One Reason Politics Fail Today

6. March, 2011

I just watched “Herfried Münkler: Wie sieht die Zukunft der Demokratie aus?” (German). The show raised some good questions: What is the future of democracy? Why did we fail in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Why doesn’t anything move in the world of politics today?

Books and politics strive on conflict. Churchill wasn’t so efficient because he was a nice, tolerant guy. Hitler moved the world (not in a positive way but he did).

In the old days, there were three groups: The nobility, the bourgeoisie (or middle class) and the poor workers. They defined themselves with money. The nobility just had it, work was optional. The middle class had it because they had worked or were working hard for it. The poor didn’t have it and never would.

When money became widely available, the nobility vanished or it was absorbed in the middle class. Suddenly, the only real difference between nobility and the rich was pedigree  — and sometimes manners. After that, social societies formed which started to absorb the poor. There are many people in Germany who are relatively poor but no one has to be absolutely poor (i.e. can spend a dollar/day or less).

In politics, being a mirror of society, something similar happened. The awe for nobility was replaced with elected representatives. Parties formed to represent different parts of society: The middle class, the poor, the environment.

Only, the poor were absorbed and the environment is getting better every day. There still is a difference on paper but not enough to spark real conflict. All the parties have become more or less interchangeable. People start to notice how strained the “conflict” has become, the discrimination of the other parties for the sake of being different enough to be elected.

No conflict means no drive. Everyone is relatively rich and safe, so the attention is on preservation instead of change. Hence we see endless discussions over 5€ more or less each month for people living on social welfare. The discussion was probably already more expensive than the result.

Since there is a wide middle ground on which everyone can agree, topics like getting the international financial system under control are … awkward. Everyone knows that something has to be done, but there is no pressure. We’re so rich, we can simply spent a couple of hundred billion euros/dollars/whatever by simple signature on a piece of paper. Why bother.

The crisis failed to be big enough. We’ll have to wait for the next round.

Why we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan

We went there to help the poor population against their oppressors (following the honorable motive of the Second World War). Oh, and there was oil. But oil doesn’t sell well on the “Mother-lost-Son” market. So the decision makers needed a better coin: They sold democracy.

Only you can’t sell democracy. It’s a state of mind, a deep wish that people have to make true for themselves. Look at EgyptTunisia, the history of your own country. Democracy happens when people fight for it for themselves. The only way a dictatorship can help to make a country democratic is by making the denizens mad enough to struggle for the change.

One of the problems we face in the Arabic world: We, too, are responsible for their harsh situation. The people living there won’t forget how we made various dictators insanely rich and humored them, even when they slaughtered their own subjects. The insurgents in Libya are wary of “Western intervention,” even if we try to help as good as we can. Maybe that’s more wise than we’d like.

The Audacity of Hope

29. January, 2011

I’ve just started reading “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. In the first chapter, he talks about a change in how politics are being made. Before the change, people would reason which each other and seek compromise. With the change, they started to go for the jugular.

Which got me thinking: Yeah, I feel the same way. For some reason, people got more radical and absolute in their beliefs. More fanatical. Fundamental. Even here in Switzerland. But why?


We all have a growing feeling of helplessness. The flood of information that overwhelms us every day creates an illusion of “I know everything” and at the same time, our options to influence even the things at our fingertips seem to vanish. Bills are passed that make you weep because of their stupidity. A small group of people (several thousand) ruin the world economy for billions and get a bonus for it instead of 120’000 years of prison. Some art project is supported with millions of tax money but the street in front of our house keeps its holes. Companies announce billions in revenue while our bridges collapse.

So the desperation is a result of the feeling that the world is falling apart and can do nothing about it. The constant flood of useful information is fueling our own fears of insignificance.

It’s the same thing the politicians feel. When something comes up, even the worlds best expert can’t tell them anymore how to fix it. The world has become too complex to control and thanks to the many source of information we have today, we know it.

So what can we do about it?

Nothing. Accept it.

Or maybe you can stop reading newspapers and watch TV. Or at least stop watching the news casts and documentaries. Most of the information you receive this way will only make you mad or fuel your feelings of helplessness. So getting to know more doesn’t help. Focus. Get a local newspaper unless you can change things on a bigger scale. Take a hundred bucks, drive to your local do-it-yourself, buy a bag of gravel and fill the holes in your street yourself. Instead of shoveling your good money into a financial system that can ruin a medium-sized country like, say, America, search for local entrepreneurs and give your money to them. That way, you at least have a face to scream into when it’s gone. Or maybe it makes the place where you live a better one. Hollywood is already good enough.

Do you really need that 60″ LCD TC? How about taking a week off instead. To fix your house. So you smile when you return home instead of thinking about all the things that you can’t or should change.

The audacity of change.