Saturday, June 23, 2012

Australian democracy - death by a thousand cuts

Let me begin with quite a pertinent quote from Pericles:

“We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all."

A survey recently conducted by the Lowy Institute on the health of Australian democracy provides some insight into the startling state of perception of democracy in the younger population.

A mere 39% of young Australians aged 18-29 believe that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government.

In the older age brackets, it ranges up to 60% - better, but still somewhat shocking considering how many young souls literally died and gave their lives to keep our democracy and way of life, allowing it to develop into the advanced and free structure it is today.

These are quite bizarre numbers and does show that, in particular in the younger population, people are completely tuned out to the political process, with little or no participation in discussions and debate, and perhaps not even aware of it taking place.

At all.

As discussed a some time ago in a previous post, the only political issue that garners any sort of attention amongst youth is gay marriage - and naturally, politicians that veer to the left use it as a means of extracting some political capital.

This also shows how the political discussion in this country is excruciatingly dumbed-down. We have one or two big issues that make a chosen day's news cycle, through press releases from a special interest group and so forth, and then it suddenly fades away to nothing in the intervening 24 hours.

Such is the ruthless news cycle.

Of course, given the level of manners and decorum shown in the current sitting Parliament, one could forgive angst-ridden youth for not paying it any attention.

Some might even very well think that because it's the way we've done things for one hundred years, it might be best to throw it out altogether and start anew.

Anew with what, a dictatorship? 

This is the problem of the current perception; that because something is old, that it must be unreliable and not long for this world.

To the contrary. America became an independent country way back in 1776, adopted a presidential system, and went on to become the most stable forms of government in existence in the modern age.

We of course have the carry on from Britain of Westminster parliamentary democracy, and still have the Queen as head of state, but still and all, our own flavour of democracy has proven itself to be extremely stable and resilient. 

Especially when you compare our form of democratic governments to single-party experiments such as the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, or the decrepit and ailing North Korea.

But in those intervening one hundred, membership in political parties across Australia has fallen dramatically, so much so that they usually don't let anyone know how few members they have.

Any alternative to the two major coalitions (I say coalitions, because Labor at the present time needs a coalition with the Greens to even govern) are mere experiments that eventually evaporate away, such as the Australian Democrats.

The Greens of course enjoy popularity among inner-city voters, particularly the youth vote, but that doesn't mean that young people are engaged with politics on any great level.

They might have a very vague understanding of issues, but more likely-than-not, they've heard from their friends that say "hey, this party supports gay marriage, let's vote for them!".

Truth be known, we could install a benevolent dictatorship in Canberra overnight , and people would still wake up hungover, weary eyed, and trudging to work the next day and not even bloody well notice.

The chatterati upper middle classes would raise a fuss, but really, how else would it effect you?

You'd still clock in, do your work, pay the mortgage, have a beer, and the economy would mostly carry on under the watchful eyes of Gina Rinehart - things would chug along with aplomb.

In fact, it may be beneficial.

No more hollow election campaigns, no more cut-throat political theatrics, no more ruthless 24 hour news cycles filled with fluff quotes from the two leaders; come to think of it, that sounds fantastic.

Half the population in a democratic country may as well be living under a dictatorship at any given time whenever their preferred party isn't in, anyway, and they still get along with life just fine.

And sadly enough, this all may as well just be the case given how little much of the population actually pays attention to politics and what's going on around them, or even watch the news, all too blissful in a stupor of bright city lights to nary give a glance at the headlines.

More attention is given to pop stars - and we know the agenda they mostly run when they get the chance.

So something has gone particularly awry indeed.

I think it's partly an issue of respect. We live in a culture that has become infatuated with youth and success - who would give old codgers in Parliament any attention and respect?

Perhaps they don't even deserve it, and given the level of guff and hubris in modern politics, one can easily see how it would not make for a great career choice when so many other avenues of fame and fortune are open.

Even Canberra itself is sort of out of the way. We have the bright lights and noise of all the other major capital cities, and we all trust that the country is being taken care of behind closed doors in sleepy cold Canberra where none -too-much excitement dare dwells - it's draconian to even think about.

So how can democracy possibly gain the spotlight from sexier things?

Well, once every three years is really the only time the population is required to pay it any attention at all.

For those other thousand or so days, you can carry on gleefully unaware of absolutely anything at all that is going on; it's your choice to be ignorant, and perhaps that's a good thing that ignorance is still a choice.

However, how can you make that one informed choice on that one day? Especially given how few young people voting for the first time would actually even know who they are voting for, how they are voting for them, and what the implications are for them personally if the government of their choosing is elected.

It is, I feel, quite a scary scenario. They might even very well just walk in, get their name signed off, draw a penis on the ballot paper, have a sausage, and that will be it for another 1000 days.

One gets the feeling that that is possibly the type of behaviour what major forces that dwell amongst us are exactly aiming for.

Corporate interests for one would welcome a docile and politically disengaged population - I mean look what happened in Russia in 1917 when the vast majority of workers bandied together - sure, it turned into a stinking failure of a mess, but it was instrumental in throwing out the old guard that held Russia back for so long and allowed it to rapidly industrialise. 

We could sit around all day and make conspiracy theories about who is dumbing down the population politically; corporate interests, political interests themselves, cultural interests, control interests, but I will not indulge in such speculation myself.

But you do get the feeling that on a citizenry level, the people nor the political apparatus are truly in control.

Democracy, our democracy, cannot work without the participation of the people, especially with the breeding of ignorance that has infested it like termites in a ship at sea that will eventually sink.

To close with an unsourced quote from Pericles:

"Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you."