FPTP: A More Civil War

Here’s a little fable for you.

A powerful man was unhappy with the rulers of his country and decided he wanted power for himself. So he gathered together all his supporters and formed them into a tightly knit organization. He fired them up with traditions, objectives, slogans, propaganda and a set of ideals opposed to those of the present ruler.

Meanwhile, the present ruler rallied his own supporters, using similar techniques but based on opposing ideals.The combatants decided on a time and place and threw their forces against each other. Individual champions for each side chose opponents for mano-a-mano contests.

When it was all over and the dust had cleared, the leader with the most supporters still standing became the ruler. The loser went home, licked his wounds and bided his time, preparing to do a better job next time.

And if you’re slightly confused about whether I am describing a twelfth-century civil war or a First Past the Post modern election, don’t be surprised. The one has evolved directly from the other. The only progress that has been made in the development of today’s political systems has been the civilizing of the warfare.

It’s Still Warfare.

The system is still based on the same lining up of resources and supporters for a winner-take-all contest. At the moment, the ultimate method of resolution in international policy is still on the field of battle, the same as it was for Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar or Adolph Hitler. Oh, sure, we’ve thrown in a few interim procedures like commercial blockades. But in the end, when the talks fail, the troops march in.

This progression is understandable, considering those methods were formed over millenia and based on the quirks of human nature: division into tribes, demonizing of outsiders, use of force, dominance by superior individuals.

Why Should Progress Stop?

There’s nothing wrong with these latest developments. They have to be considered progress. But  progress stops because the present method suits a group of people who have become very good at it. It also suits a bunch of people who have been brought up with the system and the attitude and can’t picture anything else, even when the method is not to their advantage.

It is interesting to note that, of the nine most warlike countries in the world, only Estonia has a proportional representation type of government. In the other eight Britian, USA, and France – a FPTP parliamentary democracy and two republics – are right up there at the top. Is this coincidence?

These statistics are not meant to “prove” anything. In fact, when I hear the word “warlike” and see Estonia listed, I immediately question the definition. But I quote this information because it gives us reason to pause for thought, which is always the objective of this blog. We need to ask ourselves how much of our adherence to the FPTP system comes from long-term socialization and how much of it comes from propaganda dealt out by those who benefit the most.

With Us or Against Us

In a war there is only room for two sides. Being neutral may remove you from the hostilities, but you rarely get anything else out of it. You are more likely to become collateral damage.

It is the same in First Past the Post elections. Two parties duke it out, and everybody else gets a permanent front row seat – on the sidelines. The usual result is that, as in gang fights, wars and other violence, a small number of people cause all the trouble and reap most of the rewards. And a fairly large number get left out completely.

How About Sports?

Legend has it that the Iroquois Nations developed lacrosse for the ironically dual purposes of settling disputes without resort to warfare and toughening young warriors for battle. One only has to glance at a game of soccer, rugby, or American football to see the origins of these sports. It is said that Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, considered sport a good way to divert the violent tendencies of young men. There is nothing wrong with this method, if you want to find out who is strongest, fastest, or highest, or distract violent people into socially acceptable pursuits.

The method of scoring most sports events is similar to that of war and of FPTP politics. Whoever scores the most goals, kills the most opponents, or gets the most votes wins. It has the advantage of being simple.

But Wait a Minute

One of the elements of modern society is that we are conscious of what works and why. The reason we have achieved where we are is that we take a look at things that have “always been,” like capital punishment, dictatorship, trade monopolies, and bloodletting for medicinal purposes, and say, “I don’t care how long it’s been around. It’s not getting us what we want today.”

So Goes First Past the Post.

In our modern, politically conscious society, governance by force of arms is not necessarily desireable. We have an educated electorate that can prioritize objectives: more votes that count, more voters involved, more listening to the electorate, more decision making by consensus, less elitism, less serial autocracy.

Perhaps after a few thousand years of governance by dominance it’s time for change.


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