Why Believers in Democracy Fail

Why Believers in Democracy Fail


By believers in democracy I mean people committed to the notions that all humans are of equal worth, that the purpose of democracy is to sustain the common good, and that the citizenry is responsible by its vote.  Although such believers are a minority, we are powerful enough to give direction to our culture. However, despite our best intentions, we tend to fail in accomplishing our goals. Here are a few of my musings about this failure.

  • We are prone to focus our energy on symptoms rather than causes and wonder why nothing changes. Through all manner of action we have fought the behavior of racism for over fifty years yet it seems to have not depleted in strength. Social action is imperative because it raises the consciousness of the need to change.  But the social heart must be changed if social behavior is to be changed. And heart change is always belief change.  If we expect a change in behavior we must offer the heart a belief alternative. Belief is cause, behavior is symptom. We find it difficult to see the distinction. Thus, we play to symptom because it satisfies our desire for immediate payoff.  We tend to remain socially impotent in the thrill of engaging symptom rather than being powerful in addressing cause.
  • We are prone to stress the grandness of community while judging its value by the extent to which it blesses us personally. This attitude converts community purpose to private purpose and makes it a utility of individual desire. It divests community purpose of our energizing commitment.  We hide this oxymoronic relationship by wrapping it in our praise of community virtue.  And we attend to its privatized utility while community purpose lies impotent at the feet of our masked individualism.
  • We are prone to stress that diversity of belief is an ultimate value. But while diversity is important in provoking growth and creativity it does not empower social change. The power to create deliberate social transformation belongs to commonality.  We fear commonality because we assume it violates our personal and institutional uniqueness.  We have difficulty with the notion that what sets us apart are differences of belief and what brings us together are commonalities of belief. Thus, we promote our own social impotence when we glorify diversity and downgrade commonality.
  • We are prone to stress the surface reasons rather than the deeper reasons behind irony. The primal question of irony is “Why?”  Here is an example: Trump’s platform was essentially anti-democratic while Clinton’s platform was essentially pro-democratic – yet, Trump is president.  We debate the surface reasons, such as political tactics, that might have produced that anomaly.  While we debate the superficial the profound reasons that speak to the real issues of democracy remain hidden such as which serves the other: democracy or capitalism? Is the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog? We can remain insightfully impotent until we satisfactorily grapple with these more profound reasons.

This ala carte array of self-defeating tendencies reminds of an observation by H.L. Mencken:

Liberals have many tails and chase them all.

Far more than what conservatives can do to us, we believers in innate human worth and the common good victimize ourselves. If we expect to champion democracy and win we must cross swords in the real battles that determine its destiny such as focusing our energy on cause rather than symptom, embracing community purpose beyond private agenda, engaging the transforming power of commonality, and insisting that the dog of democracy wag the tail of capitalism.

Robert T. Latham

The Deal of the Art: Walking on the Edge of Destruction

The Deal of the Art: Walking on the Edge of Destruction

(Compensators and Dictators)

Do you wonder why Donald Trump can’t tell the truth and behaves so bizarrely? Do you puzzle over his supporters devoted tunnel vision? Do you worry about where his leadership is taking America and the world? Then consider this paradigm and decide the extent to which it describes his leadership.

The Driving Force

The driving force of human history is the desire to be viewed as worthy. It is so imperative that I will fulfill it no matter how absurd or destructive the outcome might be. Nor does it make any difference whether fulfillment is viewed as noble or ignoble; all my behavior will be done in its service. Gloria Steinem gives this obsession focus:

Self-esteem isn’t everything; it’s just
that there is nothing without it.

There are two ways of addressing this compulsion that have vied for devotion in the human drama.

Inherent Worth

There is the view that we are born worthy – that it is human nature – that all humans are of equal worth.

This view is the absolute ground of a successful democracy. Without it, democracy easily falls prey to some form of disguised despotism.

Here is the irony: accepting our inherent worth has been the most problematic struggle of human existence because its alternative and avowed enemy has had far greater appeal.

Imported Worth

The view that has totally dominated history’s drama is that worth is a product that is achieved and imported from outside one’s self. It is an item of life barter. Here are a few examples pervasive of human relating:

• Parents dole out worth to their children, depending on how well they live up to prescribed expectations.
• Schools determine a student’s worth by testing and grading their learned skills.
• Employers measure the worth of employees by their level of productivity.
• Religions bestow worth based on allegiance to their beliefs.
• Institutions grant worth equal to energy donated to their purpose.
• Citizens gift worth to others based on mutual agreement and social popularity.
• Governments endow people with worth dependent on organizational rank.
• Cultures determine citizenry worth by rating contribution to the gross national product.

