Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Sliding Scale Fallacy

"All the blood is drained out of democracy - it dies - when only half the population votes" - Hunter S. Thompson

Those reading establishment media in the UK following the European elections will be now well accustomed to 'earthquakes', the metaphor of choice for the depiction of a political landscape stunned by the surge into the limelight of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which became the first political party other than Labour or the Conservatives in modern history to win a British election, a miracle achieved despite the well-publicised racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and hate conveyed by some of its representatives.

Dave Small, for instance. Recently elected to Redditch borough council in local elections, Mr. Small was fired after it was claimed he had posted racist and homophobic remarks on social media:

It was reported at the weekend that, in February 2013, Small referred to gay people as "perverts" and expressed opposition to "poofs and dykes" being allowed to marry. And he predicted that "thousands more scroungers" would soon arrive in the UK from Mali as a result of a range of government policies.

Small, who won his seat in the Church Hill ward topping the poll with 665 votes, also complained in a November 2012 post that he was not allowed to use the term "Paki".

In June that year, he wrote: "I visiting the city of Birmingham recently and felt like a foreigner in the city of my birth, all around me I could hear the sound of jabbering in an alien voice... we also have the Pakistani's and the Somali's. Tell me Mr Cameron Why? the men wear their Pyjamas."

The sentiments expressed by Mr. Small and other UKIP members such as, perhaps most famously, Godfrey Bloom have aroused revulsion on a massive scale as well as consternation that anyone in their right mind could even consider voting for such people. It has also revived the debate thrust into the spotlight last year by Russell Brand, who attracted significant condemnation from establishment figures when he told Jeremy Paxman that people should not vote at all in protest of a rotten and corrupt system.

This has been an opportunity for some to slip into I-told-you-so mode, citing the rise of UKIP as an example of what can go wrong when one does not vote. Such people, notably those describing themselves as 'liberal left', now condemn people who believe that Brand has a valid case, and urge everyone to vote Labour to ensure the Ukip and other right-wing parties are prevented from gaining power.

This attitude betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of democracy.

Democracy (noun): a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally - either directly or indirectly through elected representatives - in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

This definition does not include the word 'corporations', 'business' or 'industry' and yet in most Western democracies, big business with its overwhelming financial power has its claws inextricably embedded in the planning and implementation of the policies of those elected to represent civilians.

From an article this month by the Guardian's George Monbiot:

What do you have to do to fall out of favour with this government? Last month, the security company G4S was quietly rehabilitated. It had been banned in August 2013 from bidding for government contracts after charging the state for tagging 3,000 phantom criminals. Those who had died before it started monitoring them presented a particularly low escape risk. G4S was obliged to pay £109m back to the government.

Eight months later, and before an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office has concluded, back it bounces seeking more government business. Never mind that it almost scuppered the Olympics; never mind Jimmy Mubenga, an asylum seeker who died in 2010 after being "restrained" by G4S guards, or Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old who died while being held down at a secure training centre in 2004; never mind the scandals at Oakwood, a giant prison it runs. G4S, described by MPs as one of a handful of "privately owned public monopolies", is crucial to the government's attempts to outsource almost everything. So it cannot be allowed to fail.

Was it ever banned at all? Six days after the moratorium was lifted, G4S won a contract to run HMRC services. A fortnight later it was chosen as one of the companies that will run the government's Help to Work scheme. How did it win these contracts if in the preceding months it wasn't allowed to bid?


A real Mr Green – Stephen, this time – was ennobled by David Cameron and appointed, democratically of course, as minister for trade and investment. In July 2012, a US Senate committee reported that while Lord Green was chief executive and chairman of HSBC, the bank's compliance culture was "pervasively polluted". Its branches had "actively circumvented US safeguards … designed to block transactions involving terrorists, drug lords and rogue regimes".

Billions of dollars from Mexican drug barons, from Iran and from "obviously suspicious" travellers' cheques "benefiting Russians who claimed to be in the used car business" sluiced through its tills. Out went dollars and financial services to banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh linked to the financing of terrorists. The Guardian reported that HSBC "continued to operate hundreds of accounts with suspected links to Mexican drug cartels, even after Green and fellow executives were told by regulators that HSBC was one of the worst banks for money laundering."


