Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Death of Democracy

So, have you voted for anything that was good for you lately? I remember being told once that, even if there was nothing you wanted to vote for there would always be something you wanted to vote against. These days it seems that the thing most voted against is intelligence and the elusive and misleadingly named thing called common sense.

I’m not going to rail against the quality of education systems, either within North America or worldwide. There are those far better qualified then me to deconstruct the myths of education and academic achievement that we have been spoon-fed for so long. What I do hold dear is the quaint notion that people really are entitled to good government, assuming that is that they can recognise and endorse it. That last has been sorely lacking and not just in recent times. It really does seem that the idea of an educated electorate debating the issues and voting for real solutions has vanished into the mist.

I recall a piece of graffiti sprayed on a railway bridge in London that said “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, you still end up with a government”. That cynicism encompasses the world we live in doesn’t it. But, should it? Are we so far divorced from the possibility of good government that we despair of ever seeing it again?

Politicians rank right down there with used-car salesmen and insurance adjustors when it comes to trust and perceived honesty. It’s not that fact that rankles; it’s the appearance that nobody, least of all the politicians themselves, seems to care about changing that fact. What’s wrong with this picture?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On the Death of Capitalism

It's OK; your money's still good here. Just take a minute to think of some of the other things you could be doing with it.

A simplistic view of the idea of capitalism is that money gravitates to those who produce the best products. An educated consumer class drives the quality spiral ever upwards and those who produce the best reap the rewards. Now that idea creates dependencies. It puts forward the proposition that the buyer will establish which products are the best and support them. That the consumer will continue to support the efforts of inventive and creative entrepreneurs who anticipate and fill the consumers needs.

So what's wrong with this picture? How does the public become acquainted with the new, the inventive and the excellent? Look at most, if not all advertisements in newspapers and other circulations from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What do they tell you? Do they describe their goods in earnest, sober tones, with testimonials from decent citizens and the like? Certainly many do. Others are written like mini polemics but at least retain a shred of dignity.

Contrast that with today’s advertising methods. The old expression about “the sizzle, not the steak” palls when compared with the reality of advertising that goes out of its way to avoid mentioning anything about the qualities of the goods they are promoting. Let’s promote a lifestyle, a style, a bastardised ideal. Anything rather then talk about the crazy notion that whatever is being sold might be of any real use to anyone or have any intrinsic quality beyond its invented social status.

The second idea was the educated consumer, ever looking for the best things his or her money can buy and equipped with the sensibility to identify it and the desire to promote it to others. I guess that phenomenon disappeared with most other ideas about an ever improving standard of education being the right of the people.

“The public gets what the public wants but I don’t get what this society wants” to quote a songwriter from the 80’s. We have not so much created a monster as by our inaction allowed a monster to come into existence. Maybe it’s too late to change this but, for the sake of my children’s children, I hope not.