Greg 00:00 [Intro] As Toni Morrison has put it, “the destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by the possibility or collapse of a shareable world.” Welcome to our podcast where we explore the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with our guide big Mike. What can we learn from the past to help us create a better, more shareable world in the future?
Greg 00:32 All right. Welcome back everybody to A Shareable World. Um, we are, we are, um, well into this series of podcasts now and we’ve, uh, finished with what was a little bit of an arc of podcasts that took us through, uh, World War II and the Cold War period and the four big kinds of countries that, uh, uh, parts of the world that were dealing with, the postwar phase and their various responses. Um, all of which is instructive of course for at a minimum of just understanding the past enough to, uh, understand our present problems and the options, um, that face us. But I think for this particular podcast, um, my plan was to pick up on this—kind of the, the question of how radical of a change do we need. And we’ve talked in previous podcasts that the change needs to be pretty radical, but then there’s also a practical, uh, side of that of course. Um, and it just so happens that recently, um, did you catch this Obama comment about the Democrats not being too far left for those very practical reasons. So actually I have a first question for you, which is just did you have a reaction to the Obama…[comments]?
Mike 01:56 Yeah, I know, I thought that his statement was, was very fascinating and I think, I think that statement points to a really serious problem, which, which we in America face very acutely right now, but which also is a, is an historical problem. Let me just say a couple of words. One of the, first of all, what he’s, what he is saying is that there is a difference between the change we really need deep down—and God knows, he tried to introduce some of those changes. The whole business of Obamacare, for example, was an attempt. And I emphasize that in my opinion, it was an attempt and not completely successful, but it was an attempt to radically restructure a part of our lives that is incredibly central to our daily existence. So that’s one side. But the other side of the point is that the body politic, the voters, it doesn’t have to even be voters. The average, the community, for whatever reason—and that’s a question we also need to explore at some point, that user, for whatever reason, it will only tolerate a certain amount of change or a certain degree of new thought at any given moment. So Obama is saying, and I unashamedly agree with him 100%. If you want to get rid of Trump, then try to get rid of Trump and don’t, don’t go too much beyond that objective. And I think that’s absolutely right. He’s pointing out the difference between strategy and tactics as it were. And tactically at this moment, the primary issue is to change the regime in America. And what that might lead to is something else. But at the present moment, everything should be subsumed to that. And I think that’s what Obama is saying. So I want to change the world. I’d like to fly. If I could figure out how to have wings, I want to change the world, but right now I’ve got to pay attention to what the market will bear politically and the market politically will only bear the question of how do we change the regime and what that implies beyond that is the subject of social thought and the kinds of stuff we’re going to be talking about over the next 50 years.
Greg 04:17 Yup. Yeah. And so it’s, it’s tactically, um, smart perhaps, but by way of an acknowledgements of people’s, um, lack of, uh, appetite for radical proposals.
Mike 04:33 That’s right. I, I think that that, and I’m going to illustrate this in a real way, in a second. This problem, cause I think it is a problem. It’s a fascinating problem. I think Chairman Mao said once that we proceed on two legs and you know, in a way we have to define what those two legs are. So I think one, one leg of the, of the, of the, the… upon which we might proceed down the path to the future. One leg concerns creating the conditions in which change is possible or better and more accurately creating the conditions under which the kind of change we would like to see if we knew what those changes were—were possible. So the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States created conditions that made it possible to change. No question. His election was extraordinarily fundamental from that point of view. The question is, are those changes the changes that the American people want to move in the direction of? Right? And that’s really what we should be battling over. So now our problem for those of us who disagree, 101% with the direction in which the country is moving under his guidance or lack thereof, uh, now the question is how do we change the regime to a regime in which we can then begin to discuss the kind of changes we want to discuss? Right? So now that’s a very important distinction I’m trying to make. When I’m listening here, when I’m listening to—what I hear the Democratic candidates debating is what kind of changes do we want to make. But the problem is we haven’t yet gotten to the point where we’re in a context where those changes are possible. So that debate should be going on, but it’s not relevant to the immediate tactical problem of, of creating the new conditions. I think that’s very important.
