Category Archives: Distrust of government

“Animal Farm” and Life in the former Soviet Union

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” – I read this Orwell’s masterpiece after I have left the land of victorious proletariat and was struck by how well it captured the essence of the Soviet order.

In fairness, life in the Soviet Union was not too difficult if one followed the rules:

  • Accept the corruption. There are different rules for little people and for big people
  • Outwardly, accept the political correctness. Of course our Soviet society is the most fair and inclusive. Be careful what you say,  surveillance is ever present. Differing opinions deserve no respect, only condemnation. If someone disagrees that’s because they are bad people with ulterior motives
  • Most of the problems are created by an officially sanctioned enemy that possesses almost mythical powers (it was, of course, the United States back then).

From what I read, life in the Nazi Germany also was OK for most people that followed the “rules” and didn’t belong to one of the officially persecuted groups. At least until Herr Hitler decided to get some “lebensraum” in the East, wars tend to turn out not how one plans. And Nazis had their all-powerful enemy in Jewish women and children.

Are we getting to be like the Soviet Union? We are not there yet but for someone who came from behind the Iron Curtain the trajectory is not encouraging:

  • Some are more equal than others? Check. Top 0.1% have as much wealth as the rest of the country – do you think your view matters as much as that of Qatar’s sheik paying Bill Clinton $1MM for 5 min of his time (really, Bill?). And what do you think would have happened to a “little person” that was grossly negligent with the government’s confidential information? If you have any doubt that he or she would have paid a much higher price than just saying “I accepted responsibility”, I want to have whatever you are smoking. But we’ve gotten so cynical about corruption at the highest level, we just shrug it off as expected. Different rules for different folks.
  • Political correctness, lack of tolerance for differing views, massive surveillance? Check. Do you really believe that the government respects your privacy? And if you prefer a different political candidate, you are a “deplorable” (Clinton), a welfare leach (Romney), racist (Obama) or sexist (Clinton). Tolerance and ability of self-critical evaluation were not common traits amongst Communist Party bosses. These traits seem to be missing in many US politicians now.
  • Officially sanctioned enemy with mythical powers? Check. Anything we don’t like is Putin’s fault. Jullian Assange’s WikiLeaks have been exposing the corruption of ruling elites for a long time, but now we know that they’ve always been Putin’s agents hell-bent on destroying Hillary Clinton (the case that their disclosures has never been showed to be falsified is so-o-o irrelevant; really, why bother with facts?)

I can go on and on. The media that doesn’t even pretend to be objective. Disappearance of the middle class. Government agencies such as IRS targeting political opponents of the regime. Even previously respected FBI is being tainted. The national debt is totally out of control. Inequality is reaching critical levels.

But most of us know that something’s broken. That’s why we just saw two deeply flawed candidates – Sanders and Trump – take the establishment to the edge even with the deck of media and political and financial interests stacked against them.

No, we are not like the Soviet Union yet. But as Orwell showed us, a transformation from a democracy to oligarchy and to outright tyranny is gradual. We are in the oligarchy stage now. The trend is not our friend.

Each of us chooses what to do. I personally decided to vote Libertarian. This is not about 2016: I live in California and it’s going for Clinton by a huge margin. It’s about getting a party not called Democratic or Republican over the 5% limit to qualify for electoral funding in the future. We’ve had the same two parties for over 150 years. At this point I question whether either of them truly represents us “little people”. It’s time for change. The real one, not the “hope and change” we were sold in 2008. In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the likely President Clinton won’t push us into war with Russia and China. I mean, I don’t see their soldiers on our borders while there are plenty of ours near theirs.

