By Enrique Lescure
With regular intervals, we are contacted by people who appreciate the EOS very much, but wonder why we are not forming a party and engage ourselves in parliamentary politics. I feel that these concerns merit a response, since I’ve heard these questions numerous times.
The foremost response is that we do not at this point know whether The Design will work in its current form. We need to focus on being able to test it on a limited scale before attempting to implement any transitional plan in society at large.
That’s the main reason.
However, even if we for certain knew that The Design would work, there are still many factors that we must weigh in when deciding what strategies we should pursue when interacting with society. We need to establish a list of available options considering our resources and our ethical guidelines, and apply them wisely.
Overall, all indicators point that forming a party and entering parliamentary politics is one of the least effective ways of distributing time, energy and resources for a movement.
- Politics is by definition a zero-sum game.
- Party systems with 2-10 parties tend to form and to become fairly stable and contain a predictable stage of parties.
- Political parties are in today’s society generally prisoners of the concerns of their own membership base and the general public.
- Mass media has taken over the role in mobilizing the masses in general.
- By forming a party, you will marginalise yourself, but there are other strategies to attain political influence.
Politics in western countries
Since the EOS as an organisation is based in Western Europe, we would definitely encounter the logics of Western politics if we decide to form a political party and stand in elections.
There are several different types of electoral systems in western countries, most of which implicitly seeks to create manageable parliamentary systems. In the Anglo-American sphere, the usual manner in which politicians are elected is through First Past the Post, a system which almost deliberately serves to reduce the amount of choice and force through situations where voters primarily seek to block the candidate they don’t like.
Other countries either use proportional systems, or mixed systems, usually with a limit for entrance into parliamentary politics of around 3 – 5% of the active electorate in every election.
That could sound like a small amount, but in a country with circa 10 million people, 7 million of whom are eligible voters of whom six in seven are voting makes for hundreds of thousands of votes. A quick glance on this chart shows how many votes parties in Sweden (a relatively small country) would need to get to be represented.
Moreover, the same kind of parties tend to emerge in most western countries. There tends to be a large left-of-centre party and a large right-of-centre party in most countries, whether they are two-party or multi-party systems. Even the smaller parties tend to have a similar role distribution in multi-party systems. You will always be able to find an ex-communist party, a farmer’s party, smaller liberal or conservative parties, a green party and a xenophobic party.
There are several dilemmas of parliamentary systems, the foremost which is that politicians are supposed to be elected to carry out the promises to their constituents, but only are able to carry out said promises with the support of a parliamentary majority. I think we all have seen US presidents aiming to install reforms that have stalled in a Congress dominated by the opposing party.
In multi-party systems, minor parties usually have to choose between using their parliamentary platform as a stage ground for political campaigns, or to become the junior coalition partner in a government. The latter option often means that they have to give up 70-80% of what they desire in return for achieving 20-30%. It also means that they would have to accept things which are really detested by their voters (one example being how many green voters in Sweden reacted to the recent migration deal).
Ultimately, most western states (by which I mean European states) are run by coalition governments, headed by either a large left-centrist party or a large right-centrist party, supported by one or several minor parties to lock down the necessary parliamentary majority.
That is because most voters – unless there would be a complete crisis as in Greece – generally vote for the parties which are deemed most respectable and moderate. Most voters are as a rule supportive of the political consensus and want to believe in it since they have invested their mortgages and loans into the system.
The Role of Media
Most people still are receiving their main source of information regarding the world from Television, Newspapers and online representations of mainstream media. Due to competition between privately owned media corporations, these sources are compelled to sell in “clickbaits”. Such clickbaits are often characterised by images of scantily clad representatives of the female gender, news about gruesome murders and celebrity news (the ideal is probably all three combined), all marked by deceptively attractive headlines.
These tendencies have increased in frequency and intensity since the mass consumption society was formed during the 1950’s. Nowadays, newspapers directed towards the working class mostly contain celebrity gossip, sex and violence. It becomes ironic when said newspapers in the same time present themselves as the defenders of human rights, decency, minorities and democracy, while they play an important role in desensitizing human beings regarding violence.
I would claim that the way in which mainstream media and “celebrity news media” choose and present their material for distribution is one of the greatest threats against the civic ideals necessary to uphold a functioning liberal democracy. Instead of striving to create a public spirit characterised by moderation, skepticism and critical thinking, this methodology strives to engage the baser urges of humanity, namely sex, violence and gossip – presenting it in an uncritical manner. The great danger is that it sends a message that it is not only “ok” to be anti-intellectual and driven entirely by impulses, but that it is somehow virtuous.
