Warning: contains conspiracy theory
Democracy. It seems such a fair and reasonable idea: people vote to decide how they want things to work in the world they live in.
From that simple idea things very quickly get very complicated. For a start, people can be really, really stupid. People will vote for things that will benefit them right hear and right now without a thought to what might happen tomorrow, never mind what might happen next week or next year. For example, in last year's Scottish independence referendum, polls showed that people would vote "No" to independence because they might be a few hundred pounds a year worse off. If that wasn't shallow enough, we had the unedifying sight of Westminster politicians promising concessions to the people of Scotland, bribing them, to get them to vote "No". To me, the referendum was not about money but about self-determination, but like I said, people can be really stupid.
Election after election, political parties are accused of bribing the electorate with promises of short term affluence to win votes. Democracy is not good for long term planning.
So why are people so dumb about voting?
Well, to start, the education system has undergone a huge upheaval over the past forty years. Successive governments have taken increasingly greater control of what is taught in state run schools to the point where teachers have no discretion over what happens in their own classroom. Children are taught things to remember rather than to find things out for themselves, or as Paulo Freire refers to it, critical pedagogy is not allowed in today's classroom. This means that people leaving school are happy to accept information that is fed to them and are not as equipped as they should be to gather information, make sense of it, and make their own decision.
But doesn't everyone has an opinion that they are expressing all over the place. Yes they are, whether it's on the Web or on radio phone-ins, one of the most common refrains is, "I'm entitled to my opinion." Another good one is, "My opinion is a valid as anyone Else's."
Are they entitled? Are they valid?
Rarely, if ever, are these opinions original but merely a re-hashing of what people have been fed by the media, and I'm yet to hear an opinion expressed on a phone-in that was backed-up by evidence and rational argument.
And these people are allowed to vote?
It seems to me that people have no great understanding, and no great desire to understand, the issues that influence how we live our lives. So we divest ourselves of this responsibility and hand it over to our elected representatives.
In this environment it is very easy for the "establishment" to maintain the status quo and consolidate their power.
By the "establishment", I don't mean The Conservative or The Labour Party, they're just pawns. I mean what capitalism is all about: "money". That means the very rich, media owners, corporations, i.e. the powers behind the throne.
The "establishment" allows the people just enough to make them afraid of losing it, and gives them the illusion of power by allowing them to vote every five years. They may even allow a change in government now and again. But never forget, whichever party wins the popular vote, it's the "establishment" that's in power, always.
How do we fix this?
Well, a good place to start would be to equip people to deal with information and make sense of it for themselves; to be able to draw their own conclusions from the facts they are presented with.
Will this happen? Of course not. The last thing the "establishment" wants is an intelligent, well informed and critical electorate.
People have been drawn into a fantasy best expressed by John Maynard Keynes:
"Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all."
Make sure you vote on 7th May.