Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Well, here we are again. We have reached election day. The voting hour is upon us. It’s tick-a-box-and-consider-your-democratic-duty-fulfilled o’clock.

You might have already voted today. Or maybe you’re planning to go squeeze out a sneaky vote later. That’s fine. What you do in the privacy of a small booth with a curtain for a wall in a primary school or a church is your own business. I just don’t want to have this unnatural lifestyle of yours constantly crammed down my throat.

I’ve not changed my mind on this a great deal in the past six months, but the rhetoric over the importance of this democratic right may have become more obnoxious since the last round.

Maybe it’s the centenary that’s got everyone all a-flutter, but I don’t remember the memories of the First World War’s dead being abused so vigorously last time around in order to guilt me into doing what they supposedly died fighting so that I could do.

The average 19-year-old in a trench may or may not have had keeping UKIP out of the European Parliament on his mind, even more pressingly than praying he didn’t get shot by some other kid who was also only there because someone who’d been voted into office had told them to die for their country. But regardless, dragging up his sacrifice in an attempt to drag me to the polls fails as a coherent argument.

A cause isn’t rendered noble, nor a course of action obligatory, simply because some people died for it once. People died for the right to keep slaves. People died to kill thousands of others for the greater glory of God. Western democracy might be a more benign notion than either of those examples, but I maintain my right to my own moral decisions all the same.

Anyone still pushing this line should consider adapting it slightly for the next vegetarian they run into. “Hey, you should eat this hamburger. A cow *died* to bring you this. Its sacrifice will have been in vain if you cast this precious gift aside. You wouldn’t want to disrespect its memory.”

Also infuriating is the claim that it’ll somehow be my fault if I fail to vote and UKIP get in. Particularly when it comes from people who voted Lib Dem in the last general election and are thus equally responsible for the coalition they currently despise. Guys, I’m in that boat too; look how badly I managed to fuck things up when I did vote.

I’m treating this democracy like an angry wasps’ nest. You might be certain you’ve found just the right voting bat to thwack it with so that it’ll make things better and not release any furious insects this time, but I’m not going near it again in case I make it worse.

It’s a mathematically illiterate assertion, for one thing. And it hypes and over-prioritises the act of voting, as our one moment of political influence or social usefulness, to the point of fetishisation.

If the rest of our lives were as unimportant as some people imply whenever voting day comes around – if global politics, and people’s views on trade and immigration and economics, and the rules imposed on us which govern our lives, remained entirely unaffected by all our conversations, our protests, our discussions, our reading, our listening, our efforts to connect and engage with other people, outside of this one moment where you put an X in a box and select your favourite from the sanitised list of options prepared for you – then that would be incredibly fucked up and monumentally depressing.

Fortunately, it’s completely untrue.

If I have a political discussion with a dozen work colleagues, or if I post an infographic which gets retweeted to a few thousand people, and if just one person shifts from thinking “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, but this UKIP guy seems more down to earth” to “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, and that UKIP guy sounds like a bit of a twat as well”, then I have done as much from my computer as I will ever have the power to do at the polls.

If someone with a bit more clout changes two minds, then they’ve already had twice the impact of casting their own vote, by means of direct engagement and public interaction with other people.

There are other ways to get things done. If you’re going to vote, then vote, but stop acting like that’s the most important bit. Fucking talk to some people.

The bullshit idea of “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” also misses the point that I don’t want any of these people holding political power. I don’t want these authoritarian roles to be filled with better people, or for the least worst option to keep us safe from the BNP, I want them not to exist. We’ve had centuries to give this “just vote the right people in” thing a go and we just keep going round in circles.

The NHAP are enough of a shambles that if they had a candidate in my area, I probably would vote for them; they’re a one-issue party on one of the most important issues going, and I can see them doing more good than harm through the political process. Which is part of the reason they’re never going to sweep to power in their current form. (I say “shambles” in an entirely positive way, incidentally, in contrast with the well organised, highly efficient forces for evil they’re sharing space with on the ballot.)

