Discover more from Panocracy
Beware the technocrats – Lord Ritchie Calder
Ritchie Calder's diatribe was delivered in a popular BBC early evening magazine programme that used to air in the 1960s – when the BBC still had considerable credibility as an unbiased broadcaster. So the idea was already in the air, though perhaps ahead of its time.
If you ever wanted to know what a technocracy looks like, then the past two years have provided an adequate demonstration. The interventions, both non-pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical (and lack thereof), have been about the powerful appropriating the freedom (and benefit) of choice from the powerless. The mass hysteria that struck in early 2020 affected almost everyone at every level of society and leaders and other elites were quick to take advantage of it.
For me, as for many others, the past two and half years have been a watershed. Having lived through many flu epidemics where the response was restrained and proportional I was confident that we'd all just shrug this one off, especially given the views of our leaders: a UK government minister said "The general view was it is just hysteria. It was just like a flu." As the propaganda was ramped up and the hysteria escalated, one thing that came into sharp focus was that alternative views were not being represented. And I mean unrepresented, poorly represented and misrepresented. I'd be surprised if you didn't feel the same way about at least some of what our representatives did.
Of course, representative democracy's silent contradiction is that a single parliamentarian or councillor can in any way represent the menagerie of conflicting opinions within his constituency. Somehow we manage to maintain this particular cognitive dissonance just as our serf ancestors once did with their monarchies and tyrannies. It might be that the very contradictions in the system give it a mystique that appeals to our subservient religious tendencies: I don't understand how this can work but, for the sake of a quiet life, I am happy to accept that my leaders and their experts are clever enough to do so.
The party system means politicians can't even be true to their own beliefs. The term 'representative democracy' is an oxymoron - or at best a misnomer in that the opinion represented is not that of the electorate. My own MP also happens to be a government minister and my brief correspondences with him on the issues of the day exposed a complete absence of independent thought or willingness to engage with ideas. This is not a personal criticism but is directed at a system of government which increasingly insists on a monoculture of received opinion.
Aside from voter apathy which ensures a poor turnout anyway, the first-past-the-post party system almost guarantees that the ruling party will be elected by a minority of the electorate. Typically 40% of the actual vote is enough to get control so it's understandable that the majority – the other 60% plus the non-voters - feels it hasn't got a voice.
These modes of thought make us see government as a 'them' as opposed to an 'us'. Our representatives and elites see it this way too – as all elites must. This polarisation has become toxic as the distance between the leaders and the led has widened. Sooner or later it will be resolved by radical action, as for example in the French and US revolutions or by radical ideas, as in the Enlightenment. I would rather it was the latter.
Some people believe that our current woes are because we have weak leaders who cower before professional offendees or mass media headlines rather than listening to the reasonable and the honest; others because we have burdened ourselves with closet dictators; yet others think we need to double down on the restrictions on our freedoms, to suppress dissent and empower authority through expert opinion. Whatever the reasons, the system has broken down as our public health, social and economic maelstroms bear witness.
Administrations exist to relieve the rest of us of the burden of making big decisions that affect our collective lives. The objective of government ought to be the prosperity, well-being and happiness of the citizenry but it's been an eye-opener over the past few decades in general and the past couple of years in particular to see how such noble aims can be perverted by ambition, wilful blindness and plain old incompetence.
In the next post we'll look at the serendipitous confluence of the elements: technical, political and cultural that we may already have to make our panocracy a practical proposition. There is a window of opportunity to extricate our society from the slippery slope on which it has found itself.