Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chrome Democracy

In the age of the internet, technological progress moves at a blur. This will come as no surprise, of course, to anyone familiar with the concept of accelerating change. New gadgets and upgrades pop up in profusion like mushrooms, and one can easily imagine the reaction of any serious gamer if you said you were still using the Super Nintendo (aka Super Famicom), and just picture the looks you would get if you admitted you still used a typewriter.

As technological progress moves at these ever increasing speeds, upgrades are not only convenient; they are necessary. Those old stalwarts who steadfastly refuse to buy a mobile phone face ever diminishing numbers of public telephones. Old operating systems like Windows 95 are useless for most, if not all (sorry, I'm no techie), modern websites. Meanwhile, Google Chrome is fast becoming the world's most popular browser.

This is all quite logical and, indeed, inevitable. Why, then, do we so readily embrace change with regard to technology, while at the same time clinging to ludicrously outdated and demonstrably unfair and unrepresentative systems when it comes to the most important aspect of our societies: our democracies?

Each so-called 'representative democracy' has its own unique election system. To take a relatively well-known example, in the US the winner of the presidential election is determined by the electoral college system, in which each state is allocated a number of points to be awarded to the winner of the state in an election. This leads to a series of issues:

Firstly, because the winner-takes-all system is used in all states except for Nebraska and Maine, the winner of the national popular vote is not guaranteed to win the election. Secondly, elections often come down to a focus on so-called 'swing states', giving candidates a huge incentive to focus only on states where there is no clear favorite. Thirdly, voter turnout is greatly discouraged in states where one party traditionally dominates, essentially disenfranchising millions of people. And fourthly, the winner-takes-all system means third parties have no chance whatsoever of even making a dent on any election.

So the two main parties in US politics are the only possible winners. Given that these parties now share bipartisan consensus on a huge range of issues such as NSA surveillance, government secrecy, contempt for whistleblowers, indefinite detention of anyone deemed a 'terrorist suspect', endless war, murdering multitudes of Muslim civilians and their children in foreign sovereign states with drones etc., what choice is there for any US citizen who happens to disagree with his or her tax dollars going toward the funding of any of the above?

This is not democracy by any stretch of the imagination.

The UK employs the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system. This system also leads to a society that does not in any way reflect the attitudes of the electorate. The main problems with this system are as follows:

First, this system encourages tactical voting, where in a given constituency, if a voter's preferred candidate has no chance of winning, he or she is likely to vote for another candidate who is more likely to defeat the least preferred one. This more than anything leads to a society that is woefully unrepresentative of the true sentiments of its citizens. Further, gerrymandering thrives in the first-past-the-post system as it allows a high number of so-called 'wasted votes'. And finally, under this system, smaller third parties can suddenly find themselves in an extremely powerful position if the main parties require a small number of extra votes to get their bills through parliament. This gives third parties, which could possibly be extremist and representative only of a tiny minority, the power of blackmail over more moderate parties.

One single factor links all of these issues: they are all profoundly undemocratic. We often hear politicians banging on about how lucky we are to live in a society with free elections. This is the kind of woolly bullshit we have come to expect from these people. A free election is only 'free' if it is founded on honest and fair principles. We have already shown that the systems in two major Western nations are critically flawed.

A Guardian/ICM poll was published last week in The Guardian. Among other things, it detailed the voting intentions of UK voters. This poll is, frankly, meaningless and the third comment (by 'Ocoonassa') below the line summed it up perfectly:

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. As usual your poll has done the marvellous trick of predicting a 100% turnout from an electorate that at the last local elections barely bothered to turn out at all.

Why can't you present a more honest picture of the peoples opinions instead of massaging the stats to pretend that all is rosy in the garden of British democracy?

All your conclusions are invalid if you're wilfully discarding the section of the electorate who think the political class is ideologically and morally bankrupt and are thus responding none-of-the-above. Why not present the true picture, how many of us did you have to ask before you got your 1002 respondents?

Absolutely spot on. So many people are now utterly sick of the status quo and would snap up an alternative if a credible one existed. Witness the Pirate Party's success in Germany, where it now apparently has 11% of the popular vote. If a party like that, which stood for direct democracy and access to basic human rights like education and health without people having to go into heavy debt, could gain a credible foothold, we might just begin to see the first steps toward true democracy. I say first steps because as it stands at the moment (in the US and UK at least), we are nowhere near true democracy, no matter how many times the politicians say we are.

As already mentioned, vast numbers of people are moving to Google Chrome, and in time, that also will be superseded, as is only natural. With the internet and huge possibilities now available to us in the field of collaborative e-democracy, why are we still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to our election systems? The answer is simple: those entrenched in power know that if a truly democratic system comes into being, they will be straight out of the door.

Given that the huge and ever growing levels of inequality, the policy failures, the wars, and all the other heartbreaking tragedies going on every second of every day around the world prove that our current systems are ineffective - counterproductive, in fact - it is time for everyone to stop focusing on the myriad petty distractions and realize that unless you are rich or otherwise privileged, we are all up a certain creek without a certain instrument.

It is time for direct democracy.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog.

1 comment:

  1. This is so very true. Poll figures are as substantial as statistics. They aren't. In fact there's a facebook page for Independent voters where they posted an article on polls. Every comment had nothing but criticisms against polls with one even stating something to the effect that they enjoyed giving false answers so the vote couldn't be predicted and so campaigning couldn't be catered to the Independent voter.
    The distractions are sadly effective and moreso create divides. It would be really great if we could overcome this but unless a cataclysmic event unfurls forcing everyone to think beyond the insignificant differences as well as to work together I doubt that anything will change much.


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