Moments of popular upheaval, resistance, and revolution have a common underlying cause: they arise from popular dissatisfaction with economic and political systems. Protesters, proletarians, common people are dissatisfied with a political process that does not hear their voices, does not guarantee them their needs and rights, and sees them only by their industrial capacity, as instruments. Meanwhile the debate between politicians and the political class on various issues continues without real representation for those whom the policies would be imposed on, whose lives would be destroyed without adequate protection.
Modernity has produced a society in which natural objects are essentially devalued; industry defiles the natural world, the environment, extracts value where it can, and leaves a path of destruction. What Pope Francis calls the technocratic paradigm spreads into all spheres of life; the modern political and economic system by virtue of instrumentalism become severely undemocratic. Where the idea of profit-maximization is worshipped above all else, so too political powers see this as their goal — such instrumentalism annihilates the democratic process and common people not only do not have a voice but also suffer because the common good – their common good — is inadequately protected.
Growing apoliticism in a society has caused the working class to become underrepresented in political affairs and become especially unheard in matters concerning the common good. Rather than accept the system that subjects us, we ought to unite and through deep, inclusive discourse inform and steer political powers to be more democratic and ecologically mindful in order to effect the highest common good.
The culture we participate in, the technocratic paradigm and the metastasis of economic policy into politics have equally contributed to the dissociation of the political project from the common good. The ‘rapidification’ of life in public and private spheres, says Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, the urbanization of cities, and constant over-stimulation through mass-media causes the destruction of natural spaces, harms our health and causes us to experience anxiety. Cities — inefficiently built and chaotic, polluted, and loud — have not only become unhealthy to live in, but also deprive common people of their contact with nature and of their social nature. Open spaces where people could commune and come in contact with nature often become privatized, closed to ensure their tranquility, but so also becoming inaccessible for many. Public spaces deteriorate in favor of private spaces; public transport erodes in favor of private transport –— people become separated, and hence a part of their social and political nature is effectively destroyed.
The technocratic paradigm is characterized by our insistence on manipulation of nature, our appropriation of nature, and the total extraction of value from natural things, without concern for preservation of resources. Technological solutions are preferred, causing further distance between us and nature. Instrumentalism, as developed by the philosopher Charles Taylor and brought about by the technocratic paradigm, pervades all aspects of our lives, especially economic and political structures. Welfare economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that expanding capital justifies its means; the present economic system and political structures permit, and indeed promote the ruthless exploitation of workers and of the environment. The primacy of instrumental reason brings with it the establishment of a political class, the conglomerate of owners of capital, the 1% who are uniquely in the position to influence political direction. Corporate control of politics is symptomatic, then, of a culture which exalts above all the use-value of things, and sees them instrumentally, and this above all undermines the establishment of a real democracy, and undermines the promulgation of the common good.
The annihilation of the notion of the common good caused by “instrumentalism” and the establishment of a political class calls into question whether there is a real democracy. Economic and then political powers give priority to the pursuit of financial gain, and fail to take into account the effects of instrumentalism on human dignity and on the environment — where profit is sought in itself at any cost, the political process becomes corrupted: it shifts from democratic to oligarchic, where those with more capital hold more power. The political process fails not only to give common people a voice, and a real choice; it fails also to represent the common good. It reduces real human lives to numbers on spreadsheets, profit to be made or missed. It has failed to uphold our rights, which feminist philosopher Rita Manning defines as minimum standards below which no one should fall; it has failed to provide protection for the helpless, the poor, the environment — inequality increases daily and thus the political process decays further, all while natural land is appropriated for industrial uses.
The political process encourages the exploitation of natural resources and of common people. Those who would have a ‘free market’— have economies governed by its ‘invisible forces’ — consider the damage to society and the environment as mere collateral damage. It is clear that a free market tends to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, and pass environmental costs onto the common people. These costs we can no longer bear! Our current political-economic system exploits us and nature, it steals from us real freedom of decision and a voice in the political process, and it stands in the way of the establishment of policies that promote the common good.
The reversal of inequality, repayment of debts to the common people and the environment, reduction of hunger and poverty is entirely possible if we reconsider and adapt our ethical framework to revere above all people, rather than their use value and the gross accumulation of capital. We must reject the technocratic paradigm, the consumer culture, and instrumentalism, in favor of an inclusive ethic that takes into account the substantial and emotional needs of all people, consistent with a true democratic process. On a political level, investments must be made in public aid, in education and in the creation of public spaces. Common people must not only be nominally free, free to act as they please, say what they want — they must also be guaranteed substantial rights, possibilities, education, and aid. Investment in the common people, the ‘99%’, is essential to promote the general welfare and the common good. The common people must represent themselves in the political process; we must make our voices heard!
The erosion of the democratic process and the primacy of instrumentalism has caused common people to become depoliticized, underrepresented in political affairs, and especially unheard in matters concerning their common good. Rather than accept this system that subjects us, we ought to unite in solidarity against those forces which cause us to suffer. Through deep, inclusive public discourse and political action we can inform and steer political powers to be more democratic and ecologically mindful, and to effect the highest common good. Rita Manning and social philosopher Jane Addams contend the reparation of the political and economic system must proceed from a change in our common ethic; we must learn to care deeply for another as people, each with natural dignity, with needs and rights, rather than seeing them instrumentally, as their industrial value, as numbers, votes, or profit.
We cannot continue in our current modes of production. Natural spaces must be preserved and protected, rather than appropriated and destroyed; human people must no longer be exploited, and must be compensated for their work and their suffering. We should not have to endure what politicians and the political class decide for us — it is time that we decide for ourselves! We must care for our homeless, our helpless, our poor, and also our environment, which we share and coexist within. Only in this way can we restore the democratic political processes to those to whom they rightfully belong: the common people seeking the common good.