Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Creature of American Democracy Battered and Hunted under President Trump

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—American democracy has been badly injured and is in hiding as a result of Donald Trump’s being elected president of the United States.

There have since been scattered sightings of Democracy across the country. At midnight in Pasadena, an elderly woman reported seeing a battered, hunched figure with a mangled face, crawling in the alley behind her small house. The creature claimed to be none other than Democracy itself, the very creature that had formerly appeared angelic to the nation.

The humanoid begged for water and to be sung the national anthem, “to keep my spirits up,” as it croaked, but instead of obliging, the woman kicked Democracy in the groin and spat on its blistered head.

“You’re American Democracy and you have the gall to show your face in public, even in a filthy back alley like this?” she said. “When you’re responsible for inflicting us with Trump? Trump?! You were supposed to be meritocratic!”

Democracy slinked away, avoiding further blows, but not before the woman had her daughter take a picture of the creature. The photograph made headlines when she sent it to the local newspaper.

The creature was sighted next by a father and his young son, in New York City. “It was just lying on its back on the side of the road,” said the man. “It looked like a cross between a big lizard and some sort of demon, with twisted, ragged bat wings, a bulbous head and a hunched back. Its scaly hide was bruised all over and blood was flowing from its ears and its gaping maw.”

The boy ran up to Democracy and offered it a sip from his juice box, but his father pulled him aside and said, “Not so fast, son. That there’s Democracy—not a functioning government’s version, mind you, but the made-in-the-US kind. It’s dead to us now.”

“But why can’t we help the poor monster?” asked his son. “It’s bleeding and gasping for air. It should be on life support in the hospital.”

“This is what it deserves for lying to us for centuries! We were supposed to have the best political system in the world, devised by the genius framers of our Constitution. Some geniuses they were! The Electoral College was designed to prevent a demagogic buffoon from becoming president, but it did just the opposite, denying the moderate Hillary Clinton victory even though she won the popular vote by millions.

“No, steer clear of the traitorous freak, son. We’ll have nothing more to do with American-style democracy. But you can kick its belly if you want.”

Some months later, in Youngstown, Ohio, a trio of middle-aged white men who supported Mr. Trump came upon the hobbling and wheezing figure of Democracy.

Clapping the creature on the back, one of the men said, “See, you’re just wounded now, but don’t worry: Trump and the alt right will finish you off for good before his first term’s up. Serves you right for all your related platitudes about the glories of free trade and globalization! Trump proved the centrist, neoliberal pundits and pollsters and your other guardians knew nothing and were phonies all along—just like the dream of American democracy itself, since our government is effectively a plutocracy that serves only the richest ten percent.

“No more lies out of you, infernal beast!” The man slammed Democracy against a brick wall, shouting, “You’ve shown us your true, hideous form. We can’t wait for patriotic fascists to take American power from the bureaucrats and bankers and give it back to hard-working real Americans, like how Putin saved Russia from the outbreak of liberty and the rise of corrupt oligarchs under Yeltsin.”

Briella Lamonte, lecturer at the Machiavelli Institute, in Lick Skillet, Tennessee, isn’t surprised that Democracy is on the run. “The myth of Democracy needs to be fed like the gods of old,” she said. “A myth dies when it has few if any to worship what it stands for. For decades, America has had the lowest voter turnout among developed nations. We have gerrymandering, voter suppression, and a revolving door between the public and private sectors, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the political system and only two measly, pro-establishment parties that ever have a chance of winning.

“And despite what the myth promised, that maximum personal freedom would benefit the majority, few Americans believe it anymore because they’ve seen their towns crumble and their wages stagnate, even while the military tried to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq, of all places, or while Obama gave the Wall Street bankers a green light to keep holding the economy hostage.

