Democracy is one of those weird and nebulous terms that few people can agree what it actually means. Ask a ‘Classic Liberal’ (the invisible hand will provide) and he will quote Plato and call Democracy mob rule. Ask an American and they will say it’s when you (so long as you aren’t a member of the American Territories, a felon or ex-con, and are able to jump through the requisite number of hoops and take a day off work) tick a box for between two pre-selected candidates who are either red or blue once every four years.
We’ve fooled ourselves into believing that we have a say in how things go in our countries when a tiny fraction of society holds the levers of power – wealth and the means of producing more wealth. When widely unpopular laws and regulations – such as the Republican tax cut (adding an estimated 1.4 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years) or the criminalisation of drugs like marijuana – are introduced you have to scratch your head and wonder just how much influence the majority have. Surely, in a political system that promises that one person equals one vote, we would be able to address systemic issues that affect all of us.
After all, we the noble and enlightened West, aren’t the corrupt and despotic shitholes of the developing world. We are the shining city on the hill, the beacon of freedom and democracy. So why then do the minority (lobbyists, special interest groups, CEOs, politicians, bankers) get to decide how the majority lives?
The ruling elites play the same game today they’ve always played, and they play it very well. Divide Et Impera – divide and conquer. Across the foundational texts of military and political strategy – Machiavelli’s The Prince, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Robert Greene’s The 33 Strategies of War (coincidentally texts that are studied by CEOs, political leaders, and aspirants in ‘Executive Training Courses’) over and over is the repeated emphasis on utilising divide and conquer tactics. We have seen this in the greatest conquerors and military leaders from Genghis Khan to Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte.
“Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy forces [isolating him from his allies]”
“If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them.”
“Look at the parts and determine how to control the individual parts, create dissension and leverage it.”
“When many powerful persons are united against one, who, although no match for the others collectively, is also powerful, the chances are more in favour of this single and less powerful person, than of the many who together are much stronger… it will always happen that, by exercising a little dexterity, the one who will be able to divide the many, and weaken the force which was strong while it was united.”
Today’s ruling elites are much subtler at employing this strategy but you see their light fingerprints all over the media. The most egregious example is wrapped up in the holier than thou cloak of puritan morality when it comes to how we view and treat those on welfare.
Click on any news piece (whether in NZ or America) regarding welfare or drug testing and the top comments will be a variation of this argument: why should I [a hardworking and virtuous individual] pay for some parasite [‘illegal’, ‘welfare queen’, brown person] to sit around and do nothing but do drugs, have kids, and expect someone else to take care of them. They should get a job, they should put their kids first, they should take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
Sometimes they will wave anecdotal stories about back in my day, when the cost of living was lower and my wages were higher, I did this so therefore so can you. These damn hippy kids just want a handout with their liberal arts degrees in Pan-African Gender-Fluid Flute Studies instead of studying Commerce™ like me.
Drug testing will be waved around as a legitimate form of identifying the filthy parasites [i.e non-white recipients] to cut down on wasteful spending because taxation is theft. After all, drugs are bad, the government told me so. If you are poor, you must be a bad person.
No one wants a free rider, welfare can create cycles of dependency and disempower individuals, drug addiction is harmful for yourself and others, and you shouldn’t have children if you can’t take care of them (shockingly enough educating women so they aren’t just glorified baby cannons is the most effective way to reduce the birth rate) – these are all valid points but they are missing the forest for the trees. Do we treat the symptoms or do we treat the causes?
If a factory produces a single broken tool you can point to the tool and say it is defective. If a factory continues to produce large numbers of defective tools you can point to the factory and say it is defective. This isn’t rocket science. So why is it that we insist that every single defective tool is the problem and never look at the factory?
Let’s take drug testing – something consistently pushed for by conservatives for welfare recipients and those who receive aid from the government (whether it is food stamps or financial assistance). The crux of the argument (because after all only the left deals in fee fees and the right are the enlightened logical voices of reason) is that it wastes an awful lot of money – that money is being misappropriated to buy things (drugs) that it isn’t supposed to.