Greg 06:38 Yeah. Okay, good. So, so for me that was just a way to get into talking about, um, so I think a lot of people listening still have this problem of, I mean, ‘cause I do, which is, how do you imagine significant change that’s short of a complete overhaul of a system. And we’ve talked before about the idea of the commons and how that was used in particular places.
Mike 07:10 So that’s a good example. So let me um, think out loud about that. Uh, we need change. We need fundamental change. Whether fundamental change means everything changes is another question. So let me, let me tell you what I mean by that. We do have to go back to fundamentals in the long run. We need to go back to fundamentals and one of the questions that I like to raise a lot with my students and friends is the idea that in America we assume that private property is a given. In fact, it’s almost a given in nature, so our ideologues tell us and these ideologues by the way are to be found in both the Republican and the Democratic party and often you will find them in the academy and everywhere else. If you’re in a story and you look back and you say, well, wait a minute, private property as we understand it today is an historical artifact and we can in fact begin to trace the emergence of private property with the rise of capitalism.
Mike 08:27 If you look back at the feudalism in Western Europe, for example, the concept of property was very different. The entire universe was owned by God and God gave a lower echelon of being, namely the King, the right to distribute land and so forth on down until the serf received a little bit of land, but no one had absolute private property, if you want to call it that, except God himself. And in those days it was himself, not herself. Right? So if that’s true, which I believe to be the case, if that’s true, that doesn’t mean that we do away with private property, but it does mean that we are in a position where we can question the nature of property in our society and how do we adjust property and the laws about property to make other things possible. So this has really extraordinarily profound implications.
Mike 09:21 And, and one way of, one example of this, just to illustrate the, the idea, um, is this a question of the commons. In feudal times in Western Europe and elsewhere as well. But in feudal times, there was, uh, an area, a geographical, spatial area in villages and in the mountains, if you lived in nomadic areas, whatever, uh, which were not private property where everybody could graze, for example, their cattle on. Uh, and in fact, even the, you know, the shepherd might, might be anybody in the village who would look after all the sheep in the village and the sheep were marked or in some way identifiable, but it was understood that this ground and the shrubbery on it and so forth was kind of common available to everybody to use.
Mike 10:20 In nomadic parts of the world, this was also the case by the way. Where in Mongolia for example, you had a whole, you had large groups of people, I won’t go into the technical names for them, but you had large groups of people who migrated together and they migrated rather regularly between different areas. But those areas weren’t private property. Those areas were the property, if you will, of the entire community and they moved their cattle together from one place to another place depending on the season and so forth. So the idea that, that the, sort of very basic stuff of life, food and, and a wolf for clothing or, or yak skins for making tents, whatever you want to think about, should be—was not private property. It may not have been—it certainly wasn’t state property. It was really what Karl Marx thinks of as social property. It was owned by the community as a whole. With the, with the end of feudalism and the rise of capitalism in the West that begins to disappear.
Mike 11:27 And the aristocracy begins to shut out the peasants from the, uh, open areas they privatize, if you will, the, the public areas. This is the reason why so many people begin moving into cities because they’ve lost their livelihood in the countryside. So they move into the cities. And this is then where Marx gets the idea of the proletariat as being that class of people who now no property at all. They were serfs or they were even private individual sheep—shepherds or what have you, who raise their cattle or their sheep or their dogs and cats on the commons land. And then they’re forced into the cities without property. They are propertyless. And that’s sort of the seed of the, of the idea of the proletariat.