“American democracy isn’t what we thought it was,” she added. “It’s actually a terrifying disgrace and the public have a right to shun it. They don’t vote anymore, or if they do they hold their nose or send the power elites a self-destructive protest in the form of a psychopathic ignoramus like Donald Trump. So yeah, maybe we’ll catch sight of Democracy now and again, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. But I don’t think American freedom can survive much longer, not after it’s spoiled the illusion by giving us the Bush and Trump fiascos.” 


  1. Should we mourn the ideal of democracy in your view? It seems to me that American democracy has certainly been a farce for decades at least, and as you've pointed out elsewhere, there are deeper contradictions between democracy and capitalism (Athens did not believe very much in individual liberty, perhaps in part because the framers of that system understood this contradiction, granted that Milton Friedman has pointed out that State Planning economics has an even more powerful contradiction with democracy as well) and there are also conflicts between democracy and humans' irrational nature, but still, democracy works much better in other countries, at least relatively, so the ideal of democracy cannot be blamed for the farce playing out in America. I mean, don't ask me how America at this point could be turned into an actual, functioning democracy, or in other words where the energy and leadership for a movement to do so would come from, but as much of a distorted fraud as American democracy is currently, nonetheless dictatorship, fascism and totalitarianism still all seem much worse to me- except I guess in the sense that they get down to business rather than bothering with the depressing hypocrisy, platitudes and bad political theatre. I mean I don't think current Americans *deserve* self-rule, but very little in the American society and economy trains or encourages them to develop the competence to deserve self-rule, and mostly does the opposite, and I'm not sure how that situation could be changed. I'm not sure what it would take, or if its even possible to create a functional democracy in the U.S. at this point. Still, the final death of democracy in America seems even more depressing than what is currently happening. I say this as an American who strongly dislikes both being treated like cattle, treating others like cattle, and living amongst people content being treated like or behaving like cattle. In any case, my question is whether the ideal of democracy and self-rule is something that should be mourned, and if not, what sort of political system you think we should invest hope in instead, following from your form of humanism and aesthetic ethics.

    1. Well, you've certainly sized up the problem. I did write this satirical piece with the intention of saddening the reader about what's been done to American democracy: it's become a monster that must be put down. But it's like being faced with the task of terminating your own child, something you've helped create but that's turned out evil. Revolutionizing your political system amounts to collective suicide with the hope of rebirth. It must be a scary prospect that takes not just courage but the madness of a creative vision. So that's what the neoliberal defenders of the status quo should want to stifle: creativity in the young generation, or at least the kind that isn't channeled or wasted by the system.

      Should we mourn the demise of authentic democracy? The ideal of democracy assumes something like a realization of polytheism. The voters are all supposed to be godlike in their self-control. The more godlike we are, though, the more we're tempted to corrupt ourselves by our power, which leads to a clash between the gods, as typically happens in the polytheistic myths.

      Should power and knowledge be equally distributed? Is that progressive or naive? This already happened with feminism and the fight for civil rights for African-Americans, for example. Those revolutions did improve the situation, especially for women, but equality was never perfectly established. African-Americans largely went from being slaves to wage slaves or to prisoners addicted to drugs, with broken families.

      I'm not sure the question about the best political system is the key question to ask. What really matters is the cultural character of the population we're dealing with. Who are Americans, generally speaking? What makes them different from Europeans? The answer to that question, rather than just a focus on historical accidents should illuminate why the two democratic systems went in different directions.

      Americans are bolder, since theirs is a younger nation founded by almost-reckless pioneers. They had to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps and thus as I think Morris Berman points out in Why America Failed, Americans are essentially hustlers and flimflam artists, which is why Donald Trump is their Jungian shadow. This is to say that America isn't just built on a fraud; Americans are inclined to con themselves and others, instead of being realistic like the depressed Russians or the dour Germans.

      These sorts of cultural questions are more interesting to me, because a population with the right sort of culture can make the best out of even a flawed or risky political system. But what happens when you maximize freedom (capitalism and democracy) in a country populated by generations of hucksters? You wind up with the "postmodern" disconnect from reality, with at least a third being a lost cause in terms of their cognitive capacity and brainwashing (Fox News, Evangelical Christianity, etc).

