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DIALECTIC AND DEMOCRACY March 3, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Democracy, US Politics.
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Last week Bradley Manning made a statement to the Military Hearing, after a period of incarceration now exceeding three thousand days, with incidental torture along the way. So much for the presumption of a speedy trial.

His chances of receiving a fair hearing are farcical, given the Obama Administration record, including keeping open the off shore torture sites, such as Guantanamo Bay. Manning will subsequently appeal to the Supreme Court which appears to be controlled by fascists (How else to explain Citizen’s United?).

in his statement to the court, Bradley Manning describes a time when on leave from Iraq and staying at his Aunties’ house:

During this time a blizzard bombarded the mid-atlantic, and I spent a significant period of time essentially stuck in my aunt’s house in Maryland. I began to think about what I knew and the information I still had in my possession. For me, the SigActs represented the on the ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.

In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

At my aunt’s house I debated what I should do with the SigActs– in particular whether I should hold on to them– or expose them through a press agency. At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local newspaper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if The Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public.

Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that The Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by the senior editors.

I then decided to contact the largest and most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times. (Emphasis Added)

The context is relevant, even if the military jargon is jarring, but interestingly Manning is interested in and believes a “debate” might be set up. How often do constructive debates occur, there or here, and what does that indicate about the state democracy, to which in a definitional sense, dialougue and dialectic should be fundamental?

Democracy has been appropriated by Representative Government, including the set piece “debates” in Parliament, with a possible exception of “conscience” debates. Forms and processes, including opinion polling and focus groups, sliced and diced, for leverage in marginal seats dominate. The broad range of policy proposals are largely unknown to the electorate, and perhaps are not of interest to the electorate. Who knew the Liberal policy on Coal Steam Mining prior to the last State Election. Time is taken with the personalities of the competing leaders, and perhaps more sensibly with the quality of the possible Cabinet choices.

Even now, we have a Federal Election due on the 24th September, the media which sets the stage for this political circus, as a contest between leaders and lesser performers, is not detailed attention to policy differences and debates. The parties want to be seen as of one mind, and so are happy to avoid internal differences of opinion.

So does this matter?

John Quiggin posed some questions, and suggested some general answers:

:Why does (representative) democracy exist, and why has it become the dominant form of government in the modern world?

I was more interested in the subsidiary question: Why (did) representative democracy take so long to emerge? Ironically, this discussion was summarily terminated because of off topics debates between certain participants and personal attacks. What does that say about our collective democratic culture, which surely should allow constructive difference of opinion together with a learning experience.

I made some contributions including a reference to Jack Knight and James Johnson, The Priority of Democracy - Political Consequences of Pragmatism. Alright they were somewhat disjointed, but here are two examples:

I have never considered this before, but it seems to me that pragmatism describes the status quo and after the fact. It does not explain causes or differences. Clearly people act on pragmatic understandings, but that would have never produced either democracy or representative democracy.

This observation is illustrated by considering the Australian Constitution which draws on the US Constitution with common antecedents in the origins and development of Common Law. The fuller explanation requires, I think, importantly an understanding of the influence of the Protestant Revolution, especially the notion of “the priesthood of believers”. This was given expression and realized in the experience of small groups.

By contrast, the contemporary Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen is different in kind. I am sure there is nothing original in noting that in the Australian Constitution, individual rights and citizenship don’t get mentioned, not even as a secondary consideration. The US Second Amendment, the slave owners concession, is a good illustration of political compromise, and illustrates how pragmatism works to deny principle, the reality of economic interests and power by ascribing a “right”. Similarly, the Senate has as much to do with the principles of representative democracy as the House of Lords.

I now would add that the French Revolution, as represented by the Reign of Terror created a negative reaction, especially among British Conservatives and its positive values summarized as “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” were ignored. I think that in large part explains why the rhetoric of freedom so noticeable in the US is muted in Australia. They remain dangerous ideas.