Mike 12:20 So what if, once, if one thinks along these lines, one then, is that the point as I said, well, one can question the eternal existence, the natural existence of private property. So to go through an extremely radical position, uh, suppose that we think about recommonizing, in other words recreating the commons in those areas that are of great importance for human existence today. For example, uh, who owns the air? You know, we’re breathing air. Who owns the air? Nobody owns the air, right? If I want to build a, a, a smoke stack on top of my house, I can do so provided I meet the building codes. But the building codes are usually about safety of building, not about the air into which I’m building the smoke stack on top of my house. Of late because of, of, um, of, uh, environmental concerns. We’ve begun trying to limit what can come out of the smokestacks into the air. It still leaves open the idea of who owns the air, but so—so the air is not owned anyway, but suppose I were to start to say, okay, the air belongs to the people. Everybody owns the air. We all have a right to clean air. A right. It’s, it’s a, a human right to clean air because without clean air we’re going to grow sick and eventually we’ll suffocate if there are too many carbon particles in the air. So it is a human right, to use that expression, to the air. Now what I’ve done when I say that is I’ve already expanded the concept of human rights beyond the political. I’ve expanded the idea of human rights to the need for, to, to have as a human right what I, the sustenance I need to survive and I could expand that to food.
Mike 14:20 And furthermore, I’ve said that air is a property, but it’s a property which is owned socially by everybody, right? Once I’ve said that and once I’ve said that nobody really privately can own the air, I change radically the ground on which I can talk about environmental, about the, about emission controls, et cetera. I can make it illegal, right? It’s not a matter of the market setting any longer, how much air one can pollute or how much pollution one can put in the air. But rather it’s a matter that I can absolutely control it because I as a member of the community have a right to say, no, you may not use this. Right? Now. That then opens up. That’s a wonderful and theoretical question too.
Greg 15:14 But don’t we do that to some measure or—
Mike 15:15 I’ll come to that, but then, then that opens up to the question of, um, how do you manage that? What is the institutional structure? What are the processes whereby you manage social property and those terms? Okay, we know enough that there had been some experiments and one of these experiments has to do with water. Now water is everywhere an increasingly serious problem—and there have been major efforts around the world to privatize water. Perhaps the most famous attempt at privatizing water, uh, was in Bolivia where a French company comes in and tries to privatize water in Bolivia. And that led to a social upheaval and it led to a revolutionary situation in which the government that has just now been thrown out came to power. Not to no little extent on the basis of, of this question of who owns water and do, does a private company have the right to make a profit out of water when water is necessary for life itself?
Mike 16:20 Very important—there was an experiment sometime back not very long ago in Italy where in a certain city they decided to privatize the water and people who believed in the idea of the commons were able to, to get the city to hold a referendum and they, and one of the choices in the referendum was to commonize, to turn the water into a commons. How do you—and the people voted for that so that the water that was, was originally was going to be privatized, the water system sold by the government to a private corporation was then turned into a commons. At that point, the, the, the, the, the terrifically important issue of how do you manage it, what does that mean, comes into existence. If you have a city of, of say 500,000 people, you can’t get them all into one room and kind of have an open-ended discussion about how much fluoride you should put in the water that we now all own together and come to any resolution of it. Uh, it, it, it sharpens very acutely the difference between the kind of technical know-how you need to manage complex enterprise like a water system and the kind of decision making power necessary to come to conclusions about, for example, how much fluoride do you put in the, in the water. And that’s where that particular experiment fell apart. What some of us are thinking for example, is that here is an area that we really need to open up for study. We need to try to get people to start thinking in practical terms about how do you manage the commons today? Um, in the old days when, when people didn’t challenge the concept of the commons, nature itself as it were managed the commons, the rain would fall in, the grass would grow in the sheet, would come out and nibble away at the grass and so forth and so on. Well, that’s not the way the world is anymore. We have to manage these things.
Mike 18:41 And, uh, and I think that that issue of the management of the commons is an extremely important question. There have been some serious scholars, one um, Nobel Prize winner in economics, um, focused on that particular question back in the 1990s. Uh, some of us would like to see this become a kind of academic subject. We’d like to open up a field of study in which people would think experimentally about ways in which resources could be controlled in a more democratic fashion when they’re owned by society. In the United States we have a hierarchy of different kinds of property, but they break down into two primary kinds of private property and, and state property and state property, we’re witnessing a devolution of right now under the Trump administration, a huge proportion of the, of the land in the Western States is owned by the federal government. And it’s, it has been until the Trump administration under increasingly careful management and restrictions about where you can drill for oil and, uh, where you can raise your cattle and so forth and so on.