      Perhaps the key question isn't about the best political system in the abstract, but the best fit between a political system and a particular culture. Given that Americans have such and such cultural ideals and character traits, which political system would allow Americans to thrive rather than to self-destruct? Alternatively, we might ask how a cultural character itself can change. And which such character is best? I'm still working out my answers to these big questions, which is what my blog is for. Maybe I should write on this, since that's how I figure out what I should believe, by writing through my thoughts. So thanks for your comment!

    2. I get the feeling that America's huckster culture itself is part of what makes this a possibility. Malcolm X for example started out as a master hustler and con-artist on the streets of Harlem, and after having some time to think in prison, used those very skills to shock millions of African Americans into viewing themselves as dignified human beings capable of self-discipline, intelligence, education and self-respect. Ironically he did it precisely by marketing the preposterous delusions of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X had to brazenly promote shameless nonsense in order to convince Americans to have a sense of shame and dignity, and arguably the strategy had a lasting and positive impact on the self-respect and ambitions of millions of people (even if his success was far less complete than what he aimed for). If Malcolm X could harness the ideology of the NOI into a force for scientific and historical literacy, drug addict treatment, education, and successful promotion of self-respect, economic independence and self-discipline, it may be possible to harness postmodern delusions in a similar way, riding the tiger in the Tantric sense. I'm not sure exactly how to do this however. I suspect you are right it would take the madness of a creative vision to pull off. It could definitely go wrong very quickly as well. Malcolm X of course was assassinated, probably by the NOI he promoted after he broke with them. In other words the tiger- the American predisposition to conning oneself and others and indulging in delusions- ate him. The anonymity and decentralization of power in internet movements could help overcome the physical vulnerability that took down Malcolm X, as well as the vulnerability to corruption which overtakes many others, but could create other problems.

    3. I think you are right it is naive for power to be equally distributed, though I would add that I think it makes much more sense to distribute power based on knowledge, competence, self-discipline and ideas held, than based on characteristics such as race or sex. Obviously this is easier said than done in practice. With regard to the situation of African Americans, this I think is primarily because the civil rights movement was only partially successful. As Frederick Douglass argued, prisons were already being used intentionally as a way to re-enslave African Americans in the 19th century, and in some States, for-profit prisons still run cotton plantations in which the workers are disproportionately African American and are not paid for their work, while in many other States prisons only pay them a fraction of the federal minimum wage, since the 13th Amendment never outlawed slavery as a punishment for a crime, instead specifically exempting this form of slavery as a legitimate and legal practice. Aggressively for-profit policing and ticketing regimes are very common across the U.S. as well, and also disproportionately affect African Americans, while drug addiction is largely a function of the combined poverty and discrimination faced by most African Americans, just as it is ravaging large parts of the rest of the American population, especially the unemployed and poor. Of course this is not to say there are not also cultural factors involved, but the failure of the civil rights movement to create racial equality in the US is hardly an argument against civil rights, since they were never fully or consistently implemented to the extent that feminism has been, and we thus can't know what would have happened if they had been. At any rate that is my view, I am interested in what you think.

    4. Your Malcolm X example interesting, and I hadn't thought about the benefits of his approach to African-Americans. I expect the superficial rationalism of Islam in general could snap folks out of consumerist stupor. Qutb took this further in his Wahhabism or fundamentalism, which likewise leads to militancy.

      As for the idea of likewise creatively shaking people out of certain delusions, this is sort of what I was getting at in my recent article on Millennials. Tragically, they may be too molly-coddled to exploit their hustler mentality and expertise in communications technology, to stage much of a revolution against the neoliberal status quo. Malcolm X had to suffer in prison before he became radicalized, as did Qutb. By contrast, Millennials are spoiled. Maybe the next generation...

