Politics Week, 5: Participation

by stephenpalmersf

Amongst many advocates of participatory democracy was Erich Fromm, who fifty years ago pointed out that the main reason people don’t bother voting is that they sense an abyss between their only political act – voting – and the result of that act. He was living in America at the time, but since they, like us, have an unjust, undemocratic First Past The Post voting system, his comment applied not just to his adopted home nation but to ours.

A participatory democracy is one where people vote in small, human-scale settings (somewhat like local voting) where there is a direct, causal link between their act and the consequences of it. British general elections are not at all like this. We have in Britain an approximation of democracy, in which a self-selecting elite based in public schools groom themselves, fascinated by their reflections, for what they see as their birthright, whilst being elected by a minority of the people of the nation – those living in marginal constituencies. That’s not democracy, that’s “democracy.”

In Britain, there is only a pretence of meritocracy. Same old same Eton old. It literally is a network composed of old boys.

I never vote in general elections when living in a safe seat constituency because that would make me part of the problem. Instead, I do my best to highlight the issues and possible solutions, like PR. Those who say that means I don’t have a right to complain don’t grasp that voting once every few years is designed to be an exclusive, single act. It is designed to say to me: voting is the one and only political thing you need to do, now shut up and let us get on with ruling. Indeed, it’s a damned inconvenience to politicians when people start thinking for themselves, finding like-minded friends, organising themselves, then acting. That’s exactly what they don’t want. That’s why they keep saying they are our servants. But they’re not. It’s a lie; and when you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth. They are Orwell’s pigs.

Like all great humane ideas, democracy was long ago perverted by narcissism. When the idea was devised, we were as a species very far from being mature enough to use it as was intended; likewise for the concept of parliaments. We’re still not mature enough. We’re only just taking our first steps out of adolescence, after all, as the planet burns around our ears. The central core of democracy is great – representation, just and decent society, stability. The reality is different. For as long as human beings don’t notice how their own selfishness is the filter through which they experience the world, politicians will use democracy as a screen for their own self-interest. Most will rationalise that as doing what is right for the nation and so on. What is most frightening about recent trends though is how even that rationalisation isn’t being bothered with, as politicians, seeing the state of the nation after fifteen years of social media, dispense with the act of concealing their own bigotry, selfishness and incompetence. They’ve grasped that they don’t need to make that effort any more. People have stopped caring. People have stopped making an effort. People look at their phones, not at them. Politicians have begun to realise that, in fact, it’s sometimes better to embrace egotism, since lots of people seem to like it. The nation is clothed in white curly wool, just as politicians always wanted.

Baa, baa!