Mike 20:00 And Trump who represents the ultimate in a particular socioeconomic, political philosophy. He wouldn’t understand these terms, but he represents that position of an extreme, um, market-driven private enterprise idea. As long as his friends get their more than fair share of it, um, [he] is gradually giving away public lands, leasing it or actually putting it on, putting up for sale. So we, what we’re witnessing under, under the Trump administration is the privatization of state-owned lands. But what some of us are proposing is that there’s a third alternative and that is that the communities that own lands, that is the commons. And but then we open up this whole question of how do you manage that. So I think that that’s a, a new area that, uh, I hope we’re going to, uh, uh, see growing as time goes on. We need to find a way out of the narrow straitjacket concept of private property under which we exist today.
Mike 21:08 Uh, the UN reports that, uh, water will become a much, much, much more critical issue for us in the very short term, not just water in terms of the rising of the oceans, swamp our cities, but water for drinking, right—or chemically good, chemically clean water for irrigating crops, things of that sort are going to become a, it’s going to become a very serious issue. And the privatization of water resources, uh, turns something we need to exist literally to live into a profit-making enterprise, which it shouldn’t be morally and probably shouldn’t be politically either, or it turns it into a source of state power, which itself can become very oppressive as we know from authoritarian regimes around the world. There has to be a third way. And that’s what I think we need to start looking for actively and the commons is such an example.
Greg 22:05 Yeah. So to ask more about the need for a third way, I think a lot of people listening would just think, why—isn’t that in fact the state’s responsibility, especially with air and water, that there that we’ve passed pollution legislation that we’ve—
Mike 22:21 The trouble with that you’re, you’re opening up a question which is both very complex and, and, and very, in my opinion, the central issue of our age politically. Um, the American experiment as people like to refer to it supposedly had an answer to that question through representative democracy. And you know, if you go back and, uh, and read the constitution and read the Federalist papers, et cetera, et cetera, uh, you get the image of a society that indeed, uh, at that time was, uh, was thinking positively, constructively about the issues that the issues you raise. But the world today is no longer the world of the late 18th century and we’ll never be there again. Uh, we’ll never be there again for, because we have grown in numbers so large that no longer can we, um, think about the distribution, about the market as a way of, of, of distributing the necessities of life in such a way that human beings can exist, survive. It has a human—the world has changed in such a way that the technology of our lives today is so utterly different from the technology of the late 18th century that we cannot really imagine how people lived then. Nor could they possibly in their worst nightmares of dreamt how we live today. Uh, somebody came to see me the other day whom I hadn’t seen in 18 or 19 years and, and he pulled out his iPhone in the course of the conversation. He said, you know, when I saw you last, we didn’t have iPhones and iPads and computers and he was right. That brought me up short because like everybody else, I become some, become so accustomed to all this technology that I had forgotten that I grew up in a world in which we didn’t have any of this.
Mike 24:28 And I, and I, and I was just remarking to a friend yesterday, I’m having trouble remembering writing letters to people. I mean, we used to actually write letters and go to the press office and I can’t remember doing that anymore, right? Although you just received a postcard. Oh Lord, I just received a postcard, but we rarely receive postcards. They… we’re going to get email more often and we can even send pictures by emails. So picture postcards are no longer that useful, right? So, so we really do live in a, in a radically different world. Our economic and social structures are radically different. Just to cite one obvious simple example, we have wealth today that and concentrated wealth today in such a fashion that nobody in the 18th century could have imagined. I mean, you know, our politics have been changed radically by the existence of wealth in, in fewer and fewer hands.
Mike 25:26 That’s commonplace today in the 21st century world that we, that we experience. So all of these things have changed the world so much that the solutions of the 18th century, the revolutionary idea of the American experiment somehow no longer feels valid. Uh, we—whom do we vote for? Well, we don’t have free elections. Our votes are, are, are in a very real way bought on the market. Whoever puts out the most attractive, um, advertisements or whoever makes the most attractive argument divorced from any reality afterwards. So, you know, somebody may get up and say, I’m going to run for this, this is what I’m going to do for you guys when I’m president and then he becomes president or she becomes president—maybe someday—and a hundred days later it’s a different world again. They’re not following what they said. Well, reality says that we ought to go slower than we thought.
