I know we’re not supposed to be thinking about this stuff.. It’s not allowed.. but here goes.
Does democracy give us real freedom of choice, or just the appearance of it?
I’m fascinated at the moment with the question of legitimacy. Specifically in so far as it related to our democratically elected governments.
When you look at the vote numbers from the last few elections in the USA and UK you see that governments are being elected to power with less than a quarter of the population’s vote. They may have an overall majority of the votes that have been cast, but as so few people vote, then it means that in reality only 20-25% of the population actually wanted these people to be in power and run things for us. Is that truly representative? Is that legitimate?
Who are these politicians really? What skills do they have? Do they do anything? Are they talented or skilled at something in a way that qualifies them to be holding a position of authority? Does it all just boil down to a popularity contest won by the least bad candidate? The one that can weave the shiniest web of silk screen around them wins. A lot of us are cynical about it all – and probably rightly so – but in a way our cynicism just hurts us. Our frustration and rage should be turned into a voice, a call, a demand for something else. People don’t vote because they feel disempowered, like it wont make a real difference, and their largely right. The more cynical we are the less likely we are to actually get involved and the likelihood of change decreases.
When I’m asked to vote for someone they present a set of ideas, principles, intentions etc and I choose based on that. I can also contact them and ask them to take a stand this way or that on something but they are of course free to ignore me. The reality however is that even if I was that engaged to stay on top of what my representative was doing and lobbying for my preferences all the time, the chain of influence is so long and politics so opaque and intricate that it hardly makes any difference.
It looks good on paper but in practice almost nobody (except the already wealthy or powerful who can exert obvious and immediate influence) get to do much to affect real change. The only exception is when enough people gather together that it embarrasses politicians or political parties into taking action. Their ‘public’ image (and thus re-electibiity) is threatened so they must respond or be seen to respond. It’s all about show, about the appearance. If 250,000 people marched for something and the media didn’t report it and no one else saw it except the government and the protesters.. how influenced would they really be I wonder.
So when it comes to having an influence myself, what can I do? What are my choices really?
I’m presented with a choice of two people in identical suits with almost the same ideas convincing me that their flavour of cola beverage is the one and only – the alternative being dangerous ad untrustworthy. So my choice boils down to essentially Pepsi or coke. Now as they are both saying this we can conclude that if this is false then one of them is a liar, and if its true then both are. Not a great choice really. What if i don’t want either?When and where do I get to have my say? On the ballot sheet? That’s not a say, not a real choice, that’s Pepsi or Coke.
So standing back, what if I find certain legislation, a particular law, or even the entire system flawed, what can I do? More specifically, if I don’t want Pepsi or Coke (or anything like it), and find the whole idea that these clowns are in charge – and given the power and privilege that they are – offensive, and want to live in a completely different way, what are my choices?
I can leave, go to another country.. but then I have the same thing. Same set of problems, very similar limitations but a different bureaucracy run by almost identical set of clowns. It’s like being told you can vote for labour camp director, what a freedom! And of course if you absolutely cannot stand for the elected choice then you can change labour camps.. Right, is that really a free choice?
What if I fundamentally don’t accept that these people have any authority over me. They weren’t born better or with any authority over me and I choose to grant them none. I didn’t vote for them and I don’t want them, what then? Where can I go? Who decides the world is divided up into countries? Who gave them the right? Certainly no one I know. Why don’t I have the same legitimate right to say No. I don’t recognise your state, your authority or your regulations and I choose instead to live on my own terms in my own way by my own moral and ethical framework and take responsibility for my own actions. Where am I allowed to do that? It seems that if I was to really try I would be imprisoned for one thing or another – probably trespassing on land someone claims to own at the very least.
I think when you look at it from this perspective the choice we have suddenly doesn’t feel quite as free anymore. It feels a bit token. I’m not against the concept of participatory democratic forms of running things, but what we have? It’s not really what we think it is.
You have to accept what you’re given, bottom line. True independence, true freedom is not an option. There is nowhere to go. It’s their way or no way at all. Are we all political prisoners in this sense?