Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When did you discover that there is something badly wrong with democracy?

For me, it was in 2009. I had been invited to speak at a meeting called "The Festival of Energy;" a thinly disguised public relation stunt for the fossil fuel lobby, designed to show that renewable energy is a cute thing and that, surely, someday in a remote future, it might be really used.

At the meeting, I found myself sitting in the audience in a debate about nuclear energy. The year before, Silvio Berlusconi's party, "the people of freedom," had won the national elections. Almost immediately afterward, the new government had announced that Italy was going to return to nuclear energy after a moratorium that had started in 1987, and that four new nuclear plants would be built. So, the debate was supposed to be about that.

The experts on the panel were divided between those who were enthusiastically favorable to nuclear energy and those who were mildly favorable. The audience listened in silence, somewhat awed. Then, there came the time for questions and answers. Someone rose up and expressed the opinion that the government should have promoted a national debate before taking a decision on nuclear energy.

The answer came from a functionary of the newly elected government and it provided for me a new understanding of the concept of "glee." Wearing an elegant double-breasted suit, this man addressed the person in the audience more or less as a Medieval lord would address one of the peasants of his feud.

"My good man," the functionary said, "there will be no national debate on nuclear energy. We have been elected by the people on a program that said that we would have Italy return to nuclear energy and that gives us the authority to do just that. So, we decided to start building the new plants and that's what we will do. There is no need for any debate. At most, the government will explain to the citizens the advantages that they will obtain from nuclear energy."

After such a treatment of verbal shock and awe for the audience, the debate veered on irrelevant questions. I thought that I could have risen up and challenged the double-breasted Lord on his rather extreme interpretation of "democracy". But I didn't do that. Maybe someone else did, but I can't say because I left before the end of the debate, in a rather dark mood.

In the following period, the government didn't really succeed in forcing a "non-debate" on nuclear energy; but they kept forging onward with their plans; hammering over and over the concept that they were doing what the people had empowered them to do and that no one had the right of stopping them. For sure, the ragtag group of historical relics, Greens and Reds, who tried to oppose them never seemed to very effective.

Then the Fukushima disaster came in March 2011, the government was badly defeated in June in a national referendum on nuclear energy, and Berlusconi was forced to resign in November. Possibly it was the result of not having been able to deliver the nuclear promises he had made to some higher powers.

What's interesting about this old debate (if we want to call it in this way) is that the double-breasted person at the meeting had lied; just as many of his colleagues had been doing at that time. He had said that the new government had been elected on a program that included a return to nuclear power. Well, I went to check that document and I found that it said nothing like that. The only statement about nuclear energy it contained said, "participating in European research projects on the latest generation nuclear power".

Of course, I was not the only one who noticed that. Many other people did, and several of them tried to use this concept in the debate. But the meme didn't stick; it was drowned in the great noise of the national media and the opposition made no attempt of using it. At that time, I was surprised but, rethinking about this story, I think I shouldn't have been. Apparently, in democracy you can get away with anything, especially if it is lies. That's something that you can see very well with the ongoing American presidential elections.

So, maybe it is true that getting swords from women lying in ponds is a better way to choose a government.


  1. Well, nuclear energy is the most reasonable if not the only option 2 prolong BAU, the Capitalism, the Growth... Yep, thats a palliative, that treats just symptoms (fossil fuels depletion & climate change), not the fundumental reasons of our CV deadly illness (which is the 2d law and its implications to a cancer-like system on a finite planet). So what? Thats how such systems react, they do not transform voluntarily, they grow until they die of starvation, pollution or both... Meanwhile nuclear energy does promise to deal with visible limits2growth symptoms... For some time at least :)

    PS btw solar&wind within the current system are the same palliative as nuclear even if they prove to be viable as the main energy resource of the system... The end is the same, just other limits will play itself...

    1. "CV" I do not understand. I'd guess some cardiovascular style earth eco disease thing. Please enlighten me.

  2. Except for the meltdowns when the grid goes down.

    444 nuke plants now online and 63 more being built. Every one dependent on the power grid for the flow of reactor coolant, if I'm not mistaken.

    In one or two generations it is likely they will all be spewing radiation like Fukushima daiichi, ant they'll keep doing that for for some thousands of years. A bullet to the head would be more palliative.

  3. That's helpful Batalos. McPherson follower?

  4. Well I parallel Ugo somewhat, 40th marriage anniversary earlier this year and problems reconciling democracy and AGW response for last 10 years or so, sociopathy in charge it seems in so many countries at so many levels. I don't see an antidote in anything except the ultra idealistic expansion of human consciousness leading to voting and promoting different character types (i.e. people who don't necessarily want the job but are competent and prepared to do it if asked nicely and can be reasonably truthfully assured that the sociopaths won't make life hell from the inside) I don't think it can happen in any meaningful timeframe. I also can't see an alternative which is fundamentally less prone to the distortions.

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  6. But what is democracy after all? A nice starting point for an exploration is here: Against Elections: The Case for Democracy - David Van Reybrouck

  7. For me . . . the year 2000 and the fraudulent election (I'm American).

    In the aftermath, I joined an activist group devoted to changing our electoral system. It eventually dissolved amid quarreling, with the Gore voters witch-hunting the Nader voters for "throwing" the election to Bush.

    For a while, around 2006, I began to think maybe my expectations of collapse were wrong, and things would sort themselves out. Actually allowed myself a bit of hope as well during Obama's first campaign, but he blew his chance to be the next FDR. Then 2008-9 happened, of course.

    Since then, it's become more and more obvious that we're starting to slide down the collapse side of the peak, so I haven't had much chance to get stupid again.

    I hope you don't mind that I posted your macro to Tumblr -- I couldn't resist.

  8. I say: Holy Roman Empire. Emperor by grace of God. That means, you can check the Emperors behavior with the bible. Check the bible what it says about sustainability - pope Francis doesn´t produce his messages out of thin air. Well... no-brainer, isn´t it?



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)