By Tim Kitz

If you’re the kind of person who reads The Leveller, you’ve probably been pretty disappointed by recent election results. From Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Ford in Ontario, Trump in the US to François Legault in Québec, creepy and hateful politicians seem to be riding a tide of victory.

What if voting is just a mostly-symbolic act that grants – at best – different branches of the same ruling elite the illusion of consent to rule us and make decisions for us?

Right here in Ottawa, voters just passed up several chances to elect the city’s first black councillor.

Think about that. It’s 2018. Ottawa has never had a black councillor. Or mayor.

It’s enough to make a good-hearted person despair. Or maybe… question a few sacred cows.

What if the problem’s not just corporate media consolidation, social media polarization, and right wing popularization?

What if voting is just a mostly-symbolic act that grants – at best – different branches of the same ruling elite the illusion of consent to rule us and make decisions for us?

What if the problem is democracy?

Okay, okay, maybe not democracy as a concept or ideal – but definitely democracy as it’s practiced in our society, in the place known as Canada. You know, state democracy, party politics, first-past-the-post, majority-wins, representative democracy.

Let’s talk about how that democracy works.

Party politics means a representative’s first allegiance is to their party, not the people who supposedly elected them. Combined with first-past-the-post, it creates a winner-take-all situation, where partisans become enemies and a vote doesn’t count if it’s not for a winner.

What’s so democratic about a system that converts the votes of a minority into the tyranny of the majority?

This fosters polarization and pushes politicians (and their followers) to treat each other as enemies. It makes debates and legislative votes mostly for show – grandstanding for future elections rather than making good policy or legislation.

The goal is not to make better legislation, but to prove the opposition is incompetent and immoral. No real decision-making takes place in legislatures – all of the decisions have been made elsewhere, generally by unelected, unaccountable, and even unknown officials.

In this system, politicians get ahead by demonizing and discrediting the other side(s). This way, a large enough minority of voters will hold their nose and choose them as the lesser evil over their opponents.

This electoral minority will then generally be converted by our archaic first-past-the-post system into a parliamentary majority and near-absolute governing power.

The governing party can then ignore its opponents and anyone who didn’t vote for it – except to try and demonize and discredit them, while their opponents try to do the same to them. And so on, endlessly.

What’s so democratic about a system that converts the votes of a minority into the tyranny of the majority?

Hell, what’s so great about the tyranny of the majority?

Is choosing our rulers really the best we can do? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could choose to rule ourselves?

If it’s bad to have your life ruled by one person – a master, a king – is it so much better to have it ruled by many?

Is choosing our rulers really the best we can do?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could choose to rule ourselves? To meet our needs and make decisions cooperatively, not coercively – with enthusiastic, ongoing consent rather than an occasional “if I have to, I guess”?

Whatever the method of election, granting one group of people power over the rest creates a governing class whose interests differ from those governed. It’s naive to think people will ignore their own interests. Government itself, power itself is the problem.

Rather than chasing ‘democratic’ utopias and illusions, we should work to create realistic systems that reward non-hierarchical cooperation.

Traditional Indigenous gift economies and consensus councils at least prove such things are humanly possible. Meanwhile, co-ops and affinity groups, to say nothing of Indigenous governments like that of Nunavut prove alternatives can succeed in the modern world, even without radical changes to overall society.

Something has to change. “Basically, average citizens only get what they want if economic elites or interest groups also want it,” is the way Vox summarized a 2014 study by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page.

Or as Gilens and Page put it themselves, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

“If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain,” goes the old saw.

Fuck that. If you’re not offered a meaningful choice, it’s legitimate to refuse that choice.

Voter apathy and low voter turnout is a reasonable reaction to the near-meaningless choices our current political system offers.

Okay, okay, yes, there is something to be said for thinking – even voting – strategically. Even small differences between idiotic politicians who basically care nothing for justice can translate into real and meaningful differences on the ground for suffering and marginalized people.

So vote strategically, vote realistically, if you want.

An earlier Leveller editorial board (way back in April 2011), suggested readers “vote without faith,” without seeing it as “an almost sacred expression of our core political ideals and the only legitimate way to achieve meaningful political change.”

Here at the 2018 Leveller, we admittedly would prefer to see a liberal in office over a conservative, and a democratic socialist over a liberal.

But sometimes we just don’t care.

A lot of other people don’t care either. And we don’t blame them.

Voter apathy and low voter turnout is a reasonable reaction to the near-meaningless choices our current political system offers.

So let’s stop wringing our hands over political apathy and launching crusades that present voting as some sort of self-evident moral duty. Instead, let’s work to transform the system that so drastically limits our choices.

And we’re not here to tell you how to do that – please just work for transformation from whatever angle and in whatever way excites and motivates you.

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