Alan Moore and Athenian anarchism

As always, Alan Moore provides plenty of value for money in this interview at New Statesman. I’m pulling out this particular chunk primarily because it’s a nice way to remind myself I’m not the only person who thinks like this… though I’m sure there are plenty of folk who’d happily tell me that sharing my politics with a perpetually stoned post-modern pseudo-occultist and writer of comics isn’t anything to be proud of.

But you know what? Fuck those people. Take it away, Mister Moore:

I take this seriously, I don’t like to vote because I don’t believe in the democratic process, and I don’t believe that it is democracy. Democracy as I understand it is demos – the people shall rule. It doesn’t say anything about the elective representatives shall rule. I think in Dodgem Logic there was an option that got put forward that I would find preferable, which was the Athenian way.

Yes, you get summoned –

Yes, it’s by lottery, if there is a decision of national importance to be made, a jury or a parliament will be decided by lottery. They will hear both sides of the argument, they will vote, the jury will be dissolved. So there’s no way you can vote for extra privileges for MPs because you won’t be one. It’s more in your interests to vote for what is in the general interest of the broad population that you will be returning to.

So, I’m not saying that it’s a flawless idea but its maybe one of the ideas that we should start thinking about, because I really think that this is pretence of democracy at best.

Yeah, and a handful of marginal constituencies get to hold the balance of power.

Yeah, that’s it, also back when I was working with the Green Party in local politics back in the 80s, there was the idea of proportional representation, which would have meant that if the Green Party had got one per cent of the vote they’d would have had one per cent of the MPs.

And yes, if the British National Party, or the National Front as it was then, would have got one per cent of the vote you might have ended up with a National Front MP, but I could’ve gone along with that. That sounded like it would at least been fairer

But this AV thing is nothing to do with proportional representation [we spoke before the referendum]. It’s another way of organising the deck chairs on the Titanic. We do need something a lot more drastic than that. Yes, we need some alternative to our current system, that wasn’t it.

So, no, I don’t vote, I believe in direct political action. I mean, some friends of mine from Wales, where I bought a ruined farm about 15 years ago, one of them had gone over to Romania and seen the volunteer orphanage that was trying to help out people that they’d rescued from the state orphanages, which were horrifying, stuff that you wouldn’t want in your head.

And this guy who was an ex-Welsh rugby player with a face like someone had tried to put a fire out on it with a shovel, everything that you’d expect of a great, big former rugby hero. He was over there on business, he saw this going on, and he couldn’t live with not doing anything.

So he came home and got a bunch of liver-damaged, unemployable drunks from Wales to go out there with a couple of lorries and materials that he’d guilt-tripped business colleagues into donating, and they built an orphanage and a hospice within two weeks with electricity and water.

What I’m saying here is, if you look at the world and there’s something that you can’t live with or there’s something that you don’t agree with, don’t vote for someone who tells you that they’re going to put that right, because they’re not. They are trying to get you to vote for them, they will tell you anything in order to get you to vote for them.

The underlined passage is my own emphasis, and the main reason I wanted to reblog this here. Whenever I get into a discussion of anarchist models for democracy (and no, that’s not an oxymoron, as Moore demonstrates above), it’s always the most staunch defenders of democracy-as-she-is-played who tell me that the danger of letting everyone and anyone play the game is that you might get people with really dodgy views – views contrary to democracy itself, in fact – having a say in the political process.

To which I often say “yeah, so what?”

It’s not a response that wins me many new friends, thanks to the spurious logic trail that goes “Person X believes people with fascist viewpoints have as much right to have their voice heard as anyone else, therefore Person X tacitly supports fascism”. I do not support or even condone fascism, but I’m aware of the dichotomy in leftist politics that enshrines freedom of speech at the same time as trying to exclude opposing ideologies from the conversation. The intent is pure, but I think it’s actually counterproductive.

“But Paul, if you let the fascists speak, they’ll bamboozle stupid people into believing their poisonous lies!” Possibly so, yeah, but by silencing them you’re not just acting counter to your own espoused ideologies, but also giving them the additional persuasion-ammo of suppression (“come hear the truth that They don’t want you to hear!”).

