The Floor is open

As little as popular sentiment has to do with what the State does — and really, it has precisely squat to do with it unless particular interests agree already — I do at times find the results of polling amusing. I do so both for futility plus amusement reasons & for what messages they may say (if anything) about how the masses interpret their predicament and Where To Go Next.

Recently, a Gallup poll result showed a large gap between approval of the US Congress and the police/military — who get their orders from the same entity that according to the poll people disapprove of. For reference, I’ve included an image of such below*. On its face, this is illogical — soldiers get their orders from congress, after all, and what the cops do is to enforce the laws that the US congress and the executive branch have decided should be enforced.  Yet, I’m of the mind that due to how little influence the average person has, that they’re discouraged from the start from rationality when it comes to decisions. When ones view doesn’t matter, incentive to have an informed one evaporates, y’know?

So, what I am curious about is the following: why the contradiction? Why do people, according to this survey, separate so neatly that which the view of the system we’re commonly taught says is incorrect? Why do Americans ascribe such confidence to pigs & soldiers while withholding confidence from who tells pigs and soldiers what indeed to do?

*Here’s the result image:

pewpoll

I made a remark about this on Twitter the other day, resulting in a bit of something that could be seen as snark from our old Stopped Clock friend Matt Yglesias.

My initial thought is that this is a paradox of crossing the ideological fable of oligarchical pluralism equaling “democracy” with the decisions of such being more hidden when it comes to police & military action, combined with the proto-fascist desire of some for “Decisive ACTION!” against what they see as the flaws of public debate# (read: semblance of actual functioning democracy). But I don’t post this time for what I think, rather what you think. Holler.

(# – I get the feeling a particular person may find that angle interesting…)

 

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About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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10 Responses to The Floor is open

  1. CK MacLeod says:

    Why do people, according to this survey, separate so neatly that which the view of the system we’re commonly taught says is incorrect? Why do Americans ascribe such confidence to pigs & soldiers while withholding confidence from who tells pigs and soldiers what indeed to do?

    First, they don’t see police as “pigs”: They see them as fellow citizens doing difficult jobs that need to be done. Police forces and the military are “democratic” in the Tocquevillian sense, not because of relationship to abstract democratic processes and forms – elections, offices, bills, and so on – but because they are constituted of and by the people, for no other purpose than to serve and protect the people, individual by individual, without regard for color, creed, class, etc. I know the last part especially is not your view, but the people don’t demand perfection, and this tendency is hardly a uniquely an American tendency: “The people and the army are one hand” was an Egyptian slogan, and maintained ardently despite widespread understanding of the institution’s corruption at the highest levels. The apparent contradiction, or the survival of the reputation despite imperfections and contradictions, is possible because the institutions of law enforcement, order, and national power are seen to be operatives of the whole state, serving the entirety of the law and the requirements for civic life in a non-partisan manner, only at most marginally affected by this year’s latest additions to the statutes or today’s “orders” from some officeholder. The army isn’t seen as Barack Obama’s or George Bush’s army, but as “our” army. A police force isn’t seen as a Democratic or Republican police force just because a mayor or district attorney or legislature, etc., happens to be Democratic or Republican, or dominated this season, year, decade, or generation by the left or the right. If this perception changes for whatever reasons, if and when the military or police forces generally are seen to be corrupted by power or profit, or putting their own separate institutional interests ahead of their responsibility to people as a whole, then public opinion would likely change.

    What this also means is that its quite possible for police and/or army – or for that matter the DMV or the planning and code enforcement division of you city government – to be seen as maintaining an objectively democratic character, and to receive the reflexive sympathies that go with it, whether or not we’re happy with the functioning of elected officials or with the “oligarchical pluralist” tendencies at the highest levels.

    I’m not sure that any mass society, incidentally, could function except as something resembling a “pluralist oligarchy.” Even a totalitarian dictatorship under a charismatic leader still requires coordination of “plural” factions, and to be heard at all a faction will have to produce a leadership empowered to decide on behalf of others.

    “Oligarchy” means government by the few. As a technical matter all government is government by a relative few. What we intend to express with the term is government by the few on behalf of their own interests against or irrespective of the interests of the many, but whether a particular oligarchy is in this sense “oligarchical” will be debatable, as will the more abstract position on the general impossibility or unlikelihood of oligarchical forms of mass governance (i.e., almost all government) best serving the interests of human beings, or even of being most likely to produce the greatest actually attainable and sustainable space for “radical democratist-anarchist liberty.”

  2. Pingback: On Perceiving the People and the Army as One Hand in America, Too | CK MacLeod's

  3. Todd S. says:

    As you indicate, the problem is that what many people perceive is objectively false. People might view cops to be distinct from the state, but it’s empirically otherwise. The task is to get people to see that. Regardless of which party is in power, the police and military are the force of that power. How can the military be “my” military when I never would send them to the other side of the planet to bomb a bunch of mountain tribesmen, half of whom had never even heard of America before their friends or family were killed by it? It’s not that people naturally perceive these things. It takes a propaganda (which is just another word for marketing and advertising) campaign to get them to see that way.