The clickbait culture also fuels a tendency to reduce one’s attention span (probably as an unconscious defence mechanism for one’s sanity) until most people have an attention span for less than a minute (which is damning for any political programme which demands five minutes or more to be explained).
This tendency has also crept into politics, leading to an individualization and celebritization of political discourse. It means that instead of focusing on important issues that will determine the future of our society, media is generally pre-occupied with emotionally engaging issues and demanding that politicians act immediately based entirely on emotional factors. This fosters a view on politics where politicians are assumed to just be able to make decisions whether we should have good or bad weather – which de-facto means that mass media is spreading an image of our systems in the west which has no relation with how our systems actually are built.
One example is when Barack Obama fails to pass legislation through Congress, and media is consequently painting him as ineffectual, omitting that the Congress is run by the Republican Party which had as a policy to try to make him fail in his reform programme during his first tenure in office.
Media also often reacts impulsively and generalises reality out of single cases. For example, if an immigrant is murdering two people, suddenly “all immigrants are coming to our shores and murdering people with knives and axes, and we need to close our borders otherwise we’ll be overrun by Islam”. The next week, maybe an immigrant child is drowning in the Mediterranean, and then the message is “we need to open up our borders and put down all Identity and health controls, for otherwise children will drown in the Mediterranean”.
If the perception is that the public wants emotional leaders who make decisions in relation to what mass media is presenting every week, politicians will adapt their public rhetoric and appearances with the discourse presented by media. This is a very tragic process and undermines the spirit of democracy.
In short, mass media creates a culture of clickbaits to stimulate the baser cravings of the public. The public rewards media by buying newspapers, watching TV channels and clicking on articles. Since mass media also takes on the role of presenting reality, this gives them a legitimacy which they can use to influence the political discourse.
Often, mass media chooses to put the spotlight on certain protest groups, which may or may not represent a majority of the electorate. The politicians – which have learnt that their careers could stand or fall on the whim of the media houses – usually cave in to the demands of mass media, thereby awarding mass media extra legitimacy points.
On the surface, this means that we live in a “Spin City democracy”, where the main concern of decision-makers is to be presented in good spotlight by mass media rather than to try to serve the electorate with some kind of consistent vision and fulfilling the spirit of their promises. Often, symbolical issues like religious clothing, nudity on bath houses, a student being discriminated against or males that are breast-feeding become more hot topics than really important subjects that will affect everyone. It can be discussed of whether such a discourse is an unintentional effect of the nature of the media landscape or a form of intentional conspiracy.
Really important issues
Really important issues, such as the European Union reforms, new surveillance programmes, international free trade agreements and foreign policy issues that regard the Middle East and Europe-Russia-relations… are simply not covered extensively.
That means that if a new political party would emerge and put emphasis on such issues, the public would simply not be able to comprehend such a programme since it doesn’t have the frames of reference provided by the media. It is not important whether it is an intentional design to keep the public away from important issues, or if it’s an unintentional consequence.
The Pirate Parties have suffered this fate, since the public perception of them is that they just are populist parties that want to legalize pirating of copyrighted material and pot, rather than that they engage in an important struggle against an emerging international surveillance state.
Another way to affect politically
An observant reader might criticise my statements regarding western politics for being pessimistic. I mean that it is almost impossible for a new party based around serious issues that cannot easily be reduced to clickbaits to emerge as a serious player in national politics.
Also, it is nearly impossible for a smaller party to become a large party. If it refuses to partake in coalition governments, it cannot attract the moderate centrist voters needed to grow. If it partakes in coalition governments, it will either lose core supporters or attract supporters to the senior partner in the coalition.
It will also have to deal with a hostile, indifferent mass media which want information consumers to be impulsive and have the attention span of fruit flies.
There is however a far superior way to engage with politics, and that is to form think tanks.
Think tanks act as political research facilities, political consultants and framers of political discourses. Parties try to contain some of the same functions within them, but are constrained by the need to win votes and pander to mass media. Think tanks can operate independently, and paradoxically engage larger groups of the electorate by courting political parties that already are established.
One example is how the libertarian activist group “the Freedom Front” in Sweden inspired the formation of both a libertarian political party and a libertarian think tank. The party at this day (the Klassiskt Liberala Partiet) have gathered less than a thousand votes, whereas the think tank during one period remote-controlled the Centre Party, a party with hundreds of thousands of votes.
The ethics of such politics are discussable, but then again, the ethics of the entire political system as it works today in a liberal western democracy is discussable.
If we engage in politics, we should definitely do so in a form similar to a think tank, not a political party. That means that we would be able to communicate with all parties in parliaments and operate trans-nationally as well.