Thursday 28th of January 2021

still looking to make the beast of democracy work…

dick    Everyone knows (everyone should) the joke about the pheasant plucker. But no-one told it so well as Dick Emery. I had the privilege of having a few meetings and a private lunch with Dick and a few other guests. 

As the food and drinks came coming so did the jokes like little mirrors of our social moires. They showed our varied loonitudes, and to some extend, our loneliness in a sea of strange activity. A society is not made of clones but made of imperfect humans in search of happiness, whatever that is. Dick was a decent person. His comedy was about showing great empathy to his various characters — basically showing empathy to all of us, people, while having a good laugh at our idiosyncrasies. 

As the Western world is about to choose between a Donald’s chaos and a Joe Cool, should we worry that whatever the result, happiness will be too elusive or short lived? Are we going to have a good laugh at the expense of a loser and a winner? For the last too many years, we have lived in the cocoon of delusive religious/state dictums that gave us ideals of frugal poverty that we have flaunted big with the sin of greed, now lauded by advertising. Not much laughing had been allowed, especially with the politically correct 11th commandment.

For a dwindling amount of us, the poorer we are, or the more toil we do for peanuts, the happier our friend-god will be happy. We find our happiness in being hungry, rained upon, humiliated, as we know our friend-god will look after us, eventually. Our misery is our gift to the world. For others, the quest is to gauge how much greed is too much.  The middle class is full to the brim of people who balance income, expenditure, taxes and entertainment — in order to earn “enough”, pay the right amount of taxes, buy the averagely-priced berries and houses —and hold barbecues of various values (juicy steaks or pricked snags) on Sundays, after a boring but obligatory mass lauding poverty or after an invigorating singsong at the local Hillsong that told us it was not a sin to make money. The more you earn, the more you can (should) give "them”… No wonder the evangelicals can afford guards at the doors of their entertainment centres. The Vatican has its own army of Swiss soldiers in feathered uniforms… We can see the pheasant plucker having a field day… For a few of us, at the forefront of making society consume, greed is never enough. We need to be "more rich". Poverty is for the poor and the toilers. We are the new kings and queens, now wearing mink coats and cartier watches, which we can afford easier than the poor struggles to buy a tea-bag. We never have too much. But we’re still looking for happiness…

So after the French revolution, that tried to implement equality, fraternity and freedomola, we are still looking to make the beast of democracy work. Improvement of society or improvement of individuals or both? Which society and which system of individualistic latitude? Are the Dick Emery characters still relevant? Too many of us look like them still. Is this a problem?…

Enters Mr Comte. 

Comte was a rather sombre, ungrateful, self-centred, and egocentric personality, but he compensated for this by his zeal for the welfare of humanity, his intellectual determination, and his strenuous application to his life’s work. He devoted himself untiringly to the promotion and systematization of his ideas and to their application in the cause of the improvement of society.

Mr Comte invented Positivism as a philosophical theory which states that "genuine" knowledge is exclusively derived from experience of natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, as interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Society, here we come.

Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier Comte, (1798-1857), simply known as Auguste Comte was the French philosopher who invented the science of sociology and the theory of positivism. He did not invent laughter...

Positivism is a philosophical system that can be applied to individuals and governments, recognising that which can be scientifically verified or which is capable of logical or mathematical proof — therefore rejecting metaphysics and theism. So we do not need the priest (see top image) to guide us towards death, just a slide-rule. 

As we grow older, we young people are told to find a job, a career, an occupation, a vocation and eventually our own way and place to live. The system does not owe us a living but we owe the system a portion of our earning, through taxes, levies, rent and dedicated charitable gestures. As well, we are enticed to gamble some of our earnings with the hope of making a motza that would simplify our ‘struggle”. 

It seems that “nothing comes instantly”. The purpose of philosophy is to give us a purpose with progressive collection of goods and ideas. We are intrinsically connected to ideas as if in a sticky web of concepts, yet we can just play the game without asking questions. The state and the church give us a moral compass with plenty of "do-nots”, while the “do’s” are often not expressed but sometimes becomes “don’ts”. It’s a bit like going fishing. Our favourite fishing spot since we were a kid now has a sign: “Fishing Prohibited”. Things have changed. The river is polluted and the authorities, instead of cleaning up the river, have forbidden fishing. The easy fix. Not only this, the signs has a list of penalties for you being caught by the fishing inspector: Up to $150 fine for fishing here. You could wonder if this was a revenue raising exercise by the local council or if the public servants were protecting you from the mercury, the lead, blue-green algae toxic spread and bacterias that are killing the fishes. The only fish you can get is the limp filets authorised by the fish market authorities that have also the tape measure for the legal length of the catch. Morality is at this level. You follow the rules and do not ravish the neighbour’s wife, nor his donkey. The fear of the fishing and donkey inspectors prevent you from breaking the rules. You are caught between the love from the council that want to protect you and the fear of their inspector that will give you a hefty fines should you break the rules. There “will be hell to pay”.