These are all transactions of importation that determine one’s status on the culture’s worth-ometer scale. As Gertrude Stein pointed out:

In America, everybody is but
some are more than others.

In this view, achieving imported worth is the primal game-play of culture’s pageantry. The prevailing stagecraft of the American drama is geared to this game-play.

The Deal of the Art

If I believe my worth is an achievement, I am apt to feel a constant state of deficit. In a competitive environment where imported worth is the prize it is most likely that I will lose more than I will win. Everybody can’t be at the top of the culture’s worth-ometer scale. No matter how much I achieve there will always be somebody with more. Most people deal with this sense of deficit by compensating.

To compensate is to achieve my worth through theft. This is the primal art form endemic to human history. It is to increase my worth by decreasing the worth of others. This is the deal of the art. I can build my entire identity by engaging this deal.

Following are some of the more common and detrimental ways I can invest in this art form:

• I can become a bully who lords it over others as a way of affirming superior worth.
• I can become a liar who will make up anything in order to appear as incomparable.
• I can become a braggart who exaggerates my importance as unsurpassed.
• I can become an inflator of my social grandeur in order to be viewed as peerless.
• I can become deceitful and twist the truth to affirm that I am unrivaled.
• I can become ruthless which declares there are no ethics when relating to inferiors.
• I can become a racist who diminishes the worth of those who are different so as to elevate my own.
• I can become a sexist who sees the other gender as a plaything, a servant, or an ornament which postures me as the most attractive of all humans.
• I can proclaim that I am never wrong and, thus, without equal.
• I can re-write and create history so as to be postured as blameless.
• I can become a despote whose power to dictate life and death announces being matchless.

The degree to which these theft compensations are used, singularly or multiply, will reflect the degree of perceived self-worth deficit. And this perception can be minor or major. For the gross compensator the need for social assurance of worth has become acute and the need to be ranked at the top of the worth-ometer scale has become an imperative. Perfection is the ultimate status on this scale.

What’s Being Loved?

From a psychological standpoint, multiple and bundled social expressions of compensating symptoms are often called narcissism. Narcissus, of Greek mythology, was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a stream of water. He pines for a relationship with this reflection but, as a mirror image, it can only mimic and not respond. So, he dies in despair. Narcissism is about an intense love affair with self.

While narcissism is symptomatically suggestive it is limited in describing the profound compensator. The user of multiple compensations is not a lover of the real self, rather, a lover of the self which is created through compensations to hide the loathsome self of reality. This fictional persona is adopted and socially projected as proof of a superior worth. What is being loved is a fake persona. It is not narcissism, it is compensationism.

When pushed toward its limits, compensationism becomes a form of egomania. Egomania is to be totally absorbed with the elevation of one’s own self-importance. Bryant H. McGill fingers the issue:

Self-made men often worship their creator.

Truth and Compensation

If I am a profound compensator truth will be relative to my personal whim. At my convenience, it will be pulled out of the air or a distortion of fact. If it proves inconvenient I will simply walk it back. To walk it back is to deny it was said or assert that it was misunderstood or claim it was deliberately twisted by enemies. As a euphemism for denied history, walking it back is a way of asserting that I do not serve truth, rather, truth serves me.

A fact is that which is generally accepted as actual. To deliberately violate the actual implies either lying or expediency. The compensator cannot lie because truth is a utility and not a fact. The compensator cannot be expedient because perfection denies any judgment of ethics. Suggesting that the compensator lies or is expedient carries no weight. It is dismissed as phony.

Given this view of truth, the gross compensator is apt to become a professional liar. And professional liars show little evidence of ethical concern or moral guidance.

The Test Question

The singular question that tests every action of the gross compensator is: “Does it elevate my profile?” Whatever the decision to be made it will always be a rationalized response to this question. The rationale only has to make sense to the compensator.

Downsides of the Compensation Deal

There are personal and social downsides to compensationism. Especially is this the case for the gross lifestyle. Here are a few:

• Juvenile Hold: All the compensator’s energy is spent maintaining the image of the false self. This leaves little time to facilitate the growth of the real self, which is called learning. As a result character development remains on juvenile hold. Disposition and deportment will reflect this low level of maturity.

• Lifestyle Unchallenged: Any compatible and sustained relationship with the profound compensator can only be engaged by people who share supportive and complementing compensations. Since affirming relations are all that is permitted, the compensator’s lifestyle is maintained without challenge.

• No Imperfection: It is imperative for the gross compensator that superiority be unquestioned. Therefore, all useful ideas must be attributed to them, irrespective of the source. All criticism must be deflected as coming from inferiors. Attempts to paint them with losing must be attributed to a conspiracy of enemies with bad motives. There can be no hint of inferiority which admission is tantamount to being imperfectly common.

