Saturday 17 November 2012

Neighing and Democracy

Pleased as I am that the U.S presidential elections were won by a cool person who seems to respect women instead of an uncool one who doesn’t, it is becoming  difficult to take elections seriously. This week the UK experienced the pitiful fiasco of our first elections for the Kafkaesque new office of ‘Police Commissioner’, a poll which attracted less than 15 per cent of the vote and cost a staggering £100 million to administer.

Herodotus, election commentator
I have always felt that ‘democracy’ as currently defined is a collective hallucination. It is the label we give to constitutions which sign up to an inhumane economic system, while allowing most adults periodically to insert in a box a piece of paper which names one power-crazed person who won’t rock any boats in preference to another. The voter usually chooses after being ‘persuaded’ by a daft and expensive advertisement financed by some vested interest.

So this week I compensated myself for the state of the world by burying myself in the best account of an election in world literature, to be found in book 3 of the ‘Father of History’, the classical writer Herodotus. I have been enthralled by his vivid description of the procedure by which Darius I, a soldier and the son of a Persian civil servant, in 522 BC got himself ‘elected’ to the throne of the King of Kings. I now suggest we could imitate it to our collective advantage.

Rational Grounds for Voting Choice
After the scuffles surrounding the end of his lunatic predecessor's reign, Darius and several other Persian alpha males decided that the crown should go to the one whose horse neighed first the very next morning.  Darius decided to ‘fix’ the election and talk to his household groom. This slave realised that a bit of testosterone would do the trick, and made sure that a mare which Darius’ stallion fancied was tied up at the meeting-place. Sure enough, Darius’ horse neighed first in delight at her fragrance, and Darius ascended the throne.

Darius won because he possessed the same cocktail of qualifications for political power which still apply: cynical opportunism, willingness to use corrupt means to manipulate the election, access through personal wealth to the services of a low-status person with more brains than he possessed himself, and a crude understanding of the most animal sexual instincts (although Petraeus was admittedly never elected).
Darius I, consummate election rigger

If candidates for power were required to ride horses to elections, it would guarantee a turnout of more than fifteen per cent of the voters (I write as one whose family has suffered delays all week caused by cars queuing to enter the Cheltenham Races rather than Cheltenham Police Commissioner polling booths). Waiting to see which equine brayed first would be no less rational than the reasons why most people decide to vote one way or another.  If we stop pretending that we live in a society where the people (demos) really wield the sovereign power (kratos), we can at last feel free properly to enjoy neighing competitions again.


  1. I don't agree with your assessment of Obama but I love your suggestion for equestrian, neigh or neigh, elections. :-)

  2. Wish I had thought of the 'neighs to the right' joke! So you don't think Obama is cool, or you don't think he respects women?