Opinionista Denis Beckett 1 December 2014

Seriously Sound Politics, now

When someone produces a new fix-the-world plan everyone knows how to treat it. It’s kook, self-evidently. If you doubt that, the book reviewers will put you right.

But if decades later the same someone is still plugging away at the same plan, which is yet to get out of the starter’s blocks, that’s trickier. This is not kook any more. It’s almost certainly raving certifiable fruitcake lunacy. But that “almost” has a stinger, especially if the suspect comes across as roughly sane in other respects. You can’t quite dispel the slim chance that he might be on to something, even a thing that could jangle your cage. You may owe it to yourself to grit your teeth and do some listening, even just token listening, 1,800 words or so.

Good people, I stake a rough claim to sanity and present the crispest 1,800 words yet of my case for Demogarchy or Seriously Sound Politics, the political foundation that can only produce peace and justice, anywhere, anytime.

I think I hear you mumbling “foolish”, but I’m inured to that. It’s counter-attack time. My society grows begging hands faster than it grows anything else. Each week brings up new crime horror-stories, new corruption, new incapacity. I feel ill contemplating businesses that wouldn’t have closed, friends who wouldn’t have left, farms that wouldn’t be fallow, graves that wouldn’t exist, if we had explored sound politics. I don’t think the fools are we who say “we have foolproof technologies, let’s look for foolproof politics”. The fools are the experts who jeer “there’s no such thing; we never studied that; it’s not in our budgets”.

Today is a corner-turning. Its message is not “please deign to notice a humble thought from outside the box”. Its message is this:

There is one route to the society where public affairs is constantly reasonable, its mountain-problems reduced to molehill-problems. That route is taken by upgrading the political foundation to transfer the final say in politics to the people who aren’t interested in politics.

No, that’s not a misprint, and it doesn’t even back up the fruitcake allegations. Let’s review the back story:

It’s common that in a nation’s central election, about half the people vote. This is often obscured by figures citing a 70 – 80% poll, which is of registered voters, blind-eyeing the 20 – 30% who don’t register.

The 50%-odd non-voters are often portrayed, by the media-political establishment that has 99%-odd of the voice, as democracy’s shame, stupid don’t-knows and don’t-cares.

Which could be rash. It does not take Einstein to do what about 80% of voters do, vote for the party you inherited from your parents, the party your children will inherit from you. (Though there’s a big difference – when your side does that they are carefully selecting the country’s best option; when the other side does it they are being led by the nose.)

We know about non-voters that politics offers them nothing they want. It tells them to choose a Your People’s Party or an Other People’s Party. Clearly they see no reason to trust one party more than another. Clearly they are not big ideologists, or very blame-laden. Clearly they identify more as human beings than as members of this or that tribe, race, sect.

Hm, they’d be a good presence in your voter pool if they saw a reason to be there. Which they might do if they saw their votes achieving things they want.

Say that my vote could bring on a law that my neighbour keeps his barking dog inside his house by night, or that the town’s new hydroponics plant is exempt from minimum wages, or that shantytown can toll the road that the larneys take to the casino.

Say I can pursue anything with my vote, by electing representatives to seek that thing on my behalf, while anyone who doesn’t want me achieving it can mandate their representatives to negotiate with mine.

That situation could produce much peace. Calm and sober people with an anonymous ballot form in hand, quietly chuffed at your world asking you to tell it what to do, are more mature than a crowd while strongmen glower and a leader bellows “if you don’t support us, put your hand up”, or than a mob chasing a profiteer down an alley with axes.

But Seriously Sound Politics doesn’t go in for what “could” produce “much” peace. It wants what must produce thorough peace. It wants many leaders with power to make stitches of order in the social fabric. It wants layers of government that exist only as long as they give value to electorates. It wants speedy no-confidence re-call votes. It wants many elements we do not go into now. But what it at core relies on is the fire blanket.

When Seriously Sound Politics is introduced, some of the non-political half will elect leaders who stand for things they like, often things they never thought of as “political”.  They’ll grow through the process, with some nice effects that we’ll talk about another time.

The vital effect is what happens when their peace is threatened. That is when they get to the polls entirely unaided, unpersuaded, and un-voter-educated because they know what they want to do. They want to shut down the noises that disturb their lives.

The fire blanket would apply to any conflict you can think of, specifically including the widely unresolved rich-and-poor thing that hangs over the less-blessed countries like a rock on a thread. From the perspective of demogarchy or Seriously Sound Politics there is no resolving this issue within the raw democracy that we know; there is only perpetual insecurity and perpetual injustice while the spectres of violence and collapse shimmer.

