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“Winning” is an Illusion When you Don’t Understand How the Game is Scored”
How Participative Democracy Can Change the Nature of American Society
Biden is winning/losing! The American “system” is/is not holding. Trump is leading Republicans down the rabbit hole/to sure victory in 2022! Joe Manchin is a kingmaker/asshole! Marjorie Taylor Greene is “raking in the green”/about to get expelled from the House! Ron DeSantis is the new Trump/Gary Hart! Biden’s Iran/Saudi Arabia/Russia/Syria/China/Venezuela/NATO strategy is/is not working! Late night TV hosts “smack down” Trump/Gaetz/Greene/DeSantis/Giuliani -- and they return the favor. That damned Fox News is getting better/worse by the minute. Corporate tax evaders are about to get their comeuppance/move their entire operations overseas.
Seems we can all get the news we want now, we don’t actually have to hope, pray and work for results any more, just dial in the channel that gives us the results we wish for. Wow, what a country!
This article details an ugly dynamic running underneath the surface story of America -- below the events, the politics, the incessant chatter blocking out thought -- that collectively are thought to capture “real life in these United States.” It is an unbelievably bad news story we tell here. We continue to argue that Democrats are not winning, indeed, cannot win, until they understand the game being run on them and develop a strategy based on that understanding. Here we illuminate several emerging hypotheses about that game. There is some good news: there is a deeper and higher America beyond our politics -- even beyond our history, an essence perhaps best expressed in Lincoln’s “last best hope of earth” description, best personified by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and best exemplified in the continuing fight for human equality. We intend to illuminate that current too -- that we may flow with it over the next two years in what may our last best hope to stave off authoritarianism and tyranny.
This article may seem both radical and a point of departure for us at Revelatur. However, it is a product of the same rigorous, objective systems and intelligence analyses we’ve been conducting since Day 1, and it is long overdue. Perhaps we should have expressed these conclusions to you earlier, but we decided to build trust with our readers before sharing some of our more provocative hypotheses and conclusions.
Maybe you’re as sick as I am about the politicization of every aspect of American life, of being forced to take sides in ridiculous, contrived conflicts, of the sheer exhaustion caused by trying to pretend that’s what’s happening to the America we cherish -- and many of us served faithfully -- is just a bad dream and we’ll be back in Kansas at the end of the movie. The truth is, the U.S. has turned into a shithole country while we watched it all happen.
But as a lifelong organizational leader-practitioner I’ve figured out a few things. One is this -- when faced with a tough situation, the only way out is through. Finessing or “managing” a challenge does not work, makes the problem worse, leaves the next person holding the bag, erodes your integrity, and permanently weakens your “results” muscles. Unfortunately, the trend in the U.S. for the past 50 years has been to do just that -- finesse and manage -- and the trends are visible in all systems and sectors of American life -- from education/academia through the commercial sector and into the public sector. These trends are their own discrete problem, but also collectively constitute a contributing dynamic to the macro socio-political dynamic we focus on in this paper.
Nor does deliberately distracting oneself work. We may desperately want to focus only on family, work, community, problems we can solve, and we should. But the situation the nation faces right now as is grave as all but the Civil War, and inadequate attention to the nation as an entity is the problem, not the solution.
It might be useful to use WeWork as an example of misplaced focus, energy, commitment and hope. BTW, if you haven’t seen the Hulu WeWork documentary, it’s well worth the 1h 42m runtime. The (mostly) millenials who join co-founder Adam Neumann on a surreal, post-logic roller coaster ride of a start-up that reaches mythical unicorn status, falls faster than it rose, and leaves an unhinged charlatan with the business sense of a donkey $1.7B richer, help him energize a unique type of business cult/Ponzi scheme primarily because they were searching for meaning in all the wrong places while trying to get fantastically rich at the same time. The story is the perfect capture of what is wrong with the United States, and of the sheer bankruptcy of neoliberalism, late capitalism, and managed democracy.
The bottom line is this: As long as there are nation states as the primary organizing principle for the expression of hopes and dreams internally, and relations with the aggregate hopes and dreams of others externally, we’ll have to pay attention to, and take great care with, the nation. We cannot entrust its management and outsource our requirements to elected officials, while we focus on more ‘immediate’ areas of concern. That always-ready warm bath is the fallacy and Achilles heel of representative democracy.