This is a sound argument – no one likes wasting money, especially when it is someone else wasting your money. Conservatives love to pride themselves on their spendthrift and financial management. So then why is it that every single study on the efficacy of drug testing welfare recipients has repeatedly stated that it is a colossal waste of funding that ignores what the experts say and what the research shows– Forbes magazine, hardly considered a lefty magazine run by Berkeley SJWs, stated,
“Low rates of drug use have been shown in multiple states beside Florida, including only 1/800 welfare recipients in Tennessee, vs 8% in the general population. Similarly, Utah found 0.2% of the total welfare recipient population positive, vs. 6% of the population who admitted to using drugs. These 12 cases cost the state $30,000.”
Thinkprogress using state data gathered from existing programs in Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah (strangely enough states with some of the worst public education, high rates of inequality, and who staunchly vote conservative) spent millions to discover that every state bar one (Oklahoma which is the lowest paying state for teachers) has less than 1% of welfare recipients on drugs. Remind me again how conservatives are the ones who are ‘fiscally conscious’ and good managers of money.
Now as the lofty Commerce™ graduates are quick to bang on about – you have to think of the ‘opportunity cost’ or what that money could have been spent on, things that could have generated a ‘return on investment’ (what you get out of what you originally pay).
Well for one you could put that money back into what it was originally intended to do – help low income families that are struggling and those who are unemployed (through no fault of their own) but that leads to cries of welfare dependency, and some of the cleverer conservatives will scream about Rome and the bread dole and Aurelian making hereditary welfare lists.
After all if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, you teach a man how to fish and you feed him until an oil spill wipes out all the fish.
Instead you could spend that money on public education – not on administrators who embezzle state funds – but on extra-curricular and training programs to teach students (especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds) critical thinking, practical job skills (interview and CV skills, financial management, taxes), and ways to express themselves – because these things empower them and build up their confidence and curiosity. You get a far better rate of return on having an educated and skilled workforce, than pouring it into bombs or drug testing but I’m just a lowly liberal arts graduate driven by my emotions and researched opinions.
If you were to suggest to a middle class parent that their school slash funding for the arts and extra-curricular programs they would scream bloody murder, threaten to move schools, and insist only the very best for their precious, special, little darlings. Somehow these same individuals find it just fine and dandy to slash funding for public schools for other people’s precious, special, little darlings, and want to spend that money on wasteful policies that don’t work. Why don’t these parents take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for the decisions that the state makes they’ll yell from their segregated schools. Back in my day we only had well-funded public schools with unionised teachers who were treated with respect not like these millennials with their iPhones, teacher shortages and funding cuts.
Then there is the part that money is being spent on something that it isn’t intended for but this raises a question – if we are going to drug test welfare recipients to ensure they aren’t wasting our money on frivolous things (in the process wasting more money to do so) does this apply to anyone who receives any form of financial assistance from the government?
After all isn’t that the logical premise of their argument, and they are the lonely voices of reason in the storm of snowflakes. Should we start drug testing bankers and CEOs who are bailed out to the tune of billions with our money? After all we wouldn’t want them to misappropriate the money meant to stimulate the economy and spend it on frivolous things like yachts, drugs, and bonuses to the people who drove the companies into bankruptcy.
We’ve established the logical precedent that we can intrude into the privacy of those who accept a few hundred dollars a week to survive, and that if they have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear. Shouldn’t we follow that logic to its conclusion, even more so for those who receive exponentially larger amounts of our money, and test those who hold power over our society? Especially since studies estimate 10% of top executives are off their face, that’s 10 times more than welfare recipients and we test the hell out of them.
What about political leaders who are entrusted with governance, should we test them as well? The potential consequences of drug addiction in the workplace that determines the lives of millions is clearly a great deal more important than someone on welfare. Their salary is even drawn from our taxes, now we wouldn’t want them to misappropriate public money on things they shouldn’t be buying now would we?
If justice is not universal then it is nothing more than a farce – you cannot have a fair society governed by the rule of law if there exists those who are above it. This is the basis of the Magna Carter – that even the king, chosen by God to rule, is subject to laws. Given that we live in a democracy where we are all equal citizens, this should be common sense.