Life and Fiction

The Outer Circle, the last part of The Counterpoint Trilogy, is set in 2024. Some of the events described there seem to be taking place much sooner. In the book a populist third party politician is rising by blaming other countries – we have Donald Trump (at the moment he is running as a Republican but he already indicated he’ll consider an independent run). In the book, a mainstream political candidate thinks he is above the law – we have Hillary “what e-mails?” Clinton. In the book, China is experiencing internal problems and a conflict is brewing in the South China Sea – we see problems in China and increasing China vs. US tensions in the South China Sea. In the book, corporate and government surveillance is pervasive – we have the latest most popular computer operating system monitoring everything you do and the issue of government surveillance was a hot button in the Republican debate. In the book, blockchain technology powers thriving underground economy – we see hundreds of millions flowing into blockchain-related startups. In the book, continental Eurasia coalesced into an economic superpower driven by the China–Russia rapprochement and non-Western financial structures – we have beginnings of the new “Silk Road” and the Asian development bank.

I am not claiming any particular insights. The trends are in the open if we want to look beyond the immediate surface. When only 20% of people trust our government to do the right thing, populists will rise. When a privileged political class emerges and special interests rule – as more and more people notice – politicians start considering themselves above the law. When government and corporate leaders think that only criminals desire privacy, they don’t worry about taking yours away – and people react by trying to protect what’s left of their privacy. When we act in an imperial fashion, other countries will form blocks to oppose us.

The spectacle of Donald Trump is all over the media. Could you have imagined him being a front-runner ten years ago? He is likely a precursor of a coming storm. Study after study shows that if there is one thing that Americans hate, it’s unfairness. When millions suffered through the Great Recession but those that caused it walked away with hundreds of millions, it’s not fair. When the inequality keeps rising and the middle class steadily erodes, that’s not fair. Vast majority of the Americans now believe that we are on a wrong track. Our ruling elite seems to be missing the point that popular discontent is building. Like many others before them, they must think that the populace will be sated with bread and circuses (and we do have the endless entertainment “circuses” galore). Like those others, they will be wrong. Major dislocations rarely go smoothly and dangerous people often come to power during times of discontent.

Dystopian Fever

It’s hard to miss a certain dystopian obsession in our culture: The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Walking Dead, The Silo Series, and more. In some of these wildly popular novels (and movies) young heroes live in – and fight against – a totalitarian society. In others they escape into a virtual environment because reality is too depressing (Ready Player One). Why have dystopian genre become so representative of our society? Where does all the doom and gloom come from? Different explanations have been offered but it’s hard to deny that they are a reflection of a certain amount of despair.

These stories feature oppressive governments, hopelessness, hostility towards authority – because no one in the position of power can be trusted. But these are just entertaining stories and when we close the book or leave a movie theater, we give a sigh of “thankfully, it’s totally different for us” relief and return to our divergent (pun intended) reality where we feel quite differently. Or do we?

There are always people that don’t trust the government, the “extremists” as our leaders label them. Well, turns out that according to both Gallup and Pew Research only about 20% of the Americans now trust our government to do the right thing at least “most of the time.” It was not always this way. There was a time, forty to fifty years ago, when it was just the opposite: 70-80% of the Americans have trusted the government to do the right thing. I am not making this up, these are facts, check them for yourself by following the links above. We have lots and lots of “extremists.”

What happened? How did we get from a vast majority of Americans trusting the government to a vast majority distrusting it? Perhaps it’s the sense that the government is now run for the benefit of a ruling elite, that it is no longer serving We The People, that we evolved into a de facto oligarchy? That we robbed our young and sold their future by saddling them with unsustainable debts? Or perhaps it’s the massive government surveillance that creates the distrust? Interestingly, the 18-29 adults were pro-Snowden by almost 2:1 margin while our tone-deaf officials claimed – and some continue to do so – that only “extremists” support Snowden. The point here is not about Snowden but about the trust – or rather lack of it. Trust, once lost, is hard to get back. Especially when those that lost it seem to be rather oblivious to the fact.

So perhaps the “dystopian fever” and hostility towards authority is not just a distraction, perhaps it is a reflection of a real, tangible mistrust in the government institutions on the part of the younger generation. After all, how morally legitimate is the government that is trusted by only 20% of its subjects? I bet King George III was more trusted by his North American subjects in 1775.