The end of Representational #Democracy?

People tend to talk about our Western systems of government as ‘democracies’, but the reality is that they are only representational democracies.

Why ‘only’?

Because the original Greek definition of democracy was one man, one vote. Of course by that definition, neither slaves nor women could vote, but it was still a pretty amazing concept in a world of Kings, Emperors, Warlords and other hierarchical and dictatorial forms of government. When a civic decision had to be made, everyone would crowd into the plaza and vote with a show of hands. Simple. Direct. And non-scalable. Imagine how big a plaza you’d need for even a small country like say Hungary.

By the time some of the countries of Western Europe decided to give this democray thing a go, they’d already figured out that one man, one vote simply couldn’t work, not for big places like England and France. So they invented a system that allowed their citizens to choose between just a few people for the right to vote. The person who ended up being chosen at the grassroots level would then go up to parliament and vote on their behalf. This is the basis of representational democracy – one person voting in the name of lots of people.

Now representational democracy was a great invention in its time, but the reality has never lived up to the hype because all those representatives ended up being funnelled into parties. Then factions within those parties would compete amongst themselves. Eventually, one person would gain enough power to represent not only the whole faction but also the party. This leader would then go head to head with the leader of the opposing faction until one of them won. Eventually, the leader who won would get to represent and make decisions for…all of us:

we the governed

 

Forgive me for this child’s view of politics, but sometimes we have to remember what’s real and what is merely an aspiration. At the moment, the kind of democracy that gives each man and woman a vote that actually matters is still just a pipe-dream.

Or is it?

During the lead up to the recent Australian election, many of the political pundits mentioned that a massive proportion of eligible young voters were not registering to vote. [In Australia, voting is compulsory and anyone 18 and over is supposed to register their name on the electoral roll].

Were these young people merely apathetic? Just not interested in politics? Not interested in politics as we know it? Other?

At 63 I can hardly speak for the young, but as someone who lives on the internet, I can make a few educated guesses:

  1. I don’t think the young are disinterested in politics at all
  2. I think they are merely disinterested in the traditional form of politics taken for granted in the West.

Now let me make a few guesses as to why:

  1. change.org
  2. Facebook [and Tumblr and Twitter and…and….etc]

What does social media have to do with politics? And disaffected youth? Everything.

Todays 18 year olds have grown up having a direct say in the issues they care about – via Facebook et al., and organisations such as change.org and getup [amongs others]. On these platforms, groups form almost organically and as the groups grow, they gain a voice, a voice that is being heard by pollsters and politicians alike. The major parties may deny that they take any notice of online petitions, but no institution is large enough to withstand the fury of a self-righteous group.

So the young have found a platform and those in control are paying attention, and this is happening in real time, day after day. Why on earth would these young voices care about an election that happens only once every 3 – 4 years and does NOT reflect their views?

Make no mistake, in a representational democracy, only voting blocks actually matter. Individual votes matter hardly at all. For example, here in Warrandyte, we are part of the Jaga Jaga electoral area. Jaga Jaga is never mentioned in post election commentary because it is a safe Labor seat, and has been for a very long. Thus, no matter how I vote, my vote has no effect on the outcome of the election because it would take a massive change to turn Jaga Jaga into a swinging electorate. And swinging electorates are the only ones that can really change the final outcome of the election.

So for young people living in Warrandyte who do NOT believe in Labor’s values, voting is essentially pointless, and exactly the same thing applies to Labor voters in a safe Liberal electorate. Yet all these young people have had a taste of what true democracy could be like.

They have made their voices heard on social media and that is the kind of system they want: one person, one vote and each vote counts.

We do not yet have the technology to make online voting, issue by issue, a reality. The internet is simply not secure enough, not yet, but it will be, and when it is, I believe representational democracy will change. It will have to. Brexit and Trump and the [possibility] of a hung parliament here in Australia guarantee it.

We who are governed want to have a say in how we are governed. We want democracy.

cheers

Meeks

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

19 responses to “The end of Representational #Democracy?

  • Hariod Brawn

    There’s a massive tension existing here in Britain between the (public) members of The Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party – a.k.a. its members of parliament. In trying to break the power that Trade Unions exerted over the party in so-called ‘Block Voting’, Tony Blair (as the then leader) promoted a leader election policy of ‘one member, one vote’. It backfired enormously when finally implemented in 2015, as the public members soon made it clear that they wanted to abandon Blair-ism and the ‘Tory Lite’ stance that New Labour had adopted in the Mandelson-Blair-Brown era. Accordingly, they voted in as leader Jeremy Corbyn, one of the few remaining Socialists within the New Labour movement. They wanted a democratic party that served and represented them – the working citizens – rather than pandering to the Neoliberal agenda of New Labour and the Tories. The sitting Labour PLP are currently orchestrating a coup via a PR company called Portland Communications, which has strong ties to Blair and his former spin doctor, Alistair Campbell.

