3. People aren’t happy

Helen Keller quote

As someone who is interested in politics, as well as in observing how other people think, and act, the Internet has brought about no end of new information. Where previously your opinions might be limited to your friends, family and work colleagues, now you can debate and discuss (or probably more accurately “opinionise” and troll) to a much wider audience. Whether that is Facebook, or the discussion forums of online media sources, people are sharing their thoughts and feelings at a significant rate. And they aren’t doing it because they are satisfied; they are doing it because they are angry and frustrated. They are looking for alternatives, whilst often simultaneously acknowledging that those alternatives may be far from ideal.

Tony Abbott described such postings as “electronic graffiti”. However that didn’t stop him and his team getting on board. In mid 2014, 37 people were employed by his office alone to monitor social media and offer strategic communications advice. Moreover, his Facebook page boasts an impressive 395,000 likes, (though strangely his biggest following is 19-34 year olds living in New Delhi…), so he clearly doesn’t mind his team doing a bit of scribbling for him when they get a chance.

The anger on these forums is at times palpable. With every new announcement of policy, the newspapers online forums turn into a seething mass of rage.  And it can get very nasty, very quickly. It is a brave soul (or a playful troll) who will go to the opposite camp in order to praise their political leader or their policies, knowing the barrage of hate that will be directed their way. There are suspicions that some of these posters are somehow paid for by the party machine, to try and propagate the spin. If that is so, it ain’t working! However the way that arguments are distorted, simplified, or diversionary, suggests that some of those posters are well aware of what they are doing. But what is also astonishing is how much time and energy people will put into those forums, finding articles to corroborate their opinions.

Another growing experience that mirrors this dissatisfaction is the growth of online petitions. GetUp, Change.org, SumOfUs.org are all examples where people are tapping into this dissatisfaction with the way that decisions are being made and the policies being enacted. Not that long ago, the only way to register dissent involved demonstrations and marches, the logistics of organizing such in the days before mobile phones and the internet seems almost unbelievable now. But how much impact do these protests actually carry? I suspect that it would be impossible to get a politician to admit that they were swayed by a petition, unless there was a fair chance that they would do it anyway, and from my observation, protests and marches tend not to get the media coverage that make them worth doing, unless they include activities that can readily receive right wing media scorn.  Violence, obscene or “threatening” placards, certainly draw attention, but not for the positive, and do no favors in gaining further support from the general public.  Only where protests impinge on the lives of others do they appear to gather any media coverage at all, though again, this can alienate the general public from their cause.  Successful mass protest necessarily walks a fine line.

Another interesting phenomenon that reveals a problem with the system is that people are getting angry with the media. Reports of media bias amongst voters is fairly ubiquitous. Progressives rail against the “Murdochracy”, and conservatives rail against everyone who disagrees with their politicians (even when they back-flip) particularly on those state owned mediums, ABC and SBS.

Forums and social media accuse the MSM (mainstream media) of not doing its job of holding governments and politicians to account; of being more obsessed with opinion polls, and potential leadership spills; of being light on analysing policy details, or investigating and reporting on the secret deals and questionable policies being enacted in our name.

But we seem to have forgotten that this is not their job. This is the job of parliamentarians. They are employed by us to scrutinize and debate, and thus to improve the quality of the legislation being developed. But the debate is not happening, and the media is not reporting on it. I’ve watched clips of politicians give speeches in the house with no member of the government in attendance, and not shown in the media. The parliamentary processes are being completely gamed, to the electorates’ detriment. Legislation is marched through the house using compliant majorities, whilst the players on the opposition side go through the motions of opposition but serve no value other than a potential sound bite. What an utter waste of time and taxpayers money.

It is perhaps not surprising that many people simply don’t care anymore. They want nothing to do with politics, recognizing their involvement and concern is futile. Indeed social media reveals not only that they don’t care, they actively don’t want anything to do with it “unfriending” those who make political posts. This is more than just indifference; it is active refusal to participate.

However personally the most worrying aspect of this unhappiness is the rise of extremism. At the far extremes disenfranchisement can result in sympathy towards, followed by indoctrination by, and finally membership of terror groups.   How much of this actually takes place is hard to determine, as possible candidates (unless massively stupid) avoid using social media to broadcast their new-found allegiances.

But only a small amount of radicalization is all that is required to stir up xenophobia, and the rise of UKIP and Britain First within the UK, and of One Nation and Reclaim Australia over here, is easy to see. One particularly egalitarian aspect of social media is one can easily develop a fairly wide circle of acquaintances, so shared posts about “fallen soldiers” or “halal certification” reveal how many people who are not necesaarily thinking, but certainly feeling, can be swayed toward causes they might agree with on a general level, but would likely be completely upset about on a personal level. They proclaim to want “Mussies” out, but not the ones who are stars for their footy team, nor “Ahmed”, the owner at the local curry house.  Twenty years ago the fear was “Asians” taking over, but apparently this issue has miraculously gone. Or has it just been retargeted for political purposes? Fear is a very useful tool in politics. So is ignorance.

The purpose of democracy is to ensure that everyone gets a chance to have their say. To be heard. To have your concerns listened to.   But to live in a democracy also means that you have to accept the will of the people.   However that means that what our politicians do is the will of the people, and not the will of their small coterie of advisors. To continually ignore this is a risk, and that risk keeps growing and growing. Leave it too long, and you will end up with civil disobedience, violence and even revolution or civil war. And so far that has never turned out well.

The problem is that those inside the political system are too firmly entrenched in it to see from the outside that the processes designed to provide a degree of consensus, of debate, of perspective, have been skirted, avoided and abused. But those in power, and those waiting in the queue, seem unwilling to recommend changes to a system that is clearly antiquated and no longer capable of doing what it was intended to do. Perhaps it was ever thus. However, through the wonders of the modern age, we now have opportunities that were never economically feasible before to have a much more significant involvement of the electorate in the democratic process, if the will was there to make the necessary changes.

Read again the quote from Helen Keller at the start of this chapter. If you are unhappy with the system, then understand that there is something you should DO.   Only by doing, can we achieve.

About Steve Laing

Political observer, free thinker and problem solver, Steve contends that the current democratic processes have neither kept up to date with globalisation nor modern business practices, resulting in increasing dissatisfaction with modern politics. However, new technology could be used to not only reconfigure our system, but give the electorate even greater representation than was previously the case. For more background information on Steve, please check his LinkedIn profile.

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