Updated: Sep 13
Political ideals are more than visible structures and processes relating to theories concerning government. Common to all political ideals are mythologies which mobilize the masses to either support political action, or maintain the government in power. Acknowledging that most people are not by nature political philosophers and most likely don’t have the capability to become one, politicians need to construct a vision which translates the minutiae of law into something recognizable. Since all of us were born into and raised within a family, there is nothing more familiar and easier to understand than family life. Hence, political visions are often metaphors of family. Probably the most recognizable portrayals of family life come from the American painter Norman Rockwell, with special emphasis on his painting “Freedom From Want”, which depicts a family sitting around a dinner table with an older man, presumably the family patriarch with a plate of turkey. The year of the painting (1943) suggests that the piece was intended to be mythological, to create an ideal version of family life to contrast with the fascist enemy the U.S. was fighting at the time. Visual idealizations of the family at the dinner table, a common occurrence in daily life, have been one of the most customary ways of idealizing democracy. Granted, idealizations are never completely accurate depictions of reality; every piece of art is an ideal, so to an extent, the reality it portrays will always have a bit of the artist contained within at the expense of complete accuracy. However, the product of art contains authenticity only to the extent that it approaches an honest portrayal of its object. When honestly is completely lacking is when art no longer becomes art and instead enters the realm of propaganda. At this point the deficiencies of democracy have become manifest.The reality of democratic life, as can be seen on a daily basis, has been rejected by most of the populace. What keeps the present structure from undergoing radical change is the myth; those visual representations meant to mobilize the masses. The lie, the propaganda, that ‘we no longer have democracy’, and ‘only if we became more open and democratic’- this is what is keeping the legs from collapsing under the weight of democratic contradictions. Lacking any kind of ability in the visual arts, I will with my words attempt to deconstruct that lie that is the democratic vision and create a contrast through the construction of a social vision of National Reformation. Now, let’s sit down for dinner.
The democratic ethos has its roots in Ancient Greece. The ekklesia, the legislative chambers in Ancient Greek City-States, were composed of ordinary citizens, who would presumably gather together to debate laws that would govern their particular cities. Despite this particular model being responsible for the disastrous Athenian invasion of Sicily and its subsequent defeat in the Peloponnesian War, in many ways, the vision of the ekklesia being a place of open debate amongst the citizenry has populated the imaginations of Americans back to the Revolutionary War-era, and in many ways has constructed the idea of the family dinner table being the social version of democracy, with the parents as leaders, and the children serving as citizens being a source of open debate, much like a Greek City-State. This vision, though, doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Much as Sparta served as a foil for Athens, totalitarian states serve as bogeymen for contemporary democracies. The father is now portrayed at the dinner table as a dictatorial figure monopolizing debate and restricting the free discussion of ideas. A black and white perspective of world constructions arrives by default, resembling the opposite of the intended contrast. Not much creative thought goes into this process, as the presumption of the opposite side being evil requires unthinking opposition, hence, the assumption of the idealized portrayals of democratic life. Unfortunately, American theoreticians have for the most part ignored the questions of why the structure of the Ancient Greek City-State was incapable of maintaining itself for a long period of time, choosing instead to emphasize those aspects most conducive to their personal ideologies.
We have two scenarios to illustrate how social binding occurs, the Robinsons in the contemporary "democratic" environment and the Edwards in a socially integrated one.
The Robinsons (The democratic table)
Father – John
Son – Daniel
Daughter - Andrea
The Robinsons are a typical American nuclear family composed of parents, a son, and a daughter. John and Debbie both work full-time jobs, which provides enough income to just barely pay the mortgage on the house and the two-family cars. Their children, Daniel, 8, and Andrea, 15, attend local public schools. Due to both parents working full-time, dinner usually consists of take-out. Tonight, Kentucky Fried Chicken is on the menu. As the family sits down to eat, they engage in a typical family discussion regarding how their day was. Andrea discusses interactions with friends on Snapchat and Instagram, along with the latest news of the Kardashians, while Daniel talks about what Pokémon cards he wants and the latest Anime movie he just watched the other night. John and Debbie, exhausted from their day at work, don’t say much, limiting their responses to the children by autonomic acknowledgements, only feigning knowledge of the most recent social trends discussed by the children. Whatever conversations they have amongst themselves are limited to the most recent soundbites they receive from Fox News or talk radio on their drive home. After dinner, each of the children is instructed to finish homework and then prepare for bed. The alone time spent by the husband and wife usually consists of no more than watching a show or movie together before bed.
