You Can’t be Trusted with Democracy

Pure, direct democracy is an unfeasible and unattainable aim.

 

The people have proved they simply cannot be trusted with it.

 

Like a big fat baby gurgling lumpy phlegm they throw the right across the room like a rattle in a fit of tantrum, not realising that the vote actually means something, that the rattle is made of titanium and can crack the wall.

 

Of course, the people could be trusted with direct democracy if they were properly informed. Perhaps they could make educated and tempered decisions en masse; perhaps national conversations would be possible without resorting to slogans and clumsy statistics recited into oblivion until the breath that gives utterance to them forms a giant swirling vortex and all forms of intelligence and knowledge are sucked down into it and we forget what thinking even is. Perhaps we could have a population all on the same page as to the best path for humanity to take.

 

But who has the time to get properly informed, to gain a comprehensive and explorative understanding of any given issue, let alone all of them? You do not have the time. And nor should you be expected to make the time. The majority of us were not put on this earth to contemplate philosophical, ideological or pragmatic ramifications of policy. We elect representatives because they do have the time; it is literally their job to be properly informed, to cut behind the media’s bullshit, behind misinformation and misunderstanding; to gain a broad and overarching view.

 

People want to enjoy their lives. They want to finish work and be allowed to zone out, to relish in their leisure time. They do not and, if the system was well, would not, be obligated to be as informed on matters of complex policy as politicians are so as to become de facto captains of our collective ship.

 

Of course, it could be that we enact ample media regulation, for instance, or campaign regulation, so that the people are well enough informed (because those informing them are prohibited under pain of penalty from misinforming them) so that they are theoretically capable of making the decisions required of them in a pure democracy – their personal prejudices notwithstanding (or made irrelevant through enlightenment).

 

The print media in the UK, for instance, is – you may be surprised to know (or not, having seen the bottom feeding content of the tabloids) – entirely self-regulating. It has established Independent Press Standards Commission of its own volition. The only sanction if a consumer complaint is deemed valid? That the paper publish the PCC’s finding, and/or a fine.

 

But of course, regulation of the media is a slippery slope. Even when proposals seem wholly for good, one must always question the loopholes they may give rise to for the regulators and the regulators’ influencers, and the motivations of those drawing up the laws. Perhaps statutory regulation would give rise to a maelstrom of complications.

 

So then, media regulation is without doubt a dire necessity. The abhorrent, despicable, retrograde, embarrassing, childish, stupid front-page reactions to the High Court Brexit litigation by the Daily Mail et al shows this. And so too is campaign regulation a necessity. The abomination of the £350 million lie, and how it went unchallenged until recently when a complaint was made to the Crown Prosecution Service under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (now it is too late) proves this. Although both are necessary, neither can be as comprehensive as each of us in our personal inclinations would perhaps wish them to be. Since thereafter bias has the potential to follow.

 

One may say the internet means that a universe of information has been opened up to us. We can draw one story from Breitbart, another from the Guardian, and yet another from Buzzfeed and we can be ensured that we are chewing on all sides of the fat. But unfortunately that just does not happen. The people cannot be trusted. They plop themselves in their echo chambers and scream and delight in hearing their intonations crash back to them a million times louder.

 

We must entrust policy and major decisions to representatives. But this comes with the crucial caveat that those representatives be accountable more so than they are now. To us. As it is meant to be. We decide the ideology we want our species to represent and we ensure that the policies of our governments are dictated within the boundaries of said ideology through the use and utilisation of proper laws, checks, balances and regulation.

 

Our representatives cannot, as a prerequisite, be allowed to be influenced by self-interested lobbyists or bloated financial or corporate interests.

 

MPs expenses, lobbying transparency and limitation, backroom trade deals like TTIP, MPs’ employment before and after Parliament, and campaign funding are all particular flashpoints of the battle over this dearth of regulation. But there are many others, all in need of tightening and reforming as part of a bolstering of the girders of our great political and legal system.