The type of care we must continuously provide is not either first, or primarily, political. Rather, it is most effectively captured as an aspirational vector that belongs to all of us. Politics has unfortunately and increasingly become the mechanism in which our individual and collective aspirations are mediated. Current arguments miss, or more accurately, deliberately obscure, the point. Both Republicans and Democrats are arguing about ‘who decides’ – a derivative argument, when the real question has already been decided in 1776 – ‘who decides who decides.’ And what we decided in 1776 is that it is the people who decide who decides -- yes mediated by mechanisms and representatives of our choosing -- but retaining ultimate control. That having been decided, we did not then -- and do not now -- give up our right to answer the “who decides” question simply because the Constitution elaborates a system of representative democracy and the United States has evolved into a two-party system. New Hypothesis 1: It is the failure to understand this argument and distinction that is the heart of our national crisis. We gradually gave up, and are now having to fight again for, what we “won” in 1776!
Because of our Constitution, because all things have become political, and because we have a two-party system, potential solutions and governance alternatives appear to be closed off to us. We are mentally constrained by a worldview in which we defer to our institutions and elected officials as if they were the equivalent of the Ten Commandments. Because of what is known as path dependence, these and other historical factors -- such as legal precedent -- appear to be inevitable and “right.” It’s just that the right is adept at using this worldview against the left, while feeling no reciprocal restraints at all because it is unprincipled by strategic choice. Thus the game we are in, or more accurately the war, is asymmetric -- with advantage to the right.
What else is new to our analysis? New Hypothesis 2: The current level of societal mistrust, discontent and violence stems from the collective realization -- not just that the right has recently executed a soft coup -- but that our political elites of both sides have silently engineered an “attention and reality” coup in which they have us doing their power and economic extraction work for them by establishing a world of false choices with no meaning -- a very clever bread and circuses act. But the cognitive dissonance between what we know deep inside is supposed to be happening and reality is “squirting out” in manifold odd and counter-productive ways. QAon and other conspiracy theories, vaccine resistance, loss of trust in institutions, institutional dysfunction, mass shootings, legal and illegal drug abuse, poor health, these are all to at least some degree exacerbated by cognitive dissonance between national myths and lived reality.
New Hypothesis 3: America is a “failed state” in at least one conception – we’ve failed to stick up for our own values and failed to achieve our potential. A short list of national dysfunctions: Growing economic inequality; the failure to establish justice and control the police; the inability to eliminate mass shootings and logically limit gun ownership; the inability to pass laws,;the unbelievable difficulty getting a few dollars into the hands of the less well off juxtaposed against Fortune 100 companies paying zero taxes; the inability to raise the Minimum Wage and establish a Living Wage; a criminal President avoiding prosecution because of a memo his subordinates wrote; no one held accountable for the 2008 economic crash.
We believe that these things indicate we are also a failed nation state in the most commonly understood sense: we cannot achieve our internal or external objectives –hell, we can’t even agree on them! We keep having shit shoveled at us that this type of political gridlock is the system working! That change is supposed to be slow, etc. That the American two-party system is a good as it gets. Who says! Where does that myth come from, and why does the New York Times perpetuate it? This is simply a lack of analytical rigor, with cowardice and job protection thrown in on top.
What is this deeper and higher America I mentioned? New Hypothesis 4: It is the aspiration to be the first at everything important, the best at everything that matters, the most meaningful political entity that ever existed because we are the best and not because we are the strongest. Such virtuous pursuits unlock potential and inspire people to things like winning the World Wars and the Cold War, and putting people on the moon. I believe that this is what the American people want and need – to pursue these ideals, and in that way become a part of something bigger than themselves. But this is not satisfactory for our elites -- because it does not satisfy their needs for power, control and money. They must instead launder their needs into something that will keep the people on the treadmill. What they’ve given us is the blue pill of managed, highly mediated, “representative” Democracy, capitalism, neoliberalism, myths and propaganda.