Mike 26:30 There are many ways we have of getting around that problem. Our political structure is no longer responsive to the people, even in the narrow way of defining the people that the American constitution in its original draft did. In other words, we may have democratized the society by having more and more voters—the right to vote spreads more and more throughout different groups in the society. But that doesn’t mean that the structure works anymore democratically. It probably works much less democratically than ever before. Who has money wins, that’s the point. And that’s not really what the founding fathers had in mind. So we need to find a third way. And the question is how to do that. This isn’t just tweeting or tweaking—rather we can tweet. It’s not just tweaking the existing institutions. Um, if we follow the logic of our current political behavior out a number of—50 years, um, we simply won’t exist very much longer.
Mike 27:38 And that’s what all the scientists are telling us about the environment. So my favorite example is, suppose we had a real democracy in which we really could all of us vote what we wanted to vote. And somebody says to us, you, you people in California have to give up your cars because we can no longer tolerate the emissions. Because otherwise in 15 years we won’t be able to breathe any longer. How many Californians that vote to give up their cars? I’m—would bet my last dime that we would not get a majority of the voters voting to give up their cars. Right. And even if they did, we have run out of the ability to build a public transportation system to, to, to, to, to substitute for the cars. One of the problems I have with the arguments of the environmental movement in its broadest form, uh, is that it’s fine to say we should do X, but we have to substitute why people have to get around.
Mike 28:36 Right? We have built, you know, we should build—we should have built our cities differently, but we didn’t. So you have one huge city from San Francisco to San Jose. Uh, we have no public transportation system that makes it possible for somebody in San Jose who’s working in San Francisco to give up their car and to ride in a fast, cheap and environmentally healthy way to San Francisco. What are we going to do? Right? So we need really some imaginative thinking. That then is going to lead to another problem, which eventually we should talk about in these conversations. And that is that suppose we come up with imaginative solutions to the problems, fundamental—who is going to make them happen? If you think about trying to convince a majority of voters to do what’s right on something that goes against their daily experience and so forth, we’ll be dead before we’ve convinced them, convinced them to vote the right way.
Mike 29:44 Right? So this opens up the whole question of whether democracy can in fact bring about the profound reforms we need, the profound changes we need so that our grandchildren will be able to breathe healthy air and drink pure water. I don’t have an answer for any of that, but I sure as hell want people out there to start thinking about that problem.
Greg 30:08 Yeah, so you’ve, I think you’ve done a good job of presenting it as a problem that needs to be thought about, but the way you just framed it suggests that—democracy is possibly an obstacle.
Mike 30:21 Well, I think we need to start asking that question. I think it’s a dangerous question to ask—believe me, I am very aware of how dangerous it is to ask that question, but I think we need to go back to the fundamentals. Now we may, if we go back to fundamentals, we may well decide, yes, democracy is the best way to do these things, but we haven’t shown that yet. And so far it hasn’t worked. Right. So then that will raise the question, how do I need to adjust the so-called democratic system in order to accomplish what, what we need to accomplish as human beings in order to survive, for the human race to survive?
Greg 30:57 Well, and so just by way of contrast, cause this is something I know we’ve talked about before. Um, also maybe treads in the dangerous zone, but um—China by way of contrast, um, though anti-democratic in deep ways, has, has the ability to control some of these serious problems.
Mike 31:23 I think one of the greatest, uh, mistakes we’re making in America today is that we are thinking of China as a rival. When what we need to be thinking about it as—and what we should be terrified of in my own personal opinion—is China as an alternative. And I think there’s a, I think that’s a very nice way you’re, you’re, I’m glad you brought that up. I think that’s a good way to, to capture what I’m trying to say. Uh, we think of China as a rival because we assume that China is competing with us for power and competing with us for the market, for raw materials. It’s part of that game that the capitalist system has played for 250 years. And yes, that’s true. They are doing that. But far more important is that China is developing and evidently not without success, a, an alternative model of society, which is very frightening in my opinion. So I’m—there’s a book out called AI Superpowers, which was recently recommended to me and I, read it and I, it really, uh, it really sharpened my thinking a great deal because the author is saying that it’s not innovation. We Americans pay a huge amount of attention to innovation. We want to encourage our students to innovate. We put out prizes for innovation. Innovation has become a kind of a touchstone of the way we think about the world. And if you can do it, do it. If you can make it, do it. That’s the motto of Silicon Valley.