 

A representative democracy – as would a pure democracy – also necessitates fostering a culture of intellectualism. It means bridging the gap between the academy and the builder, between scholars and scaffolders; thinks tanks and warehouse workers. I call bullshit on the claim that the British people are tired of experts. What the British people are tired of is condescension. What people everywhere are tired of is condescension. And if 2016 has taught us anything, it is that condescension breeds populism, which rises like the perennial serpent to bite us all in the ass.

 

So no, the people cannot be trusted with pure, direct democracy.

 

But this is not to despair. This is not to render you an impotent observer watching in conscious paralysis as your betters carve up your beating cadaver. For a representative democracy comes with a crucial benefit. It means that you may holler and scream in favour of the cause you promote through whatever medium you choose in the hope people flock to you and the government hears, and when they do, you are absolved of the responsibility of making it work. It is up to them. They are your representatives; they must represent your interests.

 

So, if you reject being detached from democracy like this, then there are routes in to the fray for those so inclined. You need not run for Parliament.

 

You could write, for instance. Write and disseminate your views.

 

That is how policy should and usually is made. First the people stir; then the intellectuals write about the opinions and examine them, validate them if they are deserved of validation; then the active sea change occurs within the ranks of the population and opinion shifts and then, finally, the politicians enact the people’s will if it is sensible and has passed through the various filters and, fundamentally, they are pressured enough.

 

Take gay marriage for instance. The LGBTQ community owes no debt of gratitude to Cameron’s government for legalising it. Nor are any of the companies now cynically promoting LGBTQ rights as if they did all along deserved of congratulation. All they did was rubberstamp something the people had already decided amongst themselves. That is one of the government’s jobs. They are the final filter, the final legitimating force – legitimate themselves only because we trust that they will act as such.

 

Life is about balance. Populism belies that balance. Populism is a reaction to a detached political class and to gross inequality. But, though understandable – we are human after all – it is the wrong reaction. What is required is considered, informed, unified pressure on our representatives. This itself is dependent on a reformed system, which we can only achieve through revolution. A system built so that checks and balances are better placed. We cannot rid ourselves of representatives; they are what ensure our civilization.

 

Representative democracy also comes with a duty, because no checks and no balances are without corners around which psychopathic politicians can peer to find the boundless freedom of corruption beyond. This duty is eternal vigilance. It was said that every generation must have its revolution. This is the price we pay.

 

The necessity for representative democracy, as oppose to populism or direct rule by the many, is that if done properly, it makes ignorant reactionism impossible. Because policy is dictated by ideology arrived at by the process above mentioned, rather than ideology being an unfortunate concomitant of policies arrived at as knee jerk reactions by the majority, it means that a solid foundation is built from which to construct policy and sensible, informed decisions in response to contemporary issues.

 

Plato, after all, said that “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”. Looking at the blonde-haired demagogue who got so popular so recently, and the state of discourse on our Emerald Isle after a vote, essentially, for isolationism, I would be inclined to agree with him.

 

Balance must be restored through understanding and being informed. Not despite being human, but exactly because we are human – the most intelligent and adaptable species we know of.

 

I urge you to get involved in one aspect or another, whether activism or contribution to the intellectual ether. And if you do not want to, then that is exactly why you cannot be trusted with direct democracy, and that is fine.

 

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Freedom of repression

Its just too good to be true. Journalists massacred in Paris by evil looking bandana’d thugs with AKs. Its the stuff of airport trash novels. And whom did they shoot? Why, the bloodshed occurred in the buildings of a satirical magazine, apparently, because said magazine depicted Mohammed (offensively). Two birds with one stone. On the one hand, our Governments can justify an ever tightening grip on our civil liberties in the name of prevention of terrorism. All the while, on the other hand, they can carry it out in the name of free speech – bastions of Western democracy, paragons of virtue and torches of democratic freedom burning bright as the flag of ISIS seeks to cast shadows over us.