Certainly in the contemporary UK political scene, fascist rhetoric is almost entirely based on this sense of exclusion-from-process, and it feeds on that vague sense of one’s privilege being eroded that gets stoked by tabloid media playing to the peanut gallery (“OMG so many brown people on benefits OMG the white working class male is a victim of reverse racism OMG!”). When it comes to fascism, I’m a strong believer in the old adage about “giving ’em enough rope”; give a fascist the publicity he so craves, and he very quickly makes it plain that he’s in favour of things that the vast majority of people are actively repulsed by. Drive them underground, however, and they can manage their in-clique channels with greater fidelity. All politicians lie, but fascism requires the greatest level of deceit applied to the greatest percentage of the population; if you force them to communicate off the public radar, you forego the chance to publicly scrutinise – and critique – those communications.

Few things corrode untruth as quickly as wide exposure; I suspect a BNP MP in Westminster would be the worst possible advert for the party. Currently, for the vast majority of floating voter types, the BNP are a vague threat that lurks in Northern towns and the London boroughs that you don’t go shopping in, and as such are of little concern in anything other than the abstract – you know, “it could never happen here!”. Well, it could – and if it does, how will you recognise it when you see it? Indeed, if you’ve not been exposed to the sort of rhetoric used by fascist ideologues, you might find yourself falling for it while piously believing yourself to be a modern and progressive type of person. (UKIP, anyone?)

I think my problem with the counterargument is that it’s enshrined in a passionate commitment to protecting representative democracy, but it demonstrates a lack of faith in representative democracy’s ability to produce a fair government that actually represents the people in the way to which it pays perpetual lip service. Or, to put it another way: if you can’t trust representative democracy to improve people’s lives to such a degree that the majority of them will vote in ways that expand and advance that central conceptual remit, then there’s a pretty serious flaw in the system, and you’re admitting such by saying that not every voter can be trusted to vote correctly. “You’re free to elect the people who you feel best represent your views… um, but you mustn’t listen to those people.” See what I mean?

At this point someone usually points out that Hitler was legitimately elected in Germany, which is very true. It’s also a massive simplification of a very complex and turbulent period in German politics – not to mention the politics of the rest of the world – and conveniently overlooks the fact that the democratic process in Germany at the time had become fatally discredited in the eyes of much of its electorate. And yes, that’s exactly the same reason the duplicity of people like the BNP gets traction in the UK at the moment; as such, the rational response is not to pillory the fascists and fuel their persecution complexes, but to make the system more open, more accountable, more transparent. Fascism – and right-wing politics in general, if we’re going to talk in terms of that old binary – thrives on secrecy, on whispered reports of unverifiable injustices and shadowy conspiracies. Make it obvious that the lies are lies, and the lies lose their power. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and so on.

This is also why I have a very ambivalent relationship to legislating against hate speech, because that legislation is a tacit admission of hate speech’s power, amplifying its effect among those who already feel disenfranchised; the best solution to hate speech is true speech. And if anything, as much as the constant battle to [x]-101 people about issues that should really be canonical in an enlightened society is exhausting and tedious in the extreme, I think the anyone-can-say-anything scrum of the internet shows us that it works, albeit very slowly. Outsourcing that advocacy to representatives is tempting for exactly that reason – there are countless nicer things to be doing, after all – but by concentrating that power of advocacy in a limited number of hands, you’re assembling the scaffold of hierarchy along which authoritarianism will creep and grow.

If we’re too lazy to work for a better world, we have no one to blame but ourselves as that better world slips out of sight.

Which is why I am an anarchist.

One thought on “Alan Moore and Athenian anarchism”

  1. Someone – Fred Pohl, I think – had a short story where citizens were drafted to office. Councilman, Mayor, Representative, President: draftees.

    People viewed this as an interruption to their real life, and so worked real hard to minimize the pain. In the story the biggest job the draftees in Congress were doing was repealing laws, not enacting them.

    I dunno about the UK but here, in the US, we’ve got people who grow up wanting to be politicians. They get out of school, go to work for a law firm for a year, or two, then spend the rest of their lives running for office.

    The Athenian deal would be a whole lot better than that. Almost anything would.

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