Tomorrow I will tootle off to my local primary school to vote in the NSW state election. It is a legal obligation I have as an Australian citizen and I am grateful for it.
At a deep level, I know that to vote is a privilege that I must take seriously.
I find it easy to honour this feeling thanks to growing up through the Thatcher years in the UK and then witnessing at close hand South Africa change from apartheid to a majority democracy with a global legend as its first president. Whilst politics is always messy, there is a much bigger reality with democracy, the recognition of individuals and that they have a right to speak.
Voting is a public display of that right.
This time, more than all the others, I have no idea which of the muppets should get my vote. None of them gives me any confidence that they can speak for me, even for part of me. They are all incompetent, out of touch, and passionate about the wrong things. The better ones try hard and may even have their hearts in the right place but enthusiasm alone is not enough to earn anyone’s vote.
The benefit from my public display of democratic right should go towards outcomes, real benefits to society. That is I’d like to vote for policies.
I recognise that policies are attached to politics and therefore candidates. And I know that this means I can’t cherry pick my policies, they’re a job lot, but I would like to know what they are, even in general terms.
I consider myself reasonably well read and someone who pays attention. I know the names of the local candidates, at least for the major parties and the leaders of those parties at state and federal level, but I do not know the policy positions of the parties or their candidates. This is not good.
What do I know?
Well, I know that the posturing and attempts to manipulate me are rampant.
Witness the idiocy of the Federal prime minister unable to say the word ‘coal’ in public when a year ago as treasurer he held up a fist-sized piece of coal in the parliament to wave aggressively at the opposition. See a witty summary of this coal lunacy by Katherine Murphy.
I also know that outside the Canberra comic book the manipulation in other parts of the world is creating chaos (Brexit), erosion of the rule of law (Trump and the US attorney), extremism (Brazil, Trump again), poverty (North Korea, far too many countries in Africa), overconsumption (everywhere) and, well, the list could go on and on. There is no doubt we ‘live in changing times’ to quote the old Chinese curse.
Is there an alternative to muppetville?
Knowing you are cursed is one thing. What you choose to do about it is another.
The other day I sat with a colleague in a delightful coffee shop on the second floor of the Queen Victoria Building in downtown Sydney. More privilege that we acknowledged as we drifted onto the topic of the vacuum in global politics.
It was easy to agree that we are in changing times and that what we see now in Trump, Brexit and aimless Australian politics are symptoms of the vacuum. We also easily agreed that nature hates a vacuum and will rush to fill it.
What we couldn’t figure out was what nature would come up with: more extremes, a progressive middle, something different altogether.
Our conclusion, that there will be a holding pattern while the stupid white men die off and then the youngsters come up with something wonderful, felt shallow and, frankly, a cop-out. Why abdicate in favour of the next generation when we are the ones with the batten?
I think because we are actually at a loss.
My generation and the couple that came after mine does not have an alternative.
We cannot give up capitalism because we actually like what it gives us (we like wealth and privilege a lot) and, more or less, capitalism is steadily doing it for more and more people. We actually don’t have a realistic alternative to mobilising capital and labour for profit.
We cannot ditch democracy for similar reasons. We like it, for the most part, and we know that the alternatives are risky and erode our liberty.
We certainly cannot lose the right to speak through our vote. That would be going back to the dark ages, literally.
Instead, we can just hobble along because it’s what we’ve always done and, hey, it has worked so far. Who’s to say it can’t keep on working.
So the answer is no, we don’t have an alternative.
This both scares me and ensures that nobody will like this post.