    5. Regarding civil rights and equality, the problem is with biology. You're right that it's not really about race or gender. It's about the status of social classes. It's about dominance hierarchies, pecking order, and social dominance theory. Someone's got to pay for the creation of gods, that is, for the concentration of power in a cabal of plutocrats. It's a problem symbolized by the geometric form of the pyramid. For the upper one or ten percent to sit at the apex of the pyramid, to enjoy the benefits of such vast equality, including the benefit of being indirectly worshiped by their inferiors, the masses must of course be confined to a separate class at the pyramid's base.

      So indeed drug addiction is a good example, because it's now disproportionately affecting white Americans. What the opiate-addicted whites have in common with the crack-cocaine-addicted blacks is their economic class. They're the losers of American capitalism or globalization. As Thomas Frank well explains, the Democrats stopped representing the blue collar workers who would be destined to lose in global capitalism, starting with Clinton's NAFTA deal. So now Trump pretends to represent the lower class, but Trump is obviously no self-sacrificing Batman, so he'll leave them to languish as he struts and prances for the adoration by his "base of support" (notice the pyramid allusion).

      The poor have always been left to suffer in the US, at least since American's post-WWII advantage subsided, when other nations caught up, starting in the seventies. Both American political parties are what we'd call neoliberal, meaning they're pro-globalization and pro-capitalism. As I try to explain in my articles on the hidden difference between liberals and conservatives, capitalism is all about harnessing natural processes, as opposed to transcending them with anomalous (virtually miraculous) acts of creativity (e.g. communism, which failed, or with the New Deal, which succeeded but which has since been wrecked by both parties). So capitalism is about selfishness and competition, and any purely natural power struggle in a large animal group is bound by the informal Law of Oligarchy to form dominance hierarchies as a way of stabilizing (and rationalizing) the power distribution. That's the natural source of economic inequality and of class divisions. So yeah, it's not about skin colour, although the downtrodden may resort to scapegoating to preserve their self-esteem.

    6. Regarding Malcolm X, the superficial rationalism of Islam and of the NOI (Nation of Islam) I think you are right that this superficial rationalism can be very successful in displacing consumerism, and I also think that despite being superficial, it encourages a lifestyle and values which are more likely to eventually lead to existential crisis and authenticity than the continuation of consumerism. The NOI's own strict code of ethics and encouragement of searching for truth was what eventually forced Malcolm X to abandon the NOI and convert to Sunni Islam. Reading his biography, one gets the feeling that had he lived a bit longer, with his deep contempt for hypocrisy and his voracious appetite for rigorous scientific literature and history, he might have evolved further and begun to question Islam itself, but now in a state of mind so transformed by the NOI and Sunni Islam that he could never return to consumerism or hedonism, and still deeply committed to a form of humanism that even in the NOI's formulation, was not far from atheist humanism.

      When Malcolm X joined them and throughout his involvement with them, the NOI among other things believed that there was no life after death, that heaven, hell and redemption were states of mind and ways of life, that Islam was valuable because of the transformation it created in this life, that God was an immortal but physical, living scientist with a human body who created humans trillions of years ago through scientific means, and that the day of judgement would be a naturalistic event brought about through the discipline of humans. It is these sorts of beliefs that make the NOI interesting to me, even if they were incorrect in the specifics, and despite their racialist conspiracies, which included that the white race was created by a mad scientist through an ancient eugenics program, and which seems to have been one of their major selling points.