  4. B Psycho says:

    The strength of that view of the police & military, of “ours” and serving all, for such a broad principle varies widely between neighborhoods though. In small, sleepy towns where not much happens beyond loose cattle people are likely to wave at the local sheriff, while in say NYC, Chicago, or Los Angeles… well, they’ll wave, but not with all five fingers. Kind of odd to have an article of life in the nation-state held so tightly when demographics determine the average interaction.

    I recall Mike Bloomberg describing the NYPD as his army. To my knowledge, DeBlasio hasn’t said similar but good luck finding a difference in their conduct.

  5. JOR says:

    In no particular order:
    1) Class Consciousness: Cops and soldiers are not overtly or conspicuously “rich” so ordinary people think of them as being more like them, except better (because of the following)-
    2) Protestant Work Ethic/Labor Theory of Value: People mistake physically and mentally stressful work for virtue.
    3) Courage: People mistake contempt for safety (real or imagined – cops don’t have an exceptionally dangerous job and neither do most soldiers) and ruthlessness in service of power for a virtue, even if they don’t like the people on the top of that power structure.
    4) The civics textbook bullshit mentioned in the above comment.

  6. B Psycho says:

    The marketing is even viral today. Remember that story about the cop that gave a pair of boots to a homeless guy? People were all “oh, look, he cares about the community, this cop is such a nice person!” — then he executed someone that was handcuffed.

    As for the military, I’ve noticed throughout the “war on terror”/whatever the fuck it’s called now a blurred portrayal of who the other side is, lumping people who actually fly al-qaeda’s flag in the same pot with locals simply angry about the invasions. It’s as if when heavily armed people show up and start kicking in doors you’re supposed to offer them tea or something.

  7. CK MacLeod says:

    Well, your question assumes an apparent contradiction – in effect you seem to be asking, “Why do 70% or whatever the latest poll says approve of the military, but only 7% approve of Congress, which is responsible for the military. What can the 63% be thinking?”

    It’s not your argument, but in fact it seems unfair. Congress has somehow managed to fund and legislate this institution we mostly say we approve of, but gets no credit. Poor Congress.

    As for your examples, in a country of 250 million adults, even 90% approval would leave 25 million people around to scowl at “our” soldiers or “our” cops, though it’s also not clear that everyone who “disapproves” of the military or the police or Congress either disapproves of individual soldiers, cops, or representatives, or disapproves of the institutions themselves as opposed to something they’ve recently done or have failed to do. Using a very broad brush, if Democrats disapproved of Congress for its failure to expand the state, while Republicans disapproved of it for its failure to reduce the state, then you’d end up with a minority of people who think everything’s just find just the way it is, and a superficial near unanimity of opinion that conceals the cause of legislative paralysis. The structure of opinion on many issues has this character, if not the same precise levels of disagreement. So, as is well known, but frequently left unmentioned, O-care gets majority disapproval, but the majority is the addition of two opposed factions, one faction that would prefer single-payer, the other faction coming at the issue from the Republican right.

    Then there’s the problem that when the people have been most united in their approval of public institutions, leading politicians, and major policies, the people have also often been, according to the people themselves polled at later times, been most wrong.

    I wonder why they don’t ask people what their general approval of each other is. There might be interesting divisions between how Americans feel about Americans compared to how they feel about America.

  8. Ricketson says:

    Hi… glad to see the discussion continuing.

    I would have written what MacLeod wrote, but he wrote it much better than I would have.

    The one point that I’ll add is that the greatest trick that the state pulls is to coopt the pro-social tendencies of the people to serve the ends of the ruling class. In this case, the pro-social tendency is the desire of people to protect their community, which helps the ruling class to recurit soldiers and police. The state mixes the functions of protection and oppression into one force, and then dares dissidents to oppose that force.

    As long as cops are “just doing their job” (as defined by the government), most Americans will give them a pass. Sure, some (many?) cops may be authoritarian assholes, but then again, so are many Americans. Americans don’t dislike Congress for being authoritarian. Often, they dislike it for being indecisive and for having incoherent policies — which is a function of its semi-democratic character (notice that the Presidency has a higher rating) . If they dislike Congress for being corrupt, that is only because it’s corruption is fairly transparent, while the executive can hide corruption better (or rely on Congress to handle that dirty work).

    So sadly, I think Yglesia is correct that the unpopularity of Congress is more likely to lead to a military coup than a libertarian rebellion.

  9. B Psycho says:

    The state mixes the functions of protection and oppression into one force, and then dares dissidents to oppose that force.

    This is important, and mirrors the approach on other things the state gets involved in. State or no state, basic defense in some form is unavoidable, yet to criticize the idea of empire & aggression gets turned into “would you have us just lay down and die!?”. It’s like the progressive reply to critics of state run education, where not trusting the government’s motives is held synonymous with being Anti-Education.

    Also there’s the not asked quite enough question of “who protects us from you?” in the air. Some communities find the question itself absurd due to social distance between them & most victims.

  10. Pingback: The new normal: Links & comments 6/21/14 | Phil Ebersole's Blog

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