Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Open Table

I do not believe in political progress.

There is no morality in politics, not in tyranny obviously and, less obvious to many, not even in the attempt to have the self rule the self. Representative democracy is a human impossibility. Naming half the prisoners "guard" and setting them to their task is certainly better than most attempts at rule in human history, but it does not make it good. It does not avoid, in the long run and in the short, the abuses of power one can expect from any other system.

We are cultural. We are also positional. And position breeds dynamics that sow the seeds of the next cultural shifts.

If there is no political progress, we bring things back to a human level. We stop seeing complexity and projection of force, the hallmarks of a Western-style technical viewpoint, useful only in mechanics and operators, not in creators or artists. If there is no political progress, we are free to contemplate tribes or clans (or perhaps see that they continue to exist in more or less altered forms) as valid options for our social arrangement. We can even imagine no social arrangement at all, though we continue to be born into a state of property and if you can solve that, then good fucking luck, philosopher king.

We can imagine that family does NOT flow into tribe, into clan, into great tribe, does NOT flow into nation, that a group of believers does NOT flow into churches, into cathedrals, does NOT flow in great coreligious polity. We are free to say that NO, this does NOT necessarily become that. Life is messy. Human civilization may evolve and devolve freely just as life may become better and worse for humanity because the universe, really and truly, does NOT care about us, and "humanity" cares not one whit for you and me as individual humans.

So I may not have proven but have firmly argued my beliefs on human progress, politically speaking. So what?

Well, I find myself wondering if monarchy should rise again. In one way this is a silly question. Of course monarchy is alive because patronage and authority are alive. Try though others may to impose "meritocracy" in order to depersonalize authority, spread its power to other holders, and render the power invested more secure against the threat of nepotism, once people gain by merit or otherwise, they want to shed it to those they choose. Some cultures are more adoptive--Roman, Japanese, old Hawaiian--and others are more blood-magic, but nobody is pure here. The important thing is that power is bequeathed and inherited. Who doesn't like that? Only peons, and they pass on their misery all the same.

But I mean real monarchy. I mean like a king and shit with a crown. And it's less absurd, I think, than it may sound.

What about the Japanese restorations? Time and again, over thousands of years, the emperor would feud with the nobility or soldiery, most recently in the form of the tent-government of the Tokugawa shoguns. This test involved weaponry and technology and cultural shifts, but it was not merely won in these technical, quantitative ways. There was a subjective test of influence, allegiance, faith, and fear. Why does it make more sense for an emperor to rise in the 1860s when he was hopelessly antique in the 1600s? In the West, we have some idea of monarchs slowly easing away. Elsewhere they were abolished; when my grandfather was still in his mother's belly they sent the last Sultan away. But why could a sleeping monarchy not rise? Why could a new one not emerge in the technological milieu of the day? Sure, Japan has its cultural tradition, more touted than real but still real in a sense. And so do we. People still believed this shit very recently. Where kings combine with the powers of priesthood, they believed it very fiercely. Many of us still believe in kings today, but mostly in the past. That's believing in kings in the present and future, brothers and sisters, but we just don't admit it.

What else can we believe in? What's harder than fuck to believe in? Equality. Every man a king, every woman a queen, all of us princes and priests before any or along with all others. Might seem ridiculous, and we can't change everything at once. But it's not about going forward or back. There is no thing. Just now, just here, and we can all stop pretending and start playing other roles should only we wish it.

I hope I post before another week's past.


  1. I agree with the last sentence; the rest was interesting though I'm not sure monarchy would work in Murrikkeh. After reading the entry above I leap-frogged to another series of thoughts on the same subject, if you want to read them they're under the "our son is..." post.

  2. I liked the follow-up. I'm not saying monarchy would work in a traditional sense, but I think Hamilton's elective monarchy would have worked very well. And if the soldiers and people revolted, well, Washington showed he was willing to slaughter them and that worked well.

  3. Oh and by "last sentence" I meant this one:

    Just now, just here, and we can all stop pretending and start playing other roles should only we wish it.

  4. we only demolished princely states some 60 years ago here in india (my gramps used to work for one till he became a govt servants) - lot of that feudal shtick hangs around and it can be a bit disgusting, though of course it's the same in spirit to what happens in any halls of power..

  5. I thought you meant that one, Karl. That's where it got personal for me. It tends to be my only conclusion. Let's play a new game, as freely as clever children.

    It may well be, Almost. The Protestants got rid of the Pope but Papism is alive and well in Prot America. Likewise, the caliphate merely broke the monopoly on Islamic interpretation. Many could say Islam only got worse after its central authority vanished due to my folks.

    I really think one thing leads to another. A lot of nobility in the old places of the world came from one generation's notion of merit. European aristos, Confucian exam families, bushi retainers... The notion that aristocracy is antique and one man's effort is novel and modern and fresh is silly. For one to believe in historical progress, one must limit the scope tremendously.