      Despite this nonsense and problems with cults of personality, I still see the NOI as it existed during Malcolm X's involvement, and through the lens of his autobiography, as a potential model for how to exploit American hucksterism against itself, subverting consumerism and hedonism by using appeals to people's grievances and hopes, and promises of a better life, to convince them to take up a new and more dignified way of life as a condition to get the promised goods. By the time they realize there is nothing magical about the movement, or even if they know that from the beginning and come because they see the changes the method produces in people, they already have the skills and self-discipline to improve their lives on their own, and they have too much knowledge and self-respect to return to consumerism. Even if it doesn't result in a fully authentic life for most exposed to such a movement, it will still create a dramatic and positive spiritual change in that direction, especially as word spreads about people the idea has uplifted mentally and physically. Of course there are dangers here as well, notably that the NOI took on many qualities of a cult, and concentrated immense power in its leaders, which they went on to abuse. I'm not endorsing the NOI model at all, but I think there is a lot to learn from it, and especially from Malcolm X's transformation through it. Notably, I'd be interested in something like the NOI that managed to make promises of better lives through self-discipline and education without the use of conspiracy theories or cults of personality, and which maintained consistent quality while avoiding the concentration of authority which proved to be the NOI's downfall as a mass movement. Perhaps avoiding politicization would not be a bad idea for a new movement as well, if the primary aim is to provoke a mass spiritual/existential awakening. Some form of increased demand for autonomy, education and social-economic reform would likely follow naturally from such an awakening without having to be advocated for by the initial movement.

    7. I don't know much about Qutb, but his ideas seem very different from Malcolm X's from reading his wikipedia page. In particular his humanism seems much more limited than Malcolm X's, who did not limit humanism to Muslims, but extended it to all those capable of behaving human and treating others as such on a basic level. In addition, Malcolm X's militancy was much more exclusively defensive than Qutb's seems to be. Malcolm X was not an advocate of conquest. Malcolm X also suffered throughout his life, primarily before going to prison, whereas Qutb seems to have had a very good life prior to prison. This makes Qutb's anti-consumerism more surprising, at least at first glance.

      I understand social dominance theory, but my point about who ends up where in the pyramid still holds. Yes, racism is a convenient form of social control in the sense that it divides the population, making them easier to control, but the cost of this particular system of domination, or for that matter traditional sexism, is much greater than that of the power pyramid itself, since it leaves many of the most intelligent and interesting minds with a much lower chance of being heard or educated. There is nothing in social dominance theory as I
      understand it that prevents the pyramid from being reasonably meritocratic, provided psychopathy is considered a "merit" if it accompanies intelligence. Of course the rich will get richer unless they are clueless or don't want their wealth, but the most intelligent, creative or motivated among the poor may be able to ascend the pyramid as well if they are lucky and the elite permit it. Racism and sexism do away with this possibility, and unlike the Iron Law of Oligarchy, racism and sexism are not really inevitable even in a purely natural power struggle, at most they are merely convenient and consequently very difficult to dislodge if the power elite want them to continue. The same is true of formal aristocratic privilege, which has been dislodged by the bourgeoisie quite effectively. Dogs for example quickly form into a power pyramid, but racism is absent and sexism a matter of interpretation depending on how sexism is defined. The origins of racism and sexism in human societies too seem largely accidental, and vary widely geographically and historically in intensity and form in a way that the power pyramid arguably does not. Or do you think this variation is anomalous (in terms of the logic of the system, not what skin color or other coded physical trait happens to be seen as inferior in a given historical epoch or location)? Not all societies seem to have the strict outgroups that racist or sexist societies have, and the power pyramid seems to function just as well in those societies, albeit with a bit more economic equality correlating with societies that view themselves as more homogenous.

    8. Again, thanks for these points. I'll have to reflect on them when I write up my thoughts on matching a political system to a culture or ethos. The article will come out sometime within the next few articles, since I also want to write a dialogue on Neil deGrasse Tyson's view of science's role in society, and an article on feminist epistemology.

      I believe racism indeed is an accidental social construction and thus convenient, as you said, for rationalizing material inequalities. More important than race is class to dominance hierarchies. Sexism is likely more hard-wired than racism or at least it's empirically-driven, because there are differences between the sexes. Culture, though, exacerbates these differences.

