The Oxford dictionary defines myopic as ‘lacking foresight or intellectual insight’. When it comes to the current state of not just democracy in the UK, but everywhere, is there a better word to sum up our apathy?
Firstly, to be clear, democracy is, as Winston Churchill put it, “…the worst form of government, except all others.” We’res stuck with it, but it can be better because the myopic nature of democratic systems is a rooted in the lackadaisical presumption that life will continue whatever the outcome of a vote. So why care, and more to the point, what’s the problem that should make us care?
The very nature of democracy creates immensely strong incentives for politicians that are already in power to make decisions and enact policies that are going to aid them in getting re-elected. Power is self-centring, like gravity. This would be permissable if it translated into long-term policies, but rarely do the two converge. One example of this is environmental policies. It has probably not escaped anyone’s notice that the planet is slowly warming due to human activities and that we likely have to take radical action rather soon.
Climate change mitigation requires funding and strategy that goes beyond a mere five-year election cycle at Westminster or Holyrood. The kind of radical, transformative change required to save the world and reverse, not just stop, climate change will require policies which are unpopular. Yet, if they are enacted now, from increased carbon taxes to mandatory recycling laws, they will serve the populace and their politicians and spare us all in the future one caustic legal night of the long knives to save the world. Patience and incremental change is an option we still have, but not for much longer.
Hence, taking action, and thus incurring costs, is likely to have short-term costs, but with considerable long-term benefits. Enter democracy. If one has long-term thinking, climate change policies would be a piece of pie, relatively straightforward, but this is inherently missing in democracies because election cycles mandate short-term focus than long-term vision. There is a tendency to disregard the latter as rhetorical nonsense, but in this policy area, it’s all that counts.
What’s to be done? Saying ‘go vote’ is wasted breath because people will only want to do it if they want to anyway. What we should all be rallying for, particularly at elections, is not just for promises for this and that but for, as President George H.W Bush put it, the ‘vision thing’. We want politicians that will sacrifice the popular for the right, and there is a curious absence of it these days. Our country deserves more than ‘the now’ and it deserves a future, but only if our elected officials are brave enough to look beyond their own five-year plans and see the nation’s life as contingent on the environment which nourishes its peoples.