Why do people love American Idol but hate politics? The answer is probably simple. With American Idol you see the results of your action, immediately. By contrast, people feel disempowered by the political process. “I wouldn’t vote for any of those ratbags. They’ve all got their nose in the trough.” “It doesn’t matter who you vote for you end up with a politician.”
In general, people view politicians with contempt.
Heroes and bullies
This is not new. People have resented their rulers since the first ruler ruled. In fact, the history of government is the history of popular uprisings. When rulers become too greedy and ordinary people suffer beyond endurance, governments eventually fail. Of course, rich, greedy and powerful rulers have never handed over the reigns of power because they saw the logic of a good argument. They generally have to be forced and people do not fight and put their lives at risk unless they have basically nothing to lose.
So history is cyclic. Oppression, revolution, oppression, revolution. Each revolutionary government gradually becomes a part of the establishment.
The devolution of power
Underlying this great cycle of exploitation and uprising is another trend. Each wave of idealistic revolutionaries, builds on the past. Every revolution gains more freedom, for more people. Over millennia, power has shifted from tribal leaders where the toughest men ruled, through kingdoms where one family ruled to representative democracy as we know it today.
Democracy, was invented by male, landholding, slave-owning Greeks. Tired of royal families dragging the cream of Greek youth off to settle family disputes in remote wars they decided to resolve problems with discussion and agreement. The rule of the aristo (best) was replaced by the rule of Demos (who I suspect was an early ancestor of Demos Roussos.)
Modern democracy is founded on the Magna Carta or The Great Paper. That document enshrines the subservience of the constitutional head of state to the rule of law. Nixon is the proof in our times that a head of state, whatever he might think, is subject to the laws of the land.
Not only has civilisation restricted the power of rulers, it has also extended the right to vote, and the protection of the law, to increasing numbers of people. Governments have become accountable to and responsible for, the welfare of an ever greater percentage of the population.
Roughly 250 years ago, the liberal humanist ideal of the freedom of the individual came to the fore. Child labour and slavery became unpopular and the republican revolutions in France and the US were born. British gaols were emptied and our glorious prison farm, I mean great nation, was born.
In 1891, a group of shearers in a paddock in Barcaldine near Longreach decided they could not take it any more and the modern labour movement was born. Over the last century Labor and social democratic parties has actively participated in government, on behalf of workers.
Each of these movements gradually became a part of the establishment they overthrew.
Now, a new era looms. Scientists and environmentalists have recognised that the natural systems which support civilisation are stretched to the limit and a global green movement has emerged to protect the rights of future generations and the environment that supports us all.
Right now, we are all frustrated because the establishment parties pursue the holy grail of profit, ignoring our quality of life.
America kills its youth in unpopular wars over control of global oil resources. The Asian obsession with economic growth rides roughshod over minorities and democratic movements. Here in Australia, our health, education and industrial relations systems collapse in the drive for profit at all costs.
Governments around the world are out of touch with the people.
In response, some people talk of revolution.
More generally, though, voters switch off in droves. There are more votes for the American Idol than there are for the president.
The worst thing we can do, though, is to disengage.
If we give up, we leave the stage to the bullies. In the words of Edmund Burke, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Do not give up now because the bullies have the upper hand.
Do not give up now because your heroes appear to face impossible odds.
Do not give up now because the system seems stacked against you.
Get out there and engage in the political process. Get involved in your school council, your professional organisation, your local council. Make your mark as vigorously and enthusiastically as you can.
If you can’t make your mark anywhere else, at least make it on the ballot paper.
Vote in every election you can. Because every time you vote, you vote One for democracy.