Monday, January 09, 2006

A disincentive for democracy

I mustn't be a very good lefty.

Well, sort of. I guess I am in that I'm all with the embracing the pinkos and hugging the trees (and I'm even a vegetarian).

But when it comes to waxing lovely about this wonderful representative system that we all call democracy, I'm a bit of a dismal failure. And not just because I adore communism or socialism (I don't, really). I really just think democracy's a bit rooted, to be totally honest.

We're an apathetic bunch, us Aussies. I hate to keep going back to Mark Latham as my starting point, but there's been little better analysis than his in recent times. In the Diaries he talks about politics today as rotten to the core with artificiality, "temporary, shallow and vacuous". The problem is that nobody really seems to give a stuff.

The public noticed the problem, raised a few complaints, then went back to watching Big Brother as the pollies all sat around on their arses laughing at the stupid voters and cashing in their governmental allowances.

People have been talking about the slow decline of social democracy, participatory democracy, for years now. The problem is that there seems no saviour, nobody who really wants to get down and dirty to do something about it. The politicians, as Latham so astutely and depressively announced time and time again, don't give a stuff. And the people don't either; that's the problem.

The general public seems to expect democracy to only take hold at election time. Vote in the people who'll suit you best and then switch off the telly (and the brain) for another three years. Everybody wants the chance to see in the government that they want, but nobody wants the continued responsibility once things start going wrong. And that's just the first problem.

There are further, deep, structural problems with democracy. At its core is a defence of selfishness rather than selflessness, despite everybody shouting otherwise. The flaws show up from the beginning, and when you couple democracy with capitalism, who can be surprised when the result is the most exploitatively selfish system imaginable? Democracy rewards those who vote to look after themselves and those closest to them; is it any wonder that the Liberal party keeps getting voted in?

Democracy is a hierarchal system of minute representation, where each constituent is given a tiny slice of the cake and told to hang on as tight as they can. It's no surprise then that those getting their hands on inordinately large portions all want to wolf it down as quickly as possible. In return, the rich get richer and the poor just keep on getting poorer.

And what about that tricky notion that we actually know what's best for ourselves anyway? Is it not an inherent contradiction? Sure, I know what's best for me, so I'll just vote in this group of bureaucrats to ensure that I'm told exactly what it is that I need to do.

I must have missed something, but it just seems a bit ballsed-up to me.

Of course, the whole thing raises quite a few ethical dilemmas: I know for a fact that I don't always make the best decisions for myself, but I'll defend my right to make those (sometimes misguided) decisions to my last breath. And I guess that's what democracy is really for: our chance to make the decisions that basically just fuck ourselves over.

But what about the others being fucked by our decisions? Those who can't stand up for themselves, or just don't know how?

When the system's skewed so far towards helping those who help themselves, what becomes of the helpless?


KEV said...

i am commenting just to make your life worth living. mine is already worth living, because i get to sell mince pies to kriss akabusi.

anyway, i love the way i totally agree with what you're saying, but for the complete opposite reasons. that's awesome. it's like you're just an upside-down version of me. oh wait... yeah!

BUT at the end of the day, i still love you in that special way one loves australians they've never actually met. like harold bishop. and serena bishop.... mmm.... and janae actually. but i probably shouldn't say that. yet. give it a year, eh. actually lill or however you spell it is proper fit too. so that evens things out. on average, they're legal.

pandaobscura said...

Cheers Kev, but enough with the Neighbours references. Like no one here drinks Fosters, nobody watches Neighbours. So quit it ;)

Heh @ upside-down. Stupid American-Brit man :)

Anonymous said...

NO, Kenny said...

question: if they switch off the telly for another three years, how can they go back to watching big brother?? :P

"I know what's best for me, so I'll just vote in this group of bureaucrats to ensure that I'm told exactly what it is that I need to do" ^^^^^^^ this is great!

it's all very well and good to pick at all the shit things about our democracy, because as you so nicely put it, it is "a bit rooted". but is there a solution? what can we do? all vote green? would they get their peices of cake, and hold on to it real tight? not at the start i'm sure, but then again, neither did frodo baggins.

btw, did you know that George Foreman has no fingerprints??

Jill said...

this was a great entry brad - i have lots to say but i just realised i have to be at work soon. i'll comment when i get home and have some wine.

i'm surprisingly impressed!

Jill said...

Hmmm ok so I'm back.

I totally see where you're coming from in this entry - but one point I think is that I'm sure many people agree that democracy is by no means a perfect system, but it is the best of a bad bunch, as sad as that is. Like you, socialism and communism hold no charms for me (funny that) and I too see the gaping holes in the fabric of democracy.

Of the extremely valid points you raised, I think the biggest flaw I identify is the supposition that we know what's best for us. Though I also agree with being given choice, it kind of seems redundant when we can't make them. As a carry over from this, there is also the kind of selfish/selfless argument that you brought up. Within this, I find it extremely fucking ridiculous to think that

a) people actually know what's good for them. they probably don't, and if they do, is it good for them for the "right" (no pun intended) reasons

b) people who claim to be voting for selfless reasons, know what's good for everyone else. how on earth could they, and even if they do, what if what others want, and what is good for them, do not cross-sect?

aagghh, this topic absolutely does my head in - but brilliant entry...really got me thinking, although didn't get me making sense :\

pandaobscura said...

Kenny: enough with the questions of logic. You know I've never been good with that ;)

pandaobscura said...

On the fact that all I'm doing here is criticising: this is true.

Admittedly, I have absolutely no solution to the problems we face. Democracy is horribly flawed, but it really may be the best thing we have (there's a quote about that floating around me out...)

But at the least the criticisms still need to be raised: without them society stagnates and what was a flawed system becomes totally unfixable.

Re: self-determination. It's a really interesting point, and one which philosophers have spent centuries on, so no wonder it does our collective brains in. I believe that it's best to respect people's wishes regardless of the fact that they're often bad for them, because surely that's an innate aspect of humanity.

If we were just some logically determanistic machines, then everything would be a lot smoother, but we would cease to be anything like the human race as it is today.

Thus, that sense of freedom, however problematic, must be preserved. The trick is, I think, trying to find the line to draw between people's freedom and the total and utter destruction of the human race due to their/our bad decision making.

Solution? I don't have one :/