But primarily, I object to the forced assumption that putting a small cluster of individuals, with a statistically implausible quotient of complete pricks, at the top of this particular power structure, with this particular set of checks and once-every-few-years-everyone-gets-a-say system of reshuffling things, is the way that anything should get done.

The part of the whole kerfuffle I consistently find most offensive is the constant insertion of the words “bother to” in between “don’t” and “vote”, when describing the behaviour of the substantial swathe of the population who remain unconvinced of their powers to effect meaningful change. As if the problem were solely located in the apathy at our end, and the predominant responsibility didn’t lie with the parties vying for our concession to their dominance, who repeatedly prove themselves inadequate to the task and fail to persuade a majority of us that they have anything to offer. (Blaming young people for their own disenfranchisement is especially galling. Never mind that you’re being ignored by all the major parties, they’re told; just bother to vote for some policies that won’t help you at all, and better ones will magically appear somehow.)

I’m interested. I’m engaged. I try to be involved. I could always be doing more. I have ideas to share. I spent an hour getting all this off my chest last night, aided by the fact that my wife’s on a night-shift and I’m alone in the house with a cat who prefers staring out the window to getting in my way for a change. I am not an apathetic, disinterested citizen.

But I reject your sole sanctioned method of political engagement, almost as vehemently as I reject the fanaticism with which you insist my part in society is effectively nullified if I don’t fall in line and make my protest known in this one regimented, authorised manner.

Voting is merely one among many, many ways for you to make a minuscule, barely perceptible effect on society’s machinations. Go for it if you like; it’s very unlikely you’ll hurt anyone. But stop fixating. Broaden your mind and try something else as well sometime. Not everyone has to be into your weird shit.

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Hi! Let’s talk about dismantling the establishment and abolishing the dominion over the masses by a privileged minority.

No? You’ve already got weekend plans? It’s okay, we can start with something smaller. How about we just get rid of the monarchy?

I’m a republican. Not in the increasingly widespread “keep your Darwinian religion out of my schools and your tampons out of my gun rack” sense that’s still distressingly popular across the pond, but the ever-so-much more British meaning of the word. By which I mean, I rather think that still having a royal family in this day and age just isn’t cricket, old sport, though obviously I don’t want to make too much of a bally fuss over it.

First, though, if we’re going to have any sensible conversation at all, can we dispense with the caricature of the grumpy, resentful, joyless grouch, whose only real gripe about the aristocracy is founded in a cruel grudge against anyone else who gets to have nice things?

It’s odd how often this one is wheeled out. The claim of anti-monarchists is simply that having an unelected, hereditary head of state, in this day and age, is at best unnecessary, and at worst North Korea – and that it’s possible to hold this view as a matter of principle, not just because you’re greedy.

Even if you don’t agree with this claim, it shouldn’t be so impossible to conceive that someone might genuinely feel this way, that you have to start writing their own motivations and neuroses for them. It takes quite a determination to be cynical, and to see ill will and insincerity in those who disagree with you, for you to instinctively ascribe a lack of support for an institution to nothing more noble than bitterness.

As many republicans have explained time and again, it’s nothing personal. William and Kate seem like decent folk, as do many of their immediate family, and I wish them and newborn George all the best. But my friend Sara’s a good person too; that doesn’t mean I think she should be given a castle and a police escort at the taxpayer’s expense. (Just checking whether she still reads my blog these days. If so, sorry, Sara, I’m still totally buying you that castle I promised you when I’m a billionaire.)

Anyway, that could become a whole tangential rant in itself, but not today, because one particular argument in favour of keeping the monarchy has been bugging me lately.

The idea is that, although the Queen’s role is largely that of a figurehead, and she doesn’t take an active involvement in running the country, she’s someone the people who do run the country have to defer to. The Prime Minister’s the top dog of our democracy, but he still has to go visit an old lady covered in jewels and humbly beg her say-so before he’s allowed to do stuff. Which is meant to keep him in his place somewhat, or something, and not let him assume the role of the pinnacle of concentrated power himself.

