The bearable lightness of floating.
TOM Monday, 25th May 2009
A growing number of conscientious individuals are not comfortable with our tradition of voting the way we do simply because this is the way we’ve always done it. The weight of the argument that we’ve always done it this way and that we do so simply because our parents and grandparents have done it this way has become lighter than their concern with the consequences of their decisions.
For them, elections have become morally intense and psychologically tense events. It was not always so. They recall, with some nostalgia, when elections were a family affair. When the whole family went to vote as one, much as if they were going to Sunday Mass, united in their political faith as in their religious faith. There was tension in the streets but lightness in your heart. You did not agonise over which party to vote for. It was a matter of faith.
Let’s imagine you were old enough to have voted in the 1964 Independence referendum. If so, you are also likely to have voted in one other national referendum (EU 2003), in 10 national elections (1966, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1987, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003 and 2008), one European Parliament election (2004) and in five rounds of local council elections since 1993/4.
You would have thought that, with more and more elections since 1993, voting should have come to imply as little internal turmoil as Sunday church-going. Many go because that’s the done thing. Others go to bear witness to their faith. Few go to question it. Well, the habit of frequent voting has not made it easier on individuals with a conscience. On the contrary.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the spell began to break but there is reason to believe that it began midway through Eddie Fenech Adami’s second term, coinciding with the introduction of local councils and the increased frequency of voting. If you voted 18 times since 1964, eight were spread over 31 years before 1993 and 10 concentrated in the 15 years after.
When, before 1993, you were not likely to have agonised much about how you were going to vote, voting was in any case a rare event. After 1993, you went to the polls more often and the number of opportunities to suspect that you had a mind of your own increased accordingly. Not surprisingly it is after 1993 that one observes a growth in the number of people that let it be known that the vote was theirs and theirs alone. Although most voted as they were expected to, the message sent became increasingly loud.
Voting is becoming an increasingly individual ritual, a rite of passage out of a tribal existence where your family and the party decide how you will vote. This newly-found freedom comes at a cost, the good old anguish of responsible choice, the bittersweet fear of freedom. The likelihood of clashing with the clan’s received wisdom, of crossing horns with the herd’s dominant, are bound to increase in intensity and frequency. It’s the pain of progress.
Many are bracing themselves for another of these uncomfortable moments. Many will have demonstratively not picked their voting document yet. They are the ones who want it to be known that their vote should not be taken for granted and are looking forward to an enquiring call, for the opportunity to speak their mind and, possibly, name their price.
There are, however, also the attention-averse. Those that pick their voting document early to avoid the attention of the party that equates silence with unquestioning loyalty. Don’t blame them. Having to make a choice is unnerving enough without insistent calls from tribal headquarters. Put yourself in the shoes of the intelligent voter who this time round wants to think his choice through. You have the following options.
Some will grumble but ultimately follow the herd. Some will not vote at all or invalidate their vote or vote for a minor party to shock Pietà into doing what needs to be done before the general election.
Others will reason that it will take much more to shake Pietà into action. Pietà will say, they argue, that these rebels are just letting off steam, they’ll return to the herd when it matters most. Vote for Joseph? Some will, if only to send a stronger message, namely, if things don’t change they will not switch their vote back to where their heart is. Others will put head before heart and swim out.
Whatever they choose to do, they deserve respect. They know that those with neither head nor heart – and who are to blame for the mess we are in – will have the effrontery to brand them traitors. Swimming in a familiar puddle with your feet firmly planted in the mud is easy. Braving and bearing the unbearable lightness of being a floater in the deep is for the likes of Odysseus.