Sunday, April 26, 2015

Politics of Polarisation

Politics seems frustrating in most places. With the upcoming UK elections, having recently become a British Citizen (joint with SA), I need to wrap my head around the different parties views more than I have in the past. I think the UK is pretty awesome and at the moment, in large, people are in a position to get on with their lives. Clearly I wouldn't be this un-invested if my job was directly related to the government, or if my livelihood depended on which party was in control. Therein lies the rub. Democracy seems to have been designed around representation of interests at a time when there are many groups. I say seems because I have never studied politics, but that isn't a requirement for voting. We aren't that good at looking for who will represent everyone's interests best. A vote becomes around a particular aspect of change required rather than who will be the best custodians.

I always feel a little in the dark having not had the time to sit down and study the different policies of the different parties. I know most people haven't done this either. I also know most people base who they vote for on something very different from what the parties policies happen to be. Perhaps they were born into a particular family who voted one way or the other. Perhaps there is one issue they care about, which means the other issues really don't matter. I think a certain level of political ambivalence represents the truth that we actually don't know what to think unless the issue is really clear in a sense that almost all voters understand.

At the last South African election, News 24, put out a useful app which showed the voting history, down to individual towns, since 1994. It made for fascinating reading. I had always thought of the main opposition party in South Africa (the Democratic Alliance) as having grown out of the Democratic Party. In 1994, the ANC won 62% of the vote and the National Party won about 20%. In 2014, the ANC won 62% and the Democratic Alliance won 22%. The Democratic Party only won 1.7% in 1994. The single 'clear' issue many people opposing the ANC vote for, seems to me, is not wanting there to be a single party with a 'two thirds majority' that can change the constitution. This single issue hardly allows for groups to start mixing and look for common goals. It is a valid fear though. It doesn't lend itself to building a bigger tribe.

South Africa National Election Winner by Ward 2014 - SA's version of US Red Blue State

I have always thought perhaps a better way would have been for all South Africans to join the ANC. That way rather than identifying who 'represents us', we can find leaders who represent everyone and do a competent job. Perhaps while we are shedding our sexism, racism, homophobia etc. we still need to look to shed our desire to have these groups that represent our agendas. Perhaps technology will offer a way of getting our views on a more regular basis, with more specific questions. Questions where we wouldn't know the answer, but we would vote for an engineer. Questions where we would vote for a doctor. For a teacher.

Most of government should be pretty mundane and administrative once the big ticket tribal issues have been resolved in forming a constitution. Then, if things are going well, we should be able to get apathetic and politics and passionate about life. Not necessarily so well that there aren't problems. But we can't remove power from government (which we have done in liberal democracies) and then point to government when things don't get done. Constitutions lay the groundwork for us to go out and do it ourselves. Politicians could just go about helping remove obstacles. Perhaps they could just help create cool cities.

Whether in the US, the UK, or South Africa, the politics of polarisation doesn't seem to help.

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