A terrifying pair of words have often been deployed to explain this argument in an impressively succinct fashion: President Blair.

Ugh, imagine that. Not just Prime Minister Blair, but President Blair. That Tony Blair was awful, so just imagine if he’d been our President. Eesh. It would’ve been hideous. He might’ve gone mad with power and, I don’t know… started an intractable war in the Middle East on dubious legal grounds, or something. God, can you imagine? We’re lucky the Queen was there to reel him in and stop any such catastrophe.

Oh wait, no, sorry, this is completely asinine, his role would’ve been basically exactly the same, just with a slightly shorter job title.

Also, here’s the real problem with a democracy which maintains an unelected monarch, in order to keep its elected leaders in check:

Isn’t that supposed to be our job?

Seriously, if you’ve got a democratically elected leader, put in place by the people as a result of a popular vote, then aren’t the masses themselves supposed to be able to exercise their democratic powers to evict any unscrupulous politicians from office, and make sure that those in power really do represent the nation as a whole?

That’s supposedly the idea, anyway. How well it works in practice is another matter, but surely this is the promise of democracy, and is exactly what people mean when they talk about your “duties as a citizen”, and all that. We’re supposed to be able to keep our leaders in check ourselves.

But if we’re delegating even that duty – if we’re trusting in someone unelected, unappointed, born to the role, to do even this job for us, of stopping our representatives from getting drunk on power and running away with themselves…

…then isn’t that a pretty clear sign of democracy itself being broken?

If we don’t need the monarchy to keep our country ticking along, let’s get rid of it. There’s no need for any undue unkindness to the individuals involved; being born into a dynasty and having the world handed to you on a silver plate means you didn’t ask for any of the unpleasant side effects, either. They’ve had any chance of a normal life pretty much obliterated anyway by the never-ending media fascination and scrutiny. So let’s just gently shuffle them along. The Queen’s a nice old lady, and deserves a comfy retirement. One where she’s not expected to stand out in the rain and the cold for hours any more, watching endless processions of boats.

Or, if we do need the monarchy, because our megalomaniacal elected leaders can’t be trusted without it? Then we should be massively terrified of how potentially dangerous our elected leaders apparently are, and we really shouldn’t be satisfied with keeping a protective figurehead over the problem and hoping for the best. Either way, things need to change far more than any conservative seems willing to imagine.

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Sometimes, as I read some new and unsurprisingly depressing political story, I can feel my own tendencies plunging ever further toward the anti-authoritarian left even as the words scroll slowly past my eyes.

I can be minding my own business, catching up on recent events in the worlds of politics and pop culture in my news feed, or watching the latest iteration of the ongoing gender politics nightmare explode across the atheoskeptosphere.

And then a North Carolina Senate Committee chairman perfectly encapsulates the inevitable feeling of superiority that festers in the ones with privilege and power, as well as the accompanying contempt for those lesser wretches who simply exist on a level of society barely worthy of recognition or respect. And he does so in a few neat, elegant phrases:




…aaaaaaaand anarchist.

But don’t blame this guy. His only crime is believing the hype.

Everything about the US political system which elevates people to these positions of authority reinforces the idea that members of elected office are better, more important, more powerful, more consequential, more right, than the unwashed masses from which they ostensibly arose.

And this system, frankly, is unacceptable.

It’s not worthy of us, because it gives us characters like Tommy Tucker, quoted above, who completely lose sight of any desire to serve the public good – charitably assuming that was something which once motivated him – in favour of telling the plebs to pipe down whenever a hint of representative democracy gets in the way of his career.

And it’s not worthy of Tommy Tucker, because he’s a human being like the rest of us, and he deserves better than to have his worst tendencies nurtured at the expense of his humanity, and to be turned into even more of a selfish, despotic, bureaucratic thug than he would have managed on his own.