• Consistency: There is no consistency of oration from the profound compensator. The only consistency is behavioral outcome. That such behavior may not be consistent with oration is what is consistent. This suggests contradiction. Normally this is called hypocrisy but for the compensator it is simply the social maintenance of a blameless persona.

• Manipulatable: The more pronounced the usage of compensatory behavior, the easier one is manipulated by those who prey on the weaknesses these traits represent. The manipulator determines the compensation being used and turns it backward on the compensator. This means that the less clever compensator is prey for the shrewder one. Competition between compensators escalates game-play. Since being out-foxed cannot be admitted, the compensator is prone to learn only lessons of combat and self-defense.

• Obfuscation: The greater the bundle of compensations used the greater the need for shielding obfuscations to protect perfection. Obfuscation is the ability to befuddle, dissemble, and perplex. It is a tactic of misdirection and deflection.

If the profound compensator holds high social office and has a staff, they
become official obfuscators who will craftily walk back those truths that are
inconvenient to the compensator’s agenda. They become the multiple and
contradictory voices of the compensator’s ventriloquism. They do so because they
share the view that truth is a utility.

The end result of obfuscation is that the compensator is too busy creating diversionary
confusion to invite the reward of clarity – which is the revelation of the real whether it
be of self, issue, or event. While lack of clarity may be a serious benefit to despotic
leadership it is a serious deficit to democratic leadership.

• Affirming Community: The purpose of compensation is to hide the true self lest it be rejected as unworthy. This appeals to those who share a similar measure of compensation need. Birds of a feather flock together and build a nest for mutual support, defense and goal achievement. Such a community becomes one of the compensator’s demanding pursuits. It is the ultimate sanctuary for the artificial self.

The compensator’s selected community is intended to mirror the compensator’s attitudes and behavior. Such reflection is called loyalty. Rewards and punishments are meted out accordingly.

The compensator is a user of people. Thus, there is a measure of danger for anyone in the gross compensator’s community who does or says anything that reflects negatively on the perfection of the compensator. Anyone committing this sin is expendable and will be dismissed in a manner that preserves the perfection image of the compensator.

• Public Laud: The profoundly committed compensator thrives on praise. Public occasions may be created deliberately for needed affirmation when feeling socially ostracized. Occasions may be avoided where the false self might be challenged as unreal. Momentary ego need will dictate.

• Protective Ignorance: If there is growing opposition, the compensator may simply retreat into the
defended shelter of the accepting inner circle. When this happens, the possibility of dangerous
decision making is escalated because the influence of opposing views becomes restricted. This
exacerbates the reign of ignorance.

• Social Permission and Price: When leadership overtly acts out multiple compensations this becomes a permission for the admiring to follow suit. There are two prices paid for engaging this permission. The social price is that the admiring may act out the destructiveness of the leader’s modeled compensations. The personal price is that aiding and abetting the leader’s compensations reveals the character of the admiring.

Social Position and Adoration

The more prone one is to multiple compensations the more prone one is to the need of verifying adoration. The social position the compensator inhabits will always be used to affirm and foster adoration. Thus, the more imperative the position is to a healthy society the more susceptible it becomes to despotic behavior. Gross compensators have much to prove to both self and the world and have difficulty perceiving any reality that is not self-affirming. They may take inordinate risks to acquire the adoration for which they are desperate. Desperation blinds to the potential damage of such risk.
Democracy Threatened

The gross compensator has little interest in democracy except as a utility. The reason is that democratic fulfillment demands acknowledging the inherent worth of every citizen and acting in accord. Compensators are insistent deniers of inherent worth. They are the natural enemies of democracy and the lovers of despotism. Thus, nothing is more dangerous to a democracy than the election of gross compensators to influential public office. They will make every effort to transform democracy into a mechanism for despotic compensation payoffs at the expense of the citizenry.

The Edge of Destruction

In its worst composite, gross compensation can produce a bullying, bragging, lying, ruthless, racist, sexist, utilitarian, unprincipled, delusional, deceitful, despot. Such dictators yearn for unchallenged authority so that any hint of imperfection can be suppressed.

This obsession to protect one’s perfection at all cost pushes the profound compensator toward paranoia. Paranoia is the urgency to twist reality in a manner that sees one as a victim of other people’s designing machinations. Thus, all the accusing fingers of imperfection pointed at the compensator are shrugged off as the facile work of foes who scheme against apparent innocence.

Since the gross compensator cannot abide the notion of imperfection, they can be pushed toward unreasonable responses to anything that threatens them with this label. This is their hot button. While such may be a limited threat when the compensator wields limited social power the threat increases with the increase of social power. This is easily discerned by looking at world leadership. For this reason, the gross compensator is enticed to walk along the edge of destruction when playing in this larger arena. Given our technological capacity to create weaponry of mass destruction, the leadership of gross compensators pose the possibility of end time for the human enterprise.

