Herb Ruhs: Tyranny


Tyranny: “cruel and oppressive government or rule.”

It is comforting for me to read Hedges’, in his article “How Democracy Dies: Lessons from a Master,”calling the current political situation one of outright tyranny.  For at least twenty five years now I have been doing the same as “tyranny” is the only term in English that generalizes sufficiently to describe the political situation in the US as I have viewed it developing.  Highly centralized command and control structures in civil society, the giant banks and corporations in our case, are the soul of tyranny. As Hedges points out eloquently, the success of such rule is dependent on people not clearly understanding its true nature until it is way too late.

On the positive side, tyranny is also a society wide learning opportunity.  Apparently it is difficult  to learn that you can never trust ambitious people – ever –  since they can not trust themselves to moderate their compulsive drive to control others.  Our Achilles heel is that we identify with our oppressors and predators vicariously.  Something small and dark in all of us wants to be free of fear by achieving dominance over other, weaker, people.

Worship of this grasping nature is not so much evil as it is primitive.  Small autonomous groups can work to sublimate and limit this “will to power” by encouraging identification with the group as the true agent of ambition. Large scale groups, societies, corporations, the military, organized in a hierarchical pattern have no way to effectively limit the grasping of the few, the devious, the consciouslessness of the sociopath.  The final common pathway of all mass societies organized hierarchically is through tyranny to self destruction.

Marx made this observation when he said, “Civilizations leave deserts behind them.”  Well, certainly Marx was right about societies that choose hierarchical and coercive organizational models.  There are lots of models available from history of egalitarian, cooperative societies, and some small examples still exist.  Most such efforts have, however, been systematically and ruthlessly crushed by their hierarchical, militaristic neighbors.

So, do we choose to take the submissive posture of believing that some form of tyranny is the climax form of human society, believe along with the intellectual whores of the right that history is over, that tyranny is forever secure as the foundation of the world system of human organization?  No.  It may take some time and a lot of suffering, but tyranny always fails because it is dependent on lies and deceit to maintain power and, gradually, the illegitimate leadership comes to believe its own lies and fails due to faulty reality testing.  To paraphrase Acton, power tends to psychosis and absolute power to irreversible psychotic thinking.

However, this is a very special time in history.  If we follow the mentally deranged power seekers it will be our last journey as a species.  Don’t be fooled.  The ambitious mean to destroy us all, themselves included, and end our species in a hell of our own making.

The gods of our fathers: competition, success, superiority, personal wealth, celebrity and progress, are false gods with massive feet of clay.


jonathan middlebrook October 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Herb, here’s an addition to your comments about tyranny. When Athens overthrew its tyranny and became a short-lived democracy, its basic form of election became not one-man/one-vote voting, but a sort of lottery: all eligible citizens (yes, male citizens, but times change) were part of a pool from which the legislators were chosen, by lot.

I think they served 2-year terms and were then ineligible to serve again for a decade. Service was a civic duty and honor, and created a legislative body representative of the citizenry in all its eccentricity. That is, civic service by lottery created a democracy, and over a brief time it also created an increasing number of citizens who truly knew how the system worked, because they’d been there.

What interests me in this thumbnail is that the legislators were not voted into office, but the result was nonetheless democratic and fiercely anti-tyrannical, anti-oligarchic. (Democratic Athens also invented ostracism: individuals who accumulated too much power kept their property, but could not live in Athens for a period of years.)

–So, you know where I’m headed. Recently Meg Whitman gave, or perhaps “lent” her campaign another $20 million which bucks added to her previous $123 (0r was it $143 mil?) give her a pretty good shot at being our next governor.

Those millions of dollars in search of voters certainly guarantee that all of us will be subjected to a stupefying barrage of moronic sound-bites in the next few days, on the basis of which she may claim to have been democratically elected.

Then, by contrast, imagine that our governor were chosen by and answerable to an Athenian-style legislature. Less sound bitage, more debate featuring reasoned argument and paragraphs (even) in a truly representative democratic body.

Of course, there are about 36 million Californians, so we can “never” have Athenian-style democracy at the state level.

–How about starting at the county level? Our population count is about 86,000, somewhat less than historians estimate the number of citizen families of democratic Athens to have been.

Possibly we’d have less of the “more Stanford than thou” and preferred tree-hugging position assertion, more serious discussion of significant matters like local slaughterhouses, light industrial usage of the Masonite site, and so on.

“Give up your vote, gain your democracy!”

Weird, huh?


Nice comment Jonathan.

Yes, I totally agree. My study of history and politics, like yours, leaves me unimpressed with so called “representative democracy,” which in many critical situations just becomes a convenient scam.

As Lennin put it, it is not who votes but who counts the votes that matters. A subsidiary issue is the quality of understanding of the “voter.” Put plainly, there is no reason to put our trust in a supposedly just and fair voting system when so few have any idea what is going on, and have been deliberately maneuvered into accepting a false reality by a ubiquitous mass media and scientific marketing strategies.

Nor is it just a problem of “democracy in America.” All systems of representative “democracy” have been undermined by a global system of mass media distortion and subversion of citizen democracy. Large majorities in Europe, for instance, are opposed to the NATO “AFPAK” and Iraqi wars. Are those functioning democracies?

If we are to again pursue democratic values it seems we will need to be willing to start from scratch and institute, on our own, some other system of civilian control of government. Your history lesson about Athenian democracy is well met. Although I bring it up as an arguing point and not as a program, I often make the point that we could make immediate improvements by simply replacing all government policy makers with citizens chosen by lottery. Such thought experiments are useful for the insights that can be gained, but are moot in face of the depth of ignorance about the basic facts of reality amongst the people. The Fourth Estate has been burned to the ground. What are we going to replace it with?

It may well be beyond repair, but I am compelled to think that if there is to be any chance of reviving democracy, the place to start is in very small groups of neighbors and those tightly knit by economic interdependence. Enough such groups, acting through delegates as opposed to elected representatives (an important but cloudy distinction) coordinating their activities much as the original American colonist did with their “letters of correspondance,” could cause change.

The big sadness, for a people conditioned to accept only dramatic and immediate “solutions,” is that any plausible rapprochement of democratic rule will be a long drawn out thing likely to take generations to effect, if ever.


    Jonathan Middlebrook October 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Glad I interested you!

    Michael Foley has a related, equally interesting & local-focused piece up on today’s Ukiah Blog.–Possibly the conversation has started.