Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#MyDemocracy is a Spectacle Which Functions on Spectatorship

“To start off we would have to be agreed on what we call democracy. In Europe we have got used to identifying democracy with the double system of representative institutions and those of the free market. Today this idyll is a thing of the past: the free market can be seen increasingly as a force of constriction that transforms representative institutions into simple agents of its will and reduces the freedom of choice of citizens to variations of the same fundamental logic. In this situation, either we denounce the very idea of democracy as an illusion, or we rethink completely what democracy, in the strong sense of the word, means. Democracy is not, to begin with, a form of State. It is, in the first place, the reality of the power of the people that can never coincide with the form of a State. There will always be tension between democracy as the exercise of a shared power of thinking and acting, and the State, whose very principle is to appropriate this power. Obviously states justify this appropriation by citing the complexity of the problems, the need to the long term, etc. But in truth, politicians are a lot more subjected to the present. To recover the values of democracy is, in first place, to reaffirm the existence of a capacity to judge and decide, which is that of everyone, against this monopolisation.” 
Jacques Ranciere, “To Speak of the Crisis of Society is to Blame its Victims” Público, January 15,2012. 
“The conversation with a consumer must be quickly referred back to a ‘script’ with which the operator will then read word for word. He can be penalized if he ‘goes off’ script, even for offering an intelligent or empathetic response to the customer. Thus the ‘prompts,’ replies to questions, and other forms of civility are planned out prior to the conversation. Dialogue is ‘triggered’ according to the customer’s attitude and questions. Finally, the scripts are a way of ‘taylorizing’ conversation; the latter is split into basic units and each task performed. Conversational scripts are made up of pre-fabricated phrases thought up by those who do not speak them and spoken by those whose self-interest is not to think.” 
Marie-Anne Dujarier in Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity tr. Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2014), 116.
It has been a string of days this past week in which the Liberals have embarrassed themselves and been the object of deserved widespread ridicule on social media, and today was, of course, no exception. With the launch of the Liberals’ ‘mydemocracy.ca,’ much attention has been paid to its being ridiculous, and it is, but it is important to nonetheless not let its apparent triviality obscure its real importance. The real importance isn’t the contents of an absurd pop-psych quiz, but that there is an absurd pop-psych quiz at all, posted without reference to, and seemingly antithetical to, the findings of the special committee on electoral reform. Forget that ‘MyDemocracy.ca’ is ridiculous, it is, more importantly, deeply offensive and politically concerning. The antics of the Minister for Democratic Institutions over the past days demonstrates a government not only virulently obfuscating and sabotaging their signature campaign promise, but confessing to a fervent antagonism to the findings of their own special committee on electoral reform, to an impoverished and authoritarian understanding of political rule, and to a sneering condescension towards participatory democratic engagement, public involvement and intervention by the masses into political and economic affairs.

The Liberals pop-psy survey is at once propaganda, distraction, and spectacle. This bizarre widget is comprised entirely out of a degraded facsimile of political participation. It is an insult to the intelligence of democratic actors, and an affront to democratic politics. Felix Guattari calls these kinds of so-called ‘surveys’ “institutional simulacra,” [1] in that they are hypocritical or cynical projections of “homogenous but empty sets” which miss “the heterogeneous assemblages that give real consistency to the socius.” [2] But what is the subject position from whence this strange exercise emanates? What is it and what does it want? In effect what the Liberals actually want from this exercise of decision-based-evidence-making is a fictitious public that demands a restricted window of political selection, in which the Liberals are to be selected as though it were a brand, or a channel, and the entire political and economic affairs be conducted by that brand, or channel, without intervention from the public, for the entire intervening period. The public that the Liberals wish to invent is the Republic of Spectators: the public that renounces its claim to political and economic intervention in public life to an agency of a fictitious political process characterized by spectacle.