The tragedy even came with a hashtag: ‘Je Suis Charlie’; because, deep down, we are all Charlie Hebdo – a satirical magazine – just warm and safe, not riddled with bullets and dripping blood, not dead satirists, not having felt the brunt of some pissed off crazies. Actually… are we really Charlie Hebdo? The internet has given birth to many creations, among which bullshit solidarity has to be the most repugnant. And that is no mean feat in a medium chock full of people’s repulsive mental-slurry. The bullshit solidarity, of course, is compounded by the lack thereof in relation to the Boko Haram attacks in Baga, Nigeria.

But bullshit solidarity is not confined to the internet and, in fact, a bunch of well-meaning but ultimately futile and inconsequential sweet nothings whispered in nobodies ear through computer screens by insulated, sedentary turds is not a problem when compared with the bullshit solidarity of the Establishment. Quick as bullets, three days after the attack, Cameron, Merkel, Hollande and all self-propagandising Western leaders from Europe and beyond were pictured, arms linked like in some sort of grass-roots movement, marching aimlessly in the name of Hebdo. Leaders marching with their people – what better expression of solidarity and what better message for leaders to send to an increasingly disenchanted electorate than that to say: “we are one, we are unified, together”? Except, they weren’t marching with their people. Pictures from above now show a safety zone inhabited by security men between the pitiful back-lines of dignitaries and the actual people of France.

Your leaders won’t even march with you. The march in Paris, for them, was nothing but a PR stunt to create propaganda to blast onto monopolistically owned and politically influenced front-pages across the board and get your heart-rates pumping and your patriotic juices a-flowing. Your leaders don’t give a fuck about a life lost, or 12, or 17, or 100, or 2,000. With big, bold, black letters adorning every newspaper from the Times to the Metro showing crowds waving flags and politicians in the ruck, the propaganda has worked. We are united as one, all past-discrepancies forgotten in the haze of the terror threat. We have an ideological enemy – extremism (or, among the darker shades of Establishment thought – Islam) and we are united under an ideological principle – freedom of speech.

And with the sound of gunfire still echoing in our ears we stand united with our leaders, ready to give unto them anything. As the skeletal fingers of fear tighten around our necks we plead, gasping, that anything may be done in its name so long as it lets go. Its all so… ‘done’. Even the hashtag: ‘Je Suis Charlie’ resonates back to the immortal words of the universally adored JFK in his perpetual struggle against the evil of Communism: ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’. Since, just as then, we are at war with an ideological enemy and we know in our hearts – at least, we are told – that we have right on our side.

And so, anything must be legitimated in the fight against this threat. Just as after 9/11, the Bush administration passed the Patriot Act infringing American’s freedoms in a way never before seen and affording authoritarian power to the law enforcement agencies. Just as after 7/7 Blair’s New Labour government gave the police greater and more far-reaching powers through control orders and attempted to pass a 90-day without trial detention period through Parliament. Just as after the burning down of the Reichstag building in 1933 Hitler was able to pass the executive order granting himself dictatorial power, now our leaders are using Hebdo as a justification in the same vein.

Hollande is considering a French-Patriot Act, George Osbourne has given £100,000 to MI5 with the promise that they will get ‘whatever they want’, Cameron has outlined plans to ban Whatsapp (among other messaging platforms un-snoopable by security agencies), borders are tightening, 100,000 French troops are on the ground on French soil and warnings are given daily of impending terror attacks. Already the machine is gearing up to harvest our freedoms in the name of national security. And all the while naive young well-meaners pine for a freedom of speech they suspect is being taken from them by nuts with guns and bandanas.

Your freedom isn’t under threat from terrorism. Your freedom is under threat from the Governments that take it from you in the name of terrorism. The very same Governments that are terrorists. We stand united under our banner of self-righteousness and self-pity as innocent Westerners guilty of nothing but democracy and free-speech. All the while we have implicitly allowed the rampant drone bombings of the countries in which these fanatics gestate. We have stood idly by and allowed our leaders, unaccountably, to wage a war we have no interest in waging. We have been guilty of the marginalisation and disenfranchisement of the otherwise well-meaning Muslim populations in our own countries – helped in no small part by a Government eager, at all times, for an identifiable scapegoat. We are not guiltless. We are feeling the wrath of a beast we have been implicit in creating. ISIS would not exist were it not for Camp Bucca – a US run prison in Iraq.

