Occupational Representation

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Much of the impetus behind contemporary political reform movements has been the idea that by changing the way politics is conducted, the corruption which is so endemic to the political system can be either eliminated or significantly reduced to such an extent that the outputs coming out of legislative and executive bodies would shift from being focused on special interests to the general good. Hence, the movements for term limits and the public financing of campaigns. To the limited extent these ideas have been implemented, they have proven to be ineffective and, in some instances, have probably increased corruption by pushing an increasing number of legislators into the lobbying profession once they’ve maxed out their terms in office.

With the failure of political reform movements has come a proportional decrease in centrist politics. The idea behind contemporary political reform has been to transcend partisanship through laws that would apply equally to both parties, giving rise to centrist politicians such as Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura who appealed to both Republicans and Democrats. Now that these figures have left the scene, we’re faced with a void. Despite the constant partisan fighting and the resultant inability of the government to address problems such as Covid, there has not appeared a centrist alternative to redress the continued degradation of American politics. Whereas character and good government used to appeal to large swathes of the population, they’ve now been relegated to insignificance, as nothing matters more than either the R or D next to a candidate’s name. The age of Reform politics has been superseded by an age of ideology characterized by people such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Matt Gaetz; individuals that in any other time in American history would have been laughed off the stage. In the age in which we live, corruption is dismissed and the degree to which special interests are able to purchase politicians has become irrelevant, as these accusations can always be countered by a “what about ism”, a rhetorical trick meant to erase wrongdoing by implicating someone from across the political aisle in equal or greater wrongdoing. Accompanied by “owning” the other side and reinforcement from either a Liberal or Conservative Press, all ‘sins’ are forgiven as the battle against the ‘greater enemy’ on the other side takes precedence.

The question then begs to be answered, why then are things so broken? Why hasn’t there arisen a centrism capable of redressing the freefall into ideology? The simple answer is lack of demand. The old centrism focused on partial solutions to problems requiring comprehensive answers. Term limits and public financing of campaigns fails to address the imbalance of wealth which has widened exponentially since the 1980s, and which has caused politics to focus progressively more of its energies on satisfying the wants of particular interests at the expense of the general good. Despite the rhetoric and the piecemeal reforms already implemented, as the economy continued to struggle, and the income gap widened, centrism failed to address the problem of widespread political corruption, leading the public to look for political salvation on the extremes. Regardless of the vituperative nature of modern politics, most of the populace seems content to rest their laurels on figures such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The demonization of the other side, in the absence of a constructive alternative, at least meets the minimal needs of many to feel like they are part of a process and offers the simple solution that through the defeat of the ‘other’ the ‘ship of State’ can once again be righted.

The obvious elephant in the room which the ideological solution misses is what is to be done with the other side. If, for instance, our political ills can effectively be addressed through the defeat of the Left, then what’s to become of the roughly 50% of the population which leans to the Left, and has done so throughout this country’s history? Will a State only function through keeping half the population in a continual state of suppression? The ideological solution misses the one integral law of the Universe; all things tend towards Unity. Whether it be politics, economics, or science, the relations and principles which bind living things together bring the diversity of existence into a functioning system where everything has a place and a purpose. The emptiness of and inability of ideology to sustain itself as a social organizing ideal has been illustrated throughout history with the blood of nations, which fall into anarchy and civil war as the side which is repressed attempts to make their voices heard. To be succinct, you can’t suppress something which comes naturally; there is either the choice of integration or disintegration.

To then paint a picture of what an alternative would look like, we must illustrate what it is not. Selecting lawmakers based upon geographic representation has been our standard method of election for so long that we fail to consider alternatives. And for much of that time, geographic representation accomplished its purpose of accurately representing the states and voting districts that composed the country. With primitive communications and means of travel, cultures developed in isolation, so one could speak of a Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, culture, etc. On this basis, representation founded on geography was the most logical and representative choice for a political system. However, as technology provided more efficient means of travel and communication, along with local economies becoming more diversified, the rationale for voting based upon place of residence began to lose relevance. Whereas previously it was fairly certain that an elected representative would engage in either agriculture or commerce like his constituents and thereby share in their struggles and victories, that became increasingly unlikely as poverty increased and life became more complex. It became possible for a wealthy industrialist to move from Pennsylvania to New York and represent an immigrant from Italy working in a sweatshop. A system of representation based upon such a premise can only manifest itself as foreign and mechanical, with no functional value whatsoever.

As society has evolved from being industrial to technological, the diversity illustrated above has become more acute. Within many districts, there are those who work in agriculture. Some are laborers, clerical, and others working for the government. While diversity has increased amongst the populace, there has been a noticeable decrease in diversity amongst lawmakers. When referencing diversity, there’s much more to it than purely ethnic considerations; increased educational opportunities have given birth to differentiation in thought and talent. Whereas a traditional peasant or tribal-based society has few options for occupations outside of agriculture, church, or the military, technology has given us the ability to explore vast dimensions of life through the diversity of occupations and our ability to experience that diversity through other’s experiences.

The increasing diversity of life, however, has not been matched by change within the political system and, hence, the social fissures and breakdowns we see. The increasing diversity of thought characterizing contemporary society has accompanied a certain shallowness to that very thought. Differences in politics, literature, and art are often nothing more than shallow fads meant to impersonate the latest popular style. In many ways, the limited horizons of yesterday had more meaning for the individuals who lived it than the varying viewpoints and styles of today. The politics we live with is incapable of addressing contemporary issues and problems. The limited scope of occupational differentiation within our

law-making institutions makes this so. During the Covid pandemic, there were no epidemiologists or scientists in Congress, and those with experience in the medical field were very limited. With most of Congress being within the top 1% of income earners, it’s impossible for all but those very few who grew out of poverty from a young age to relate to rent or housing prices which have been for far too long outpacing the growth of wages or the downward pressures large-scale immigration has had on wages in low skilled labor-intensive occupations. The disconnect between individuals and the political system gives birth to ideology. Lacking competent and knowledgeable representatives, we end up with the functional equivalent of smooth-talking used car salesmen who make lemons look like brand new sports cars. Without the knowledge to competently govern, ideology becomes the way and means to maintain power.

