08 November 2011

Advice for the day

Don't go vote today unless you have nothing better to do with your time. More than likely you won't know enough about what you'd be voting on to bother anyway.

There does seem to be more incentive to go vote on a local or statewide election than the national, because the policies can be more immediate. But since the average voter does not know or does not distinguish between the levels of the state and its various powers as arranged, I don't see what purpose is served having large numbers of people go and vote who will complain to the President if their property taxes go up when it was they themselves that either hiked it through various levies or who appointed local and state officials who then hiked it. People who do not know what their government does, or worse can do, are likely ill-favored choices for people to make selections on who should be in government. This is of course a very large percentage of the body politic on any given issue. Not merely the unwashed, uneducated mass of the poor (who already don't vote in large volumes), but most everybody else too considerably overestimates their civic knowledge and ability to gauge the common good resulting from their impressions and prejudices on these issues.

When in doubt, abstain. Don't vote. In fact, don't waste your time trying to study up enough to vote each year. Go forth and live your lives. Leave this sort of thing to people who have nothing better to do than learn and analyze various public policy choices.

I have some "faith" in the methods of democratic choices to produce consistent improvement in some types of social and economic outcomes (though it can just easily regress, and there are many economic outcomes for which it is much inferior to markets because of systemic bias and ignorance). I certainly don't believe that we should force people not to vote if they wish to do so or restrict the right of franchise in some measure of civic knowledge. But I don't think we should go around exhorting people as though it is some grand civic duty either. Even if it were such a duty, we would be better served expending large amounts of time and treasure attempting to educate the voting public on the various complex issues of the day than on encouraging their minimal civic engagements to the community to come in the form of a ballot with no systematic means of assessing the likely availability of knowledgeable voting behind it.

"I find, in other words, that this whole issue keeps directing my attention back towards a fundamental problem: I have to share my polity with large numbers of silly people who are not equipped to make reasonable decisions about political issues".  More or less sums it up. 

Let's assume that the problem is presented thusly "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain". This makes no sense. First off, we have Constitutional protections for free speech. Both voters and non-voters alike are protected in their "right to complain". Secondly, people who vote tacitly accept a system that produces results. Sometimes they will not like those results, sometimes not very much at all. But by participating in that structure, they've already acceded that they will abide by those results (even if they will then complain loudly about them or even agitate to overturn them at the earliest convenience). Third, the assumption seems to be that voting is a minor time suck. After all, all it takes is to walk into the ballot box and cast away. But in order to vote in a manner consistent with some ethical guidelines (ie, casting an informed ballot, even one that conforms to only your own preferences and not what might promote a better common good for the entire community), it's an incredible time suck. Considerable amounts of research are required on complex topics to understand them enough to form opinions around which even basic political positions can be founded, and then to apply those positions to existing candidates and issues up for decisions in any modestly accurate way. As an example of this problem: incredible numbers of voters do not know which major political party is generally "pro-life" and which is "pro-choice", and this with abortion being one of the simpler issues to comprehend and follow with fairly stark political distinctions between the two major parties. Anything more complicated and forget about it; almost nobody knows anything. Simply throwing your vote away on whatever flights of fancy strike you in the ballot box isn't likely promote your own limited version of desired social goods, much less anything more complex and noble as the "public good" as it applies to large diverse populations with competing interests and demands on society in general (much less the much smaller but expansive political society in which voters are participating). I'd much rather people were aware of that and it give them pause than give further comfort to this notion that non-voters have no right to complain. 

The problem for me isn't the results of voting. It's the demand that people vote without any forethought as to the consequences of their vote being cast poorly. Sit it out. Don't do it, do not give into the peer pressures. And get on with the business of being a human being. Ideally we would have a structure that allows such minimal engagement and celebrates it. We instead of a system of self-promotion that serves no purpose.
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