The Con of Democracy
We hear the word ‘democracy’ thrown about a lot these days. In 1981, New Zealand went through a massive social upheaval as a result of our opposition to the tour of the apartheid South African rugby team, the Springboks. In 2006, on the 25th anniversary of this fragmenting tour, one ex-All Black, Graeme Torrie, stated that he would go through the whole experience of virtual civil war all over again because “this is a democracy”. I wondered what democracy had to do with it. Democracy does not mean ‘What I want is what I should get.’ It does not even mean ‘What most of us want is what we should get.’ In 2009-10, there were large protest marches supposedly “to reclaim democracy”, merely because certain right-wing parents had lost their ‘right’ to beat up their children, with the passage of the anti-smacking legislation and the recognition that children had rights. But most of the people on those marches did not have a clue as to what the word or concept of ‘democracy’ is.
New Zealand is one of the few countries in the Western world which refuses to teach us the subject of civics, the study of politics, parliament, power, bureaucracies, civil structures, law and justice. In the 1980s, our resident fascist, the late Sir Robert Muldoon (Prime Minister), created a bill to be heard before parliament in which he wanted the University of Auckland Act and the Victoria University of Wellington Act amended to limit the number of people who could study political science at university, because, in his own words, “There should not be so many people who know how the political system works in this country.” Fortunately, he retired before the bill was drawn and it lapsed for want of a sponsor. Most of us are unaware of what democracy is, because we are kept in the dark about it. It is far easier to manipulate a democracy than a dictatorship, and the first phase in that manipulation is ignorance. But even those countries which do teach civics will teach the ‘authorised’ or politically accepted lessons.
Democracy does not mean majority rule in all things. Majority rule is one of a number of mechanisms by which we get to select who will run the various democracies in which we live. Law books and courtrooms are all used within the legal system, but they are not the law itself. Democracy is the classical formula of ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people’, and it is manifest in many ways. In Iran, President Mossadeq was an autocrat, but he was voted in democratically to be such an autocrat. And when he threatened to resign when the Shah challenged his autocracy, the people in fact rose up to support his autocracy!
But there are many occasions on which the majority should not have its way. In Fascist Germany during the 1930s and 40s, their parliament, the Reichstag, passed many laws concerning groups of ‘unwanted ‘ people. Despite the fact that the majority of the German nation had been whipped up into a frenzy of hatred against Jews, homosexuals, communists, trade unionists, gypsies and others, if the Reichstag had said, ‘Despite the popularity of your opinion, we shall not be passing any legislation against these people,’ would they have been doing the right thing or the wrong thing? Many times parliament must make decisions against the popular will, because parliament gets to (or is supposed to get to) look at the bigger picture. It must deal with issues of right and wrong, rather than whether some group, in the passing vacillations of time, managed to get fifty-one percent of people to support it.
Many times we even wrongly assume the nature of a majority. We assume that decisions are binary. If 30 percent of people want marijuana decriminalised (in New Zealand it is actually 72 percent, but the law still does not change), the assumption is drawn that this means that 70 percent are in favour of the law. But this is not true: only 20 percent are actively in favour of the law. In other words, 20 percent believe that if marijuana were not illegal, it is of such a socially obnoxious nature that the law must be created. The remaining 50 percent have no real drive one way or the other. The existence of law should not be based on ‘We have created this statute, so can you prove that it should not be on the books?’ But that is the way that it works in this country, and indeed in many countries. Get the statute into law and then get the opposition to prove that it should not be there!
Sometimes it is necessary for a parliament to support a minority if there is no overwhelming reason to believe that the majority will be adversely affected. Laws about discrimination always, by definition, support a minority. We ask, ‘Does the prohibition of discrimination against homosexuals adversely affect the heterosexual population to a degree in which that effect dominates the need to oppose discrimination?’ Even if by some stretch of insanity it could be proven that the majority were opposed to homosexuality, without a preponderant and overwhelming social cause, such a majority should not necessitate the introduction of law. Society is always about making decisions to suit the broadest arrangement of people, not simply the one group which is always at the top of the mathematical equation.
As stated above, democracies are easily manipulated. In democracies which run along party lines, people will often make decisions based on the party, not the person. In the United States, people will vote for, say, the Republican Party because that is what they have always done and what their family has always done. Whether George W. Bush was the best person to run their country was irrelevant: he was “one of us” and that is all that matters. Here in New Zealand, the same blind party affiliation exists. The only countries which have less of this blind allegiance are those in which vibrant third and fourth parties exist. The downside of this is that such other parties may fragment the vote. If 40 percent vote for the right wing, this means that 60 percent are left wing or moderate. But if that 60 percent is split 35-25, the right wing becomes the largest minority and gets into power. The solution is, of course, coalitions.
For other people, personality is the key factor, even above competence. How somebody looks or comes across, even what their wife looks like, become key factors. Many Americans voted for John F. Kennedy because he and his wife looked like a Hollywood couple. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were a Hollywood couple. But often this voting attribute is entered through the back door. I once spoke with a woman about how she might vote in her electorate. She said that it would be for National. Why? What were their policies that impressed her? She did not know anything about their policies. So how did she come to her decision? She thought that the wife of the candidate was very nice. So she was voting for him because the wife was nice! Where did they meet? At the supermarket! And what caused them to talk about politics at the supermarket? Well, they didn’t: they were talking about the condition and price of luncheon sausage! That is how this woman chose to make her electoral vote… luncheon sausage!