Of course, the above is not a literal representation but is a description based upon social trends. Interactions within society have decreased significantly. Youth sports, which used to be a mainstay of family life, have seen reduced participation over the last decade, to be replaced by online games, which, while at times being played with others, can only simulate a real social situation. Online conversations , oftentimes with the use of an Avatar with features not even coming close to resembling those of the users, lose out on the facial expressions and body language which constitute so much of social interaction. It has been well documented that social interaction and a robust family life is extremely important for youth. Lacking these, a child grows into an adult with pathologies and defense mechanisms to compensate for their stunted social growth as a child. Hence, we have the growth of mental illnesses and suicides which populate the social landscape. Technological growth and innovation are a given; however, they need to be accompanied by assertive public policies that push individuals to be active parts of society.
The most telling indictment of the democratic table is that, while there is interaction going on, there is no depth or personality to any of these interactions. From the talk surrounding the Kardashians and Pokémon to debates surrounding Fox News, there is no inherent meaning to any of these topics. Dinner table conversations have devolved to nothing more than vacuous stroking of the ego. In the past, historical folklore provided role-models and topics for discussion, as children desired to be Davy Crockett, Robert E. Lee, or Babe Ruth. The goal was to transcend their circumstances, to make a difference. Instead, what we have now are individuals focused on meaningless games and emulating celebrities, incapable of articulating coherent opinions but being very competent in showing off body parts and displaying their lavish lifestyles. Whatever passes for political discourse amongst adults can either be classified as mutual shouting or agreements that the system is terrible, while lauding one side of the political dichotomy and condemning the other without ever realizing the contradiction within that opinion. Democracy, which asserts that freedom is inherent within an act and not the content of the act, gives rise to a culture which is meaningless and empty.
The Edwards (NRP Table)
Father – Dan
Son – Jack
Daughter – Jean
While many of the problems associated with the family life of the Robinson clan are related to the quality or lack thereof in the work-life of the parents, the family life of the Edwards is also a result of the work-life of the parents, the one glaring difference is that Donna has the option of being a stay-at-home mother, something not available to Debbie. The higher wage and benefits earned by Dan, as a result of the corporatist social order, makes this a possibility. Democracies, under the pressure of business special interests, need as many females as possible in the workplace to put downward pressure on wages. As a result, the first noticeable difference between the two tables is dinner itself. Whereas the democratic table usually relies on fast food, most of the dinners at the NRP table are home cooked. Dan, while being tired from a long day at work, is absent any disillusionment and emptiness connected with engaging in occupations essentially meaningless. The workplace, which used to be defined as a vertical construct, composed of bosses and those who worked under them, has been replaced by a horizontal structure characterized by a difference of function, where every worker has a place within the workplace and a voice within its operating framework. Not to be left out, Donna is a member of her local syndicate for housewives, which discusses national and local issues that pertain to the interests of housewives and sends representatives to the National Legislative Chamber through the National Corporation for Housewives. The children, who are still under the same pressures of technology as their democratic counterparts, are able to stay away from its deleterious effects through a well-structured life outside of the classroom, including mandated communal activities meant to enrich youth. Jack plays on his local youth baseball team, while Jean takes art classes. Dinnertime conversations usually center around the happenings within the local syndicates and the communal activities of the children.
The differences between these two pictures are many; most of all,those differences center around meaning. That meaning is given by the individual and the degree to which he/she recognizes themselves in the activity in which they partake. The democratic parents, working within an adversarial structure, which by its very nature demeans, becomes a burden, something which must be done to support the family. The corporative structure promotes action and participation, not through compulsion but as a product of function. The fascination with cheap news and five-second soundbites is nonexistent at the NRP table, as the conventional understanding of politics is flipped on its head. Instead of sides pitted against each other acting out oppositional roles to maintain relevance within the political system, there exists only one side containing a diversity of viewpoints, compelled through the system they work within to act cooperatively. What we consider the news is flipped on its head as well, emphasizing aspects of life not simply for shock value, but through how they relate to the actual events in people’s lives. The Edwards children, while enjoying the technology of their democratic counterparts, never see it become an integral part of their lives. The structure and emphasis in the lives of the NRP’s children takes the emphasis off of excessive leisure time and the dangers it brings, instead focusing on pursuits geared toward emotional and intellectual growth.
Too often, contemporary politics is defined through a prism of what can and can’t be done, not based upon function or utility, but abstract concepts, which, while being ingrained in our minds, are not based upon addressing social problems. Reality is not something we come across or are subject to. Reality is a self-creation; while the NRP table is an idea, it’s an idea based upon isolated moments and interactions throughout history. Bringing them together into a coherent whole is not a Sisyphean task but an eminently translatable vision.