Imagine a system built upon specified centers of knowledge, a system reflecting the interests of its constituents. Presently, a waitress in a restaurant and a mechanic both are likely to be represented by a millionaire attorney. Under such a system, there’s no identity of interests and likely little to no sympathy for the plight of the other; whatever relations exist are artificial. Now, thinking outside the box, imagine a system where that waitress is represented in a law-making capacity by someone else who labors within the industry, possibly another waitress, chef, etc. While the overall scope of knowledge may not include that of a philosopher, the intimate knowledge of the particular profession gives a diversity of expertise otherwise lacking within our present system. Issues such as healthcare and education tend to produce dialogue revolving around buzzwords such as "socialism", and "capitalism", crippling any constructive collaboration in the process. A worker in a restaurant knows exactly what effect particular policies have on his/her bottom line and others who work within the same industry. Through the particular nature of expert knowledge, representation through occupation dispenses with the need for ideology.

Theoretically, the system just described could be liable to the same degenerative pressures as in the current system. There’s no guarantee that an individual, solely on the basis of sharing an occupation with others, won’t look out for their own interests at the expense of those they’re supposed to represent. If the anarchic nature of the present system were to transfer over to occupational representation, with an office being open to anybody and promotion to the seat of government being a test of popularity, then the same slick salespersons occupying the present congress would be able to manipulate the system to promote themselves.

Although the present is characterized by disorder, the future doesn’t need to be characterized by the same mistakes.

Occupational Representation is built upon the idea that the State is composed of all the constituent units of society; occupations are not just jobs but are part of the State itself. Behind this concept is the idea that there is no longer a line that can be delineated between the public and private spheres of life. This does not mean the government could or should dictate every aspect of the individual’s life to the minutest detail. It does mean, however, that actions committed by individuals or collective social units don’t exist within voids. Technology and population growth have helped to form a society along the lines of a lake. Throwing a stone across the surface of a lake produces ripples extending well beyond its initial landing point. As in society, a crime committed against one member of the community affects the entire community, as does the proliferation of drugs, homelessness, and illiteracy. Again, the State lacks the means to minutely manage lives to the extent that these vices can disappear completely, and any attempts to do so would likely backfire and increase the vices they were meant to destroy. However, through structuring society in such a way that helps people to become conscious of the links which unite individuals to each other, the same goal of community can be achieved at much less of a cost, both fiscally and morally.

Because our jobs consume most of our waking hours, the occupations we engage in should be the most integral focus of the State’s attention. A meaningless, unfulfilling job has been shown to be the number one predictor of violence and antisocial behaviors. The delineation between a private business and the public (government) again is no longer applicable in contemporary society. This doesn’t mean the government should directly run private businesses; it does mean, though, that there is a public interest in how businesses are structured, whether they serve a compelling public purpose and treat their employees, who in other facets of life are fathers, mothers, churchgoers, and little league coaches, with respect to their extensive important roles in society. This demands the structure of contemporary business interests changes from one of being top-down to a more horizontal structure. Where decision-making becomes a shared process between the owners of capital and those who enable wealth from capital to be extracted. It’s at this point where work becomes more than just a means to put a roof over a head and food on a table, but a process in which individuals from different backgrounds and positions within an occupation learn to overcome their differences and work together for the good of everyone within a guild. Being a part of the State is much more than representing it in a law-making capacity. Guilds are created, formed, and merged into the State. Through membership in an occupational guild and participation in the process of work, every act, every decision made by an individual helps to form the guild, and, by extension, is an act done by the State. Hence, the State and individual become one. Occupational guilds, being national in scope, would by necessity require various levels of authority. A few worker's representatives dictating to potentially millions would decay to the same level as our present system. But a well-organized system with manifold layers of responsibility and a certain degree of autonomy would be able to maintain a link between the different levels of authority. Promotion to higher positions within the guild would be achieved, as it is currently, through the illustration of knowledge and competence at one’s occupation. A system built upon a meritocratic principle would avoid the danger of a demagogue being able to sway voters through the use of words and the manipulation of emotion, which could be a potential danger of elections through guilds just as it is through geography. Individuals who show competence at their tasks may not be the best speakers, but the dedication to their particular sphere of knowledge is more likely to carry over into the law-making arena. To be sure that representatives represent the best interests of the guild as a whole and not just a particular sphere, the process of choosing individuals to represent the guild in a law-making capacity will be tripartite in nature with the owners of capital, representatives of workers, and government coming together to choose from the best-qualified candidates.

The underlying theme throughout the whole process is unity within diversity. Entering into the guild, the new worker wants nothing more than financial independence and security. But by engaging with a cooperative process, the individual acquires an identity of interests with others and learns to overcome differences in pursuit of a higher goal. At every stage of engagement with his/her occupation is the realization that the only way to better the self is through the betterment of the whole. The system is characterized by the particular needs of the individual being developed through becoming conscious of the whole. From the individual to the business interests, to the guild, and finally to the State, each step leads to progressive learning and internalization of the interconnectedness of all aspects of the system. By the time representatives emerge in Washington D.C. in their law-making capacity, they have already learned to work with others and aim towards the betterment of the whole as being representative of the particular wants and interests, whether that particular is the individual or the guild becoming irrelevant as the process engaged in leads to looking at everything as connected.

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