Following an election campaign is not much different from following footy season. We have our favourites and parties we loathe. We want our team to demolish the opposition and walk away with the cup. We wait in suspense for the last minutes of the election and of the final count. All well and good but will the outcome of election season actually change anything or has politics become a professional sport with the players just trying to keep the cup at home?
For the more than a year it seems like the news agenda has been dominated by elections around the world that have now come and gone or are to be held in the next few months. The first to kick-off what has felt like a never ending World Cup of political sportsmanship was the intriguing, though rather silly, Russian display of a so-called democratic election. In a slick move to avoid the constitutional limitations on how long a President can stay in power, Vladimir Putin silenced the opposition and handpicked Dmitry Medvedev as his puppet president before skating out of the presidential limelight like a ninja on ice and continuing his reign from the position of Prime Minister. It was an artful display of utter contempt for democracy.
Shortly after this the Dingos had their election and replaced John Howard, a man who refused to apologise to the Aborigines, with Kevin Rudd, a man who said he won’t deny he acted the goat in a New York strip club. Despite Rudd’s admission that he is not Captain Perfect – and that he was warned against inappropriate behaviour in the strip club – he does deserve respect for issuing a formal apology to aborigines for the laws and policies that caused them “profound grief, suffering and loss”.
Now we are counting down to the next two major elections that will affect our lives – the U.S. elections and our own general elections here in New Zealand.
The U.S. election has much of the world in hope that a new president and new administration will turn around America’s current course of unilateralism and aggression to one of bilateralism and conversation. The hopes are high because people all over the world are sick of having the simplistic and dichotomous frames engineered by the Republicans shoved down their throat. There is a growing consensus amongst those with a glimmer of intelligence that killing people in retaliation only begets more violence. Many feel that the U.S. has no right to call people terrorist or countries rogues when they continue to kill civilians and ignore the United Nations.
Away from the big players down here in Godzone the news media is providing an endless supply of stories, scandal and political opinion about the goings on in Beehive and which party has the ingredients to usher in a new era of progress. Street corners are littered with gaudy billboards with pictures of airbrushed incumbents giving reassuring smiles. In many homes around the nation Dad is repeating a few sound bytes he heard at work or on Newstalk ZB and in universities across the nation students are in turn parroting what they heard Dad say. Drive into Epsom with a listening device and you might hear: “Bloody lefties, all they want is a free ride.” Drive out West you could hear: “Pack of liars those bastards, sell the nation’s soul if they could.”
All of the above results in months of political activity all over the world, billions of dollars of taxpayer money and thousands of hours of human energy and labour. The question must be asked: will any of this make a real difference in the world? I think not.
The outcome of the U.S. election will not change the fact that America’s biggest export is military arms and equipment. The biggest military arms suppliers in the world are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the U.S., Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China. The fact that the world’s governing body is dominated by nations who have a vested interest in the marketing and distribution of products made for war leaves little doubt that the power structures of the world are anything but benign. Whether Obama transcends the politics of fear and race currently keeping the American people in a state of hypnosis and makes it into the Whitehouse or whether the Maverick McCain crawls in by hook or by crook won’t change the corrupting power the military-industrial complex is having on the U.S. Only the people themselves can change that.
The outcome of the battle between Aunty Helen and Babyface Key is not going to result in an attempt to change rampant consumerism and the devastating effects this is having on the earth. Trading carbon credits with undeveloped nations on the other side of the world is one thing but addressing rabid consumerism, the root cause of pollution and environmental destruction, is quite another. The world is transfixed by the notion that happiness and comfort is achieved by acquiring and consuming more and more products. Advertisements dot our cities and landscapes to constantly tell us happiness or high status is one more product away. This quote by Neil Postman sums it up:
“A commercial teaches a child three interesting things. The first is that all problems are resolvable. The second is that all problems are resolvable fast. And the third is that all problems are resolvable fast through the agency of some technology. It may be a drug. It may be a detergent. It may be an airplane or some piece of machinery … The essential message is that the problems that beset people – whether it is a lack of self-confidence or boredom or even money problems – are entirely solvable if only we will allow ourselves to be ministered to by a technology.”
Not one of the political parties, here or abroad, can or will seek to address this illusion.
Nor will the winners of the next election, in the U.S. or here in New Zealand, confront the many social, economic and environmental problems that animal slaughter and meat-eating is causing throughout the world. Perhaps the most alarming influence animal slaughter is having is its contribution to global warming and environmental destruction. The animal slaughter industry is a leading cause of forest destruction in South America. Animals are also a leading cause of greenhouse gas as are the termites that reproduce in the rotting wood of forests destroyed to make way for cattle. So much more water is required to raise animals for slaughter; it takes 1669 litres of water to produce half a kilogram of beef but only 53 litres of water to produce half a kilogram of wheat. Cattle grazing is also a gross misuse of land management. People speak about overpopulation and food shortage as if they are an unavoidable reality. But consider how much more food there would be if land was used for growing grains and vegetables instead of grazing cattle. 70 percent of U.S. crops are grown for feeding cattle and when there is a surplus it is dumped in the sea.
Not one of the political parties will confront the destructive force of animal slaughter or the many other controversial issues that are the underlying causes of our world’s many problems. Instead political leaders focus on economic progress which has become the one eyed obsession of Western civilisation.
So while it’s entertaining to read or watch news stories about election season the real story that will not be broadcast is how little of the important issues politics will actually change. Maybe the reason for this is that many of us are unaware of the world’s real problems or maybe we are just happy with the status-quo and don’t really care. Political leaders and their parties are but a reflection of their constituents and if none of us really care or want radical change why should they bother? Real change must occur in the people first otherwise, in the words of Obama, “it will just be more of the same”.
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