Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Democracy

Growing up in the light of huge technological advancements that took us from the surface of the moon to the smartphone, it is easy to think the only way is up. It is easy to forget that most of the social progress we have achieved, things like the standard working day, came at a huge cost to members of previous generations. They paid in blood for things we now take for granted.
Yet, as entropy would have it, the natural way for things to go is actually down; if we do seek to maintain a course of constant improvement, we have to make an effort. Clearly, we are not.
An international observation follows.

Upon returning from the UK, my wife told me of a couple of things that took her notice. First, she found out parents who do not send their kids to school there are fined at hundreds of pounds per day. When you consider that a hundred years ago that average kid spent a month a year at school, and you compare it to the present, you would see that through state mandate schooling is taking more and more of our children’s life away. Is it always for the better? In most respects, yes, but I will argue that this is not a definitive “yes”. By far the most life shaping event of my school years has been living in New York for a month; that event happened during school time, but my parents were given permission from [a reluctant] school.
Then there was my wife noting how a children’s play centre she visited has every child fitted with a locating device, allowing “authorities” to know where they are at any given moment and beeping aloud if the child tried to leave their enclosed area. Yes, I’m a parent myself, and I can appreciate a parent’s need to have a bit of a break, but what are we teaching our kids here? We’re telling them that they cannot be trusted for even a second. We are also training them to live under constant surveillance.
Then again, every citizen of the UK should be used to living under constant CCTV surveillance by now, so what difference does this make? If anything, these kids are being prepared for the life ahead of them.
Preparing children for life at a totalitarian society is by no means limited to the UK. Yuval Dror wrote a very interesting post (it’s in Hebrew, but you can use Google’s translation services) on how his nine year old daughter was scared shitless through a week at school. For two hours a day, an army soldier told her and her classmates about the dangers of terrorism, non conventional weapons and other fatal calamities. Most worryingly, the soldier put the responsibility of the households’ readiness for these affairs on the kids’ shoulders.
They train them to leave in constant fear when they’re young, back there in Israel. Otherwise they might ask too many questions about their leaders’ latest whims.

Australia enjoys the privilege of being relatively immune from such practices as the UK and Israel’s contempt of children’s rights. However, it is clear that the key word here is “relative”. If we are not careful this and similar crap will surely land our way, too.
After all, we have just elected ourselves a new federal government. Or is it? As far as I can tell, the bulk of this new crew is made of the same people we voted out with much disgust back in 2007. What has changed since then? Not the people, and in most terms not the agendas these people are bringing along. So, can we really expect the previous decade’s stinkers to have turned into smelly roses? Or can we instead argue that our democracy, our democracies, are not working the way we had in mind?
Because if these people we call leaders know that there is no payback for what they're doing, and that given enough time they will be back to doing whatever it is they want to do, then you can count on these things that they will do to be far from great. Essentially, we have invented a society in which the elected classes pay no consequences for their actions; they do not even need CCTVs to follow us nor do they need to scare us when we're young.

We need to improve our system, and quickly so. Otherwise all the efforts of our predecessors will be for nothing.


Image by Peter Fletcher, Creative Commons license

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