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May 8, 2012

Citizen: the pariah of the political sphere

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Written by: pdcadmin

By Dimitrios Machairas

“Man is a political animal”, said The Philosopher some twenty-four centuries ago in a stroke of insight and conciseness… One might expect that, after all this time, humans would have mastered their egotistical instincts, perfected their political systems, and optimized the promotion of the common good through collective governance. Unfortunately, we are still far from that Ithaca, and man may now even seem more “animal” and less “political” than what Aristotle had perceived. The overall progress of science, as well as recent developments like the internet and the social media, have indeed facilitated political expression greatly, and give the impression that the political impact of our everyday life has been magnified to an unprecedented extent. But does increased expression on the part of the wider citizenry necessarily entail a degree of power and control over decision-making processes that is sufficient to ensure the primacy of the public good? In other words, does the state really operate at the service of the polity in general?

I will be honest, I don’t like where politics is heading. The growing enormity of our modern societies has imposed to us a multiplicity of government strata and a highly indirect application of the public will in the political process that distort the initial input and threaten to almost nullify the principle of public sovereignty. Votes are a commodity to be used as leverage and sold at the top echelons of political power. In most parts of the world, rulers may not gain their governing rights on divine or hereditary grounds any more, but quite often they surely exhibit an indifference and inconsiderateness to public demands that is reminiscent of Kings or Pharaohs of the past. They think they know better. A prime example of the fact that governments tend to avoid directly involving the populace in even the most consequential of political decisions is the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the ratification process of which went through parliamentary voting rather than public referendum in all but one member-states. The end result is a public sphere in which the citizen is left disoriented and away from the center of political power exchange, attempting to apply power by proxy, and with his direct political influence apparently exhausted with a single voting action every 4 years.

Then we have public opinion polls. The mere fact that election poll results are widely publicized indicates they are more intended to influence voter behavior than gauge public opinion and inform policy making. They are meant to play on the average person’s instinctive need to be part of a wider group, not to stand out from the crowd, which essentially provides accomplices, a comforting sense of shared responsibility when one’s choices prove wrong. Practically, the open publication of poll results may bring about a subtle promotion of the political party leading the polls, a relatively deterministic and apathetic stance towards what may be seen as political fait-accompli, a disfavor towards smaller parties which appear unable to reach the threshold that is required to enter parliament – lest one’s vote “goes wasted” – and a polarization of the voters around the main, usually two, rivals. All this translates into the “herdification” of the electorate and the preservation of the political status-quo, often deceivingly referred to as political stability, a notion that statesmen across the world particularly love invoking as an imperative, as if it is necessarily and unconditionally beneficial.

The May 6 elections in Greece demonstrated the public’s inability to respond to its growing political incapacitation in a sensible, focused and constructive manner. Combined, the two main parties which had been considered responsible for the political and economic crisis in Greece still managed to receive one third of the votes; parties with empty rhetoric or blindly oppositional views emerged as considerable forces in a newly created, unprecedented, yet seemingly pointless polyphony; while the extreme gained in power and legitimacy thanks to an ironically misplaced expression of protest on the part of disillusioned voters. This is how the Greek society used its supposedly highest democratic privilege to assert its rightful control over the state.

Is there a way out of this debilitating position for the society as a whole? Until people realize that citizenship is a responsibility to the common good before it is a right to individual rights, and that this responsibility amounts to a continuous positive action against the hijacking of the state by narrow vested interests, the answer will be no.

dimachairas@gmail.com






One Comment


  1. Vangelis Kontos

    I will agree with you Dimitri, but I would like to keep one little place empty for positivism. People at the Greek society today are most of all afraid. People are more afraid than they are leftist or right or extremists. People who vote under fear can not produce a solid or a proggresive result. The goverment of Greek society today is Panic, and that is the big issue. Greeks have to come in piece with their everyday problems and then vote not a saviour but a party which can help reorganize a palaiolithic state mechanism.



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