There has seldom, in the democratic era, been a better time to thrive by appeasing wealth and power, or to fail by sticking to your principles. Politicians who twist and turn on behalf of business are immune to attack. Those who resist are excoriated.

Here's where a culture of impossible schemes and feeble accountability leads: to cases like that of Mark Wood, a highly vulnerable man who had his benefits cut after being wrongly assessed by the outsourcing company Atos Healthcare as fit for work, and starved to death – while those who run such companies retire with millions. Impunity for the rich; misery for the poor.

Democracy is not a sliding scale. Either you have a democracy, in which citizens are equally represented, or you do not. It is a common misconception, fueled by initiatives such as the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, that democracy is a comparative quantity; that some countries are 'more democratic' than others. This is a supremely damaging logical fallacy. Any nation which permits big business to exert influence over policy making on a scale any different to those means available to ordinary citizens is not more or less democratic than anywhere: it is simply not a democracy. Any arguments to the contrary are cosmetic and should be discarded as incidental.

In addition, modern 'democracies' suffer various problems that make the idea of equal representation a sick joke.

From an earlier article on this blog:

Each so-called 'representative democracy' has its own unique election system. To take a relatively well-known example, in the US the winner of the presidential election is determined by the electoral college system, in which each state is allocated a number of points to be awarded to the winner of the state in an election. This leads to a series of issues:

Firstly, because the winner-takes-all system is used in all states except for Nebraska and Maine, the winner of the national popular vote is not guaranteed to win the election. Secondly, elections often come down to a focus on so-called 'swing states', giving candidates a huge incentive to focus only on states where there is no clear favorite. Thirdly, voter turnout is greatly discouraged in states where one party traditionally dominates, essentially disenfranchising millions of people. And fourthly, the winner-takes-all system means third parties have no chance whatsoever of even making a dent on any election.

So the two main parties in US politics are the only possible winners. Given that these parties now share bipartisan consensus on a huge range of issues such as NSA surveillance, government secrecy, contempt for whistleblowers, indefinite detention of anyone deemed a 'terrorist suspect', endless war, murdering multitudes of Muslim civilians and their children in foreign sovereign states with drones etc., what choice is there for any US citizen who happens to disagree with his or her tax dollars going toward the funding of any of the above?

The UK employs the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system. This system also leads to a society that does not in any way reflect the attitudes of the electorate. The main problems with this system are as follows:

First, this system encourages tactical voting, where in a given constituency, if a voter's preferred candidate has no chance of winning, he or she is likely to vote for another candidate who is more likely to defeat the least preferred one. This more than anything leads to a society that is woefully unrepresentative of the true sentiments of its citizens. Further, gerrymandering thrives in the first-past-the-post system as it allows a high number of so-called 'wasted votes'. And finally, under this system, smaller third parties can suddenly find themselves in an extremely powerful position if the main parties require a small number of extra votes to get their bills through parliament. This gives third parties, which could possibly be extremist and representative only of a tiny minority, the power of blackmail over more moderate parties.

Using the rise of the Ukip as an excuse to vote yet again for the traditional political parties that have enabled the dismantling of the welfare state, creating poverty and misery for millions, and led the nation into disastrous wars despite massive public opposition ignores the reality that governments, whatever their stripe, are rotten to the core with corruption, incompetence and greed, dependent on corporate donations to survive. A vote for any major party is a vote for the status quo, and any differences between them are cosmetic, illusory. As for the idea that UKIP is some kind of 'alternative', allow this detailed article to demolish it.

Almost 66% of the UK electorate did not vote in the European elections. THAT is the true earthquake. When the establishment paints its rosy pictures of democracy, any discussion that omits the largest demographic: those who support 'none of the above' - including those who regard the political classes as morally bankrupt - is invalid and dishonest.

The vast majority of us now live in oligarchies that use state governments as a means to achieve ends that have nothing to do with the welfare of citizens. It is delusional to believe voting for any establishment political party will ever bring about true democracy; it will in fact entrench the very opposite.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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