One Rant at a Time

Whatever heaves into view........better keep its head down.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It's election time... a few countries. By the start of October, there'll have been major elections in Norway, Germany, Italy, Poland, Japan and Egypt (today, in fact). Later on this year, there are more polls in New Zealand, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Haiti and Honduras.

Let's just reflect on that for a moment - millions of people are going to be having their say, hopefully helping decide the future course of their homelands between now and Christmas. Gives ya a warm feeling in side, right?

I was having a discussion last night about representative democracy, and how what we in the western world actually experience as opposed to what we should experience.

What we should experience is an open, lively debate about the best way to deal with the various issues that affect our lives. We should offer solutions, alternatives and let the majority decide. Our own small, local lives should be changed for the better like this.

What we actually experience is more like going to a fast-food restaurant. You're offered a variety of menus from which you cannot deviate, at a single price which is non-negotiable, and you find that because you want to eat a cheeseburger with bacon, you have to buy the onion rings that come with it, even though you hate onions!

Instead of being a bottom-up process, where we (the people) get to set the agenda, representative democracy has become a top-down process, where the political parties tell us what they're offering (subject to spin, alteration, quiet abandonment and complete reversal) and leave us to choose. No pick-and-mix allowed.

It's watered-down, it's prescriptive rather than elective and it feels wrong.

But what's the alternative? If each of us wanted to elect someone who would represent our own personal interests, we'd end up with as many legislators as there are voters. Which would be - and I use the word in its political sense - anarchism: everyone left to follow their own desires.

Because over the centuries the globe's population has grown larger and more inclusive, we can't behave like the ancient Greeks did with their "polis", where the electorate was restricted to a small sub-set of the population. We've introduced universal suffrage - every gets to vote. And we expect that everyone should be represented.

And with an exploding population, this means that the entire system of democracy has become just too unwieldy, too clumsy to operate like we wish it would.

And with this increasing remoteness, as each member of parliament represents many, many more people than he did 200 years ago, there is more disenchantment and apathy. It's only natural.

What can we do to combat this and to take decision making back to the people? One way would be to play politics like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?". Supply every household with a registered voter with a special keypad, connected to the internet; every day, broadcast a debate on the issue of the day - should we increase funding for hospitals? - and have the nation vote on it there and then. Democracy in action, making a decision. And by having a debate, at least all sides of the issue should get aired.

That's one suggestion, anyway. As the great Steve Earle once said: "If you don't vote, don't bitch."


At 11:07 AM, Blogger Cocaine Jesus said...

electric observations presented with wit, wisdom and just a touch of disenchantment. a mirror reflection of my own soul. great post and a great idea BUT as my mother in law was fond of saying "It'll never catch on you know"


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