And I also commented:

After some divergent, and usually convoluted speculation I have reached the conclusion that there has been a pattern of resistance to significant development of the franchise. It is not a natural or pragmatic process, although in retrospect by ignoring social struggle and political revolutions associated in the historical record, that case might be made.

Looking as the record in the US for example, despite innovation, there has been a pattern of resistance to more inclusive voting systems and recognition of effective opinion in representation, law making and public policy decision making.
Democracy is a desirable but not natural and inevitable development. Stable democracies require nonviolent norms to work, but that does not preclude external pressures, including military interventions and other forms of interference. On the question of nonviolent development the comparison is often made outcomes achieved in India and Algeria, a comparison that ignores Pakistan.

On the question of scholasticism, perhaps compared to Cartesian philosophy, one imagines that the democratic process would be a dialectic, and that does not in general appear to be so, which at least suggest that [democracy] is often, if not always, inauthentic, and its forms are masks for the operation and co-option of power. The Mining Tax might be good example.

I thought these were outrageous comments, and that they would attract criticism and rebuttal. They were ignored, as I might have expected. What does that tell us about our democratic culture? I should have spent more time in making myself clearer – but would that have made any difference? I am at fault for ignoring others as well.

Could any of this matter? Let’s return to the case of Bradley Manning, who it turns out, according to his testimony, was ignored by leading newspapers. Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks argues that Bradley is a whistle-blower, a person who identifies wrong doing and acts for the public good. He says:

In particular, he argues:

. . . We had a rare moment of journalism outbreak here. And we actually got to know what the Government is actually doing in our so-called democracy. That is what the Government is livid about. That is why they want to punish Manning to the hilt and that is why they want to go and get Assange and put him away too.

And it seems the present Australian Government is complicit in this treatment of an Australian citizen, and likely that the alternative government will be on this issue of the same mind. This issue will not even get space in the election campaign. Equally there will be no debate about the treatment of refugees/asylum seekers.

So what kind of democracy, or for that matter representative democracy, do we have when such debates are not given centre stage?  Is not the purpose to dialectic and democracy is to discover the truth or what is best?

According to journalistic orgaization, otherwise WLO.

FM Carr lied. DFAT FOI shows diplomats in Washington briefed Canberra on US attack against Assange.

Documents obtained and published by Wikileaks, show that the Australian Washington Embassy had briefed the Government on the actions the US was taking against Assange. Perhaps, given the circumstances, Bob Carr might be given the benefit of the doubt. If I recall he was new to the job, and he was not Foreign Minister at the time.

Meanwhile WLO provides a daily state of play, such as this one for 2 March 2013.

INTERESTING QUOTES:

One of the worst things we can do,  and perhaps some of us are so disposed, is to uninterested and dismiss opposite opinions.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”

— Noam Chomsky (The Common Good (Real Story))

Often it is the case, and it applies to good people, that systems prefigure behavior. I think Senator McCain said to the effect there was no chance that Congress would entertain a ban on hand guns and other arms, which to most in the rest of the world, and one suspects in the US as well, seems an blindingly obvious measure to take. The interesting comment is from Al Gore:

The United States Congress, the avatar of of the national democratically elected legislatures in the modern world (overstatement, AL – but never mind), is now incapable of passing laws without the permission from corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their finances.”

I should be careful about my off-hand comments. One definition of Fascism is that it is corporate control of the democratic processes, so in effect debate is stifled, or simply managed by PR. I feel free in making such comments, aware that I could not match those made in the Homeland. For example: Steven Rosenfeld, Is Antonimn Scalia the Vilest Person in Washington? (AlterNet).

. . . Scalia isn’t simply another Republican bully; he may be the most venal and fascist Republican of all.

It’s one thing to be a political bully and enjoy it, as Scalia does. But it’s another to say that the other branches of government are broken because they’re not doing things he agrees with; and then abuse the power of his office to overthrow that governance and perpetuate his legacy. That’s close to how European despots acted before World War II.

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