Saturday, December 31, 2016

If Democracy, Republic, Electoral College, Popular Vote, are the answers, WTH was the Question? Representative Government pt. 1

I find that when it comes to New Year's Eve, rather than making new resolutions, I prefer pursuing older and more satisfying questions. And going into this new year, with all the post election controversy, the maligning of the Electoral College, and the bi-partisan angst over the new President-Elect, I hereby resolve to pursue a whole line of old questions, into the new year, beginning with one that has been going loudly unasked for so long, and that is:
What do we mean by 'Representative Government'?
Unfortunately, if anyone does attempt to have that conversation, it typically takes an immediate turn, Left or Right, into one of a number of polarizing false dilemmas, such as 'Electoral College vs. Popular Vote', or 'He Is/Isn't my President!' or everyone's favorite fever-fest of replies that follow from that long dead little old lady's question of 'what type of government did you give us, Mr. Franklin?'. Old Ben had answered: "A Republic, if you can keep it.", which should provide a fine crop of follow up questions to anyone who is actually interested in what his answer meant, but instead, we turn down the road of:
We're not a Democracy! We're not a Republic!
We are America!
  • 'We're Republic!'
  • 'We're a Democracy!'
  • 'Wrong, we're a Republic!'
  • 'You can't have a Republic without a democracy!!!'
  • 'Democracy means two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner!
(and then of course the one point they all agree on:)
  • 'Why do you hate America?!'
Unfortunately, the only thing that we seem able to keep, is fighting over those same dead end answers, over, and over, and over again. I know that I've often been diverted into that dead-end cycle, and good lord how I'd like to punch my fellow man in the nose after just a few rounds of it! But the truth is that those answers might as well have been designed to shield us from considering the question that they are supposedly given in answer to. And as the true answer is that we are an intricate formulation and development of both, rather than either one answer or the other, we never get past the false either/or answer, in order to ask them.

That is the nature of these coin-toss dilemmas, which is a clue for us, if we care to pay attention. Such answers prevent any real consideration of the questions that prompts them, and maybe, the fact is that when what you're looking for is a cheap fight, then an answer which encourages more questions and requires respectful conversation - well that just won't do, will it( self, I'm looking at you...)?

I think you'll see what I mean if you imagine that same coin toss played out on a different field - like this: Picture walking up to someone on the street and calling out to them: "Hey, you're an animal!", it's unlikely that such a comment would be taken well.

Right? Right. But would it be technically wrong? No, it wouldn't. Human beings are, in the biological sense, Animals. But... how much better of a reaction do you think that'd get, if someone else ran up and yelled out "No! That person isn't an animal, they're a Mammal!'?

Sure, yes, technically... that is also correct... but....


The nature of such coin tossed false dilemmas (which are kissing cousins to "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"), is that they ensure our failure to acknowledge that we are a more developed form of that subject - whatever it is - that either answer alone provides for - and that should catch our attention like an mid-day siren, that an important context has been dropped from our awareness. The nature of that 'Heads or tails?!' answer which they expect you to give, is to manoeuvre our discussion away from recognizing that that particular 'more' which you are being diverted away from, which in this case, is that you are, in fact, Human - and that's the part it doesn't want you to take notice of.

The coin toss dilemma of 'Democracy!' or 'Republic!, is doing the political equivalent of demanding that you answer to being either an Animal, or a Mammal, in regards to our form of government. Both answers are technically correct, within a given context, but without defining that context, and in fact wiping the need for context from your context, they instead restrict the discussion from noticing or questioning the full hierarchical nature of the issue, and in that sense both answers are wrong. Wrong, because when taken, or given, on their own, they effectively drop the context of the critical question which America is the most revolutionary answer in history, to:
  • How best to provide Representative Government' to an entire nation?
Plato asked a similar question to this too, though in a very different context, in his Republic, but his Republic, is nothing like our Republic, and no coin toss level answer can ever supply the reasons for explaining why our republic is so different, let alone answering what those differences are, or why. Today it's perhaps even more important to realize that the discussion you're being prevented from having, is the discussion we so desperately need to be having... but which we can't have, while the answers we've become so accustomed to giving and arguing over, are keeping us from really considering the question that we thought we were answering.

One result of not allowing the full context to be dropped, is that, we'd waste little or no time on the arguments we've been so bogged down in having! If the context were clear, no one would even assume that anyone was advocating for 'Democracy!' in the sense of unlimited majority rule, as it'd be obvious that they were only advocating for a political system of self governance. And by that same token, if the full context were taken into account, no one would ever assume that those who answer 'a Republic!', would intend that to mean some sort of rule, where laws were issued by an unelected platonic elite, but would instead understand that they meant only that very particular form of a Republic, which our nation was designed to be, something along the lines of:
A constitutional, representative government of laws which stand in opposition to the fickle rulings of men's passions
, and the fact that we are that form of a republic, of course requires some degree of democratic participation from the electorate.

IOW, the arguments we've been having, are little better than diversions from those conversations that would have been extremely valuable, to have been having these last many years. As it is, I know that in the past when I've let that context be punted away with my answer that we're a 'Republic!', the next thing I knew was that I'd been practically prevented from going a syllable beyond that coin toss of an answer, and no matter how ardently I might have tried to explain that what I meant was less a case of my calling out heads or tails, but the act of planting my flag on the peak of that mountain which America is the pinnacle of... instead it became apparent that the nature of the coin-toss, is that its answers are expected to not only evade that full context, but to seek (as if it had a will of its own) to prevent our gaining an understanding of the principles and purposes which that full context would have self-evidently demanded of us.

So for this coming new year, please, resolve to stop giving answers that answer nothing, instead start asking questions that lead away from easy answers. 'Why is a democratic means of self determination, worthwhile?' is a question worth asking, but realize that the easy answer that's dying to be given, is not the answer that's worth being accepted. Pursue it! Yes, it is necessary, it is the foundational layer of our political structure, but why is it so important? We need to begin asking that, because without asking that question, the answers of Democracy or Republic become the means of losing our understanding of what we are so very fortunate to have. To accept the 'Democracy!/Republic!' answer, is to ignore the vitally important features which our system of government has developed, features which could not have been built without that foundation, and which resulted in our Republic - and realize that answering only 'Democracy!/Republic!', is the means of dropping the necessary context, and is willfully dismissive of, and insulting to, all that has been built upon that foundation, and all of that which make us so much more than simply either a 'Democracy!', or a 'Republic!'.

Seeing that our answers have become the means to ignoring the questions that gave rise to them, it's worth asking why... isn't it?

America is, and can only be, an answer, to that full context of questions being asked. If they are no longer asked, or even known, then either answer will become truly meaningless, and the historic exceptionalism that America is, will cease to exist, drowned out, no doubt, in a war of competing answers shouted after coins tossed into the air, answers that are doomed to be shouted down, as the coin falls to the ground.

In order to determine how to provide Representative Government, we need to understand what Representative is, and why it's needed so that when those representatives are elected to positions of power in our government, they will govern in that particular manner, that makes our government so very different from any other in the history of the world. Those are the conversations that we need to engage in, even more so now, than four or eight or sixteen years ago, but before we can, we've got to ask, and pursue, those questions which alone can spawn answers that are worth understanding the meaning of.

Those are the questions I'll be pursuing over the next few posts, into the new year of 2017.

Happy New Year!

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