Monday, August 18, 2014

Limits of democracy

Bernard Parks said on Meet the Press yesterday that the people of Ferguson, Missouri, need to engage in the democratic process to elect people who better represent their interests. This assumes the people of Ferguson’s interests are worth pursuing. If their interests are ignoble, as their automatic presumption of police officer Darren Wilson’s guilt suggests, as their 9 days of rioting and looting suggests, perhaps they should eschew the democratic process and look first to better themselves.

Of course, the people who most need to heed that advice are the ones more disposed to not heed it.

Where do political leaders come from? They come from the people. They rise to the top of their social networks by reflecting the group’s values and earning the group’s trust. If you want better leaders, you don’t start with voting. It’s too late then. You start with becoming a better people from which a better candidate arises. That’s easier said than done.

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar struggles with the warlike Koba for alpha status in their group. Caesar is better than the apes he leads. The apes want war with the humans, a primal sentiment Koba taps into. Caesar wants peace with the humans. His leadership slips because, although he is the strongest ape, he doesn’t represent the group’s views re: the humans. When Caesar dies (or so they think), Koba easily rallies the apes to war.

On the human side, Malcolm also wants peace between the apes and humans, but he’s doesn’t lead the group. Dreyfus, who thinks more clearly in terms of us versus them, leads the group. Dreyfus as leader himself understands the limits of his position. If war is what the humans want, it’s war they’ll get. The best he can do is to lead them once their collective mind is made up. When Malcolm thwarts his plan to deliver a final solution to their ape problem, Dreyfus is incredulous. “They’re animals!” he shouts.

He’s wrong. They’re actually a lot like the humans. They can’t be trusted to not attack a threat to their existence. Malcolm’s hope for peace rests on Caesar being able to reverse ape instinct, and on himself being able to reserve human instinct. Two sides so predisposed, living in close proximity, are doomed to fight.

Caesar was naïve in believing he could trust the humans, whom Koba wisely predicted yearned to return to life as it used to be, with humans on top and apes below. Caesar’s climactic victory over Koba changes nothing, as he ends up adopting the same war policy Koba advocated all along.

After much internecine fighting, the apes and the humans get the leaders they deserve. The upper limit of democracy is the people.

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