Democracy & Despotism

How to tell if your community or country is sliding towards despotism – a useful guide both then and now.

I ran across these two videos, created by Encyclopedia Britannica back in the 1940s, and I can’t share them enough as they seem perfectly (and terrifyingly) appropriate for today’s political and social climate:

In 1945 and 1946, immediately following the end of World War II, Encyclopedia Britannica’s films division produced two educational short films, one on democracy and one on despotism, exploring how societies and nations rank on the spectrum from democracy to despotism by measuring the degree to which power is concentrated and respect for individuals restricted.

A community is low on a respect scale if common courtesy is withheld from large groups of people on account of their political attitudes, if people are rude to others because they think their wealth and position gives them that right, or because they don’t like a man’s race or his religion. Equal opportunity for all citizens to develop equal skills is one basis for rating a community on a respect scale.

I highly recommend watching both of these videos – being from the era they are, I think they know better than we do what they’re talking about.

The March to Tyranny

How quickly a country can fall…

If you’ve ever wondered how a democratic country can become a dictatorship, just look around you right now. The current “president” of the United States has:

  • Tried to ban immigration
  • Arrested journalists for covering events unflattering to him
  • Tried to silence the media
  • Told people to ignore the media and only listen to him
  • Fired people for daring to challenge him
  • Uses his own private security force, loyal only to him personally
  • Trying to concentrate power in a small group of people and bypass the legislative branch
  • Removed military leaders from decision making about national security
  • Describes people who disagree with him as having “betrayed” their country

These are not the actions of a free and democratic society, they are the actions of a despot.

We do not have a president anymore; we have a tyrant, and he deserves to be deposed as one.

The Statue of Liberty’s Poem in 2017

I never thought this’d become real…

I wrote this as satire a few months ago, and had it saved as a draft – but I never thought it would become the literal truth.

“Give me your tired – but not your poor (we don’t want any more moochers) – your huddles masses (as long as they aren’t from Mexico or Muslim countries) yearning to be free (as long as they aren’t here to take our jobs).”

I honestly don’t know how much further this country can fall, or how much more it’s going to take before we realize how wrong we are and the hurt we’re directly causing to ourselves, our country, and our reputation.

This Seems Oddly Familiar

Disturbing dystopian similarities.

I was making a list of the way things are going around here and I suddenly realized I’ve seen this before…

  • Mass surveillance of citizens
  • Small, wealthy ruling party
  • No speaking out against the ruler
  • “Truth” defined by what the party says
  • Prosecution of those who speak against the party/leader
  • Figurehead larger-than-life leader

Maybe George Orwell got it wrong – it’s not English Socialism in Oceana, it’s American Socialism.

ingsoc wallpaper (red)down with big brother

Anger & Fear

I’m not angry; I’m just very, very disappointed.

It seems a lot of the people who voted for Trump were very angry and frustrated. People do not think rationally when they are angry and frustrated, and Trump made sure to keep them angry and frustrated right up to election night.

There was also a large undercurrent of fear as well, and there are two ways to deal with that kind of anger and fear:

“I need to have power over others so they can’t do anything to anger or frighten me”

or

“I need to help others so they won’t give me cause to be angry or fearful”

Sadly, in this last election more people who voted chose the former over the latter.

It is difficult to reason with someone who is angry, frustrated, and afraid – they don’t generally react with thought but instead with emotion. And since emotion is close buddies with our “fight or flight” response, someone who reacts with their emotions will have essentially just two responses: fight or flight. They will act (or in this case, vote) in a way that gives them power to “fight” (i.e., punish or control) whatever frightens and angers them – or they will choose “flight,” which means either running away (or ignoring) or pushing away what angers and frightens them.

This all might seem quite reasonable until you remember that what angers and frightens these people is… other people. Groups of people who are different, who look different or act different or think different. And this means that the emotions of these angry and frustrated and fearful people made them choose a course of action that will punish, control, and push away people just because they are different.

Anger, fear, and politics are a terrible combination. It is all to easy to rationalize terrible behavior and poor decisions when you’re angry and afraid.

“I had to shoot that person; he was coming right for me!”

“We have to get rid of all people like them, they could all be murderers!”

I’m the one who needs a job, not you!”

Rationalizations like this are bad enough at the personal level, but when they get translated into policy or enshrined in law, it becomes much, much worse. An individual can move past their fear and re-think their decisions and change their behavior fairly easily and quickly, but changing public policy and law can take ages – if it ever happens at all.

It’s often been said you shouldn’t make important decisions when you’re angry, and electing a president is one of the most important decisions a country can make – yet we seem to have made this decision quite rashly and while decidedly angry. That this will turn out to have been a terrible mistake seems a foregone conclusion.

All we can do now is try to calm down now that the election is over and put aside the anger & fear we felt and consider our situation carefully. We can still the frustrated fervor that has infected our politics from top to bottom and approach our problems with reason and compassion. It will take effort, certainly, but we cannot sustain this level of anger and fear forever.

The sooner we do this, the better – and the less of an impact this hasty mistake will have on ourselves, our country, our world, and all those future generations that will follow us and judge our actions.