Dark Messiahs

Gross compensators often become the dictators and drivers of history. They become dark messiahs who use their position to artificially enhance their own worth at the expense of those they supposedly serve. They lack principles and empathy. They have admiring affinities and build systems of mutual support and protection. In aggregate, they can wreak a broad path of social destruction whatever the politics of their society. World War II is an example of a global destruction wrought by an alliance of gross compensators: Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.

Such messiahs create social havoc by competing with one another over who is superior. They can initiate international tensions and wars. They are unpredictable because their social sanity is geared to how they perceive they are treated in the global marketplace. The current dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is an example of a dark messiah who finds it worth-affirming to tread on the edge of destruction.

The Pressing Question

We live in a culture where gross compensators seek high office in order to enhance their artificially created worth. Depending on the position held, they can be dangerous and destructive to institutional life, to the health of democracy, and to the well-being of the world. They can become dark messiahs. Here is the pressing question: what can we do if we perceive such danger?

We Can Seek to Enlighten the Compensator

We can create a forceful outpouring of protest against potentially harmful decisions and use all the social mediums available for doing so. But while protest can have positive and constraining outcomes, it may not generate the change necessary to fend off social destruction. Profound compensators rarely respond positively to protests because such requires a democratic perspective and an admission of imperfection which are beyond the capacity of their vision and lifestyle.

We Can Seek to Enlighten Congress

We can inform our congress people of our deep chagrin at their support of any decisions that are darkly messianic. We can encourage them to resist all legislation and actions that are supportive of compensation leadership dangers. However, they may not be able to perceive such danger if they share the traits and illusions of the compensator. Or, they may have sold their soul to their political party above the interests of democracy and the nation. Or, they may have a gainful allegiance with the company store that is beyond their devotion to democracy. If this discouragement prevails, what is the best course of action?

We Can Empower Our Own Enlightenment

If the primary leadership of government has capitulated to those compensations that are destructive to democratic purpose, then all correction is in the hands of us citizens. Here is what we can do:

• We can continue the outcry against destructive decision-making with the hope that other citizens may become enlightened and decide there is too much at stake to remain mute and inert.
• We can elect a congress of people who are committed to reality, have democratic integrity, and are self-owned in their voting.
• We can insist on the compensator’s removal from office when the democratic destruction being wrought complies with the legality of such action.
• We can elect an executive who is mature enough to know the difference between illusion and reality.
• We can join with those who are working on any law or process that takes the election out of the hands of a skewed electoral college and puts it in the hands of the whole voting citizenry.

This will require a revolution that begins with us citizens accepting our own inherent worth and which demands that democracy and a safe world take precedent over self-interest and corrupt politics.

Here is the bottom line: We must accept blame for our present plight. As John F. Kennedy avowed:

We, the people, are the boss, and we will get
the kind of political leadership, be it good or
bad that we demand and deserve.

Whatever the American future becomes will be shaped by us citizens. It has never been any other way.

Robert T. Latham

Can One Person Change the World?

Can One Person Change the World?

The answer is no! So don’t be taken in by the all that individualism propaganda that avows this notion.  Here are two reasons why it is false.

It seldom happens. OK. Seldom is an admission that it can happen. But the issue is not whether it can be done but how often it is done.  Everyone can win the lottery but only one in multiple millions does win.  Count the number of people you can recall who have changed the world.  Now count the billions of people who have lived in the world.  Pretty high odds, right!  Anyway, none of the people you thought of actually changed the world.  They only initiated an idea or action that had the potential for change. So, strike out seldom and substitute never.

And this brings up the second reason why this notion is essentially false.  Tens, then hundreds, then thousands, then millions of people have to subscribe to an idea or action for it to become a big game changer.  It takes a slew of people to make innovation a reality.

So, the real power to change lies in subscribing numbers.  All permanent social change is a numbers game.  The greater the number of people subscribing to the idea the greater the possibility that it will become a social norm.  Social norms are created by overwhelming numerical weight.

True innovators often get very weary standing on the hillside shouting or dancing their notion of change.  Sometimes they just quit.  It is only in persistence that they are heard.  Being heard means an acceleration of subscribing and collaborating numbers. And this is the key.

This is why collaboration is at the heart of all deliberate social change.  The larger the group of people holding hands and shouting the same message the greater the possibility that they will be heard and heeded.

So, forget the individualism notion that the alone person can change the world.  This is Lone Ranger nonsense. The alone person may come up with an innovative idea or behavior but it is only in collaborating numbers that change actually occurs.  And this is why small groups can start change – because they band together in collaborative power.  But they have to band for power and they have to shout to be heeded. Only the community creates deliberate change.