Part of a series, Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Posts about our roles, relationships and governance. No article in this section is meant to stand alone, there will be a lot more coming soon that will clarify the current posts.
Commoners, the middle class, the peasants, the workers, the lumpenproles, the rabble, the hoi polloi or as Nietzsche so kindly described them, the ‘superfluous ones’, by any name, every society must have a large segment that are either locked into or content to make up the stable majority. Most people are now commoners for the majority of their participation in society as no one has the time to be at an elite level of participation in more than one system and few have time or ability to be elite at any. Keeping this large segment roughly equivalent in all obvious measures was key to peace and solidarity. Where significant difference among them occurs there is a threat of what is recognized as deep societal division or civil war. These elements are always in place in society but they are only recognized as such when they occur among the common majority.
Keeping this group distracted or content was always essential, as seen by political appeals exclusively to the middle class, a monarchy’s concern for the mood of the peasantry or media’s focus solidly on the masses. If roused, this group becomes a mob and could destroy an entire society by force of numbers or at least would need extreme repressive force to contain them. At many times and places in history this group has been executed in large numbers as they resisted change. At other times they have managed to slow or even divert change by their opposition. When controlled, this group is used as a club to enforce the prevailing oligarchy and their interests and block any attempts at change. During ‘revolutions’ they can be swayed to follow a new demagogue and topple the existing one. This is not a group that ever initiates radical change. Commoners are the 99.99% that follow in any given system. They do not spend a great deal of time questioning the workings of society, they just get on with their lives within it. When change occurs they resist and are persuaded or resist and are crushed.
During times of peace, this group is the mutually cooperative and sharing society. Their world is built on an ease of communication, a presumption of equality. They are the most likely to be content members of society as it is designed for them and they are comfortable and included in it. They are able to work co-operatively and share commons property easily. They are seldom inclusive of any not equal to them and are coerced to believe anything not their equal is wrong. If they work in fields then field work is invariably presented as the most real or valuable work, if they aspire to work in other areas those are presented as most desirable, even labeled as the only ‘professions’. Work they don’t understand is considered lazy and self-indulgent. They provide stability by a coercive peer pressure on what society should consider normal. Although they usually resent being called average or common, their normalcy is presented to them as a virtue above any diversity.
A great deal of effort is spent in creating solidarity and removing diversity in this group, largely by instilling common goals and fears. A goal of aspiring to the ‘upper class’ motivates them to uphold the upper class and a fear of the outcasts motivates them to persecute the enemies of the current oligarchy. Although they are frequently called ‘the middle class’, commoners are not middle as much as they are separate. They live in a society designed for their own coercion. Laws, governance, education and media are all intended to influence this block of people to move in the direction they are pointed. Those called ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ classes are really just those outside the realm of this coercion and in many ways they have more in common with each other than they have in common with the coerced.
Busywork, stress and incessant seductive coercion from all societal institutions keeps this majority from looking outside the paradigm they are reacting within. They are taught to mistrust ‘the elite’ who have greater knowledge than them and the Dunning–Kruger effect allows them to deny greater ability in anyone. They believe in the myth of their own independence and free will and believe they participate in their governance. As long as coercion is unrecognized, directing this majority has been simple. In Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott wrote of the difficulty an entity from Spaceland, which is aware of three dimensions, has in communicating with the king of Lineland who is only aware of a line. In a world where everything was set up to reinforce their conditioning, commoners were as certain of their reality as the king of Lineland.
The art of government is the organization of idolatry. The bureaucracy consists of functionaries; the aristocracy, of idols; the democracy, of idolaters. – George Bernard Shaw
The will of the majority creates and upholds oligarchy. Commoners have little real interest in governance, they only desire to be part of the spectacle of governance. They do not want revolution, they are happy with their messiahs and interfering to protect them can be as hazardous as interfering with domestic violence. Without this block of protective majority, oligarchies could never be created much less stand. A system which assumes that all people are equal is imposed on society to appeal to the conceit of the masses. Since people aren’t equal, a centripetal force will create oligarchy in every society set up with this principle. Governance structures did not create oligarchy in spite of democracy, they have slowed it as seen by the far faster and larger oligarchies created in the more purely egalitarian structures online. “The middle class have disappeared!” cry the middle class as they swarm to support ponzi schemes of celebrity, wealth and power.
“Historical evolution mocks all the prophylactic measures that have been adopted for the prevention of oligarchy,” wrote Robert Michels. “Who says organization, says oligarchy.” Faced with this frustrating reality and “the incompetence of the masses”, many reformers will eventually turn, like Michels, to fascism to implement what they see as ‘the greater good’. The fact that no dictatorship is possible without the support of the democratic will proves his point.
Whether the government is openly fascist or not, the masses are openly manipulated. From the coercing of public opinion in the lead up to the Iraq war to the current astroturfing, TED talks, Thought Leaders and the WE Day phenomenon there is a climate of secular evangelical frenzy we haven’t witnessed since the last widespread rise in fascism. The escalating coercive force applied on those designated as commoners is a reaction to their increasing tendency to disperse and follow divergent paths and interests. The crack in the monopoly on education and media has created a surge of independent thought which may finally dissolve the club of cohesive democratic power which has kept Great Men in power for centuries. With no middle class there will be no oligarchy.
The masses are not and have never been as apathetic as their reputation depicts them. They are otherwise engaged or their interests lie elsewhere. The idea that everyone ought to be fascinated by and highly informed regarding governance systems is ridiculous, especially as the puppet show on display has little or nothing to do with our real governance. As long as governance is peer-promoted, transparent, permeable and easily challenged there is no need to force people to have interests other than those they choose. There are plenty of people who are interested in governance that can sound an alarm to the broader public in cases of concern and plenty of people interested enough to keep an eye on the workings.
If each system was managed by a permeable and transparent concentric circle everyone could follow their own interests and acquire their expertise where they chose instead of making part of an uninformed mass set up to provide power to an oligarchy. Real involvement does not come from listening to advertising and making a necessarily uninformed choice to legitimize a dictatorship with consent. Governance should come from all participants in a system under advice from peer promoted epistemic communities open to all. Epistemic communities should be under no obligation to speak directly to the masses or earn support from the entirety of an uninformed public. Their work should be audited and transmitted by those users with the interest in doing so to those users with an interest in learning about it.
The purpose of a cohesive block of commoners has always been to use them as a weapon in support of oligarchy. The diffusion of the middle class into autonomous individuals removes the weapon. The full participation of all in their systems of interest enables self-governance and removes the need for governance by oligarchy. We need neither democracy nor fascism. The iron law of oligarchy can be disproved by replacing a system of votes with collaboration.
“Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” Kruger, Justin; David Dunning (1999). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Maxims for Revolutionists (1903) – George Bernard Shaw
Flatland: A romance of many dimensions (1884) – Edwin Abbott Abbott
Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie; Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens (1911) – Robert Michels