In demogarchy the most salient feature is that neither fighting nor collapse are on the washerwoman’s agenda, or on the accountant’s either. These persons are among the most nervous of the traditional non-voters. When they in their many different forums of political order are alarmed by the sounds of Party A and Party Z causing conflict and danger, they go to the polls. Normally they’re happy to leave these things to the ones who know and care, but alarm galvanises them. In a re-call vote they either support factions wanting outcomes similar to the contestants but less belligerently – a Party G, say, or a Party S – or they go outright to a Party M or N, purely neutral stop-this-squabble factions.

That unrolls the first lap of the fire blanket, inducing middle-way and third-way negotiations. These spur the rich to apply minds and resources to reducing the gripes of the poor, and spur the poor to avert the risk of the rich and their wealth-creating capacities relocating to Perth. If despite their presence the issue becomes hotter, there is another re-call petition waiting and the second most nervous layer of non-politicals become frightened enough to join the silence-please voters.

So it might continue. How many elections might this process unravel? Your thumb-suck is precisely as good as mine, but I’d guess that routine elections might operate on polls like 20 or 30%, which a superhot issue could bump up to 90ish% is. What matters is the logic of the principle.

I claim two things. Firstly, that this is how politics ought to work; the go-getters having plenty of freedom to do their thing subject to their voters having tight hold of them with a short, stout leash. Secondly, when politics does work this way it can’t help but work out reasonably. Every rise in the temperature brings a new and more extremely unpartisan layer of voters into the equation, squelching the forces that threaten their peace. Old win/lose politics makes way for a new politics where for me to win I must keep you happy that what you’re losing is tolerable to you.

The Ordinary Citizen was never meant to be the decision-maker, but is meant to be the backstop. When politicians conduct themselves in healthy dread of sacrificing their supporters, inter-group hostilities graduate to inter-human dealings.

For that we need two clauses in a founding Act. Clause 1 permits multiple layers of communities to make the decisions they want, meaning too much power at too many levels for a New Hitler to pull up the roots. Clause 2 provides the recall or-no-confidence process by which if your councillor misbehaves tomorrow you don’t wait for 2019, you bid him goodbye next week.

Those clauses together amount to Seriously Sound Politics, where seriously sound does not mean that violence gets nipped early in the bud but that violence-mongers ditch violence before they start it. They ditch it not due to holy visions but to the system arranging things so that their violence reduces their support from their own brothers, aunts, physiotherapists, cousins and greengrocers.

I think you accept I’m giving you the condensed-until-it-squeals version here. Let’s sum it up like this:

  • Seriously Sound Politics asks nothing whatever of voters, no degree at all of niceness, generosity, tolerance, learning, anything. It merely provides them with full and thorough freedom to make their own choices for their own futures, exercising their own degree of the human instinct for caution.

Why are we not already far down the road to Seriously Sound Politics? Because of the age-old belief among the learned and the leaders and the lucky that letting the lower classes get their unfiltered hands on the levers of power is like letting a bull into a china shop. This belief has been held forever by In-groups outnumbered by Out-groups. It is history’s greatest mistake, the cause of all dictatorships and most atrocities. But it has been forgivable while humankind worked its slow staggered way past the idea of some people being born superior to others.

It is not forgivable any longer. Human evolution has outgrown political evolution. The democracy that never got to work for the hard places is ceasing to work even in the easy places. The awaiting upgrade converts “the people rule” from a hollow slogan to a reality.

There’s more – the pulling of the carpet from under the feet of complacent governments, the walling of the system so the roots can’t be pulled out, more, more. Some of it is in my book Demogarchy which you’ll find on www.demogarchy.com, for which you’ll pay $5.70 unless you tell dbeckett@global.co.za that I must send you a freebie. Some of it I’ll bring up in what I intend (??) to become frequent columns.

For now I’m leaving you with three thoughts:

(1)          It is not stupid to discuss ways to seek civilised politics. It is stupid to scoff “there can be no way to civilised politics, do not disturb my wailing”.

(2)          Civilised politics begins with everyone – you and me and the washerwoman and the chief accountant and the dustbinman – holding actual power over our lives. How we wish to use it, or whether we use it at all, is very secondary

(3)         The route is easy, once people like you take enough interest to float the theme.

No, revise that. Those can be sub-thoughts. Only one thing do you really need take away – the thought the political target you’ve been hunting for, hoping for, wishing for, all your life, is right under your nose. It lies in the pleasant peaceful placid persons that you share the pavements with, in freeing the common wish for a square deal and lots of security. DM

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