Mike 33:15 The author of this book [Kai-Fu Lee] is arguing that it’s not innovation because after all, innovation is nothing new in the world. It’s application that counts. How do you apply the new innovations? How do you use them? How does the society, and in China’s case, of course, the state or a state-sponsored private enterprise, how do you apply these innovations to actually construct or reconstruct everything from, the university to society itself, right? Courts, factories, et cetera, et cetera. The reason why the Chinese have, uh, have, uh, been so successful in such a remarkably short time is that somehow they understood this point about application and they’re using what others may innovate—who the hell cares if they’re copying or not copying? The point is they’re changing the world. And that’s what’s crucial. And they’re changing the world in a direction that some people, including myself, find rather frightening right now.
Mike 34:15 They may well in fact be able to save us environmentally. In fact, just by cleaning up their own environment, they will have done a great deal to… I mean, I remember, I remember a half a century ago, a professor of mine in, in a course on Chinese studies saying to me, just think of a world, think of China if it were like America and every citizen had a car, and this was before pollution had become a major issue, right? But the very idea that there’s 600 or 700 million people driving cars in China was, was already somewhat scary, right? So I think that the, this idea of trying to understand that China is presenting us with an alternative is where we need to begin thinking about how to accomplish what we need to accomplish without going in the direction of China.
Mike 35:11 The kind of total control of everything that the Chinese are aiming—it will work. It is working. But you know, in the old days when the Cultural Revolution got started in the ‘60s, I had this line that if the, if the Cultural Revolution succeeds, it’ll be a very optimistic statement about human beings. Cause it means that they can change society at will. But I wouldn’t want to live with the consequences. Now I can say that, you know, if the Chinese failed, that’ll be a very pessimistic view of the future of human society. But I couldn’t live with that house arrest. So the irony is that, that, uh, that their success could, will be a failure of the kind of life that we need to find out how to live.
Greg 35:59 Yeah. Yeah. That to me, that application idea is interesting too, ‘cause to now bring it back to democracy, there’s, it doesn’t seem that our society thinks about the positive potential of technological innovation in creating a healthier democracy. That there could be so much that could be done to think about technology and—
Mike 36:24 That’s, that’s all a very wonderful set of issues. How does, yeah, let, let me, let me, let me again, just let my mind wander this way. So we have computers, we have the internet. Theoretically that means that every person in America with access to a computer can vote. Yep. It could be done very, very simply. Uh, and uh, I have no doubt, that given a little bit of imagination, we could make the entire computer system from the point of view of say voting, um, security-wise, [safe]. So we wouldn’t worry about the Martians coming in intervening.
Greg 37:19 They seem to have figured out, um, financial transactions to that degree.
Mike 37:23 Yes, exactly. So we could do that. Then the next question would be, would that be more democratic? Is it simply the number of voters participating in an election that indicates you’ve got a more democratic system? And I would argue that it doesn’t, that voting out of ignorance is very different from voting out of knowledge. So let’s say we have a relatively simple problem, like should we privatize Yellowstone National Park and turn it into a business? Um, the pro, the argument for or against or for a third alternative, which is obviously what I would probably argue for, uh, the argument for or against a third alternative would have to be made in such a way that the average voter could read or hear, could understand—and that’s, I think the crucial word, the arguments—and then vote intelligently. Because the assumption, and this is a really serious problem, the assumption has to do, or the question has to do with the intelligent, the, with the education of the voter voting. It isn’t enough for, for a hundred illiterate people to vote for one literate person as opposed to another literate person.