How many paperclips can we take home from the office cupboard without experiencing god’s wrath?

How much for example can a Perrottet — a stickler for rigid Christian morality (he is Opus Dei, is he not?) let a Gladys get away with “rorting” the system by vanishing the slanted decisions made on allocation of “special” grants? Are Perrottet’s moral values separate to his political values (survival while smiling)? Or does he play submarine and knows nofin’ OR does he agree that no sin was committed by what were the slanted decisions of Gladys.

Is Gladys god?

In a democratic mix there are positive and non-positives…  The few negatives are in prison or running the show. Unfortunately, much of philosophy lacks a sense of humour. Satire, humour, laughter make us see the contradictions within ourselves, of the system and between each other. 

This is where Dick was a superior philosopher but despite success, like many actors I know, Dick suffered from severe stage fright and low self-esteem. He underwent psychoanalysis and hypnosis, and took pills to try to cure the problem. A bit of positivism might have helped. Positive anger can be a good motivator… 

Seriously, our societies are too serious. The Muslims are not a barrel of laughter either. As Jules Letambour would say, our lot is pain and dying on a Shakespearean stage… where the drama is so over the top it becomes comical when seen from “outside”...

Who will win the leadership of the “free" world? will our happiness be that of all of us? The ball is rolling, rolling, rolling…

Gus Leonisky
pleasant plucker...

See also:

Picture at top from Dick EMERY in CHARACTER book, illustration by Stanley Franklin, published 1973...

polarized seriousness...

The United States has always been a country of contrasts, a polarized nation. There are only two parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, that play a real role in politics. Governments don't need compromises to form a governing coalition — either they win a majority, or they've lost the election.

This partisan politics has been reflected in the media for centuries. Even the first regularly published US newspapers in the 18th century took a clear position on the important political decisions of the day. Today, broadcasters, newspapers and other publications — like in many other countries — tend to follow a specific political line, and people typically choose to get their news from the source they feel most closely matches their political views.

Read more: EU pins hopes on Joe Biden victory

Media no longer seen as credible

After nearly four years of a Donald Trump presidency, two things are now fundamentally different:

American media organizations have given up the quest for objective political reporting, and have now transformed into political players.

Trump's constant accusations that the media is made up of nothing but "lies" and "fake news" have had an effect.

Never before has the credibility of the journalism profession been so low. Both points are certainly related, with social media acting as an amplifier. There are few places left in the US for discussion of contentious political concepts and possible solutions. And this election campaign has shown us the result of that, with more and more people only trusting their own little social media bubbles to provide them with information. This has had disastrous consequences, leaving the door wide open for conspiracy theorists and enemies of democracy.

The media itself, through its extreme one-sidedness, is no longer seen as a credible corrective source. By rewarding the loudest, shrillest and most polarizing headlines, algorithms now firmly control the discourse in both political camps.

Read more: How coronavirus has changed the face of US democracy

Facts and scientific findings have little chance of penetrating these bubbles, which have been overrun by Trump's claims. Over the past few weeks I've seen this power of persuasion for myself, speaking with average Americans who claim that Hillary Clinton keeps young children locked up in her basement or that COVID-19 is nothing more than an attempt by an ominous group to take control of the world.

US at risk of breaking apart

On the other side of the political spectrum are the oft-complacent, well-off city dwellers who are unwilling to share the worldview of those families who have been dependent on factory jobs for generations, jobs that are becoming fewer and fewer. Or those dependent on coal mining, which has no future.

Read more: From North Korea to Middle East: Donald Trump's diplomacy evaluated

This is scary — and it should be scary. The US right now is vulnerable and could break apart, for many reasons. Partly because of the education system, but also due to demographic developments. The fact that the minority population will continue to grow and end white dominance — at least in purely numerical terms — in about two decades has unsettled many, and exposed the deep-seated racism that still exists in many parts of this country.



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