Individuals like him are not the root problem. We’ve had centuries to find ways to populate our representative democracy with good people who won’t cock it up. If it was going to happen under a system remotely resembling what we have now, we’d have got there ages ago. We should be seriously looking for an alternative to this “if only the right party would win” thinking. Otherwise we’re just going to carry on repeating the same action and expecting different results. (Someone had a word for that, though I suspect it may not actually have been Einstein).

The system is not good enough. We can do better.

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We got our first unsolicited mail through the door today asking us to vote for someone as Police and Crime Commissioner.

Having taken a look at the options available to me, I’m relieved to be able to let go of any remote possibility I might be trekking out to a ballot box on November 15th.

The Labour candidate, Harriet Yeo, is the only one to have provided us with any literature so far. She has five campaign pledges, which I can only presume she’s telling me about as some sort of misguided effort to win me over.

The third of these pledges is to “Catch the really bad, not the merely bad”. The sole example she gives of the “really bad” – the worst of the worst, the most virulent blight on our fair county which she intends to urgently crack down on – is cannabis farms.

There’s also a postscript to the pledges list, which begins: “By the way I am ruthless on drugs” (emphasis in the original). I’d love to read this as warning: “Be careful around me when I’m off my face on coke, because I get fucking mental”, but I don’t think that’s how I’m supposed to parse that sentence.

Another of her pledges is: “Victims before Villains”. It’s quite a feat to make a statement in favour of Victim Support programmes annoy me as much as hers does. She expands on it on her page at choosemypcc.org.uk, and even adds a hashtag, #vb4v, suggesting that she’s even more pleased with the pithiness of this sound-bite slogan than the others. And why not? Dehumanising everyone who’s fallen foul of the law and completely ignoring the option of social reform and rehabilitation is quite an accomplishment in itself, let alone compressing that message into a five-character tweet-segment.

I’m inclined to agree with her opposition to the privatisation of the police, though. And she has nice hair.

So, won’t be voting for her. But at least she’s not the Conservative candidate, who manages to bring up the typical Tory divisive canard about people “paying their fair share” within the first paragraph of his election statement. He’s just as keen as the others that we see him as tough, uncompromising, and all the other things we’re supposed to want from an authoritarian arm of the law. “Zero tolerance of all crime, particularly drugs” isn’t just a policy, it’s his “key priority”. There’s not many areas of life in which intolerance is so proudly announced and so widely respected.

He’s also a chartered accountant. His hair’s fine.

The Lib Dems don’t seem to be bothering to get involved, but the English Democrats sound close enough. Their guy intends to have the police “relentlessly pursue” criminals, and will consider it a successful outcome if those criminals “remove themselves physically from Kent to continue their trade elsewhere”. No mention of considering the social circumstances which might lead to criminal behaviour here either; but if they push off to another bit of the country, he considers his problem solved. Fuck you, Surrey!

He’s also not going to tolerate the “politically correct culture”. Rejecting this culture apparently means “treating all the people of Kent in an equal and fair manner, and not special treatment for minorities”. Because that’s been the main problem with Muslims and gays and all that sort of crowd: they get given too cushy a ride.

His hair’s nothing special either.

Very similar to the last chap is our friend from UKIP, who also presents some of the only statistics to be found on any of these pages. The amount by which the national police budget has apparently been cut (£2.4bn) is no doubt relevant, but unfortunately he only brings it up in order to snipe at the Tories (no bad thing) and compare it unfavourably to the budget for overseas aid. Any analysis into the effectiveness or value of such aid spending is of course absent; apparently the lone fact that the UK devotes comparatively large amounts of money toward efforts to help the less well-off in other countries ought to be shocking enough.

Hair: grey, mostly gone into hiding. Forehead: shiny.

And then there’s the two independent candidates. Ann Barnes sounded like the most promising choice at first, when all I knew about her was her name and the fact that she was unaffiliated with any political party. Unfortunately, that’s most of what she has going for her. Her track records looks solid, but her priorities and promises don’t include anything that makes her stand out. Anyone can declare the importance of transparency and fighting massive spending cuts, or that “I never make promises I don’t keep.” Shouldn’t all that stuff be a given?

