Yesterday I talked about how choice is only an illusion that appears under certain conditions. I don’t think I understand it myself in full yet so I’ll continue with the same subject. Today I want to look at choice in politics because in that area practically everybody already agrees that it’s an illusory concept, albeit from a different perspective.
In case you don’t follow – there’s an understanding that no matter who campaigns for presidency they all are going to do the same thing when elected to office. Sure, some policies will be different and some might affect millions of people but there are many other urgent problems facing society that are going to be dismissed or forgotten. It’s easy to understand why – modern politicians campaign on what excites, not what matters, and on what wins them the vote, everything else is secondary. They also tend to control the flow of public discussion so that vested interests behind them remain untouched.
This election cycle in the US has Bernie Sanders to campaign on this exact issue – politicians have become so beholden to big businesses that they refuse to address income inequality and a host of other related problems that affect lives of ordinary people. His opponent for Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, happens to be exactly the archetype of what he is railing against. He energized large sections of the public so it doesn’t really matter if he fails this time, the ideas have been planted into the public consciousness and politicians will have to eventually address them.
This is not the kind of illusory choice I had in mind, however. Perhaps a better illustration would be China. Typical western position is that China needs democracy and freedom. They block Facebook and Twitter there, imagine that! They need opposition parties, they need genuine elections, they need openness. They can’t go forward without proper democratic institutions supporting their society. Chinese themselves don’t listen, however.
One of the most popular arguments against democratization of China is that they have proved that they can lift a billion people out of poverty without democracy. They can also point to India that can’t accomplish anything because all big projects get bogged down by legislation and litigation. Everybody has got rights to oppose everything until they personally get paid and they use these rights to the tilt. This democracy is an insatiable beast that devours country’s resources leaving Indians with third rate infrastructure and skinny cows walking the streets. They constantly squabble with each other and will never become a respectable country because of that.
There’s probably a lot of truth in this objection to democracy but what interests me from the perspective of choice is that Chinese aren’t interested in democracy in the first place, they just don’t know why they need it.
Their lives are filled with exciting stuff as it is. They have careers, they think about families, they think about buying houses and cars, they think about appearances, they think about their social life, they think about justice and fairness, they think about degradation of the society, they think about sacrifices for the nation, they think about all sorts of stuff. Democracy, however, just doesn’t occur to them. Why do they need it? They can’t find a place for it in their consciousness. They honestly don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Those who decide to investigate quickly come to the conclusion outlined two paragraphs earlier – democracy is not worth it. Or they look at elections and general politics in supposedly developed countries and they can’t take it seriously. To them it doesn’t look anything like what is promoted by their democratically minded well-wishers. One of their well known apologists, forgot his name, once said that in Chinese system someone like Obama would probably rise to a level of a city boss, not higher, judging by his abilities. He meant to say that Chinese government pays attention to meritocracy and not to empty talking. Maybe he was a bit harsh on Obama but Trump or Cruz for president? Or another Clinton? Or even Sanders who even most Americans think is out of his depth, never mind his good intentions?
To these sharp and inquisitive Chinese democracy does not offer only freedom and choices as westerners tell them. They don’t even want choices, they are thinking in terms of what needs to be done and who is the most suitable person to do it. What’s there to choose? Once you know what you need and who is available it becomes a matter of matching people to jobs for the best outcome. If you still can’t decide it means that you lack understanding of the issue. “Choice” becomes a symptom of indecisiveness or outright ignorance.
When you approach issues from this perspective, when you realize that you can’t make a decision because of lack of knowledge, asking random people on the street looks simply stupid. If you need to ask someone then ask someone more knowledgeable than you.
Likewise, ordinary people know their abilities and limitations and do not bother offering suggestions to people far more experienced and knowledgeable then them. They also know that people do not make random choices but are guided by rationality and common human interests. They understand “corruption” because if they were in that same position they’d behave in the same way, too. Everybody got to look after himself and his family and all those dependent on him. Everybody has got some greed and lust and they don’t expect their leaders to be saintly but only good enough for their positions – thanks to the meritocracy system they believe exists in their country. Once that meritocracy is gone it will be a different story, however.
Some say that there’s no meritocracy there because you’ve got to embrace prescribed political ideology and so bright people who don’t pledge allegiance to communist bosses do not get promoted. Chinese answer to this is that if these people can’t get along with the party they aren’t very bright to begin with.
We think communism is about control but for Chinese communism is about looking after their country in the best way possible. Generally, there’s only one best way and anyone who thinks he can manage one and a half billion people better is delusional and is not taken seriously.
Once again, method of governing isn’t a matter of choice but a conscious, well thought of decision. One can propose alternatives, sure, but they should be working alternatives, not “we could fix this road if we had two party system”. The communist party isn’t going away and merits of two party systems are questionable anyway. There isn’t a single country in that part of the world where it works, not even Australia and Japan where no one bothers to remember names of their Prime Ministers anymore, they don’t stick around long enough to guess right next time someone asks you about it.
What I meant to say today is that in politics choice is an illusion brought out by ignorance. Those who know their stuff are not concerned for choices, they hardly ever encounter genuine dilemmas and they are not going to ask random people how to solve really complex problems. Democracy as it’s taught in schools offers them nothing worthwhile and they do not care for it.
No one is free from doing the right thing, from doing what needs to be done, it’s not a matter of choice or freedom but of knowledge and discipline.