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    • acflory

      Ugh…I haven’t had much respect for politicians for a long time but that merely confirms how morally bankrupt the present system is. Corbyn may not be an effective leader, but if the members chose him then he has more of a right to the position than someone elevated to it by a bunch of backroom ‘boys’. We’ve seen a lot of this crap here in Australia and we’re completely disenchanted with professional politicians. Unfortunately, most sane, normal people wouldn’t want to be politicians so we only get to vote for those people who put their hands up.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Gee Jen

    Do you think Voteflux offered what people are after?

    Like

  • drewdog2060drewdog2060

    The grave danger with people voting, issue by issue is that the public mood is fickle. Take, for example the matter of the death penalty. In the UK (where I live) capital punishment is not (rightly in my view) any longer available to the courts. Most politicians (of every party represented in Parliament) are opposed to capital punishment and a vote in the House of Commons as to whether to reintroduce it would, almost certainly result in a massive majority against doing so. However, where the public to be asked to vote on the issue it is probable a decision in favour of capital punishment would be the result. A spate of child murders would see a swing in favour of the death penalty. Conversely, where the same question to be put to the populace following a well publicised series of wrongful convictions, the result would, almost certainly be against the reintroduction of the death penalty.
    It is incredibly easy for a clever orator to whip up a mob whether that be in a town square or virtually on the internet. Good representatives (of all parties) stand above the clamour of the often ill informed who pontificate on social media.
    Representative democracy has many flaws but it does, on the whole prevent the worse excesses of the mob. I wish to live in a representative democracy (for all it’s faults) not a mobocracy.

    Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Hmm…you trust very fallible human politicians more than also fallible but generally less egotistical voters. Given some of the truly terrible things politicians have done in the past, I think I’d take my chances with the average voter.
      That said, no one has attempted to map out how such a direct democracy would work on a day to day basis, but I somehow doubt that a simple majority, as you saw in your Brexit, would be anyone’s idea of an equitable system. There would have to be checks and balances appropriate to each individual country and system.
      The real question, though, is why shouldn’t a political system evolve to reflect the reality of our lives?

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      • drewdog2060drewdog2060

        Politicians have, as you say done terrible things (Hitler and Stalin to name but two). Politicians have also misused referenda, for instance the loaded ones utilised by Hitler once he had obtained power. Having acknowledged the above, I do believe that the moderates in all the mainstream political parties (I.E. those elected to Parliament) are less hotheaded than the populace as a whole. Indeed elected representatives have, in the UK often been ahead of popular opinion, for instance the abolition of the death penalty by Parliament took place at a time when (if it had been put to a referendum) the majority of the populace would, in all likelyhood have bvoted for it’s retention. Again the decriminalisation of homosexuality was carried by Parliament at a time when, had it been put to a popular vote it may well not have been carried. A large segment of the population is more interested in the latest goings on in soap operas etc than in political issues. When they do engage there understanding is limited by factors encluding a lack of education. One could (and should) encourage civic engagement and an understanding of politics more generally, however I dont believe this would prevent the knee-jerk reactions which referenda can produce. I am sure we are both in agreement that minorities have rights. There is then a debate as to how the rights of minorities are best protected. Majorities are not always right and on issues such as capital punishment it is, in my view correct that the will of the majority can be overridden by more enlightened elected representatives.

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        • acflory

          I share your views on the good decisions that governments have taken. I also share your views on the quality of some populist positions – I am /not/ a Trump admirer! Nevertheless, I can’t share your views on ‘how’ we get to any of these positions, and the fault for this probably goes back to my very simplistic description of a direct democracy. I am NOT advocating for Facebook on steroids, but the strength of public opinion should be a factor. For example, if only 10% of the total number of voters vote for something, it should not be enough to pass. In fact, perhaps the ‘pass rate’ would have to be on a sliding scale, depending upon the severity of the issue. Thus, to return the death penalty, fully 70% of the total number of eligible voters would have to:
          1. get off their butts to vote, and
          2. actually vote /yes/
          By contrast, a bill to change the something minor, might only need a much smaller percentage of the total vote.
          Obviously these suggestions are just off the top of my head – I do write sci-fi after all – but some change is inevitable.

