illustration adna fruitos democracy

by Gunnar Eigener

Content warning: mentions racism, xenophobia, homophobia, mass shooting, murder

Our world seems to be approaching a turning point. Donald Trump is now, essentially, a nominated US presidential candidate. The chances of the UK leaving the EU are realistic, potentially paving the way for German and French referendums. Resistance to antibiotics is climbing to dangerous levels just as the Zika virus furthers its reach. The damage to the environment continues unabated. A man walked into a nightclub and killed many innocent people, either in the name of religion or because he was, sadly, unable to connect with his sexual identity. There seems to be a sense of things unraveling across the globe.

While this might understandably seem like the end of days to some, the truth is slightly blander although maybe just as unpalatable. We have allowed ourselves to get to this point. Us. You and me. Certainly not always by choice but we have allowed a system to continue that relentlessly sabotages us over and over. Time after time we let in those we know deep down will do us no good. Certainly the system seems rigged and that we are, in essence, voting for the lesser of how ever many participating evils there are. But the lesser evil is still evil. It’s not hard to understand why Russell Brand pushed the notion of not voting.

we are, in essence, voting for the lesser of how ever many participating evils there are

How did we reach this point? Democracy suggests we have choice and indeed we do, it’s just that the choices are limited. In November, the US elections will offer two choices for president. Presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump and, in all likelihood, Democratic nominee, Hilary Clinton. Let’s be honest, neither is very appealing. Donald Trump cites himself as his own best advisor and the idea of him being in the White House should scare the shit out of anybody. Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, is a replica of most previous presidents: bought and paid for by Wall Street and holds a war-mongering streak that would make Henry Kissinger proud and leaves the military industrial complex rubbing its hands in glee.

(Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton composite via rawconservative)

So what is our problem? Well, again, the truth is not really a revelation. We’re too easily distracted therefore we don’t seek out the facts. The news is filled with football violence in France when we should looking into why there are labour strikes over there. The tragedy in Orlando focuses far too much on the racial and religious aspects of the shooter while glossing over the homophobic nature of the killings. Most of us have seen some version of Mark Twain’s ‘if voting made a difference they wouldn’t let us do it’, usually as graffiti or a Facebook post. While a popular quip to attack the voting system in general, it’s not really true. The system is rigged in the choices that are presented to us thereby giving us the illusion of democracy. We are voting and it is working, the problem is that we are limited in our voting scope. Like the US, there are only two major parties to choose from. Within Europe, it usually comes down to two opposing groups of alliances.

Many countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, are ruled by family dynasties, often based of religious affiliation. Media outlets and political commentators point to them and claim democracy non-existent, as if we should be grateful that we can choose between two political parties. New Labour showed us that you might vote for one but you get the other anyway.

We are voting and it is working, the problem is that we are limited in our voting scope

Which leaves us in a dilemma. Democracy is the banner of many Western movements and beliefs. It is the one thing that we supposedly have that the terrorists are jealous of and are eager to destroy. The real problem is that we take voting for granted. It’s our way of pushing our thoughts and wishes upon the masses instead of using it to better the world around us. Voting is treasured elsewhere, particularly outside of the Western world, where people have fought and died for that right. Not that it hasn’t happened here, but such feats of courage occurred usually outside of the lifetime of many of us. Other countries are just getting the vote and it’s a novel concept. As the EU referendum approaches, we see it as a way to scream our obscenities from the rooftops instead of using it how it really matters.

(Egyptian women show their ink-stained fingers after voting at a polling station in Cairo © Mahmud Hams (AFP/Getty Images) via ‘Is democracy a Western idea?’/Washington Post)

We have arrived at a time in history where we have no direction. And what‘s coming doesn’t look great. Financially and economically, people are suffering and this allows the xenophobes, racists, and far-right nationalists to gain a strong position within society. We only have to look as far as Austria to see just how close and perilous the situation is becoming. At some point, somewhere, the far-right are going to get in.

There isn’t really a moral story here. We are what we vote. And we are how we go about voting. The murder of Jo Cox has taken us down a very dark path — one we can no longer step off now. The way our society has become so open to intolerance and hatred is disturbing and should make us reexamine how we present our beliefs to the world. Voting has become something selfish, an extension of ego, and the inability to accept other people’s points of view is being seen as a badge of honour.

the inability to accept other people’s points of view is being seen as a badge of honour

For me, democracy has always been about acceptance; the understanding that others do think differently about the world. This should be a tool that is used to find better alternatives to our problems. Instead we bicker like spoilt children and throw our toys out of the pram when we don’t get our way. Voting was supposed to be about settling for an approach decided upon by the majority of the country. Now voting is a weapon to force through personal visions of the future. Personally, I cannot wait for Thursday to come and go.

Featured illustration © Adrià Fruitós

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