And it is just too good to be true for our leaders.

There will be another terrorist attack, there will be many more, and they will be more hard hitting. And our leaders will welcome them with open arms. Since the more bloodshed, the more apparent chaos on the streets, the more we feel frightened and defenceless, the more we will cry, scream and plead for the guns and jack-boots of our Government. The more we will nod enthusiastically when a vital element of our freedom is curtailed. We will wait with baited breath for the next measure in the interests of national security. And one day, we will awaken to a nightmare, to a world we thought we knew but that shifted, oh so quietly, in front of our eyes, until it became a desolate land devoid of freedom, of emotion, of individuality and devoid of expression.

Freedom From the Tyranny of Thought

The aim of the infrastructure of any Western democratic Government is to prevent tyranny. It is set up in a way that distributes power so too much isn’t vested in one person and they are left unable to abuse it. This is why Montesquieu so famously propounded the separation of powers between the legislature (law makers), the executive (Prime Minister/ President/ Chancellor) and the judiciary (the courts). The legislature is separated from the executive so that laws do not reflect, beyond what is proportionate, the motivations and, perhaps, selfish desires of the elected head of state. The judiciary is separated from government so that the courts may exercise regulatory scrutiny over it’s decisions.

Beyond this, the executive itself isn’t a permanent, unchanging institution; the set up of the system prevents it being so. In the UK the Government is mandatorily up for election after a 5 year term so the people are afforded an opportunity to express their faith in that self same Government by re-electing it, or to show their discontent by electing a newbie. The yanks take this a step further emulating a trend set by their venerated freedom fighter (the original terrorist as far as the English establishment of the 18th century was concerned) G. Washington, of limiting the amount of times a President can legally serve, to two terms.

Power needs to be vested in some institution for anything to get done. If it were left unallocated it would cease to be power and would just be a muddling tornado of competing views, debate, thrown fists and ‘harrumphs’ because the socialistically inclined Bertha wanted to share everything but predatorily capitalistic Quentin didn’t. The issue, or rather, the fundamental mission of democracy is to vest power in an institution, in a person or group of people, without wrenching it completely from the hands of the citizens. How to legitimate a ruler and give them the go ahead to make decisions that affect everyone. This of course spurred the anti-monarchic revolutions of the 18th century in the US and France when a mandate by God was no longer a sufficient credential for King George to tax the yanks dry or for Louis 16th to powder his face before shovelling fois gras into it while his people starved.

So the answer we’ve come up with? A Government of the people, by the people and for the people. A wonderful Ancient Greek motif personified in modern times by elected representatives. The people that form Government are put there by the electorate on the basis that they will represent the majority’s interests in line with the promises that persuaded the people.

Isn’t this all heavenly? We’ve done it; we’ve produced a veritable oasis of glittering democracy where everyone has a say, our leaders act in our best interests and tyranny is but a term of antiquity relegated to use in reference to Burkha’d foreigners and flag burning heretics in the sandy third world. Yes it’s all so beautiful. It is this set up and its continued operation that legitimates the American’s fevered flag waving and spittle specked protestations that the US is the “LAND OF THE FREE, MOTHERFUCKER!” It’s this system, with its checks and balances, that allows the English to rest content in their arrogant superiority because they are a well-informed and discerning populace who hold influence over their governance. It’s for this reason that the US proudly displays its constitution encased for posterity in plexiglass so its subjects may gaze upon that document of liberation and it’s why the British venerate the Houses of Parliament and the democracy they play host to.

Western democracy with its fabled freedom and exoneration of rights is, however, fallible. These checks and balances that are our birthright can be breached.

In Britain, every Prime Ministerial candidate is cut from the same cloth. They are all products of public schooling, Oxbridge graduates and City boys who will have invariably been involved with, in one sense or another, the Bullingdon club. It doesn’t escape notice that each and every one now sounds like a recording of the other: pompous rhetoric, empty words, and strong sounding nothings.