          Liked by 1 person

        • drewdog2060drewdog2060

          Thanks for the clarification as regards your position. Do you see a role for Parliaments or are you advocating for a system based simply on direct democracy? Your 70 percent threshold for “important” decisions does, on the face of it have merit. However the populace (or a significant portion of it) can be extremely hotheaded and react accordingly. In the UK for example we have had several instances where paedophiles have been attacked or sometimes killed only for it later to be revealed that the “paedophiles” where, in fact nothing of the kind and where wholly inocent of any crime. This demonstrates the danger of knee-jerk reactions and if one imagines this mentality being expressed in popular votes, via direct democracy one shudders. We choose politicians because they have, on the whole greater depth of experience than the populace as a whole. Of course they are fallible men and women as are we all. However their expertise does, on the whole lead to a quality of decision making one can not, I believe achieve via direct democracy. Finally, on some issues (even if a majority voted for them) it is wrong to act on “the general will” if that goes against the human rights of minorities. For example imagine that in a state where religion of various kinds holds sway. Imagine further that a vote is held on whether gay people should be imprisoned. Granted that some religious people are tolerant of different lifestyles including homosexuality. However, in this imagined state most religious people are fundamentalists and the majority vote is in favour of imprisoning gay people. Suppose the legislature, being more enlightened refuses to implement the wishes of the people. Would the legislature be right? I, certainly would be on the side of the legislature.

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        • acflory

          Mmmm…lots of questions raised in this one. Okay, on the question of ‘is 70% enough?’ I’d have to say that it must be. Whether we, individually approve of the decision, if such an overwhelming majority say they want it, we have to just accept it as…democracy. Anything else smacks of either elitism, paternalism or an out and out dictatorship. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to change the attitudes of that 70%, but we do have to accept things in the here and now.
          That question also masks an underlying question that you haven’t asked – is there such a thing as an absolute good? I don’t believe there is, hence I can probaby accept a majority decision with more equanimity. Please note though, I said ‘believe’, not know. That belief is personal and as such, I don’t expect anyone else to hold it.
          And finally, the fraught question of religion. 😦 As some of my friends know, I’m an atheist so my bias is automatically against any religious institution. As for a religious state…to me, that seems like the antithesis of democracy. If a country has laws, then all citizens are obliged to obey them, religious teachings notwithstanding. Thus, the mutilation of female genitalia is illegal in all western democracies. Anyone found practising FGM should be brought before the law and dealt with. Murder is illegal. Anyone who kills a paedophile – whether real or suspected – is killing a human being and must be dealt with by law. In the example you give of a state full of religious fundamentalists, I rather doubt that democracy would hold much sway. But let’s assume that it is a democracy, with direct voting. If imprisoning people because they are gay is against the current law then there is no problem. The law stands. If, however, the direct vote wants to change the law, then that would have to constitute a very important decision and would require at least a 70% pass rate. If it still passed….:(
          Sometimes the only sane answer is to run, as far and as fast as one can. Democracy is the most equitable system we humans can imagine, but it’s still not perfect. Nothing ever can be so long as humans are capable of violence and hate against one another.

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        • drewdog2060drewdog2060

          I wasn’t thinking of a religious state as such, however I accept my comment could be interpreted in that way. I was thinking of parts of the American deep south where large segments of the population still deny that Darwinian evolution took place. The USA is a democracy not a theocracy but if one had referenda on such an issue I suspect that in parts of the South the result would be in favour of persecuting homosexuals. Sometimes “elites” do know better than the populace as a whole and can (but by no means always) be more enlightened. If one goes down to certain bars/pubs and listens to the level of debate on politics the level of intelligence of many of those debating is highly questionable and I wouldn’t wish policy to be made by such people as it could be where referenda to become the norm. For example in my local pub I recently heard a man commenting on the EU referendum “F.ck them” by which he meant the EU. Whatever one thinks of the result of the referendum that kind of ignorant comment is worrying and exemplifies the dangers of referenda. I also support unelected senates/upper houses as a check on the elected legislature. Those elected are subject to party whips who may cajole or threaten their MPS to vote in a particular way, while those with lifetime (or long periods of election) to upper houses do not have such pressures and are more likely to disregard the party line.

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        • acflory

          Ouch! You’re talking to an Australian here. 😦 The idea of a senate full of people born to the position is enough to make my hair stand on end. Noblesse most certainly does /not/ oblige. That said, however, your country is not my country so therefore I have no right to disagree with how you run your democracy.
          On a more general point, we have our pub wankers too. By and large though, they do NOT make up the majority of what I like to think are fair-minded Aussies. Ultimately, however, it is not the role of a democracy, of any description, to turn people into angels. All any system can do is accurately reflect the society to which it belongs. It’s up to all of us to be better people.

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        • acflory

          Ugh…totally missed your first question re parliamentary parties. In the short term [i.e. next few hundred years?] I can’t image the system without some kind of parliamentary input. Hundreds of years down the track though? With genuine AIs available to ‘facilitate’ democracy? Who knows but possibly ‘yes’, simply on the basis of laziness. [on our part].

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  • Candy Korman

    The nail in the coffin of democracy in the U.S. was the Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations were people—yes you read that correctly. So now, corporations can pour infinite funds into political campaigns and distort everything. The shifting of power away from actual individuals is progressing toward… What?

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    • acflory

      Really? But can they then also be tried for crimes like ordinary people? Surely you can’t have one without the other???
      Oh and that explains how come Presidential campaigns can cost so much. Talk about buying the politician of your choice. 😦

      Like

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