Why the ‘Live and Let Live’ Approach Doesn’t Work

In order to achieve social sustainability, and thus a balanced and stable society in the long term, transparency and accountability must be ensured not only in the economy, but also in politics. After all, it is essentially politics that sets the framework not only for the economy, but also for society in general, and often even for the cultural environment.

Politics, then, is essentially a way of dealing with common issues, preferably in an organized, institutional framework and, as far as possible, in a democratic way, with the involvement of those concerned. Far from being confined to the level of countries or international associations, politics is present in the day-to-day life of local government, in the functioning of companies and other organizations, and even in the case of a single apartment building or a family. Whenever we agree on certain things, common rules, customs, plans, strategies and so on, we are essentially all politicking among ourselves.

If this is done democratically, with people involved, listened to and making the necessary compromises, then the system works well, and more or less everyone has the opportunity to meet their different needs and to fulfill themselves. In reality, however, this is often not the case at all, as opportunists tend to impose their will, worldview, religion and other ideas on others – by their sheer persistence and determination, by deception, fraud, bribery, manipulation, or sometimes even intimidation, threats and violence.

While the majority of people are typically not particularly opportunistic, or are even averse to the circumstances and conditions of existential opportunism, there are a fair number of us who thrive in such a social environment. Generally speaking, these individuals tend to be more unscrupulous, pushy and ambitious than average. There are also quite a few among them who don’t really care what other people want, or what other people think about the same things. And because people who are less assertive, determined and conflict-tolerant are less able to stand up for themselves and for their own rights, it is mostly the opportunists who set the terms and the rules. Thus, they also largely determine the direction in which we go in the future, even though they are in a decisive minority overall.

This, however, is usually far from being the best or the most optimal, or as beneficial for the majority in the long term as it is for the opportunistic minority in the short term. And as we know, the priorities of the elites are usually not the same as would be most important for the interests of society as a whole, but their own well-being, the maintenance and growth of their wealth and power, etc. Unfortunately, this is often the case in politics, but most people tend to completely rely on the politicians (unless something happens that particularly upsets the wider masses), saying that they know better, and therefore know what to do to make it good for society as a whole.

But this is not how power fundamentally works: it is essentially about those who hold it usually exploiting their privileged position to advance the interests, welfare and will of their own and their spheres of interest, while controlling the majority. To do so, they either consciously or instinctively apply the unwritten laws of gaining and holding power, as political scientists Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith explain in their book The Dictators’ Handbook – Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics.

The concept is roughly based on the strategy of keeping the leaders in control of the money and rewarding their main allies, who are always there to support them, while trying to keep the majority, who are vulnerable to their power, dependent and in control. For the latter, they use tools such as propaganda or disinformation, but also, for example, the principle of ‘bread and circuses’ or ‘divide and conquer’, to keep at bay or play off against each other those potentially dangerous to their power. But, among others, one of the basic rules of politics and of maintaining power is also that a leader should never take too much money out of the pockets of his most loyal supporters, and should only give the majority the least that is needed to keep them from rebelling.

As the politicians in parliaments and in government set the framework conditions for the functioning of the economy, and are the main focus of the allocation of money and resources, they also have a particularly strong influence in this regard. And as long as there is no separation of economic and political roles, the intertwining of political and economic interests is essentially inevitable. It is no coincidence that the majority of politicians everywhere are among the most opportunistic, even if they were not originally motivated by money or power. Even if a politician does not start out in this way at the beginning of his career, but rather with an idealistic mindset, sooner or later he will have to adapt to this often cruel and tough environment, or else he will soon fall away.

However, as long as the will of opportunists prevails in politics, the economy and society, extreme inequalities will always be present and real equality of opportunity is unlikely to be achieved. But in such a framework it is as doubtful that we will ever get rid of racism or other forms of chauvinism (see male chauvinism), just as extremes such as nationalism will not disappear, either. So in essence, the opportunistic minority will always dominate the less opportunistic majority, preventing a leveling of the playing field until the majority does in fact do something about it.

Of course, this is not easy at all (as history has proven many times), but the situation has not changed: the only way to defeat the opportunists is for as many of us as possible to think and act in a more conscious and organized way. This requires a certain level of knowledge and awareness, as well as the time, energy and willingness to participate in common affairs, which the ruling class often prevents. Nevertheless, in an advanced and truly civilized society, the task of politics would be to support its members in participating and, as far as scientifically and objectively possible, to present the world to the people as it really is. Then citizens can use this information to decide what is best for the majority, rather than a narrow minority imposing its will on them.

But since the latter tends to be the case, even if the principle of ‘live and let live’ is a nice concept, it may not work in life in a way that is really good for us in the long run. While in principle it ensures mutual freedom, in practice it often allows some people, who have less respect for the freedom of others, to achieve their own will and self-fulfillment at the expense of others. So, as difficult as it is, we must say no to all those who seek to dominate us and know no compromise – and the more of us who do so, the less the individual risk and the greater the chance of success. We must also always ensure that our leaders are accountable, because where this is not the case, we can hardly talk about truly civilized conditions, and the requirements for long-term sustainability are unlikely to be met.

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