People tend to talk about our Western systems of government as ‘democracies’, but the reality is that they are only representational democracies.
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:
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:
- I don’t think the young are disinterested in politics at all
- 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:
- 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.