A slow extinction from apathy…

Democracy’s a strange thing. We’re well into election season now in Aus; with the launch of Kevin 07 and John Howard’s YouTube videos, everything seems to be moving towards a federal election in November. Along with that, the attack ads have started on TV, parties trading insults in the breaks between the nightly news… it all seems so manufactured. The leadership speculation, the sniping… there’s so much spin, it’s impossible to know what anyone stands for.

While I was doing some reading online earlier, I came across this documentary by HBO called Hacking Democracy. Looks like it came out in the US last year and I don’t think it’s made it to our shores yet, but it’s interesting. It focuses on the electronic voting system used in the 2000 and 2004 US elections. We all know there were irregularities, but this was quite amazing – the documentary ends with the live hacking of the electoral system used in Leon County, Florida. We don’t use the same system here, but it’s still troubling. For all the talk of freedom and diversity, it seems like modern democracy is really just a matter of software…

I found it interesting because a lot of the rhetoric in the lead-up to the election here (and in the US) has been focused on democracy. There’s still a lot of talk going on about community integration, whether immigrants should have to declare loyalty to be granted citizenship… it’s funny, we talk about democracy like it’s a firm staple of society, but it’s really such a fragile thing. I’m not sure we understand that. Politicians talk about democracy like it’s a gift – and it is. But it’s easy to believe in democracy when you have a home and security; it’s harder when you’re confronted by something you cannot change. How many people would have the backbone to make a stand against something they know is hopeless? How many would try to stop someone hitting a child, even if they knew it would only happen again? That’s not so black and white, and that’s the freedom I’m afraid to lose.

There’s been a story in the news this week which kind of ties in to all this. Every time I’ve looked at a newspaper, it seems like there’s been something new about Davidson High’s production for the Rock Eisteddfod. Their entry, Bad Knight II, depicts George Bush as the pilot of a crashing plane and the government has accused the school of hijacking the event, which is taking place during Bush’s visit for the APEC summit. Maybe they are hijacking it (there’s definitely an agenda going on), but I still find the controversy surprising. It’s tacky and in poor taste, but it’s still free-speech; if that’s the production they want to make, Davidson High has every right to make it – otherwise it’s censorship.

What’s really strange about it, though, is that the Eisteddfod story broke on the same day that 500 people died in Iraq. I can’t understand that. Four suicide bombings, 500 people dead, one of the most violent days in Iraq since the war started… and it was just a footnote in the news. It’s bizarre. How on earth are the deaths of 500 people less important than a story about the Rock Eisteddfod? But it was the same the next day as well, with the earthquake in Peru; 430+ people dead and it’s just a footnote. Do we have that short an attention span? Isn’t it on our radar when it happens in another part of the world? It amazes me.

Robert M. Hutchins said that “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” That seems so true. We’re in the midst of an election and already everything seems stale, manufactured. But maybe I expect too much…. all I want is to hear from someone who can engage people, after all – and to not have to first hear about 500 people dying from Matthew Good.

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One thought on “A slow extinction from apathy…

  1. If I write it, will they hear me? I felt democracy die a little during the chaos of the 2000 election. Again in 2004 and yet once more in 2006. I thought I might spark some interest in our failing election system by weaving a tale of intrigue. So, in “A Margin of Error: Ballots of Straw” one woman stands between a ruthless politician and the White House…one woman and the man sent to spy on her.

    I’m hopeful, but also encouraged that at last elections and voting macmachines are receiving some long overdue attention. We’ll see.

    CJ: Thanks for the comment, Lani. I think the interesting thing now is that, seeing how popular the ‘net has become in current campaigns, in theory it should improve things, particularly the perception of democracy. It allows people to have more of a say and to express their views where they might not have been able to before; the “1984” Hillary Clinton ad, for instance.

    But all that would be worthless if there’s another mishap with a voting machine. It seems like democracy comes down to a piece of software and how well it’s written…. our system is different, but it’s not perfect either, and I’m just not sure there are that many better ideas right now. That’s the problem.

    I’ll have to have a look at your book at some stage. Sounds interesting. I rather feel like a political thriller at the moment. 😉

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