So we now enter another election campaign. At the beginning of the second decade in the 21st century, this is what is considered as the pinnacle of democracy in on planet earth. We get to stick numbers beside the name of people who are professional politicians, people who are paid handsomely to make decisions, supposedly on our behalf, and for our benefit.
The recent circus around Fianna Fail’s internal implosion, and the Greens manoeuvrings around the optics of Cowen trying to putting new faces into departments ahead of the election might be the bread and butter of mainstream commentary. But it actually masks deeper more embedded problems. These are multitude but perhaps, for this post, it might be useful to consider some simple facts before we even begin to make value judgements and critiques. In our adult lives, the sum total of ordinary peoples input into the “democratic process” amounts to little more than 3.875 hours. Less than 4 hours of your life is spent voting.
How did I get that figure? Well say there is an election every four years, and say the average life expectancy is 80 years. And you start voting at 18. So you have 62 years of voting once every four years. That’s 15.5 voting opportunities. And say that it takes you 15 minutes to exercise your vote – probably less than that for many. That’s 232.5 minutes or just under 4 hours in your life when you get to ‘exercise’ ‘democracy’. Doesnt seem a lot does it? So lets go wild. Just imagine there are twice as many elections. That means that we still spend less 8 hours (one working day out our entire time on the planet) taking part in the official decision making structures that affect our lives.
That’s pretty bonkers really. And that’s without even addressing issues of capitalism and free markets, power, class divisions, ecological impacts of resources depletions, patriarchy, religion and wars. To anyone with some semblance of understanding of the term ‘democracy’ our present system is not fit for the purpose it describes itself as having. It cannot possibly make use of the collective knowledge, intelligence and experience of us all,nor begin to address our concerns. How could it? The idea that substantial change will come about by simply continuing to participate within the parameters of representative democracy is less than wishful thinking. And wishful thinking is exactly what we need to do. If we want to a society that puts power in our own hands, we need to radically re-imagine what we mean when we speak about democracy. So when someone comes asking for a bit of your time, trying to convince you to vote for them, it might be worth asking them, as professional politician if they think giving you 4 hours in you lifetime to participate in democracy is they best they can imagine. Chances are they will never have thought of it. As for us, well if we settle for 4 hours in our life, maybe we deserve to get all we do.