Now we have to look at what the alternatives are for someone who cannot access welfare. Poor people don’t just magically disappear when you cut them off. People don’t just roll over and die when deprived of the basic needs of survival – self-preservation is hardwired into all living things. We have detailed accounts of Holocaust survivors and famine survivors that showcase just how far people are willing to go in order to survive. They aren’t going to suddenly transform into industrious hard working citizens when you cut them off welfare, especially in a job market that has large amounts of unemployment and underemployment (official unemployment statistics do not count people who have given up looking for jobs, those who are in jobs that don’t provide enough hours or pay to survive, and those who are on unstable casual work).
So they resort to crime – prostitution, petty theft or drugs, and homelessness – conditions that often serve as a catalyst for drug addiction. Ironically this costs the state more than it would to pay for welfare because you have to factor in lost income, emergency medical costs, and what it costs to incarcerate them, with some estimates going so far as one trillion in the US
We have to accept that drug testing welfare recipients is a pointless waste of money that is based on logical premises that are deeply flawed because they are selectively applied only against the poor (not to mention constitutional breeches of the 4th Amendment), and do not address why people are on welfare to begin with. So what is the purpose of this, why do conservatives repeatedly dredge up this political zombie? Because it is remarkably effective at what it is intended to do – divide and conquer.
“How skilful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighbourhood, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scarce by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred – by economic inequality – faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices.” - Howard Zinn
When you can point the finger at the underserving other you draw attention away from asking why people are on welfare to begin with, why people do drugs, why there is so much unemployment. After all aren't you guys in charge making all the decisions - where is your PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY? It’s politically sexy to say you are ‘tough on crime’ and all about ‘law and order’ by spitting out canned soundbites about welfare cheats and parasites, than it is to explain with nuance the systemic factors that all contribute toward driving inequality. People want to feel good about themselves and continue to believe that they justly have what they deserve; and therefore those less fortunate must deserve their suffering, because otherwise you are left with the frightening reality that life isn’t fair, and the world isn’t a just place – and that doesn’t get you voted in.
You can manipulate the mythos of the protestant work ethic, first introduced by Max Weber to rationalise the advancement of the West to the stagnation of the East, to divide the working class not just by race but by aptitude – the members of the working class who rise up see themselves as hardworking and deserving compared to the others who just want a handout. Everyone becomes so fixated on securing a few crumbs for themselves that they never realise who makes the pie and who divides it up. You redirect justified anger further down the chain of responsibility to those who have no means of competing in the marketplace of ideas.
There are no silver bullets that will magically fix everything and this is the biggest challenge for the left. We aren’t going to be able to fix things in one elected term because there are so many deeply rooted problems and long term factors. Every step of the way we will be met with unrelenting attacks from conservatives, safely ensconced in their private worlds and insulated from public cuts, who will smear, underfund, undercut, and leap at every opportunity to privatise and continue to divide. We will have to deal with fake liberal politicians who will pose in front of the camera and say peoplekind instead of mankind while selling weapons to countries that behead women for sorcery. We will have to deal with middle class liberals who will scream loudly about privilege from their gated communities, who will champion feminism only for other middle class women, and will clutch the labels of self-identity above all else.
The most powerful tool we have is knowledge, because there is decades of data, research, and evidence to suggest there is a better way and that this isn’t some fuzzy headed utopian vision. Our war is against ignorance, the deeply embedded lies that we are continually told, against indifference, the apathy of an atomised world, and against fear – for it is fear that is used again and again to divide us. Our weapons are ideas, because you can kill the messenger but you can never kill the message.
“Whether you use bullets or ballots, you’ve got to aim well; don’t strike at the puppet, strike at the puppeteer.” – Malcolm X
 Sun Tzu, The Art of War
 Robert Greene, 33 Strategies of War
 Niccolo Machiavelli, Three Discourses
 https://fee.org/articles/poor-relief-in-ancient-rome/ note while a useful source for understanding conservative arguments the FEE follows the debunked Black Book of Communism’s argument and believe that the Nazis were socialist because they had the word Socialist in their organisational name. Naturally an organisation dedicated to preaching the wonders of laissez faire capitalism is going to be just a wee bit biased against socialism.
 Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning
Art Spiegelman, Maus
 Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States.
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Born somewhere between the old world of Korea and the new world of New Zealand Isaac is an award winning writer, teacher of literature and nomad currently residing in Nanjing.