditioning, manufactured consent and psychological operations. Apathy and ignorance are essential for ruling class dominance, and such rule by elites has dire humanitarian consequences.
The Ruling Class
Simply put, the ruling class are the excessively wealthy. With tremendous wealth comes tremendous power, enabling a cycle where one increases the other; that power inevitably coalesces into influence over public affairs and ultimately, rule.
In South Africa, some of the examples are the Guptas, Ruperts and Oppenheimers. Globally, examples of power players are Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, the Rockefellers, and the royal house of Windsor. Some lesser-known members are Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase), Larry Fink (BlackRock), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), and the Walmart family. They are the billionaires, major landowners, industry titans, media moguls and financial behemoths – the puppet masters of discourse, finance and public policy. In the social strata beneath them sit the media, bankers, politicians, armed forces, intelligence agencies, supranational NGOs and the like. Via political and economic entities, from Wall Street and Silicon Valley to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and World Economic Forum (WEF), the ruling class enacts its will and secures its interests.
Most of the ruling class are heirs to the spoils of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, further empowered today with capital concentrated in their hands by an exclusive economy. Their corruption, greed and self-interest, combined with their outsize influence, create conditions of ubiquitous strife, in a feudalistic hierarchy with the rich at the top – an oligarchy. The oligarchs buy politicians, capture institutions and manipulate media to sway public opinion in their favour: colonizing minds and bodies, draining the commons, dividing and disempowering. Even the state today functions as the public arm of corporations, cronies in service to overpowered businesses, owned and operated by an ever-shrinking subset of privileged people.
No compelling defence can be made for oligarchs; obscene fortunes in a sea of inequality can only be due to ill-gotten wealth: no one earns unimaginable billions; no good person hoards riches, deceives to maintain power or profits from misery. No people-centric system encourages deregulation, privatization and austerity. Neither do admirable people employ propaganda, tax evasion, regulatory capture, lobbying, union-busting or collusion.
The Reality of the Ruled
It is less about money than the material conditions which money creates. Since basic needs sit behind paywalls, money is necessary for a dignified life. Steep inequality means far too many cannot afford a decent life – a right of theirs, and the responsibility of governments to provide. It is not a matter of “hard work” when finite resources are exclusively owned, extracted or exploited by commercial interests, whose only concerns are infinite growth and increasing shareholder value; when opportunities are beyond an individual’s means, and when power sits with a tiny, self-serving minority.
Without wealth or capital, all people have left is their labour to sell in exchange for the money they need. We spend at least a third of our lives working for money to afford food, shelter or medicine. Yet for most people, it is far from enough. Almost all of the world is poor. People live paycheck to paycheck, indebted, under the constant threat of financial ruin and social exclusion. This chronic anxiety is destructive, encouraging awful traits: fear, envy, materialism and anger. While the system rewards sociopathy. The status quo reduces us to livestock squandering our labour, working unfulfilling jobs, sacrificing our wellbeing, trampling over one another, to power a helicopter-money economy servicing ruling class opulence.
To believe that this system works or is fair is delusional; only severe cognitive dissonance would allow one not to grimace at the state of civilization or its unsustainable trajectory.
Consider the consequences: mankind endures climatological devastation by unfettered commerce; non-stop war for profit’s sake; an ever-escalating cost of living; debt, hunger, homelessness, poverty, crime, and the ensuing sickness and mental anguish. While there exists the ever-present danger of surveillance, censorship, gaslighting, restriction of movement and otherization. The plight of people should naturally invoke empathy. But the globe-spanning profit mega-machine, and its façade: liberal politics, co-opts our agitation for its own ends and works overtime to root that out: keeping us self-involved, exhausted and distracted.
A vast majority endure multi-generational trauma. And talk of relative prosperity, technological and economic advancements are skewed by selective preoccupations; stocks and CEO salaries are not reflective of ordinary people’s living conditions – economy is decoupled from society. Factoring in advances in civilization will highlight that humanity is not where we should be: we can produce enough food, we can shelter everyone. Yet misery and injustice run rampant, racism and sexism remain commonplace, crime and inflation rates soar, vice and dysfunction abound. Society is a cauldron of indignation and mass violence threatens at the gates. Billions are locked out, forced to grind out an existence, alienated by socioeconomic divides, fences and guns.
We live within an empire of money, an arrangement far more sinister and covert than empires of the past. History demonstrates European powers colonizing the world with violence, gradually evolving the force of empire to incorporate economics. Understand that slavery and apartheid are highly profitable. So is war. The ruling class lust after land; after the uranium in the Congo, sugar in Cuba, diamonds in Namibia, oil in Argentina, platinum in South Africa. They desire control of the gas deposits of Vietnam, textiles of India and opium of Afghanistan. It is all about money, power and control – wealthy interests want every countries’ resources, labour and markets. It is a conspiracy with its seat of power in the United States. Hostile foreign policies and escalations against nations such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela and China are cynically motivated; they threaten Western hegemony. Challenges to the existing power axis are intolerable. Whereas the West’s war machine is a far greater source – by orders of magnitude – of injustice, terror and death. Sophisticated ideological justifications: marketing, public relations and propaganda are deployed to convince the ordinary working-class person that this is not the case, that everything is fine, that power belongs where it is. The devil’s greatest trick is convincing you that he does not exist.
