Wednesday, 6 May 2015

On Voting

I will be voting in the general election. I will probably vote in every general election in my adult lifetime (this will actually only be my second - I missed out by a month in 2005). I vote in every local election, too. I was going to write a post this week with a thorough and general defence of democratic participation, appealing to cynics and anarchists alike.

But I'm not sure that's helpful, particularly given how miserable the system's current offerings are. I don't have quite the same conviction regarding the importance of voting that I used to; the reasons for my remaining conviction (which is still, obviously, fairly strong) are weaker, narrower, more personal.

I used to argue, when challenged to defend centralised government, that the global scale of contemporary problems like overpopulation and climate change would require a global coordination only possible through centralisation, and that a purely bureaucratic centralisation was at least as dangerous as one with some element of democracy.

But, quite without realising it, I betrayed this argument completely when writing The Second Realm. It's not really emphasised or investigated in the story, but governance in The Second Realm (actually in the First Realm) is localised, with only the very lightest central coordination. Society functions as a network of small communities each communicating with and mutually supporting its neighbours.

Granted, it's a much smaller society with very different problems to ours and a surplus of natural resources, but apparently I don't (universally) believe central, hierarchical governance is necessary. I can at least imagine us surviving without it.

Maybe, then, voting won't always be necessary. I'm still voting this time round, though, for a whole bunch of well-trodden reasons; because the parties aren't all the same, and with a population of 60million to work with even small differences may improve lives for lots of people; because my abstinence would be read by the mass media as apathy, which makes my skin crawl; because over longer terms than the parliamentary, there's at least some reason to think that many small voices add up.

It would be disingenuous to overlook the privilege of my upbringing in this, of course; part of the reason I'm voting, and that I don't feel completely hopeless about it, is that I've grown up with the idea that my voice will be heard and will make a difference. At quite a deep level I'm not inclined to see voting as futile.

But that's also a form of optimism, and it's possible - even important - to be optimistic without being naive.