Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I The People

Skippy's been on a roll lately, and if you missed his post the other day, demolishing one instance of the post-election attempt by (so) many pundits to treat the electorate as if it was a single sentient being, you should go take a look:

The Toronto Sun, the shining pinnacle of Canadian journalism that features a half-naked woman on page three to remind us why it truly is the thinking man's newspaper, offers an insight into the mind of the Canadian voter in today's editorial:
What voters collectively said on Monday was crystal clear.
They want to test-drive a Harper government -- one constrained, but not paralysed, by the opposition.


Perhaps the editorial writer's mind was distracted by the aforementioned page three at the time. The only possible response, in any case, is that this is utter bullshit. Even tree trunks, clods of freshly turned soil, and clumps of clumping cat litter realize that voters never "collectively" say anything, except that they disagree.

Some voters said, "I want the Conservatives to run the country unfettered." Others said, "I want Stephen Harper in the unemployment line by Monday next." And forty percent of adult Canadians said, ..."


Read the rest.

7 Comments:

  • Well, and I'm surprised that there isn't more discussion of the ERG post-election poll of Conservative voters suggesting a lot of voters in particular weren't quite thinking what the Sun editor writer was hoping they were thinking.

    By Blogger Jon Dursi, at 7:26 AM  

  • Good point Jonathan, in fact I was considering quoting those numbers or looking at some of the pre-election polls which asked whether people wanted a Lib/Con minority/majority etc. to show that when directly asked what kind of result they wanted or why they voted the way they did, the answers were very different from what the pundits are saying they are.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:18 AM  

  • I disagree.

    A democratic vote is absolutely the citizenry's collective expression; if it wasn't there wouldn't be much point to a nation, or democracy, or a social contract. We'd all just be individuals.

    The result of a fair democratic vote is a collective expression of those who participated, it is the expression of the general will to employ Rousseau's terminology.

    The difficulty is that the general will is quite the slippery concept to define and interpret. Even Rousseau is pretty inadequate at it.

    That the general will exists is not in doubt to me. However, what the general will is saying, is open to almost infinite interpretations.

    My problem with Skippy is that he doesn't like a particular interpretation so he's trying to say that the will of the people can't be interpreted at all.

    A clever strategy, but for the sake of our democratic social contract, not one I'm going to buy.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 10:43 AM  

  • "The result of a fair democratic vote is a collective expression of those who participated"

    Sure, in the sense that if 30% of the people voted for Conservatives, then 30% of the people voted for the Consevatives, but beyond that, no.

    Imagine two scenarios:

    In scenario 1, seven people are in a room and they have to elect a government by electing the two people who get the most votes from the seven people. They discuss, and then come to unanimous agreement that the best government would result if person X and person Y got the most votes so they arrange the votes in that manner.

    Now imagine scenario 2. Seven people are in a room and they have to elect a government. They don't communicate with each other in any way and they vote in secret.

    One person votes for person X because they have grey hair and look distinguished. Person X votes for themself. One person votes for person Y because they thought they were cute. Person Y votes for themself. The remaining 3 people vote for themselves.

    Two scenarions, same outcome. One is the expression of a collective will, the other is simply an aggregation of many individual wills.

    Which one more closely resembles a federal election?

    There is nothing in the recognition that the result of an election is the aggregation of many individual opinions that suggests we need to reject democratic government.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:48 AM  

  • Your second scenario assumes that Canadians are not talking to each other during and before an election call.

    Your second scenario is entirely dismissive of the Canadian citizenry's ability to have an intelligent national conversation about who should lead the country.

    Of course it is not possible for every single person to talk to every other person. But I continue to believe that Canadians come together in the public sphere participate in a collective discussion and then a collective decision results from each individuals' decision.

    There is nothing in the recognition that the result of an election is the aggregation of many individual opinions that suggests we need to reject democratic government.

    No, not inherently, that's true, but what would be the point?

    There must be some element of collectivity if a democracy is to have any real value. Democracy is currently the best system we have developed to negotiate the needs of the individual with that of society.

    If we reject that there is any collective decision or general will being expressed in an election then we further the slide toward society being nothing more than a collection of individuals, with no shared meaning, or collective asperations.

    I continue to belive that society, particularly Canadian society, when represented in an election, is greater than the sum of its parts.

    But perhaps I am wrong and Thatcher was correct when she said that society does not exist.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 1:17 PM  

  • "Your second scenario assumes that Canadians are not talking to each other during and before an election call."

    That's true.

    "Your second scenario is entirely dismissive of the Canadian citizenry's ability to have an intelligent national conversation about who should lead the country."

    That's also true. The second scenario presents one extreme. Similarly, the first scenario is ridiculously optimistic about the same ability.

    "But I continue to believe that Canadians come together in the public sphere participate in a collective discussion and then a collective decision results from each individuals' decision."

    This is our fundamental point of disagreement. Take me, for instance, I wanted an NDP minority. How was my decision factored into the final result? It wasn't. The same is true for millions of Canadians. How did the decision of 36% of the population to stay home get factored into the outcome - it didn't. And so on.

    If we had a different electoral system, we would have gotten a different outcome - with all the same inputs. How could this be possible if the decision was being made collectively? If we had an electoral system in which every NDP vote counted for 5 votes, would the number of people voting NDP have dropped to ensure that the result still matched the outcome of our collective decision-making process?

    Why would people bother with gerrymandering ridings if the voters were just going to adjust their voting intentions to get the same result they would have got anyway?

    "There must be some element of collectivity if a democracy is to have any real value."

    Why? Isn't it enough that we decide who gets to run the place without resorting to violence.

    "I continue to belive that society, particularly Canadian society, when represented in an election, is greater than the sum of its parts.

    But perhaps I am wrong and Thatcher was correct when she said that society does not exist."

    Certainly soceity exists, and it has an impact. Anyone who thinks it doesn't should go read, 'Making Democracy Work'

    Where we differ is on how much greater than the sum of the parts it is. I'd say a little, but nowhere near enough to ascribe the election results to a collective will.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:40 PM  

  • He really is the most amazing dog.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 7:46 PM  

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