  2. Hmm there is a lot to think about here. I think you are right about Americans generally being hucksters, though the flip side of this is that they tend to be more inclined to take individual initiative, be independent, and creatively invent and jimmy-rig solutions to problems than is the case in some other countries I've lived in, hence the perception that in America anything is possible as a result of the sheer brazenness of the culture, which has some truth. What sort of political system could keep this sort of culture from self-destructing? I would guess a system that promoted competition in the economy and an open civil society, while being paternal and authoritarian in politics to prevent some organized hustle or confidence-man from taking control of the government. Any watchmen placed in charge of such a system (such as the corporate governance Yarvin seems to propose, or the rule of some competent strongman) would inevitably be corrupted. Yarvin argues though that provided this corruption could be kept within the bounds of personal profit and pleasure, however unlimited, then as in Imperial Rome or elsewhere, it might still serve effectively to maintain order for a very long time. Of course, if it was implemented wrong, or perhaps even if it was implemented well, this sort of thing could lead to totalitarianism or civil war sooner or later. It would not be very surprising to me if this is what eventually happens. On the other hand it would not surprise me if the plutocracy continues either. In either case, democracy will continue to play out as a ritual and as theatre, just as the emperors kept the trappings of the Republic, while true democracy fades from memory. I think these are the two most likely scenarios, but I find them both uninspiring, most centrally because they imply a resignation to the cognitive incompetence and delusion of the vast majority, and essentially their dehumanization. However unlikely to succeed, it seems more inspiring to me to explore how the American cultural character could change and become more authentic in the existential/absurdist sense, in order to rejuvenate its capacity and desire for responsibility, dignity, and self-rule (in some form). Your comment has helped me clarify my thoughts a bit, so thank you! That said, I am young and inexperienced, and probably I am missing something. It seems to me that democracy in the individualist US assumes polytheism yes, but I think that is only one of many possible assumptions a democracy could make. Rousseau for example assumed something more akin to Vedantic faux-polytheism, where all the gods are just incarnated aspects of the Godhead (Sovereign). Both of these assumptions seem quite dubious, but if you are right that some European cultures can make the best out of democratic systems with inherent risks, flaws and contradictions, then this implies that it is possible to at least significantly lessen the disparity between the polytheistic (etc.) democratic myths and the reality. Much of this may have to do with a country's foundation and defining cultural events in its history, but this just implies a major crisis may be necessary to galvanize this sort of change. America does seem to be in crisis, and with many more crises on the horizon for various reasons, not least among them climate change and various tensions with foreign powers. What kind of activity do you think could promote the sort of spiritual awakening necessary for Americans to acquire a desire and capacity to be more godlike and cognitively disciplined?

    1. I think I will write an article on this question, to help clarify my thoughts. You raise many apt points which I'll have to consider.

      I agree that Americans are traditionally pragmatic, but those days may be mostly gone, as American culture has changed. The hucksters and demagogues are the problem-solvers, but the masses are lazy consumers.

      My point about cultural character is relevant to the comparison between the US and ancient Rome, because the Romans were imperialists and were driven to hold foreign territory. The Romans were thus more comparable to the British Empire, since the British likewise were cosmopolitan in granting some rights to those they ruled, which is partly why the Romans hung around the conquered lands, to preserve the Pax Romana (e.g. Rome's toleration of Judaism; ancient cosmopolitanism in the West derived from Alexander the Great). This is all in contrast to the minimalist American Empire. Compare how England ruled India to how the Bush presidents and the neoconservatives attempted to rule Iraq, and there we see the cultural contrast. This is a point made by the economist Niall Fergusson, who recommends the US be more like the British Empire.

      I'd apply what I said in the comment above, about oligarchy, the natural concentration of power, and dominance hierarchies to this problem of harnessing cultural strengths with a political system to avoid self-destruction. I suppose Yarvin trusts that capitalist rulers would be bound by market logic to take responsibility for their inevitable corruption, in which case they'd be fired by the shareholders who are interested only in maximizing their profit.

