a representative democracy in an age of empowerment

You remember those promises they made all those years ago on the subject of how – in the Knowledge Society – we’d have all this leisure time after (paid!) intellectual work?  Of course, it was clear that those in charge couldn’t allow this to happen.  So much leisure time would lead to widespread thought and cogitation; people, ordinary people, would begin to question their positions – their allotted lots – in increasingly “de-humdrummed” life.

And so it has come to pass.  Incomes are being squeezed right down; opportunities to flower are being brusquely picked and trashed; postgraduates find themselves doing the jobs a high school education used to lead one to … in essence, what has happened is not that we’ve dumbed ourselves down but – rather – that we’ve been encouraged to acquire a student-loans-driven indebtedness, in the end for no reason at all, as business process and procedure have become evermore strategically simplified.

As I tweeted this morning:

To be in hock to a banking system with zero morals for the rest of your life is not the best way to start out on life’s journey.

But the problem has now gone way beyond our working existences.  This week, in the House of Commons, supposedly the repository of all that is representative about our democracy, we had a raucous cackling and jeering of political point-scoring, where sensitivity and humanity was surely required.  And so it was we had people like Iain Duncan Smith, laughing as the pain of those who use foodbanks was described for all to see (in this case by other MPs of a quite different outlook, who despite the temptations of their political environment still manage to show they care), only for him then to dismissively choose to leave the chamber of debate well before the end.  And if this wasn’t enough, we even had a subordinate minister left on her own to laud foodbanks’ growth as signs of a society prepared to muck in and look after itself.  Yes.  More foodbanks equals hope for the future, as we learn to homelessly pay off our debts in rank malnutrition.

Some of us being more malnourished than others, I might be inclined to say.

For as I also tweeted, just before writing this post:

Prob with #foodbankdebate is those who use them weren’t debating. However well-meaning you are, only coalface peeps can tell it how it is.

More and more, our representative democracy works only for those who know how to represent themselves.

Which led me to another historical betrayal of intellectually bizarre proportions: in truth, if you think about it a little, our representative democracy and what it used to stand for has come up against the monolithic and very 21st century forces of that personal empowerment which the much decried Knowledge Society supposedly promised.  The thing is, nowadays, knowledge doesn’t bring power.  Instead, power held onto brings visibility to convenient knowledge.  All these MPs who now spend most of the time representing not their constituents, all these unelected lords who buy into the hugely corrupting influences of Big Money … they are, in fact, riding on the backs not of old-fashioned graft but – instead – summarily appropriating the empowerment which was once promised us all.

A representative democracy has been knocked sideways by an elite which saw personal empowerment, through the driving forces of technology and web-connectedness, coming light years away before we did; ages ago; long before us ordinary folk were properly able to contemplate it.

So it is that our democracy now allows – as perhaps we all felt at one time a 21st century democracy should – those who know how to represent themselves, instead of mediated through MPs et al, to do exactly what we once so hankered after: to exclusively, effectively, “e-ffectively” in fact, succeed in representing their own interests.  Except in this case, with significant professional advantage, our political representatives, alongside their very commercial sponsors, have been first off those sociocultural starting-blocks – and by a long stretch.

In a quite natural way, MPs have found themselves sitting at the perfect palm tree in the perfect oasis, surrounded by the perfect life-sucking desert of proletariat debilitation.  Laden with the skills necessary to represent the poverty-stricken and less well-off both, a 21st century culture suddenly unleashes quite different instincts altogether in our alleged leaderships: the messages being clear, it is everyone to his own.

And this is why we have Iain Duncan Smith laughing as he does; this is why the foodbank users don’t appear in Parliament as they should; this is why the debate is always about where our address is to be found, never about how we address each other.

As the Tories look to limit the number of children poor people can have, I wondered the other day how they would have reacted if New Labour had put a limit on the number of children whose lives rich people might have rankly spoilt (the so-called disease of “affluenza” wasn’t so very far from my thoughts here).  And all this time, whilst they may prefer to argue the state has no obligation to fund procreation or its product, I do begin to fear the logical conclusion to the process thus embarked upon will eventually be as follows: the poorer you become, the fewer rights you will have to societal support – until, one day, one miserably invisible day, you are judged so poor …  well, so very poor that even life itself will no longer be a right you can fairly entertain.

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