Australia is having an election. Elections can now be defined as media events in which people in parties get elected to a parliament in order to feel important, maybe get a media grab and definitely get a nice wage and pension for doing almost nothing. If they’ve got the right party cred to become a minister, they can bask in the limelight of powerless pseudo-activity as the defining decisions are made in international boardrooms and financial markets. This is now known as democracy.
The interesting thing about this election is that the usual, monotonous election illusion/post-election disillusion cycle has been radically shortened. Now the first part has been dispensed with and it’s into the disillusion cycle straight away as part of the elections themselves. I’m probably being overly optimistic, but to me one small sign of progress in the electorate is that almost no one at all takes either candidate seriously. (Although it’s a long way from that to people taking themselves and the ecocidal system seriously).
Of course there are really only two candidates, as Australia’s preferential voting system guarantees that only two corporate parties, Liberal and Labor, can gain majorities. Almost no one in Australia even challenges this voting system, let alone the illusion of representative democracy itself within a capitalist system and globalised world economy.
The progressive ‘third force’ in the game, the Greens, mainly have the pacifying function of keeping the illusions of representative democracy alive and well as the world burns, illegal wars of intervention expand and the rich get immeasurably richer. If they’re lucky, they might get a marine reserve or two, a bit more high-speed rail and few more wind farms. They would be quite happy with that. By playing the official games, accepting the market system premises and talking the language of the powerful the Greens naively help distract from, and thus strengthen, the systemic reasons for climate chaos and ecocide.
Even more than is usually the case, the two major candidates are absolute non-entities, neither even possessing the minimal rhetorical skills needed to cover this up. Although this has always been the case – previous contestants like Rudd or Latham, Beazley and Howard, Keating and Hewson, Hawke and Frazer were no different despite the mythology – it in now even more glaringly obvious. Both Gillard and Abbot are pure walking brands formed and pushed by media image advisors, desperately holding focus groups looking for some distinguishing product to sell. ‘Hope’, ‘change’ have passed their use-by date for obvious reasons, and Gillard’s ‘moving forward’ has proved a big flop among consumers… Now her media script has been changed to the ‘real’ script of ‘the real Gillard’. Where reality and image have been so totally identified, the alienation of the spectacle has triumphed and totalised boredom is one result.
Ridiculous of course. Surely consumers can see there’s a world of difference between a Pepsi and a Coke, a burger from Hungry Jack and one from Mc Donald’s.
Quaintly, Australia is one of the few democratic countries with the oxymoronic system of compulsory voting: people are forced to vote for Pepsi or Coke (or mineral water like the Greens) or be fined. Again, very few even question this voting Stalinism.
Enough. Let’s conserve precious energy for things that matter. A short argument attempting to explain the political myths of representative democracy is contained in ‘Political Myths We Live By’, available on this website (December 2009). In the meantime, here are a few slogans resuscitated from my 1998 election comments.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
You Can’t Vote Out a System
Parties dissemble, Citizens assemble
Capital rules, pollies waffle, sheep vote
Voting is voluntary lobotomy
I vote, therefore I am powerless
Democracy: DIY or dead
Elections = TV = brain shampoo
Whoever you vote for, Big Money calls the shots
Vote for a party: rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic
Tweedle Gillard or Tweedle Abbot?