Archive for May 19th, 2009

Three Bags Full

I am seriously considering voting Yes at the next Lisbon treaty referendum.

Politics » Lisbon

In my humble opinion, many people who voted No last year will vote YES before a ball is kicked in the campaign.Some of the issues are of substantial importance – military neutrality, sovereignty, and the democratic deficit – but they will be outflanked (and I’m not saying this is right; not at all) by the economic imperative.

People will view a No vote with the same eyes that they now view holiday homes in Bulgaria, expensive spa centres and stretch Hummer limousines – as a luxury we can no longer afford.

The word ‘vote’ comes from the Latin votum, meaning “a vow, wish, promise, dedication”. The best definition I can come up with for its proper meaning in the context of democratic politics is the formal expression of a wish.

‘The economic imperative’ referred to here can be described thus: do whatever it takes in order to save the country, and by extension ourselves, from catastrophe.

Yet although I might feel this imperative as a brute objective fact, I should try and realise how much this imperative is the product of threat and coercion on the part of ruling elites. I could go further and say that there is no general imperative, merely a vast range of particular imperatives: in order to save our asses, I -through my government- must cut the budget of children’s hospitals; I must cut minimum wage and unemployment benefit; I must privatise public services; I must all rally around the flag and have a bit of pride in the shirt. I might, however, discern a common thread in each of these particular imperatives: I must act in strict accordance with neo-liberal best practices, further subordinating labour to capital under the guise of acting in the national interest and maintaining competitiveness.

At a personal level, there are other imperatives: I must do whatever it takes to make myself competitive as an individual, which is to say, I must work longer hours in exchange for less money, and I must strive to be more productive than my nearest available substitute, whether man, woman or machine. I must also pro-actively develop my own substitute as I become less productive. I must become a key stakeholder in my own obsolescence as a factor of production. I must contribute more of my wages to subsidise the speculation activities of individuals whose salary is many multiples my own. And I must supress any deviant urge to raise any form of complaint about any of these things, since to do so would be to give the outward impression of a bad business climate, which would only serve to render all the other imperatives even more urgent.

Most important, I must also accept that if I do all this, things will get better.

Another imperative is that my vote in the upcoming re-run of the Lisbon Treaty must take into account all these imperatives. My vote will therefore not be so much the formal expression of a wish for anything in particular as a matter of saying the right thing so as to inflict as little punishment on myself as possible. There is the same degree of choice here as might arise from an encounter with a thug who asks you if you want a knee to the groin or a dig in the head. Or, to use a slightly more benign example: I can marry the husband chosen for me by my parents in an arranged marriage or become an outcast.

But what to do about it? Should I vote based on the polite fiction that I am presented with a real choice, and vote as though all these considerations were of no import at all and that this is just one more installation in the grand pageant of enlightened liberal democracy? Or should I vote based on the knowledge that this is a forced choice?

I see no point in the first option. To vote on the pretence that this is an instance of democracy is to suck the idea of democracy dry of any useful meaning. At a European level, the Irish episode will be represented as just one more hiccup in the grand project of nice European neo-liberalism, and at a local level, it will be portrayed a vindication of the local neo-liberal managers who, it will follow, were claim to have been right all along.

At this stage, not only will a conventional No campaign, based on the premise that there is some sort of real choice to be made, be defeated, but it will also legitimise the forced choice. The best way of registering the falsity of the choice would be for everyone who previously voted No to now go out and vote Yes, with the target of a 95% Yes vote. The ‘No’ campaign should be conducted along the following lines: we have no choice but to vote Yes, because if we do not, we shall be thrown to the wolves, as our fellow Yes campaigners and their backers have eloquently attested. Some good might come of that, if done right.

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May 2009
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