News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: The Citizen Politician

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Citizen Politician

While we're on the issue of privacy and the invasion of it by the Bush snooper machine, the question pops to mind about when the current understanding of what privacy means developed. I know there'll be those that will say that the issue of what is private is obvious and that it has always meant what it does now.

But that is not so, as readers of other societies and their cultures will know. Those who investigate these things in our culture and society, like Richard Sennett, have described the historical transformation that such concepts have undergone throughout western civilization...

I won't retell Sennett's findings here. (If you really want to know, take a gander at his books, "Authority," "The Fall of Public Man," and "The Corrosion of Character.")

I'll use an example that doesn't require so much detail as Sennett's does. This example does not call for too much historical knowledge and might even seem somewhat common-sense, although a historian might find it not nuanced enough.

No doubt, the founding fathers placed an emphasis on citizens taking part in the running of their government. They expected that the democratic model implied that everyone would think that making sure their government was doing what they thought it should would be incentive enough to garner each and every citizen's participation in the running and decision-making of the government.

I know, these guys were mostly men and white. Many were somewhat aristocratic in mentality and world-view. That's why they felt that every decision could not be left with the uneducated masses, so they split the legislative branch into two parts--one for appointed "geneltmen" politicans, senators, and those who were elected by the rest of the people. (In fact, senators were appointed by state governors well into the 19th century, when it finally became an elected position as well.)

The founding fathers' skepticism about the masses' not being educated enough was taken up by Emerson. He espoused a view that each and every one of us has an inherent "genius," which if tapped into would enable them to fulfill the vast promise of the American democratic experiment. In his mind, this promise meant that each and every individual should and would participate in the governing of the state. It didn't take schooling or learning the classics to become a citizen politican in Emerson's mind. It took that spark of genius that we could all tap into if we only realized it.

Emerson's dream for a truly democratic Republic came under attack with the rise of industrial capitalism. The robber barons and their proteges bought and sold politicians like candy. These politicans were obviosuly more than willing to do so, given the profit and power that they would gain.

The consolidation of the power brokers in the US continued. There was still a threat that the masses could and would want to take back the power of controlling their lives that the constitution promised. To forestall this eventuality, the ruling rich and politicans realized the potential in advertising in forming and molding the needs and desires of the working men and women.

If they could sever the relationship between the public and private spheres, then they could cut off the desire to participate in politics by the workers that so much threatened their power. In this way, the public relations machine came to dominate both politics and the selling of products.

Whereas before the goal of work was to gain enough time to take an active role in public life and governing themselves, the PR machine began to sell privacy as a time away from that--a time to enjoy the "good things of life," the gewgaws and consumer products that mass-production produced.

On top of this, the entertainment industry became ever more present in people's lives and the goal of life became more distanced from public life. Now the goal of life became not only consuming material products but also consuming entertainment in the form of radio shows and so on. Today, this mass entertainment industry has become the be-all and end-all of most people's lives. They literally live for their TV shows, their soap operas, and their DVDs.

No comments: