Friday, November 19, 2010

Chris Hedges on "junk politics" or pseudo-democracy, as I like to call it

Too many resistance movements continue to buy into the facade of electoral politics, parliaments, constitutions, bills of rights, lobbying and the appearance of a rational economy. The levers of power have become so contaminated that the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant. The election of Barack Obama was yet another triumph of propaganda over substance and a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by the mass media. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by the United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein – for progressive politics and genuine change. We confused how we were made to feel with knowledge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. Obama, now a global celebrity, is a brand. He had almost no experience besides two years in the senate, lacked any moral core and was sold as all things to all people. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they can make you feel. 
We live in a culture characterized by what Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics.” Junk politics does not demand justice or the reparation of rights. It always personalizes issues rather than clarifying them. It eschews real debate for manufactured scandals, celebrity gossip and spectacles. It trumpets eternal optimism, endlessly praises our moral strength and character, and communicates in a feel-your-pain language. The result of junk politics is that nothing changes, “meaning zero interruption in the processes and practices that strengthen existing, interlocking systems of socioeconomic advantage.”

This is why the first target for any meaningful social, environmental and economic reform has to be the democratic institutions which allow this system of "junk politics" to persist.There are many different policies which are not at all challenging for any Western society to enact in a matter of months to enhance political engagement . These include compulsory voting, direct democracy and representative electoral systems as promoted by the Electoral Reform Society of the UK. There are other, more subtle pieces of legislation which are equallly as important including prohibitions against professional lobbying, state-funding of political parties and the decentralisation of power to allow people to become engaged once again with local, as well as national politics. Finally, and possibly most importantly, in the UK at least, you need elected houses of parliament.

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