Ian Byrd


My thought on modern Western society

TL;DR: As long as we feel comfortable, we — democratic boys and girls, very much enjoy the illusion of power. We enjoy it all the way until the moment we realize the government is starting to cause us discomfort. In a society like ours, where people casually take the government for granted and get away with it, this moment is inevitable.


Some is rich, and some is poor
And that’s the way the world is

— Bankrobber, The Clash

This post is really different from what I usually post here, which is engineering. I’d like to talk about our modern society and try to make some sense out of all the stuff that’s happening in the world right now. Even though I can’t claim any expertise in things like social studies or politics, I’d like to express my feelings and thoughts on the subject. Moreover, as I’m just your ordinary passer-by, if you’re reading this, please don’t take me too seriously. Personally, I do my best not to.

People seem to get really really confused about the current state of politics in the world. President Trump is now a thing and people go crazy all over it. In the meantime, Theresa May is pushing outrageous Orwellian laws in rather miserable attempts to control what we know as the Internet. It’s the same old story: terrorists use the Internet to coordinate and spread the word, so they say we should censor it. I’m not going to talk about why it’s such a silly idea. I just don’t need to; there’s plenty of arguments on the net. I’d recommend The Guardian’s piece on it, by Seth Finkelstein. It’s coming froma good, well-respected paper, so I guess I’m good referencing it here. Migrant crisis is still happening, while Western governments are impotent when it comes to preventing Islamic extremism from further escalation.

One might think the world went nuts. I don’t think so. I’ve got a feeling this must’ve been happening forever, it’s just that we now live within a ruthless, capitalistic bubble. Disclaimer: I’m not against capitalism per se. Most of the developed world adopted it, so apparently we are stuck with it for a while. Its popularity also suggests we probably couldn’t come up with anything inherently better than that, not yet. What I’m trying to say is, Huxley was right all along.

I think we were so much afraid of Orwellian kind of future, we accidently set the course for Brave New World. As for me, I’m not really afraid of Big Brother, not at all. Authoritarian ways go against rather permanent human values, like personal freedom. History has shown us countless examples and applications of authoritarian regimes and most of them couldn’t stand the test of time. Well, places like North Korea are out there, but I like to think it’s temporary. “North Korea blah blah”, oh hold on! Since North Korea is pretty much isolated from the outer world, it’s an unfortunate example. Let’s think of clearly authoritarian Chinese government instead! It’s 100% communist-driven and I believe forming political parties is very illegal there also. We know communism is not effective and usually just wouldn’t work in the long term, so I like to think of it as temporary. Look, USSR dissolved only 25-something years ago. I wouldn’t expect neither society nor governments to learn the lesson in such a short time. That said, communism won’t vanish for good, no. We, humans, even in the very worst-case scenario, still got some time on our hands. So it will probably get back eventually, I just don’t think it stands a chance against time. You know, people learn.

Before I jump right into the point of this post, let me restate what I know about democracy. First of all, Western countries are generally considered democratic, so people are supposed to be in charge of their countries. Not quite actually. In real life, we face certain limitations… For example, thousands of people can’t all rule the country together. Imagine thousands of democratic boys and girls — desperately trying to reach consensus. It wouldn’t work, would it? Unforunately, it wouldn’t. So we get to choose a bunch of people we trust and let them form what we call a government. These people, on the other hand, get to represent us — democractic boys and girls. That said, we somehow do constantly end up disappointed with our governments, especially when things are not going well for us. Basically, what happens is we systematically get mad at governments of our own choice. Sometimes it almost feels like despite having all the power in the world, we are, literally, powerless. Suddenly, we are not in charge, not anymore. But how it came to be?

Alert! A “truth bomb” is coming…

Almost there…

People. Don’t. Care. Sad truth is our democratic society isn’t even remotely caring as much as we need to for democracy to actually work. I partially blame the bubble, a ruthless, capitalistic one in particular. You see, Western people of 21st century, we’re too busy with our very much important little lives, full of (unnecessary?) material values and many spiritual concerns of, it seems, infinite complexity. Naturally, we try to get along (that’s what we call life, by the way). I suspect that no one really entertains the idea of living only to surivive, so we need something in our lives, something to help us along the ride. Good news are our capitalistic society succeeds in providing us with a never-ending supply of material values of any kind. So we approach our spiritual concerns of, it seems, infinite complexity, with even more material values. New values produce new concerns, which we are happy to approach with even more and more values. At this point it’s well beyond just getting along, now it’s about making ourselves feel comfortable. Thankfully, our society supplies us with an incomprehensible lot of values we are very much happy to stack on the top of our lives only to get more and more comfortable.

But what it has to do with democracy? I believe the reason people prefer to abstain from politics is that, in our bubbled society, it’s just not comfy enough. As opposed to a never-ending supply of all the things that make us comfortable, politics rarely provides us with any immediate value. So instead of caring, we choose to take things above us, like government, for granted. And this exact moment the whole thing just crumbles apart! People who go into politics, do it for exact same reason you’re a happy consumer of society-provided material values, they see it as an opportunity to increase their personal comfort, even if it involves abusing power. The message I’m trying to spread is that the only reason corrupt politicians are allowed to do what they do is the same reason we take governments for granted — they know they will get away with it just as you do.

As long as we feel comfortable, we — democratic boys and girls, very much enjoy the illusion of power. We enjoy it all the way until the moment we realize the government is starting to cause us discomfort. In a society like ours, where people casually take the government for granted and get away with it, this moment is inevitable.

Now go and watch some funny Facebook videos!