Her hair looks a bit triangular, but that’s probably just down to an unflattering photograph. It’s got a nice wave to it.

The other independent candidate is just as uninspiring and cookie-cutter. I suppose one part is slightly more eye-catching: “Most of my salary will be allocated to developing this aspect of technology” – referring to his aim of “maximising the use of social media”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I wish it didn’t make my heart sink. Social media awareness could play a significant part in such a role, if it were well thought out by someone closely acquainted with social media’s actual place in society, but until this guy’s elaborated on the details enough to convince me that he knows what a youtube is or how to google some tweeters, I just don’t see it ending well.

His hair looks like a losing entry in a “photoshop this guy to look like someone’s just dropped some ice cream on his head” contest.

So. What was my point with all this? I’m not sure. But I haven’t blogged anything in ages, and this morning’s junk mail rejuvenated some interest in complaining about politics. Not in voting, Christ no. But still.

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– A small but probably good step has been made toward gay marriage rights and/or marriage equality, leaving only a tragically long way to go for modern society to catch up with itself.

– If you choose not to donate to a charity because you disagree with their practices or philosophy, you’re poisoning democracy.

– The placebo effect proves the existence of God. And “God” can mean whatever you need it to mean so that that first sentence is true. Hey, did you know the Huffington Post has a science section now?

This. (Though I daren’t investigate what’s kicking off down there in the comments.)

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– So they recounted the Iowa caucus and now Santorum won it, even though they’ve still lost a bunch of votes. Democracy, ladies and gents.

– The kung-fu chop… OF LOGIC.

– Apparently it’s against the law to masturbate in jail. Yikes. Marty Klein explains why this is a really unhelpful policy.

– More on Jessica Ahlquist and the incomprehensible mindset of her abusers.

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It’s another anarchistastic day here at Cubik’s Rube.

Here’s an excerpt of a book by a guy called Larken Rose, in which he makes some interesting points about government as a religious belief. Here’s a video in which he argues against the US Constitution.

He makes a case worth considering. Specifically, he sets out to highlight the inherent ridiculousness and injustice of the bit of the Constitution which says that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes“, by comparing it to a document he’s drawn up himself declaring his right to come and take your stuff.

It’s a striking analogy, but what’s frustrating is quite how much stock he seems to place in it. It’s very interesting to look at what his own manufactured documentation has in common with the US constitution. It’s less interesting to just insist “look, they’re exactly the same” and not examine why people might tend to think that one has more validity than the other.

The idea that some guy you don’t know can give himself permission to rob your house and take your stuff, and justify it with some fancy fonts and a few irrelevant signatures, is obviously ludicrous. That’s his whole point. But most people will be able to list what seem, at least superficially, like some pretty compelling reasons why it’s not the same when the government does it. People justify taxation by pointing to all the public services it’s used to pay for, for example.

You might not think any of these justifications hold water; I guess an anarchist would assert that there’s nothing of importance currently done by the government which couldn’t be achieved instead through other, cooperative, voluntary means. But if you have a rebuttal to what most people would consider the obvious place to take the argument next, then let’s focus on that. It might be more useful than simply marvelling at how almost every single person on the planet must be some kind of mindless sheep to believe something so idiotic.

Give the statists a little credit, is my point.

While I’m at it, let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum of attempted anarchist proselytising.

In my sporadic and episodic reading of An Anarchist FAQ, I’ve waded through a fair few pages of talk about “neo-classicism” and “post-Keynesian economics” and “marginal productivity theory” and the like. Now, I’m certainly glad that someone’s analysing these things from an informed economic view, but for most people starting to feel disillusioned by capitalism, government, or the world in general, these seem like secondary and rather esoteric concerns.