The real killer finding: it’s not that 40% of American Trumpists are taking the blue pill, but luckily the other 60% of Americans are taking the red pill. It’s that all 100% are of us are just taking different versions of the blue pill! They’ve hijacked our aspirations, dressed them up in their own policy clothing, and exploited the world’s best economy for their own selfish ends.
They’re enabled by overly hopeful, insufficiently critical American apologists like author Jon Meacham, the Svengali Biden is channeling with his “battle for the soul of the nation” whitewashing characterization of the actual, declared war Republicans are waging on America -- the one Democrats are striving so hard to characterize as a police action that can be “managed.” And we’re aiding and abetting them, because we choose not to pay the price to get below the surface, illuminate and accept reality, and act. Nations do not have a soul; they have principles and continuities. And we are not in a “battle” for the “soul of” the nation. We are in a “war for the nation.” Words matter, they matter greatly, and Biden is either gaslighting us with this phrase or doesn’t get it himself. Either way, big problem.
Democratic party leaders don’t want the total systems change we need to prevent total disaster any more than Republican leaders do. Most of us just continue to hope they do -- no matter the evidence. If they did, Josh Crawley, Ted Cruz, Devin Nunes, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Mitch McConnell would be long gone. It’s not a matter of real world constraints that prevent this from happening -- it’s lack of sufficient desire and intent. They need Matt Gaetz being there to achieve their own objectives -- whether or not they realize it. They’d probably prefer someone less loathsome as a foil, but he’ll do. It’s a systems effect of the joint elite pursuit of power, control and money -- a vicious cycle that demands its own ever-increasing rationality that generates Gaetz -- like the German elites thinking they could control Hitler.
Let’s pause for an important clarification: Democrats are not mirror images of Republicans, just with different constituencies to pander to. There are many thousands of great Americans like Stacey Abrams fighting it out every day with complete understanding of the dire circumstances and high stakes. And many individual players in the political ecosystems -- most of the Democrats in fact -- are only truly guilty of laziness, excessive self-focus, and poor critical thinking. What we are talking about here is both more subtle and more powerful than politics and conspiracies; to wit, the unacknowledged, under-addressed dynamics within and amongst the United States national systems -- political, social, economic, environmental, scientific, health, etc. Re-stated previously articulated Revelatur Hypothesis: The sheer complexity of these systems and their dynamics eludes the understanding of all but a tiny minority of citizens -- and, without sufficient understanding, decisions people make daily are going to be, at best, increasingly ineffective, at worst, counter-productive. We will not overcome our major problems until a much higher percentage of our citizens understand systems thinking. The worse news: this is a three-generation project.
More bad news: New Hypothesis 5: The “system” will not fix itself; the “cycles” of history theory has no basis in fact and will not swing around and save us; the elites cannot and will not fix our problem because they benefit from it; President Biden will not save us -- he doesn’t even understand the game being run on him and thinks in binary, linear political terms rather than in systems terms; national demographic trends will not save us because the right’s strategy for minority rule and managed democracy is winning over the long term even when it faces short-term setbacks.
All the energy going into voting and politics is important, but is a sideshow -- the equivalent of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. The energy going into progressive issues-based organizations is also seminal, but collectively it constitutes the Pacific Theater World War II equivalent. The real battle will have to be over a new front -- that of reestablishing the role of the American people within a flourishing participative Democracy. This effort will be like the European Theater in multiple aspects -- seminal, risk-laden, resource-intensive, collaborative, and ultimately decisive.
The elites will not give away power willingly -- they’ll promise us anything to keep us taking the blue pill. They’ll have to be forced off their perches and into power sharing arrangements satisfactory to the people.
What does the new front look like? Most importantly is a national political reengagement through participative democracy**, a power-sharing complement to representative democracy noted by voluntary, domain and/or issues-based citizen groups sponsored by and/or cooperatively connected to political parties and/or representatives at municipal, state and national levels, that advocate for political policies and actions based on deep, broad-based/inclusive deliberations. The important distinctions between participative democracy efforts and the advocacy groups that currently exist are that participative democracy groups: are deliberately inclusive and broad-based, which increases their political power and legitimacy; and have a defined, pre-determined relationship with political entities that increase the likelihood of recommendation adoption. This is our going forward “Mechanism Vector.”
