SERJ TANKIAN: ‘Sometimes It’s Better To Have A Benign Dictator Than A Dumb Democracy’

Josh Hart of recently conducted an interview with SYSTEM OF A DOWN singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet and political activist Serj Tankian. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below. Since your last proper solo outing, 2010’s “Imperfect Harmonies”, a lot has been going on in the world, the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement to name a couple. How much of that fed into the writing of [Serj‘s new solo album] “Harakiri”?

Serj Tankian: I think everything that was going on in 2011 and prior, based on experience, was probably feeding into everything I was doing from “Harakiri” to all the other projects that I was doing. But because it’s probably the most lyrically viable record — because some of the others are instrumental — it probably fed in a good amount. If you listen to “Fuck Let’s Figure It Out” — which is now just called “Figure It Out”, thanks to iTunes — it kind of comedically tells the story of CEOs being the problem. I say comedically because it focuses on one little aspect of the whole complex problem of inbalance, injustice and inequality, and it does it in a funny way. As you mentioned, “Figure It Out” really goes after CEOs, who are taking a lot of the blame for the financial crisis in 2008. A lot of that, from my perspective, stems from a shift in management culture in which CEOs are given incentives to maximize shareholder revenues by any means necessary, including outsourcing, layoffs, cutting corners, etc. I think that’s led to a lot of anti-capitalism sentiments, but is capitalism really not a viable system or have we just gotten off track a bit in the U.S.?

Serj Tankian: I think anytime that you go to the extreme of any mode of economics, be it capitalism or communism, you have these feedback mechanisms that make the system turn in on itself. If you allow for a purely capitalistic society, without any type of regulation at all, you will get one monopoly that will eat all of the smaller fish and own everything, and then you’ll have zero capitalism, zero competition — it would just be one giant company. So I think we have to be careful how we associate ourselves with different economic structures. You know, to me, as much as we’re a capitalistic society, we have to have these built in security nets for the public for the sake of democracy. Capitalism unchecked is not a democratic system. And I think we should be more on the side of democracy, rather than waving the capitalism flag as a nation. I don’t think we should be married to an economic system unless it’s good for all of our people. It just makes more sense to me. You touched on the idea of the “social safety net,” which is suffering a bit as there’s a push to privatize things like prisons and education, and obviously a push to keep health care private.

Serj Tankian: They’ve done the experiments with prisons over the years and the results have been horrible. And same with education. There’s a lot of private education already, so to a certain point that works, but I don’t think they should privatize all public education. They should put more money into it so that we’re not number 30 on the educational scale on the planet. You know? As far as medical, I wish that Obama had pushed for the public option even though he couldn’t, based on the Republicans. He got whatever he could pass and now they’re trying to fight it as a Constitutional thing. I can’t believe this country, honestly. It’s so fucking backwards sometimes that it pisses me off. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. You see people that are really suffering and they don’t have health care, their kids don’t have health care, and they’re asked why they don’t support Obama‘s health-care plan and they say, “Well, we want freedom.” And I’m like, “Fuck you!” I think that’s why education is so important. To have an uneducated democracy … sometimes it’s better to have a benign dictator than a dumb democracy, to be honest with you.

Read the entire interview from