The UK at the moment seeks change from the ‘same old shit’. And so the rise of UKIP has pervaded British politics; a brilliantly tragic political movement that manages to veil its racism beneath moralistic assertions that its not about ‘Johnny foreigner’, its about the economic welfare of the UK. A party headed by the delightfully salt-of-the-earth, beer swilling little Englander Nigel ‘suspiciously-foreign-sounding-surname’ Farage. His straight talking, shoot-from-the-hip ‘no bollocks’ approach is refreshing for a lot of Britons whose eardrums are numbed from the incessant pounding they receive by repetitive political soundbites and vague, idealistic, crowd pleasing nonsense. Nigel Farage is an outsider, a political maverick, a rebel taking the system from within.

But what of the time before Nigel Farage became the face of suppressed middle-class racism? Well, he was a publicly educated City boy – just like the rest.

The doors to number 10 are fed by a conveyer belt upon which sit black tie and bowler hat clad old Etonians, each with the same upbringing, the same experiences and the same basic world view. While the political system has attempted to stop tyranny and the propagation of vested interests by installing checks and balances in the form of elections and the separation of powers, this is undermined when each new candidate is a clone of the one before.

In the US a rather more insidious state of affairs infects the well intentioned Government structure. Most politicians in the US have sat as members of the board, as advisors, or as lawyers for the bloated, burgeoning multinational corporations that course through the veins of that country. In a political arena defined by lobbyists and political sponsors and in which money not only talks, but screams and won’t shut up, there are no checks and no balances to limit the power of the corporation and the vested interests of the monied few. No amount of re-elections or term limits can rid the US of the tyranny of the corporations or liberate the Government system from its present purpose as an engine to achieve corporate goals.

The status quo has become accepted because we’ve been told over and over again by history classes which compare our utopian society to feudalistic hell holes, by politicians who compare our governance and culture to the fundamentalist religious despots of the middle-east and by our parents who tell us that we don’t know how good we got it. These points are valid, certainly. I would much rather live in the cosy three counties despite all its snobbery, materialism, vapid shallow concerns and infuriating distraction, ignorance and superficial idiocy than, say, be waking up in a gloomy North Korea, dejectedly picking out my Tuesday jumpsuit and going out to the fields to work in return for not being shot.

But this doesn’t change the fact that things need to change. We’ve lost our penchant for change. We’ve lost our drive, our motivation, our concern for things that actually matter. This society seems to think its reached the peak of civilisation and so it can sit back, relax and watch two inbreds argue about whose sister fucked whose dog on Jeremy Kyle, or watch pseudo-journalists discuss the ramifications of the thing that politician said, which offended a couple people, or discuss for hours, with consternation etched in every furrow of its face, how its awful that Brandon isn’t coming to the party and how the fact he performed cunnilingus on Jennifer and never called her is the worst thing to happen since the Rwandan genocide.

We are irresponsible citizens who, like michelin-man-fat drooling babies clapping and giggling on mummy’s living room floor, rely on the status quo, rely on the powers that be; we just assume that everything is fine, we are safe, we are cared for – its not our responsibility, its theirs. Certainly, like the podgy baby, we cry, kick and scream if we don’t get our favourite Furbie, but once we get it thrust into our grasping hands we just giggle, roll over and suck our thumbs, completely oblivious to mummy’s alcoholism slowly burning a hole in the family purse.

Revolution is a word that we don’t associate with ourselves, its a word that only applies to North African and Middle-Eastern dictatorships or to Eastern European Oligopolies. But this is wrong, entirely wrong. Revolution should be a word always on the tip of our consciousnesses. It needn’t necessarily be violent or conjure up images of militiamen fighting the redcoats or royal French heads on pikes, but it should be there. Revolution can take many forms and it is every citizens duty to always remain aware of the status quo, of the ‘issues’, of the trajectory of society and to act accordingly, rather than popping another beer, throwing some Pringles down our throats and getting irate over football.