Psephology and its Illusion

Blair Hurley looks at the role of elections in society

UWA has recently gone through yet another Guild election cycle, and one could be forgiven for thinking the experience was somewhat unfulfilling. Guild election candidates spend their waking hours during the two election weeks distributing pamphlets early in the morning, smack-talking and receiving denigrating smack-talk on the polls, bearing lecture-bashing, and having to withstand the      anxious anticipation of receiving election results.

Furthermore, some parts of the student body always end up resisting the tradition. People complain, ‘I’m being hassled where-ever I walk. If I wanted to get involved, I’d get involved, I wish they’d leave me alone!’ When approached by candidates at the polling tents on the  Thursday of polling week, the last day of elections, when all those vying for election are at their wit’s end due to exhaustion, students will flip these people the bird out of irritation.

And even once the polling is over, the circus act  continues. For the losers, parties charged with nervous  excitement collapse into despair. The winners suffer a fate no better – the knives come out and the power struggles begin. Already people are sent out to get numbers for appointed positions (which will determine who loses out), and the inevitable closed-door discussions about policy begin, never to end until that part gets kicked out (determining what promises won’t be delivered, and what new ones will be claimed to have been promised all along).

Too much rides on elections, and they’re just too uncertain. But it goes further than that. Even if elections weren’t emotional, even if people weren’t apathetic and were all interested and involved in voting, elections presuppose that by giving us what we want, we will be guaranteeing what we need from political institutions.

It must be assented to that we need to give people what they need, however axiomatic such an assertion appears.

We don’t hold referendums on medical matters, or on questions of quantum physics – for that we consider trained scientists authoritative. Why can’t the same apply for politics? Virtually the moment the polls closed there was talk of next year’s election. There’s nothing wrong with speculating about the next election, but such activity demonstrates why institutions are important to construct, and what they do to people’s behaviour – it’s well known that the Guild political system (at the very least), and others like it, becomes preoccupied with getting elections towards the end of a leadership cycle.

We need master architects and quantum physicist leaders for our political and economic systems. This is   going to sound insane, but such leaders need to be above the law, because (and this is probably an argument for   another time) injustice can always be traced to limits on executive power.

But what about our ‘free’ society? Elections are surely part of having a democracy! Not necessarily so. Whatever it is that ‘freedom’ means, elections don’t guarantee ‘freedom’. They’re a product of freedom – freedom came before elections, or, more accurately, freedom is a concept that is more fundamental, encompassing and enveloping elections. It is possible and probably desirable, to have a ‘free’ society.

Considering the above remarks as applauding totalitarianism is tantamount to hypocrisy. The richest and most productive legal entities in the world are private   companies, with corporate hierarchies not dependent on elections. Any talk of shareholders constituting vote-givers in quasi-corporate ‘elections’ is misleading, for obvious  reasons. Considering the institution of the family to be a fundamental element of society is also inescapably at odds with the idea that there can be no ‘dictatorship’ in a free society.

Voting and elections are concepts that require assumptions far more radical than the proposed alternative in order to appear reasonable. Indeed there are elements in our political culture that exist in express opposition to the idea that we should ‘choose’ what is good for us.

Blair Hurley is the Content Editor of State Magazine


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