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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 24-Dec-17


Sunday 24-December-17

Are we sleepwalking back to an age of feudal, absolute power?

For many, many years, mankind lived by what we sometimes call 'The rule of the jungle', in which might is right and those who ruled did so strength. Up until recent centuries, kings had absolute power, as did every person of position within in a strict hierarchy. Even in families, children were 'to be seen and not heard' and women often had an inferior role.

Such power structures tend to be brutish, with harsh punishment for minor infractions, meted out with little real justice, other than that chosen by the person in charge. Positions of power at any level was often gained by what we would today consider as corrupt means, including bribery, blackmail and bullying. This gave rise to 'leaders' who managed by fear and who could be wantonly cruel at will. While some today might wish for simpler times of past ages, they would probably be horrified by the accepted practices of the day.

Along the way, often through revolution, democracy emerged as a means for the people at the bottom of the tree to control the people at the top. Now, through this distributed power, they could vote in representatives who would truly represent broad social interests and look after weaker members of society.

A problem with democracy is that it is not always wise. Like any system of trust it is open to deception and there are many who can be deceived. For those in power, feudalism can be an attractive system to not only keep their power but also to pass it on to their family and friends.

The internet came along with such promise of openness. When everyone could know everything about everyone, universal social trust seemed inevitable. Yet when those who sought to shape opinion got hold of this tool, the tail started to wag the dog. Activists who used it in repressive regimes suddenly found that the tables were turned as the authorities followed the links back to source. Then with troll farms, clickbait and deceptive tweeting, the internet turned from a tool for freedom to a means of propaganda and social control.

Where will it all end? Democracy, which reached a high water point at the turn of the millennium, seems to be fading in influence. Authoritarian rulers are on the rise through the world, even in countries that elect their leaders, and even again in the heart of the Western world. In particular, the far-right seems to be grabbing more control and working to change the system so they stay in power. Dictatorships easily arise out of democracies when the population vote for empty promises and grand, nationalist speeches. It can seem unthinkable, but history, notably in the last 100 years, is littered with instances of unwise voting leading to appalling autocracies.

It's not about whether we get a left or right government. More, it's about protecting our fragile democracies. The only way that we will avoid returning to feudal times is if people listen, think, organize and most importantly, get out and vote.   

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