“Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel.” — Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
A group of politically- fueled friends consuming a few beers at a local brewery engaged in a spirited debate about whether we Americans live in a true democracy. They went back and forth asserting their positions, arguing how terminology makes all the difference. Qualifiers like “direct” and “representative,” and “constitutional” were added to the word “democracy,” then batted back and forth like ping-pong balls. The idea of a republic briefly surfaced, only to be abducted by the political bad boys of socialism, aristocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, and tyranny, resulting in a table-side arm-wrestling match.
I politely listened but stayed out of it. Instead, while the fray frazzled I googled the word “freedom.” I hoped that whatever form of government emerged as the most likely culprit for defining us as Americans, it would have to include this concept, and I wanted to be better informed about what freedom really means without simply launching into a refrain of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Unfortunately, my research proved unsatisfying, but if I’d have spoken up during the fray I’d have defended a different word, one that hadn’t yet surfaced, the notion that we are living in a idiocracy.
An online dictionary defines such a government as one “…that is based upon abstract theory,” but I much prefer the dictionary’s alternative usage: a government ruled by idiots.
For the sake of clarification, I’ve constructed the following addendum for quick reference. It is not intended as a guide for living in a idiocracy, but more like a list of symptoms to help readers recognize how seriously the ideals we once held as necessary to form a more perfect union have deteriorated. You see, in a idiocracy…
…some citizens vote, but nearly half of them remain silent, often for fear of participating.
…voters in favor of ousting the ruling party are discouraged, simply by judging them ineligible. These voters — mostly minorities and working class — justifiably lack confidence that the people in charge don’t even notice they exist until an election takes place.
…entire urban districts are gerrymandered to lean heavily toward an outcome that favors one party, race, or class.
…foreign governments are invited to influence the election outcome, which is only a step away from having the foreigners themselves participate as members of the cabinet.
…aspiring public office holders launch political campaigns that require enormous influxes of cash, and the concept of “one dollar, one vote” converts too easily into successful election mathematics, legitimatizing a system of cash-flow politics.
…wealth multiplies influence, and lavish donations to the winning party result in cushy, too often unqualified public office appointments.
…criticism of the ruling class prompts government reprisals, starting with name-calling, then morphing into outright lies and language designed to ridicule and dehumanize, which swiftly transforms into policy resulting in mandates to detain or deport.
…injustice defends itself with a rousing refrain from its sweet anthem: “America: Love it or leave it.”
…the idea of voter fraud is fabricated instead of actually taking place. Frivolous lawsuits are filed in the courts, protest marches in favor of the ruling party are orchestrated, but evidence of any systemic effort to delegitimize the election fails to emerge despite its existence being publicized as fact.
…freedom of the press becomes an “optional” constitutional amendment, especially when the press reports investigations critical of the ruling party.
…transparency of governmental actions is tossed out the window, and then the window is replaced with brick.
…social media platforms — once valued for the contact they provide between friends and family — become blunt propaganda instruments for generating exposure to lies and manipulating the masses.
…“climate” is understood to be how comfortable the board room is during a meeting, and climate change is nothing more than some unauthorized person fiddling with the thermostat.
…legislated regulations for the safety of its citizens are haphazardly enforced, or repealed because they are deemed “unreasonable burdens” for the people who benefit by ignoring them.
Meanwhile, back at the bar the alcohol kept flowing and the political discussion boiled down to a sporting event: one side versus the other. The future leaned back in his chair, bored with the banter and beer. He suspected it doesn’t matter what people label any system of government. It would be known by its compassion or its terror, by its ability to accept responsibility for its failures or to shift blame by lying and covering them up. Like the sun, a system of government will predictably rise and then set, but it will inevitably earn its reputation.
In a idiocracy one thing is always certain: the idiot thinks he’s king.
David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/