Thursday, June 05, 2014

When politics doesn't provide options

Recent elections in Britain caused great dismay and conjecture, causing many observers to condemn the irrationality and sanity of the populace.  This is part of a wider trend observable in all Western democracies of alienation of the ruling elites (a.k.a. the Clerisy) from large parts of a populace disenfranchised by the edicts of an elite whose values they neither share nor embrace.  Popular movements such as the Tea Party in the US are vilified by the intellectual elite and the mainstream media.  Both largely misunderstand both the genesis and motives of such expressions of discontent.  The elite are simply unable to understand why their ideology could be rejected and, thus, they condemn what they can neither condone nor comprehend.  Their ideology is inviolate, so axiomatic that it can only be that the populace must be lacking in morality, social responsibility or intelligence.

In Starship Troopers, Heinlein takes time to discuss the nature of morality and social responsibility.  He writes:

  • Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not ...We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind. 
  • The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations. 
  • A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual's instinct to survive--and nowhere else!--and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.
  • We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward the human race . 
  • The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual.  
  • Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination-- devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues -- which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out.
The lesson that Heinlein provides is powerful.  There can be no social responsibility where there is no shared identity nor sense of community.  If an elite ideology of politics, intellectualism and environmentalism is sufficiently removed from the populace to be merely the perspective of the oligarchy which it benefits, then there will be no resonance, no acquired sense of morality, no behavioral change in compliance with that ideology.  There will only ever be resentment, disconnection and political ennui.  Provided the elite do not over-step their intrusion into daily life, they will be tolerated.  The political process offers a small range of alternative elites from which to choose.  But when the intellectual and political elites become too intrusive, too incumbent on daily life and too arrogant to perceive the discontent they are prompting, then a change will occur.

Revolution is a big jump for any democracy.  So instead, discontent first manifests itself in the recognition of populist movements.  Many of these may appear to be simplistic, xenophobic and divisive in their ideology.  No matter.  It is not the substance of the movement that appeals to the disenfranchised: it is the very act of signifying rejection of the status quo, of the dogma, morality, ideology and accompanying polices being imposed by the oligarchy.

For environmentalists especially, this is a hard message to absorb, as it contrasts so markedly with their own image they have of themselves.