George Walford: On Not Biting Dogs

The (A)-SP(GB), and many more orthodox anarchists too, think capitalism has gone beyond tolerance; we should abolish it and make a fresh, (anarcho)-socialist start. I do not now propose to bang heads with them over what they say but rather to draw attention to things they do not mention. They speak for the most part of events which find their way into that highly selective and heavily edited construction known as the news, and this focuses on dramatic events rather than on the humdrum routine which makes up the greater part of life. Overwhelmingly, people do not bite dogs, and for this reason the few who do become news. Most people spend most of their lives not suffering and not dying; for this reason death and suffering catch the attention while accustomed living goes unremarked. The traditional Martian visitor would hardly realise, either from the mass media or from Freedom or the Socialist Standard, that most people in most parts of the world pass most of their lives not suffering from war, terrorism, revolution, riot, murder, homelessness, kidnapping, plague, starvation, rail, road or air disasters or the other horrifying events which fill the screens and the headlines. Yet this proliferation of unremarked private life is also a feature of this society. It escapes notice just because there is so much of it, because it is so boringly familiar.

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DEMOCRACY

The ideological structure found in the advanced nations tends to develop in the rest of the world also, producing political and economic arrangements similar in substance although varying in detail (as they do among advanced nations). Over the greater part of Africa domination triumphed long ago; now the ideology of precision emerges. The Carter Center (an American institution) counts more than half of all African states as either democratic or showing a commitment to democracy, and ‘democracy’ here means adult franchise, with choice of government by the counting of heads assumed to be of equal value, widely accepted in the West since the 19th Century. One observer reckons that nearly three-quarters of the 47 states south of the Sahara are achieving political liberalization, while Freedom House rates 15 per cent of African states as free and 44 per cent as partly free, a substantial advance even since 1989. Against this has to be set the movement of seven states in the opposite direction, showing the movement towards democracy in Africa to be ‘tentative, partial, and in many cases fragile and ambiguous.’

Support for democracy comes from the growing perception that authoritarian regimes cannot compete economically with liberal ones. Over the past three decades fifty experiments with differing types of tyranny have all resulted disastrously, an outcome now being read as indicating that authoritarianism itself is to blame. The ideology of precision sets new standards in economic as well as in political affairs. (Data from an article by L. Diamond in TLS July 2,3)

from Ideological Commentary 63, February 1994.