It is perfectly clear that political parties across the spectrum today are unquestionably committed to maintaining the capitalist growth economy, seemingly oblivious to the catastrophe that this out-dated development agenda holds in store for people and planet – a catastrophe that, in some respects, has already arrived.
In short, a universal ‘growth fetish’ defines representative democracies today, essentially enforced by a crude liberalism that presumes interference in the so-called free market is illegitimate. Regulatory tinkering, at most, is permitted. Empire marches on.
A worrying aspect of this political blindness and paralysis is that it may be built into the very structure of representative democracies. Unable or unwilling to look beyond the short-term horizon of the next election, politicians are essentially prohibited from taking a geological view of things, which is necessary for the preservation of our biosphere. To avoid making hard decisions, environmental costs are pushed into the future, all glossed over by a techno-optimism that promises ecological salvation through technology, innovation, design, and market mechanisms. From this perspective, there is no need to question affluent lifestyles or conventional modes of development. One consequence of this non-confronting myth is that the voices of future generations fall on deaf political ears – rendering our democracy decidedly ‘unrepresentative’ in this glaring way.
In this context, democracy as we know it today seems to be a deeply flawed – or, at least, grossly incomplete – mode of political organization and practice, unable to deal with the defining challenges of our times. For those people who are uncomfortably aware that limitless growth is a recipe for ecological (and thus humanitarian) disaster, the idea of trusting our growth-oriented ‘representatives’ to lead the way to a just and sustainable economy seems a delusion too large to swallow. Like Kafka, we will be waiting for a long time.
Furthermore, one only needs to watch a single session of ‘question time’ in parliament to become convinced beyond doubt that democratic debate today has degenerated into shallow, often juvenile, power-hungry bickering, expressed in simplistic sound bites – a televised manifestation of ‘fiddling while Rome burns’. It tempts one to despair. Certainly, one has to turn away.
Accordingly, wild democracy begins with the premise that the ‘normal’ party politics of representative democracy lies, for the foreseeable future, at least, beyond hope and redemption. Voting cannot possibly complete our civic duty, because our range of representatives is depressingly limited – Shorten or Turnbull? Clinton or Trump? – a political ‘Sophie’s choice’. Whether we look to the parliamentary Left or the parliamentary Right – both poles are shapes by the growth paradigm – we are guaranteed to lose.
We must, therefore, reinvent democracy for our moment in history. We must explore the democratic ‘wild’ beyond the ballot box.
– Sam Alexander