The Liberals isolate and construct such a fictitious public by limiting the possibility, intensity, and length of political intervention of actual social forces, dissipating them into meaningless recouperative exercises like ‘MyDemocracy.ca.’ MPs must do what their party promised and they must do what their constituents want, but in the Liberals’ poll these things are counterposed to one another. The poll’s basic structure elides that it is only the bourgeois parties, such as the Liberals and the Conservatives, for whom there is a contradiction between satisfying the wishes of one’s constituency and fulfilling political promises. The Liberals are not only attempting to extricate themselves from their campaign promises but are attempting to invent a public which demands they betray their promises, having realized that such an invented peoples is required for the abrogation of their word. To the extent that no such public actually exists, they must rather be invented in order that they be referred to in terms of political representation. The Liberals demand spectatorship, and portray anything short of spectatorship as a cumbersome hindrance, and argue that the burden of having to deal with the intervention of social forces into political and economic life somehow absolves the Liberals of responsibility for their failures. The Liberals would prefer to have monological control over political and economic function than to have to be beholden to democratic intervention; they habitually present democratic engagement and civic participation as onerous and complicated.

The Liberals consistently present a contradiction between party promises and constituent wishes as a general feature of political parties, when this contradiction is in fact particular to one type of political party, which represents itself as representing all classes, when in reality it represents only one economic class, i.e. bourgeois political parties. A contradiction between constituency and party is only possible with a bourgeois party that is elected on the basis of lies and which governs in the interests of exploitation. The Liberals’ fetishize the conception of a few large brands fraternizing with one another, and exclude the more salient relationship between parliament and that in which one will find a 'diversity of views,' i.e. the masses. Citizens have both a right and a duty to participate in political life. These rights and duties derive colaterally from the relationship of citizens with one another, culminating in ongoing and concerted democratic participation. The Liberals are, in effect, saying 'wouldn't it just be easier if you didn't ask any questions and just let us orchestrate political and economic life without your intervention?' What the Liberals want is to portray themselves as beholden to a constituency which wants them to betray their promises and govern as they see fit, whereas the reality is that the Liberals want to be durably elected by a fictitious public which they themselves engineer. The Liberals, in other words, prefer the electoral system that most prudently accommodates their wish to periodically misrepresent themselves that they might systematically misrepresent their 'constituents.'

It is imperative to realize that the Liberals are not merely incompetent but are moreover malicious. In a gongshow appearance on the CBC, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Mark Holland, argued that this survey was oriented not to engaged citizens, but rather to "rank and file canadians who are aggregating Canadian values on this issue;” one would be hard pressed to find a euphemism more technocratically mandarin than ‘rank and file Canadians who are aggregating Canadian values.’ Their intention is not to glean data from this exercise, but to obscure data, to supplant political engagement with spectacle. This whole ludicrous pop-quiz is a hamfisted distraction from the recommendation that there be a referendum in which First Past the Post is on the ballot against any system which meets the standard of the Gallagher Index of proportionality within 5%. What the 'leading Qs' in the Liberals' '#MyDemocracy' lead to is an authoritarian plutocracy which lies to the masses for a brief period of time. A contradiction between constituents and party interests is particular and exclusive to bourgeois political parties, and in this instance it is particular and exclusive to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Parliament must be made to represent not merely a greater diversity of people but of economic interests as well. The Liberals’ paean to 'Simplicity' is prelude to exploitative managerialism and the meaningless selection of its brand. The so-called ‘data’ generated by this cynical exercise in misuse of statistics is not only useless, but moreover harmful, it is intended to sabotage and sideline an ongoing parliamentary process in which 88% of participants in public consultations supported proportional representation. ‘MyDemocracy.ca’ is an instrument of class rule, and functions to stigmatize and pathologize one set of policy inclinations and constrain and dissipate the expression of any other.

[1] Felix Guattari, Lines of Flight: For Another World of Possibilities tr. Andrew Goffey (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 47.
[2] Ibid.

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