John Adams once wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” The unrelenting war on all forms and manifestations of a democratic social contract has led to bloody revolutions in every era, on every continent, and in virtually every culture. They all begin as slight disturbances, ripples on the surface of daily events, minor perturbations in the status quo that eventually take on a destructive life of their own, not unlike the early gentle rumblings of an earthquake.
History clearly demonstrates political Democracy and Capitalism are not compatible ideologies, they are contentious and contradictory belief systems. Capitalism has, at bottom, become a quasi-religion as much as an economic system—and is amoral. It imposes no limits on wealth extracted from the commons. Democracy, on the other hand, requires morality of community, civility, and commitment to the common welfare—in a word, “sharing”. Sharing is anathema to Capitalism because there is no monetary profit and so is vilified by calling it “socialism” or worse. Controlling the vocabulary of debate is an old and useful tactic.
When any kind of amorality becomes pervasive, it desensitizes a society with a form of instrumentalism that justifies other amoral behaviors creating a destructive pathology of civil decline. One need only recall the rise of Nazis and their vilification of Jews in pre-war Germany to understand how this dynamic works. For a recent example, how can a society justify killing someone for selling a loose cigarette while lionizing and bailing out—with taxpayer money—bankers who impoverished millions with their greed? In the US today 49.7 million people qualify as poor, 80% of the total population is in or near poverty. In the face of this calamity politicians are proposing cuts in the Food Stamp programs, Social Security, and health care. To what end are we again, it seems, being driven to the intersection of civilization vs barbarism, a society committing suicide.
When a country acts immorally it diminishes its moral authority across the board. When a government offers “facts” contrary to the truth of the people who are actually living it, that government relinquishes its moral authority, authenticity, and agency. The innocent adults and children killed by our drone strikes is a truth not ameliorated by the fact that there is always collateral damage during war. Collateral damage is a morally reprehensible argument against justice, a false use of truth invalidating claims of moral superiority over the enemy. Sadly this behavior also speaks in the names of all citizens of the state causing the harm—that includes you and me. The US is a country in which thousands tout their Christianity and at the same time accept criminalizing feeding the hungry and homelessness. Everything is related to everything else in one way or another.
In Cleveland, police summarily executed a 12 year old boy at a playground. The boy was holding a BB gun. The same cops also threw the kid’s sister to the ground and handcuffed her for wanting to reach her dying brother. The boy died, the cops offered no first aid or care. In a news interview Police Union Chief, Jeffrey Follmer, placed absolutely no value on the 12 year old’s life—none! His callous response? "How about this: Listen to police officers' commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop… that eliminates a lot of problems." He added, "I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it.” Listen up, Nation, Jeffrey Follmer has spoken a fact which is truth for many Americans, you live in a police state—do what you’re told or else we’ll kill you even for selling a loose cigarette. Is this American Exceptionalism? Is it justice? What kind of society have we become? What are we becoming? We have the facts but are we ready to face truth?
There are many more examples but the foregoing seems to encapsulate a version of the social contract that is in opposition to what we believe to be normal—a new normal where truth has no moral function and human life has no value. The facts are, do what you’re told and everything will be alright, but the truth is something else. The truth is we cannot be parties to torture abroad or unwarranted killing at home unless we accept our own complicity. It is valuable to note that the most outspoken critic of CIA torture was a Congressman who himself, as a prisoner of war, was tortured by North Vietnam. Is that what it takes for people to understand that inhumanity—to be tortured themselves?
In all of this, it is essential to understand that facts and truth are not, in fact, the same thing. Facts are devoid of morality, they simply describe and nothing more. Truths, on the other hand, are an integral aspect of moral thought and behavior, truths give facts meaning. Facts exist in a moral void and truths are the moral context. I have personally witnessed many instances of individuals spewing facts and not describing the truth, using facts to obscure the truth, to create cognitive dissonance. Lawyers and politicians do this routinely. It’s a shuck and jive, the end result being that an audience or a jury never understands the truth and so defaults to the better liar.
We are, in the 21st Century, engaged in a new round of Democracy vs Capitalism. We must question. We must challenge—each of us. Time is running out on what’s left of this Democracy and what is left of a civil society because we are avoiding truth. We must tell truth to power and demand truth from them lest the ripples turn into waves and the waves into riptides of destruction. Truth is a virtue not an inconvenience, there can be no justice without it.