Democracy needs a new sales pitch

Battle Cats. Very addictive.

Look at these boys. But for the iPads in their hands, they are oblivious to the rest of the world. At the forefront of their minds: a video game called Battle Cats, which would be best described as a tower defence game involving animated cats of every conceivable shape and size.

I wanted to capture this moment for my son so that he can remember some good times with his best friends; a quiet day without the rigours of school or homework or meal times or a parent yelling at them to do something a little more productive… they are living their best lives with each other on a shared guilty pleasure. I don’t remember ever screaming at such a high pitch at that age, yet here we are.

As a parent, I’m always questioning and evaluating how I raise my children and how to give them the most valuable life experiences that I am able to manage. This is one of them.

Part of that thought process is to acknowledge the things I should be grateful for: the fact that I have a roof over my head, warm clothes for the winter, like-minded parents in a multicultural society. All of these things have made this moment possible. And then it hits me; should I be grateful for democracy?

It’s an important question for me because the Western media has devoted a great deal of commentary towards China, which is not a democracy. You see, in the last 25 years, it has been the fastest growing nation in the world, it has pulled more than 700 million people out of poverty, its economy is the envy of the world; great achievements, but with a caveat that seemingly invalidates them all. China is a communist country. And since communism is characterised as “evil”, I must, by extension, be careful what I say about China as a Chinese Australian.

I only know that I prefer democracy because it is what I’ve been taught to prefer since birth. But I have experienced and lived in at least two other systems of government: communism in China and Vietnam, and imperialist occupation in Hong Kong. None of them offer the ability to elect public officials, And yet in all three of those places, I can very confidently say that the picture I have published here in my blog is equally possible.

This led me to ask: what makes democracy so special? I couldn’t remember the last time I reflected on how democracy affects my life, so here it is; my account of how democracy affects my life.

I am required by law to vote in Australia’s federal election every three years, and in the NSW state election every four. That means out of every 1,461 days of my life, around two hours are spent voting for someone to represent my interests in government. That’s 0.0057% of my time. The privilege of taking part in democracy is, by this measure, relatively insignificant to me. The other 99.9943% of my time is spent casually listening in on issues and controversies that ultimately have little to no bearing on my life whatsoever; the private lives of politicians, bottles of wine accepted as gifts, virtue-signalling and manufactured outrage over woke issues.

Every now and then, the government tries to buy my vote with a tax cut or cash bonus that amounts to little more than a week’s groceries, and I think a new speedbump once appeared on my street. But just once, I would love for the government to pull their finger out and lead. Stop trying to give the dying fossil fuels industry a soft landing and get behind renewables, or save fossil fuels already and see how that works out for you; I don’t care. Stop saying how much you distrust and dislike China, but then cry like a bitch when they decide not to do business with you anymore; pick a bloody side.

One time, I tried to talk to tennis great John Alexander when he showed up at my local shopping mall for a meet-and-greet (he was our local member); he saw my face and literally walked the other way. There are a million and one reasons for this to happen, but it was hard to ignore the fact that I was the only Asian in the crowd.

But I digress. The point is, Australia’s democratically elected government doesn’t really do a whole lot for my day-to-day. It’s a functional government, and that’s why we have roads and electricity and infrastructure. But the fact that I can vote has very little to do with it. It’s specious to believe that the 0.0057% of my time dedicated to voting has anything to do with the speedbump at the end of my street.

Quite to the contrary, I’ve heard people from every side of politics say that “democracy is broken”; that governments only serve big business, or lobbyists, or social elites, or unions.

If that’s true, why are we still defending it? Is its importance overblown?

To quote Oscar Wilde: patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.

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