Mike 39:05 If they, if those hundred illiterate people are not able to determine which one of the two people that are voting for is more literate or more or wiser or something of that sort, it just isn’t enough. So we need to then go step further and say, in order to democratize our system, we really need to put a huge effort into raising the level of education of everybody in our society to the point where they can participate in the democratic process with some shared level of knowledge, more than knowledge, with some shared level of argument. I’ve been listening intensely, and this will date the, the day in which we’re doing this conversation. I’ve been listening intensely to the hearings about the impeachment of Trump. And what strikes me incredibly powerfully is that the logic of the two sides of the Democrats and the Republicans is utterly different.
Mike 40:10 Uh, it doesn’t take anybody trained beyond a very simple level of logic to listen to these two sides and understand that they, that their arguments are not reasonable. At least one side, I won’t say which side—I might be in favor. That one side’s arguments are simply not even reasonable. They simply are putting words together in a kind of random way is really what it would, what it sounds like. What is evidence? Things of that sort of are crucial questions that we need to have if we’re going to have a democratic electorate. The irony of all of this is that our educational system is going downhill, not going uphill, right? The founding fathers assumed an electorate by and large, not for, not everybody, but by and large an electorate would have a modicum of education that they shared. We no longer have that, right?
Mike 41:05 So democratization has moved in the direction of the decreasing ability of intelligent participation in elections. We have to face that issue and we’re not. So I would say yes, the new technology is nice and we can apply it to democratizing—on the condition that we really begin to invest very heavily and across the board and very profoundly in reeducating the American people. Otherwise, if you haven’t gone to St. Paul’s, you’re not going to be a voter, or at least not an intelligent voter. If you haven’t gone to a private school where you have been taught civics, my grandchildren go to school and they don’t have civics classes anymore. They don’t even know how these institutions work. So democracy is not about voting or voter suppression. The system has suppressed intelligent voting by not educating the citizens.
Greg 42:00 Though the education also could be part of the app, proper application of technology. There’s a potential to teach.
Mike 42:06 Well there could be—now, now we’re getting back to, we’re really getting into, into why I think that reform must be profound. So our educational system in America and thinking a lot about this lately, our educational system in America is divided up into thousands of school districts, each one of which has a great deal of autonomy with reference to the others, right? And we allow a great variety of textbooks among which different school systems choose the, the textbooks that their students are going to use. And, uh, those textbooks are almost always produced commercially by the way. And increasingly so are the tests and so forth and so on that the students take. How do we assure, alright, a democratic education for the American people in a situation where the jurisdiction over education is so divided up and so jealous of its autonomy, each district from every other district. We need a radical redrawing of our political structures if we’re going to educate our people. I’m reminded of the, of the story about Napoleon who to create France had every French child in every single grade turning the same page of the same textbook at the same hour every day. I mean, it’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but the point is well taken. Education is the key to democracy and we’ve lost that. And, and so how do we get there? We need to really think about a radical restructuring. Can that be done within the structure of our present constitution, whether it be at the state level or at the national level? I have to tell you that I have grave doubts about that. Yeah. That’s why I have great doubts about democracy. The idea that democracy consists in the number of votes cast. Yup. Something, there’s something very misguided about that idea. It’s the quality of the votes cast that counts.
Greg 44:24 Yeah. Well we’re, so we’re approaching our usual, uh, length.
Mike 44:30 I might go back and I just want to remark that this is not a new issue. Aristotle raises this issue right Aristotle says, what’s the best form of government? And, and, Aristotle discards democracy because he understands that uneducated people, and in his case it meant moral education, educated people are not the basis for government. Right? So he ends up privileging the aristocracy by which he did not mean aristocracy of birth, but aristocracy of wisdom, aristocracy of learning, right? While we can’t use those, the same value structures that he did, you know, 2000 odd years ago, nonetheless, the question he asked, we need to ask again today. We have to find a different answer. But that’s why this is why the issue of democracy, um, needs to be pushed. To a much further depth than we have so far in this country. Right.
Speaker 1 45:35 All right, well, lots more to talk about even based on this conversation, but we’re gonna we’ll wrap this one up here. Thanks big Mike. See you all next Saturday.
Speaker 1 45:47 Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit us at ashareableworld.com.