Wednesday, 11 July 2018

People misunderstand the nature of government

Last week, news arrived that the head of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, Asahara Shoko (who was born Matsumoto Chizuo), had been hanged to death in Tokyo with a number of his followers. In Japan, the TV news coverage was extensive, and included news that there are still 1600 people in the renamed cult (it’s now known as Aleph). Authorities in the country are still watching its activities, fearing a repetition of the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack that killed at least 12 people and injured a further 50. I remember the attack vividly as I was living in Japan at the time.

The event combined in my imagination with experiences interacting with people on social media in recent days to bring home to me the unmistakeable fact that most people don’t understand the nature of government in a democracy.

The idea that you must assume absolute power and impose your will by violent means on other people in order to achieve a world that matches your desires, signifies that you think that this has been what secular government has always done to you. You feel victimised and powerless and you resent those who you think have power over your life. This dynamic makes it easy to attack politicians and, by extension, the media, both of whom you believe belong to a distant elite whose motives you distrust. Your life is an unbroken series of reactions to events that inspire fear and loathing in you. Living such a life must be terrible. It is not my experience.

In fact everyone is responsible for the quality of government in a democracy. The word that is used to describe the existence of the divine in the world is “immanent”. It means “dwelling within”. The given name “Immanuel” comes from this root. Merriam-Webster tells me that the word comes from Latin “immanens”, the present participle of “immanere” to remain in place. This word comes from the Latin preposition “in” plus the verb “manere” which means “to remain”. The word is thus related to the word “mansion”.

Power that is exercised by the state is immanent in the individual and his or her conduct determines the direction the state takes as time moves forward. Just as consumers determine through their purchases at the supermarket what farmers grow, how they grow them, and how they treat their animals (where consumers are given accurate information), holders of the electoral franchise in democracies determine the policies that are implemented by the governments they elect, and they way they are implemented. It’s not just through official polls like federal or state elections that these views are expressed, either. In the periods between these events, there a constant series of opinion polls is taken by private companies that do nothing but this. These polls tell us about the inclinations of the electorate on a regular basis and politicians give the results as they appear eager attention.

The media is a critical part of this articulated process because it communicates down, from government to the people, and up, from the people to government. And now, with social media, people can also communicate with their leaders in a way that is unprecedented in human history.

Everyone has responsibility for the government that steers a country through the complexities that manifest in the forest of time. Secular power dwells within each of us. Use it wisely. You get the government you deserve.

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