**”Participative democracy is a model of democracy in which citizens are provided power to make political decisions. Etymological roots of democracy (Greek demos and kratos) imply that the people are in power, making all democracies participatory to some degree. However, participatory democracy tends to advocate greater citizen participation and more direct representation than traditional representative democracy. For example, the creation of governing bodies through a system of sortition, rather than election of representatives, is thought to produce a more participatory body by allowing citizens to hold positions of power themselves. Some scholars argue for refocusing the term on community-based activity within the domain of civil society, based on the belief that a strong non-governmental public sphere is a precondition for the emergence of a strong liberal democracy. These scholars tend to stress the value of separation between the realm of civil society and the formal political realm. Wikipedia.
Second, a national effort to inculcate systems thinking. Participative democracy can’t work without literate, numerate, critical thinkers who understand systems effects. But for that matter, neither can any other type of democracy! The Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” tag line is sort of right, although “Democracy Dies in Ignorance” would be more accurate. As we mentioned, it will take a while to get all the way to where we need to be, but any movement in this direction helps, and things won’t get appreciably better until we do. This is our going forward “Education Vector.”
Finally, we must make rapid and recognizable progress on the justice front using the mechanisms already in place, augmented by the first participative democracy efforts. We need to make demonstrable progress on: tax, income and wealth inequalities; justice inequality between white collar and common criminality; police violence and policing disparities; voting rights; voting power disparities; and eliminating legal impunity for the powerful. This is our going forward Inspiration Vector. Absent this effort the good people of this country will lose heart just when we need them the most.
Doing these things requires more willpower than new knowledge -- in fact we already know how to do these things in general terms. Doing them will buy us time to get the other things done; because people will see the progress they desire and realize that our situation is dire but not futile. And that state of mind is what has characterized all the great citizen stories of history. Doing these things with participative democracy mechanisms will establish citizen buy-in, inspire a growing number of people, and generate momentum -- establishing a virtuous cycle powerful enough to overcome the vicious cycles we experience now.
How does this thing get started? Well, don’t look now, but it already has. Stacey Abrams’ “Fair Fight,” “Indivisible,” the NAACP, and dozens of other progressive organizations are fighting, learning, developing best practices that can be scaled, and developing leaders who can extend the battlefield and bring ore soldiers to the fight. Few true participative democracy entities are engaged now in the U.S, but they are thriving in Western Europe -- their lessons learned can be harvested by U.S. entities. The recent surge of support and membership in left, liberal, progressive and Democratic Party organizations is clear evidence that the demand is there for participative democracy.
A combination of conditions has held American citizens back from full-throated advocacy for participative democracy: belief in the myth that we are already the world’s best democracy; our irrational disdain for all things foreign; our governance system; our disdain/denigration of volunteer work and excessive focus on paid work that leaves us little extra energy, among others. But the biggest problem is that the natural leader of a participative democracy coalition -- the Democratic Party -- has no long-term strategy and thus no place to strategically “insert” this energy. Further, as a kingpin in a two-party system with unlimited money flows; the party also has little inclination to expand the tent and share the wealth. The party will have to be forced to share power and make deals, when initially it will not appear to members that they gain much from doing so. Political contributions, primary challengers, constituent pressure can and must all be leveraged to open the tent flap, but it will still be a fight when it should be willing cooperation.
Finally, leverage will come as the Democratic Party belatedly comes to realize that they are in a declared, long-term asymmetric war with Republicans who are conducting an armed political-military-social insurgency and offering only Unconditional Surrender as its terms. Current indications are that Democrats are a long way from accepting this reality, which means even further from doing something about it.
Hope without action is wishful thinking. Mediating hope through politicians is abdication and abnegation. The right manifests their cognitive dissonance through nihilism, the left through outrage and indignation. Neither path is healthy or productive -- both are types of surrender and cowardice. Look, we may have been given a “die in place” mission as we termed it in the Army. If so, let’s at least go down fighting, we owe that to those who came before us, and those who are yet to come.