There is a school of thought that claims Western industrial nations are democratic. The main proponents of that school include politicians, the mass media, corporate heads and most academics. Now, I don't know if that school really understands what "democratic" actually means, I assume they think it means it is representative of the wishes of all people, but in reality what democratic really means is representative of the wishes of just a few people privileged enough to be in a position to control power. Here's why.
In the past, the lack of representation was obvious: Greek democracies, for instance, gave decision-making powers to a small number of high-ranking citizens, in much the same way that a few high-ranking citizens now occupy the government houses of Western democracies. It was the same at the start of Western civilization (for the sake of argument let's assume it began in the trading nations of northern Europe), but very gradually a greater number of people were allowed to contribute to the process until, as we stand now, everyone has the chance to vote who should have. Or do they?
In most democracies you cannot vote if you are in prison (why you are in prison is irrelevant), are under the age of 18, do not have a static residential address or are not registered as full citizens of that country (this, of course, being a very moot point). According to one commentator, even that's not restrictive enough:
Voting isn't just a right that makes you feel "part of democracy';
it's a responsibility and decision-making process. Because voters
aren't just numbers on a register, but judges, and certain things make
them better at it. One is age, which confers wisdom (usually). Entering
the workforce, owning property, marriage and children also help, giving
people a stake in the country's future stability.1
I think the inanity of these comments will become even more clear soon. But it's not just the absolute right to vote that shows "democracy" up to be a myth, look at the way those voters are represented. In the USA there are three separate pillars of directly electable power at the federal level, each one as absurdly unrepresentative as the other (think Electoral College or Senate District). In all other democratic nations there are similar gulfs between the individual voter and the person, or group of people (think Government Whips and lobbying) that purports to represent them. The vote you may decide to cast on a chilly Thursday afternoon is no more likely to represent your actual opinion than that of a dog farting outside the polling station.
The same goes for those people whom Western media and especially Western politicians claim are fighting for the right to vote freely in "non democratic" countries. Witness the so-called Arab Spring, in which nations such as Egypt and Libya moved from despotic systems to, well, despotic systems, despite people having the opportunity to vote more freely than before. Nothing really changed because one hierarchical, top-down system was simply replaced with another. Wherever there is some form of oppressive power, be that religious, military-dictatorship or corporate, then freedom is just an illusion. Which makes any power vested in that voting slip or press of a button, just as much of an illusion.
And it doesn't stop there, because what is your actual opinion of what should be done by a representative system on your behalf? To be honest, even with more than a decade of liberated thought I still can't distinguish my opinion and that of the system under which I live. Take the lie of economic growth. We are told that in order for us to be healthy, happy and prosperous, whatever nation we are in needs to have a growing economy. We know that in order for more material wealth to be created then the state of the living environment has to suffer, be that in the form of habitat destruction, water and air toxification, greenhouse gas emissions, or any other form of despoliation you wish to name. Plus, in order for one economy to grow, another has to shrink, or at least do the dirty work of making money for another economy -- hence the constant talk about competition. So we trot off to the polling station with the lie of economic growth ringing in our ears, and vote for whichever politician claims they are going to grow the economy more.
When was the last time you heard a politician canvass for votes on the basis of banning economic slavery or stopping all deforestation or there never being another indigenous tribe wiped out or, for that matter, stopping the global economy growing in its destructive way. You won't because that's not what most people want to hear. Just as "most people" want there to be fewer immigrants, and "most people" want more jobs, and "most people" want to buy more things cheaper than ever.
And that's the point. We vote because we think our views are our own and that those views are going to be represented. Well, yes, those views are going to be represented -- but they are not your own, they are the views you have been taught to hold. The moment you no longer hold the views you are supposed to is the moment you realise the absolute futility of voting.
Not voting is really, really easy. In fact there are lots of ways of not voting. In my case I just don't register to vote, so I am never called to vote. Apparently that's illegal, but until I'm hauled off to prison then that's the way it's going to be. Another simple way, if you happen to be registered to vote, is not voting when you are asked to -- a lot easier than going to the effort of voting. Another way, if you happen to be registered to vote and you are legally obliged to express an opinion, is to express no confidence in any of the options. Explicitly not voting is the same as expressing no confidence but it would be fun to see "None of the above" winning the vote once in a while.
Telling people you do not vote is not so easy.
A recent interview between BBC news presenter Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand (usually prefixed "Comedian" as if that matters) contained the following exchange:
Paxman: "How do you imagine that people get power?"
Brand: "Well I imagine there are sort of hierarchical systems that have been preserved through generations""
Paxman: "They get power by being voted in, that's how they get power""