For other people, the decision will be based on the traditional ‘bribe’, what each party says that they will offer. For the 2008 election here, many people were saying that they wanted tax cuts. This had not started out as an electoral issue. Earlier on in the year, the media had decided that this was to be an issue: no one had been talking about it until the media raised it. While Labour had been running the country with roughly an eleven billion dollar surplus, it felt that it was not yet in sufficiently a sound economic situation to afford these cuts: it needed to do so only when there was sufficient on which to fall back. National, of course, promised substantial tax cuts (which naturally meant big cuts for the wealthy and a small pittance for the poor). People bought into it, despite the oncoming recession! However, a mere five months after National came into power (and we had had one of two phases of the cuts), some 52 percent of New Zealanders said that due to the financial times, they were prepared to go without further tax cuts until things got better. In other words, they were saying that Labour had been right, that it was indeed the wrong time!
Related to this ‘bribe’ is the notion of issue-diversion. Every election year, the right-wing National Party will re-excite three major issues, crime, education and beneficiaries (i.e. unemployment). By appealing to these core red-neck issues, the government can divert the attention away from significant issues such as the financial state of the nation, or social policy. Right-wing people like to believe that crime is a big problem, and that this problem is based on one key observation: poor people are essentially criminal, especially if you are coloured. We ignore the fact that the United Nations recently declared us to be the safest nation on earth: this does not fit in with the rhetoric. But even the right-wing people are inconsistent. While Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust claimed that “crime is escalating”, his fellow red-neck (with a similar name) Garth George wrote that despite the decrease in crime, it was not declining at the rate that it used to. Despite the inconsistency, they were working from the principle of avoiding any positive comment about how the Labour Government’s law-and-order policies were working! Even when the Northland Regional Police Commander recently stated that over-all crime was down by twelve percent, and in 2011 the nation-wide murder rate was halved, and in April 2012 the crime rate was at a fifteen-year low, the Sensible Sentencing Trust, as a right-wing political lobbyist, did not have a single positive word to say on the matter! Fear must be continued to keep the right-wing voting for the right-wing.
Beneficiary-bashing is a favourite of the right-wing. The attitude of ‘My hard-earned tax dollars are being thrown away on people who could be working, but who are essentially lazy,’ does not fit in with the simple fact that our capitalist system has produced fewer jobs than there are people to fill those positions. But to become aware of that, one has to examine the nature and make-up of the society in which we live. And no right-wing person is going to say, ‘There is something fundamentally wrong with the society in which we live.’ They must be diverted away from asking, ‘What have we become?’ For then they might discover that the greed and the usury of the wealthy have created the very problems which they criticise. Democracy is based on diverting our attention off the causes of the problems, to avoid identifying who and what really caused them.
Another one of the difficulties we have with democracies is the lack of electoral choice. If we take an issue like, say, health, we have three primary viewpoints: left, right and centre. If we then include our opinion on finance, that also could be left, right or centre. With these two issues alone, we require no less that nine candidates to represent all nine variations of opinion. By the time we deal with crime, employment, infrastructure and education, that is with six issues, we have a total of 729 possible combinations and need 729 candidates in each electorate. Anything short of this figure means that the voter has to make some compromise somewhere. But we simply make the assumption that if a candidate is right-wing on one issue, they must be right-wing on all issues. For this reason, no representative ever truly reflects the opinions of their electorate. This means that on all decision-making, they are morally obliged to return to the electorate and to seek our feedback. This does not mean that they must always adhere to it: as mentioned above, there are times when they must look at the ‘greater good’. But frequently when they are stuck between what the party requires and what their constituents require, they will support the party and not the people they were voted in to represent.
As I mention in my other thesis, MMP, another problem with democracy is that often that choice which we do have is negated in any voting system which employs a ‘secondary vote’, such as the American Electoral College Vote or our own now discarded First Past the Post electoral majority vote. Thus MMP, as the only system which retains the policy of ‘one person, one vote’, is the only one which preserves democracy.
The media, of course, have a substantial influence on politics. They are supposed to be impartial observers and commentators, but rarely do we find this. Organisations like the American Fox Network are notoriously right wing, as is our local Radio Live, while a few stations, presses and groups are left wing. When the National Party’s Bob Clarkson (a 1950s-reject homophobe with an IQ of 44) was being interviewed about his support for a local rugby team, the media just had to interview him sitting in front of his party’s flag, even though the item had nothing to do with politics. Whenever secular crises occur, if there is the opportunity to interview a member of parliament about it, they will do so, again even if it has nothing to do with politics. As election time nears, the media will attempt to downgrade everything that politicians do as ‘photo opportunities’ or ‘electioneering’, even if it is no different from what the politician does at any other time in their term. If the time-slot for the item is short, which member they will interview, that of the incumbent government or that of the opposition, will be based on a political decision of the media.
The media also like to introduce ‘issues’, as if they were in fact originated by the public. Mentioned earlier was the tax-cuts issue, which the public did not consider an issue until the media raised it. In 2011, when the major environmental disaster with the Rena sea accident and the oil spillage occurred, it was the media who introduced the notion that “This is becoming an election issue.” Prior to that, it was merely a localised disaster!
But where they really influence politics is in the airing and the analysis of polls. When someone says, “I was going to vote for New Zealand First, but now that the polls indicate that National could get in without a coalition, I have decided to change my vote to them,” this is definitely influence. In the 2010 Auckland mayoral election, the two major candidates were Len Brown and the fascist John Banks. The media constantly aired the polling difference between the two, indicating that Banks was slightly behind, and even suggesting that if Banks wanted to win, he should focus on campaigning in the conservative North Shore area. The media were attempting to undermine all of the hard work that Brown was doing by giving his opponent the knowledge of the polling discrepancy and even the solution to the opponent’s problem! And when we were to vote for various councillors to be on the new mega-Council, the media advertised the standing of only one such candidate, John Walker – because he was a famous, Olympic-winning athlete.