We go back and forth often here at OpenLeft about how to build a movement, why mass movements are necessary especially at crisis times like this, and how to best use the movement we're building for positive change. But it's important to note from time to time that there are many loud voices who explicitly insist that any mass movement - any real popular input into key government actions - is bad. Some of these folks are liberal, others are conservative - but all of them have a devout belief in an eliteocracy - an unquestioned rule by a Very Serious elite class of so-called "experts" that supposedly should be strengthened in times of crisis. In the eliteocracy, the citizens being ruled are impediments, not participants.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com gives us just about the best example of what a proponent of eliteocracy really believes. Here is a snippet of his screed today, demanding progressives stop opposing trillion-dollar handouts to Wall Street, STFU, and listen to the same so-called "experts" who created this crisis in the first place:
This is neither the time nor the place for mass movements -- this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts (and I'm not one of them) have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is (and they haven't yet), then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them -- do whatever you can to remove them from the playing field. But we're not at that stage yet.
There are many flawed rationales and insults to democracy inherent in this advice.
|The big flaw in rationale, of course, is the entire concept of "expert opinion." What exactly is "expert opinion?" That term usually refers to the Very Serious People the Establishment and Media Say Are Experts - that is, people like the Wall Street CEOs in front of Congress and people like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner - all who had direct hands in destroying the economy. Silver - incredibly - would have us simply wait for this "expert opinion" to tell us what to do, without any regard for the fact that this "expert opinion" is exactly what got us into the situation we're in.
And worse, once these Masters of the Universe hand down their edicts to us, Silver wants us to simply go into battle for their priorities - again, without any questions about who they are serving, what they are doing, and their past record of screwing us over. By this logic, if "expert opinion" from Summers, Geithner and K Street says cut more no-strings-attached checks to Wall Street - and if progressive economists like Dean Baker or Paul Krugman sound the alarm - Silver would have us "do whatever we can to remove" Baker and Krugman from the playing field.
But what's even worse than the economic strategy is the assumption of how our government is supposed to work. Silver is effectively arguing that being a citizen in a democracy means taking orders from those in power, and not questioning those in power. We are all just supposed to follow blindly as the Very Serious People in Washington and on Wall Street tell us what to do.
Last I checked, had America declared that the Great Depression was "neither the time nor the place for mass movements" but instead "the time for expert opinion," we wouldn't have had most of the New Deal policies that Roosevelt was forced by mass movements to pass. Last I checked, America in the 1960s deferred to precisely the kind of "expert opinion" from the so-called "Best and Brightest" and we lost 50,000 lives to the Vietnam War - and we would have lost more if mass movements hadn't rejected eliteocratic thinking and challenged the government's actions. And last I checked, mass movements and expert input are not inherently mutually exclusive or at loggerheads: great mass movements of our history were pressuring government at the same time very smart experts were advising leaders in that government. There doesn't have to be conflict between the two - the only people who insist that there must be are those who ideologically oppose the concept of mass public involvement in government decisions (ie. eliteocrats).
Let's be clear: Silver isn't the only one who pushes an eliteocratic view of the world - not even close. I only cite his comments because they are a perfectly distilled version of the ideology. But the ideology is everywhere. Anytime you turn on a television or read a newspaper, you are effectively being told that you, the average citizen, is too stupid and too powerless to even have an opinion on anything, and that the only valid opinions are those that come from Establishment-approved sources (who, of course, tend to push policies that buttress the Establishment).
Let me also add that I'm not pushing anti-intellectualism here at all. I believe there are actual "experts" that should be listened to (Krugman, Reich, Roubini, Baker, Galbraith, Mishel, etc.) - but these tend to be the real experts who are specifically rejected from "expert opinion" as that term is typically defined. And I also believe that while yes, we should promote and listen to the real experts, we as a movement shouldn't simply defer to them. To paraphrase Saul Alinsky, truly progressive people fundamentally believe that the goal of a democracy should be to empower the population to make decisions for itself (or at least have input into those decisions) - and further, that when the population is empowered, it tends to make the right calls.
And so I'll close by flipping Silver's advice on its head. This is neither the time nor the place for those who say America should STFU and simply take orders, and this is not the time for "expert opinion" if "expert opinion" is (as the term always is) defined as "Establishment opinion." We've been there, done that, and gotten shitted on because we took this kind of advice for way too long. It's time that mass movements assert their will, and if there's any set of people who should STFU, it shouldn't be mass movements, as Silver suggests - it should be power-worshiping sycophants of the eliteocracy.