      I think this is ludicrously unrealistic. Both communism and some such universalized capitalism would require a change in human nature to make them work. Just as we see in current boardrooms, the less the market is regulated, the more the CEO insulates himself by picking the very board members who are supposed to be holding him to account. Thus he can fail upwards and is awarded with the golden parachute after he selfishly drives his company into the ground, having cared only about short-term stock prices. This is a systemic problem in the United States, because of its deregulation since the 1980s.

      The point about polytheism was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, of course. The idea would be not that Americans are literally polytheists, but that they're effectively so, in so far as religion only heralds what's to come as a result of human effort. Like science fiction, religious myths reflect only what we're collectively doing. So the real gods have always been only human rulers. In that sense, polytheism is relevant to aristocracy, but also to the ideal of democracy, because polytheism assumes an equal sharing of power.

      It stands to reason that a crisis would be needed to change either an individual's or a collective's character. But keep an eye out for my article on this, where I'll attempt to answer the great questions you've asked at more length.

    2. I am looking forward to your article! Perhaps it is best if I wait and respond then to these points.

      At any rate I will say that I am aware your point about polytheism is a metaphor, a provocative way of making your point, but I think that it is nonetheless basically correct. It shouldn't surprise us that some of the most democratic mythopoetic societies were polytheists, economic and political myths also herald what's to come as a result of human effort. An example of a political myth that resembles polytheism is Public Choice Theory, which seems to be something like what you are assuming. An example of a political myth that resembles the Christian Trinity is Hobbes' social contract theory in the Leviathan, which claims that rather than many perfectly rational interested agents competing, they are instead uniting under the collective will of the Sovereign, which is explicitly seen in this theory as literally an incarnation of the collective Public, taking the place of the Father, whereas the People follow his orders as the Son, both collectively as the Head of Christ and individually as part of the Body of Christ, while the State Church directs their moral development as the Holy Ghost. Rousseau created a collectivist democratic theory more akin to Vedantic theology (or Rousseau's version of Deism) with its millions of incarnations of the one God in his The Social Contract. In Hobbes case at least, this was more than a metaphor, he really believed that he was describing a mortal God, which is why the majority of the Leviathan is a treatise on theology which only seems relevant to the main idea of the book when that idea is understood while taking seriously the theological terms Hobbes uses to describe them. My point is that just as Hobbes approach mirrored the Christian beliefs of his society, American belief in Public Choice Theory or something like it is a reflection of the close similarity between consumerist ideology and literal polytheism. Guy Debord makes this comparison in Society of the Spectacle, where he describes products being marketed all as if each product were the meaning of life (if you buy it, youll be happy forever, your family will love you, you'll be popular and sexy, etc.), and yet all of them are being marketed this way at once, jealously competing with one another for the adoration of the masses, not unlike the old polytheistic gods, and performing a similar function. Likewise it shouldn't be surprising that in a scientistic and materialistic society, the expression of polytheistic worship would take this form, rather than the offering of money and sacrifices to the gods as in older and more mythopoetic days. I really believe that this comparison between political myth and religious myth is more than metaphorical (obviously this doesn't mean I think that Public Choice Theory or any of the others are something other than invented myths, despite their intuitive appeal and broad explanatory value).

    3. Public Choice Theory, I take it, is like neoliberalism in that it subordinates politics to economics. The idea is that the market always knows best, which is as dubious as democracy. In any case, I don't quite see how polytheism would match up well with this political system, unless everyone in the market were considered implicitly godlike. The Hindu version of polytheism might match with that, since that religion has millions of gods. A more manageable polytheism likely goes better with an aristocracy or an oligarchy, since there you have a pantheon of power elites.

      In point of fact, American culture is largely Christian, and Christianity is polytheistic, the homage to Jewish monotheism notwithstanding. Moreover, the US political system is effectively plutocratic, since its democracy is dysfunctional. So there is that match between political reality and theological rationalization. Obviously, the match isn't perfect, since the Christian religion is anachronistic.

      Actually, the article I'm working on now addresses this, since it discusses the ways in which cults and cultures are religious, including so-called secular humanism.