War is a problem that, to my mind, resembles climate change. Either can destroy us. Either can be better understood by looking outside the United States. Hayes, in describing well the gap between those in power in Washington and the other 99% of us, describes in particular the gap between the war deciders and that sliver of the U.S. population that actually fights the wars. But what about the gap between us and the victims of our wars? What about the power of patriotic flag-waving to overcome concern for troops, even among the troops themselves, who could and should refuse illegal orders?
Hayes draws the right parallel between our age and the 1770s. We are in an era of taxation without representation. Majority opinion is opposed by our government on every major issue. Hayes even points out the danger lurking in the fact that the one institution people claim to trust is the military. It's worth drawing on the public's contempt for every other form of authority, I think, to point out that the top commanders in the military are, in fact, banksters and politicians.
I suspect that the key to avoiding disorientation is to expect shortcomings. We probably shouldn't worry as much as Hayes does about whether baseball players use steroids. We should probably expect a church that lies about the finality of death to lie about other things, including child abuse. It's not all the members of the church that did that; it's a small group of very powerful people at the top. In politics too, we should recognize the corrupting influence of power. But we shouldn't fault humanity because presidents are murderous thugs. We should recognize the elite, as Hayes defines them, as elite. We should be aware of their patterns of wrong-doing, rather than fantasizing that half of them, belonging to one of the two big political parties, are our close friends and role models. That way lies disillusionment and disorientation.
We don't need to get the mechanics right. We won't fix our government by ending the filibuster or by amending the Constitution to point out that corporations aren't people and buying stuff isn't protected speech. I'm in favor of those things, but fundamentally we need to change our culture, create and follow better models, develop social capital of trust and community.
And yet, we'll need to get some of the mechanics of government right too. The founders of the United States, for all they got wrong, got power right in many ways. Presidents were denied the power to launch wars. The people's representatives were given the power to impeach presidents. The rule of law was placed above the law of rulers. We need to recover all of that. And doing so will require -- as Hayes recommends -- placing the power of the people to control the elite higher on our agenda than cheerleading for the half of the elite belonging to one of the two parties.
Hayes' book -- as is fairly typical of political books -- has a title that at first sounds optimistic, but 215 of its 240 pages are devoted to describing the disaster underway, while the last 25 pages are set aside for the topic of what we might do about it. Basically, Hayes recommends that we build a movement for progressive taxation by joining forces with upper-middle-class rightwingers. This might not be as crazy as it sounds. We don't need to find rightwingers who favor progressive taxation, but we do need to create them. No doubt that sounds extremely "elitist," but we can create such people out of their own beliefs.
Hayes points to a 2010 study by economists Michael Norton and Dan Ariely who found that Americans dramatically underestimate the current level of wealth inequality in their country. Very few are really aware that 400 people have an average income more than ten thousand times that of the bottom 90 percent of us. Norton and Ariely also found that "respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates. . . . All demographic groups -- even . . . Republicans and the wealthy -- desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo."
We won't build this movement without experts and reliance on them. But we will only do it without tyrants, and with a view of the future designed around active participation in self-governance as citizens, not lemmings.
"Twilight of the Elites" is an excellent guide post. The similarly titled "Twilight of the Idols" by Friedrich Nietzsche famously claimed: "What does not destroy me makes me stronger." That's a statement that becomes true as one lives it for oneself. For his part, Nietzsche wrote it and quickly lost his mind. If that's disorienting, you're still looking for the wrong type of authority.
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