Even the relatively unscathed, if they are concerned for their loved ones or their own happiness, must face the grim reality. The middle-class bubble shrinks each day as more wealth and power is appropriated upwards. Your children may earn twice your salary but they will pay four times the prices and suffer eight times the pressure while facing extinction-level threats. As we are driven towards a post-human future, compassion will be punished; a dwindling privileged will serve the ruling class as they engage in destructive entertainments behind electric fences and armed guards, separating them from those deemed expendable by the Empire.
Dēmos and Kratos
Our defence is a word thrown around often in post-apartheid South Africa: democracy. Parenti asserts that the purpose of democracy is to protect people from the offences of wealth. In What Is Democracy? the history of the concept is revealed to have begun with a relatable concern: how do we achieve happiness? Philosophers inevitably recognized happiness’s dependence on the dynamic between wealth and its counterpart: poverty. They believed wealthy men would look out only for their own interests, and continually seek to expand their domain, accumulating power and control while antagonizing the common man. Inevitably, there will be conflict – leading to mass unhappiness.
Capitalism is not democracy, as much as that belief is baked into education and culture. The stenographers of empire will have you believe this self-serving lie but capitalism, especially neoliberal capitalism popularized by the likes of Reagan and Thatcher, is not rule by the people; it is rule by capital – and thus the psychopaths who monopolize capital. Unfettered capitalism infringes upon freedom, censors speech, rewards injustice, trashes the biosphere and neglects human needs. Profits over nature, profits over God, profits over science, profits over community: all things subject to the profit pathology.
Just call me a Thatcherite.Former President Thabo Mbeki
This is why the ruling class are saboteurs of democracy: democracy is an obstacle to profit. Why succumb to costly cries for living wages, national sovereignty, socialized healthcare, environmental regulations or drug safety? Democracy is the opposite of a few special interests having all the power. Democracy means to give ordinary people a voice: to say no to exploitation, no to pollution, no to war, no to profiteering from suffering. And yes to self-determination, yes to peace, yes to harmony with nature, yes to livable wages, yes to progressive taxation, yes to workers focusing their efforts on addressing human needs, yes to collectively deciding our future.
I am sorry to inform you that you will not join the ruling class. I also have to assume that if you have read until here, you are incapable of ripping out your conscience for an invitation to the blood-soaked table of the robber barons. One should recall the fate of nobility during the French Revolution.
You cannot outrun the spectre of global capitalism; it affects your wages, your investments, your mortgage; your mental health, your physical wellbeing, your bodily autonomy; the education of children, the treatment of the sick, the safety of your neighbourhood; the price of bread, the availability of water, the nature of travel. If you care about anything, you care about politics – politics encompasses everything. If you do not examine the glaring contradictions of modern life, if you do not care, it reduces your vote, taxes and donations to empty rituals. A vibrant social fabric requires accountability and emotional investment.
Simple Personal Politics
Democracy does not work without dēmos, without people. People need power – the power to break their chains, the power to live with dignity.
The people have to have the power: it belongs to the people.Fred Hampton
Which raises the question: what can one do, realistically? The foremost recommendation: seek the truth. Read or watch Parenti, Roy, Biko, Pilger and others. You will find comfort, hope and inspiration as you engage with so-called radical perspectives.
Challenge history and the news – look up the destruction of Libya, the assassinations of Lumumba and Sankara; the beneficiaries of apartheid; the demonization of Russia, hybrid war on China, looting of India, sanctions on Cuba; the seemingly-benign machinations of ruling class elements like Bill Gates.
Follow the money, call out deception, and guard against fearmongering using pre-packaged threats: socialists, terrorists, viruses or whatever else the ruling class claims they want to protect you from.
Continuously refine your worldview. Observe society from a class perspective while avoiding ideological echo chambers and the pitfalls of the false binary.
Resist the culture of rugged individualism. It exists to obfuscate systemic issues. Instead, exercise your humanity and embrace natural calls for collaboration and community.
Stop idolizing totems of inequality – no pampered billionaire deserves adoration or emulation. They may pay lip service to democracy or equality but they are all disciples of fiscal conservatism. Billionaires are the abominable products of a perverse system.
Finally, immunize yourself against corporate media. They are a component of the ruling class orthodoxy, tasked with social engineering, cheerleading war, excusing suffering and misleading the public. Independent media outlets and sincere journalists exist. Support their work.
You have to start with the truth. The truth is the only way that we can get anywhere.Julian Assange