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.

Friday, December 2, 2016

‘It is the Common Opinion of the Dissenting Liberal Committee Minority that Goody Cullen is a Witch’

Nathan Cullen may have an unfortunate tendency to glean his foreign policy from Netflix documentaries, but it is undeniable that he has done a number on the Liberals in the special committee on electoral reform. On the heels of cash-for-access, and then the hamfisted approval of Kinder Morgan, today the Liberals lurch into the awkward position of hopping up on a soapbox to rail against their signature electoral promise: electoral reform. Who put the Liberals in this uncomfortable position? NDP MP Nathan Cullen did. In terms of sheer political maneuvering and fortitude he is easily among the NDP's best, and has certainly displayed that acumen in his work on the special committee on electoral reform. The Liberal apoplexy today, their blatant hypocrisy, their stammering anti-intellectualism, all Cullen's meticulous construction. This began back in June when, after an unrelenting dressing down by Cullen, the Liberals acquiesced to a committee composition in which they did not comprise the majority. The optics of an undemocratically constituted committee on electoral reform, after all, were very bad, and the Liberals caved. Today, however, was the coup de grâce. In returning an ostensible green-light for a referendum on First Past the Post versus any system which meets the standard on the Gallagher Index on proportionality, the agreed members of the multi-party committee on electoral reform, and Cullen in particular, have forced the Liberals hand; and the Liberals, in turn, have taken the opportunity to become loathesome and ridiculous.

The Liberals are doing what they always do, dissimulation and distraction, the latest being Maryam Monsef attempting to fall on the grenade and make the story about herself, and her personal insults and retractions of said insults directed to the members of the special committee. But, make no mistake, the story is rather, of course, that the Liberals are doing everything in their power to scuttle electoral reform as such. That their efforts to do so include insulting the members of the special committee as a cheap distraction from the strategic blow that the committee has dealt to them is secondary. Having been outmaneuvered at every turn, they have given up the ghost of trying to appear the good guys, and are now simply spitting bile and vitrol in hopes that it will overshadow it’s occasion.

The Liberals, having been the party of ‘sociology now,’ are now relying upon base anti-intellectualism. Canadians don’t want electoral reform, we are told, because look, here, in Maryam Monsef’s hands, a mathematical formula. ‘Isn’t it complicated?’ she asks, ‘inscrutable even?’ The Liberals are waving pitchforks at statistical modeling, fearmongering about formulas. The purpose of the Gallagher Index is to ensure that any system of elections conforms very closely to proportionality. It is as though the Liberals had cracked open a conventional radio and said ‘aren’t these electronics complex? Canadians don’t want the songs and voices that this indecipherable hash of wires and speaker cones offers.’ What the Liberals despise about the Gallagher Index is not its indecipherable complexity, but rather that it sets a standard and benchmark for proportionality that the Liberals cannot fudge, mystify, or obfuscate. Justin Trudeau and Maryam Monsef desperately want an exit-strategy from their electoral reform promises and their options were to either scuttle the entire business, or move forward with a variant of electoral reform that is not in fact proportional. The committee’s hard work has denied the Liberals the opportunity to champion a self-serving and disproportionate electoral system like ranked ballots, and so they have been left to flail about, smashing and sabotaging what they can. 

The Liberals are incensed because the committee actually did something really smart. They were hoping that the committee would come back with one system so that the Liberals could smother it with a pillow in the night. Instead they returned with a standard, or benchmark, below which the Liberals' preferred system[s] fall and before which they flunk. Its important that they not let the story become 'Maryam Monsef was mean, but now she's apologized.' The story is 'the committee has greenlit a referrendum with FPTP vs. any system which meets the standard of the Gallagher Index (within 5% of absolute proportionality).' The Liberals have been trapped and cornered by Cullen, the rest of the special committee, and, most importantly, the Gallagher Index. They hate it intensely because it precludes their preferred mystifications and obfuscations, they hate that they are now stuck with a rubric from which they cannot escape. What is insufferable, however, is the shock and disappointment from Liberal voters. Of course the Liberals are unscrupulous, of course they are disingenuous and hamfisted. These are not ‘new Liberals,’ they are the same sorry, corrupt, and undemocratic technocrats that were evicted in 2003. The Gallagher Index and its function is not, as Monsef and Trudeau would have it, beyond the comprehension of the poor hinterland Canadian’s intellect; nor are Monsef and Trudeau’s true motives in suggesting as much. Far from ‘not doing the hard work,’ as Monsef alleged, the committee has made it ‘hard work’ for the hackneyed and duplicitous Trudeau Liberals to wriggle out of their signature campaign promise.