Wednesday, 1 September 2010

There is no such thing as a "will of the people"

I have tried to avoid this. I really have.

Commenting on this farce of an election.

I was not an angry voter, but I was not an undecided voter either.

I was disappointed by Kevin Rudd's managerial style after being elected, but pleased by many of his policy initiatives. I was disappointed when he caved on emissions trading, but more by his failure to more vigorously pursue the carrot approach of incentives to manufacture clean power plants combined with a nicely predictable timeline to phase out the manufacture of dirty plants. I was disappointed by the way he was deposed, but didn't feel personally betrayed by it since I, as a voter, don't remember ticking a box saying "I want Rudd as PM", it was just a consequence of the way we all voted, and maybe a factor in it as well. I'm not that impressed by Julia Gillard, frankly, but she has done some good things.

On the other side, I am personally disgusted by a lot of what Tony Abbott believes and find him, as an individual, to be just a bit creepy. I don't like many of his colleagues either, but then again I don't have much respect for many Labor parliamentarians so I suppose that's all right.

In actual fact, I maintain that the only two major figures who got through the entire campaign with dignity intact were Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Brown.

The simple fact is that I have progressive social views, a strong sense of social justice and a firm belief that the job of a government is to govern, lead and develop not sit back and let private enterprise do it for them, so I am constitutionally inclined, if forced to choose between only the two majors, to pick Labor.

But I'm not impatient or annoyed or upset by the outcome. 
I'm more interested by this hung situation than I could have been by any other outcome. This horse-trading currently going on as the two parties sit just short of majority and three traditional conservatives plus one (now Adam Bandt has formally sided with Labor) are desperately courted by two leaders who would prefer to ignore their existence, is the best show we've had in politics since Rudd spanked Howard (not literally, we should be so lucky) at the last election. 

It's certainly more interesting than anything that happened during the actual election campaign itself, leaks included.

And, bizarrely, it's shown Bob Katter to be a reasoned, considered man of noble principles and not (only) the half-crazed loon the city-centred rest of Australia thought he was.

But there is one thing I can no longer keep silent about (yes, there was a point, I was getting here, honest).

"The Australian people spoke."

May I just say: Piss off.

What is this "Australian people" of which you speak?

"Australians managed to engineer the only result which made sense." How? By colluding? Sorry, I don't remember getting instructions to vote this way so the result would go that way.

This idea that the outcome of millions of individual decisions reflects a group-think is old-fashioned, very wrong and, in my view, deceptive, discourteous and probably disingenuous as well. It's a convenient shorthand but it reflects sloppy thinking and it shouldn't be used.

The result is the result of many factors, possibly including a protest-vote which may have been influenced by a belief that Labor would win anyway so it was safe to do so. Possibly including a genuine sense of dissatisfaction with the major parties and a turn to minors, yet I notice the major parties did still manage to win 145 out of 150 seats (at present counting). Possibly including a genuine lack of compelling electioneering which resulted in people defaulting to party lines and sorting out the swinging voters into who they really do lean towards.

I don't know, and frankly I don't care. What I do care about is that we stop saying "the will of the people" was expressed, or "Australians wished" or "The electorate decided" or, more appropriately, "the electorate failed to decide".

This member of the electorate made a decision. So did millions of others. Independently of all save maybe family members or friends. And the result of all of those independent decisions, when filtered through an electoral system incorporating preferences, electoral boundaries and a system of government predicated upon a mini-democracy of seats voting along party lines, is a hung parliament.

There is no "will of the people" involved. There is the consequences of the wills of the people.

Termites build geographically aligned mounds without a guiding intelligence. Flocks of birds or schools of fish stay together without traffic control. Ants find and exploit food by each individual ant following a hierarchy of simple rules, not a grand centrally-coordinated master plan.

Please don't take the easy way out of thinking and accuse me of insulting voters' intelligences: I wish to point out that simple rules, expressed many times, produce complex outcomes.

The "will of the masses" is an illusion, albeit a very powerful one. It is a ghost arising out of the machine. It is pareidolia of politics. It is a chimera constructed from millions of individual inputs, each one meaningful, together adding up to a result which is not meaningful, it simply is.

Both major parties failed in their bid to convince a sufficient majority of voters across a sufficient majority of electorates to vote for them. This is the real and only message here.

If we work backwards from that, asking why not, we may begin to pick apart the reasons, we may begin to find the policies that, through popularity, reflect a majority of opinion.

But please, for the love of whatever deity, faith or otherwise vow of passion you believe in, don't put the cart before the horse and think that "Australia" "passed judgement" or that "the electorate wanted this". I suspect you would find, if you could survey all individual voters, that instead of being satisfied with this outcome they're alternately annoyed, sick of it and apathetic.

Don't ask if the electorate would pass a Turing test - not because it might not, but because it's the wrong question to ask. "The electorate" is only intelligent if an ant heap is intelligent. It's just far, far more complicated and difficult a job to engineer a result from a collection of voters than to engineer a result from a collection of ants.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Post a pic once in a while! Yeeesh.

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