The main, burning question about anarchism for me, which I suspect would be shared by a lot of the uninitiated, and for which I’m still yet to reach an answer, would be something like: “You know, the government does, like, quite a lot of shit, and so, like, if there was no government, then, like, how would any of this shit get done?”

Be honest: something like that is what goes through your mind whenever I start blathering on about this stuff again as if it were remotely practical, right?

If anarchists actually have a coherent plan in response to this obvious line of questioning, I think they should really make that more of a front-line argument. Most people won’t really even consider anarchy as a plausible option, no matter how many texts you publish demonstrating capitalism to be totally fucked up in principle. And if you want to insist that’s because we’ve been brainwashed by the manipulative oligarchs into thinking that things have to be this way, then fine – just be aware that it doesn’t actually change anything, no matter how many times you point that out to us.

Okay? Good. Well, off you go. Back to smashing the system.

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This is going to be off-the-cuff, chaotic, and angry.

I posted this on Twitter earlier, and it got retweeted more than anything else I’ve ever said:

If I want the Lib Dems to win, I’m voting Lib Dem. If you’re so scared of a hung parliament, maybe YOU shouldn’t vote Conservative.

I still don’t know nearly enough about the political system in this country to justify how much I’ve been talking about it lately. I’m not a political blogger, and I’d need to become way more informed before I ever could be, which isn’t all that likely judging by my usual level of interest in such matters. But this is one thing that’s been really annoying me about some of the public discourse lately.

For longer than I’ve been alive, the real race in the general elections in this country has always been between Labour and the Conservatives. It’s always been one of them that was going to win. But for the first time in a while, a third party is polling well, and is in with a non-negligible chance of winning (even if it’s not all that great), and is unquestionably playing a substantial role in our system of government.

This has made a lot of people very unhappy and been widely regarded as a bad move.

In particular, some people want us to be scared of a “hung parliament”, in which no one party gets enough of a majority to “win”, and after all the voting’s done they have to sort it out amongst themselves how they’re going to run the country. Or something. Yes, the First Past the Post system is ridiculous, however limited my understanding.

Quite what the effects of a hung parliament would actually be is one of the many things in all this that remains beyond me. But if it’s a natural and unavoidable result of people simply voting for who they want to win, then maybe this adds to the case for serious electoral reform.

What it doesn’t imply is that voting for the Liberal Democrats is irresponsible and dangerous, and that an entire third of the electorate ought to give up on what they actually want for the sake of a nice, comfortable compromise.

The Conservatives are calling a Liberal Democrat vote “a vote for the Hung Parliament Party“, and are full of scary rhetoric as to why this should be feared and avoided.

And it all strikes me as intensely cynical and profoundly unfair, and I can’t sum it up any better than I did in my tweet up there.

There are polls out there in which Nick Clegg is winning this race. It’s by no means a strong or unambiguous lead, but the Lib Dems are not hopeless stragglers these days. People would actually like to see them in power, and they’d vote for it if they thought it could happen.

So it is staggeringly patronising for this substantial swathe of the population to be told that they shouldn’t vote for the party or candidate who they would most like to see win the election, because of the administrative difficulties this will cause. The problems of a hung parliament are a product of the electoral system, and of everybody’s votes in conjunction with each other.

If every Lib Dem vote were counted for the Conservatives, it’d be a landslide. But the same goes the other way. And it really pisses me off (enough to use lots of italics for emphasis) when other people assume that I’m the one who shouldn’t get to have my say for who I want, as if everyone else’s votes were already fixed and immutable and I’m ruining everything by making my own damn decisions.

If you’re terrified of a hung parliament and are desperate to avoid it at all costs, then you can either lobby for electoral reform, or you can be against the concept of people voting honestly. At least be up front about which it is.

…And just as I wonder if I’m done, superior blogger Martin Robbins says some of the things I want to say rather well, and embeds the full Conservative “Hung Parliament Party” video. It’s really, really awful. The video, not Martin’s post. Obviously.

So. Who knows more than I do about hung parliaments? (Hint: It’s quite possibly you. Seriously.)

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