Against Voting

October 19, 2014
Image: Jamelah Via: Flickr Creative Commons

In his book "The Ethics of Voting," Georgetown philosopher Jason Brennan argues that we'd be better off if more people stayed home on Election Day. He says citizens don't have a civic duty to vote, and that some of us probably shouldn't vote at all.



This interview (and the related book) were a waste of time. Brennan wishes for a world without self-interest where all voters just choose outcomes based on some higher ethical/moral principles of social good, or something like that. Not only is this a useless pipe dream for pragmatic reasons, it's misguided in principle too: nobody's ethics, morals, or vision of social good is universal. Once we begin limiting whose voices can be heard because they're not "ethical voters" we empower one person's vision of what constitutes an "ethical voter".

Or to put it bluntly: in Brennan's world, who gets to call the balls and strikes when determining which voters pass muster and which do not? Is Brennan the umpire? LOL.

As I was listening I couldn't help but be surprised at the low quality content of this interview. Brennan's opinion and suggestions about voting ethics are ridiculous if you still wish to call this a Democracy. The main strategy to respond to holes in this theory was by labeling the genre of opposition with his argument and seemed to have no more substantial bearing other than that.
Of course there will be predispositions for those less educated such as race, gender and income, but to say that the votes of the less educated will be relatively weighted and then their demographic ties to their education (which can't be denied) may be considered to counterweight them is him talking in circles and living in denial of the obvious problem with his theory. He's essentially talking about 230 years of voting regress and suggesting the principles of the 3/5ths compromise. It shows his lack of understanding for what makes the United States the democracy that it is today. Only one amendment ever was made that restricted rights, can you guess? It was the 18th and quickly addressed by the 21st.
If you restrict voting in any sense whatsoever the point of voting in the first place is absolutely obliterated. Besides, who is he to decide what's best for people... or even who knows whats best for people?

Mr. Brennan seems callow, elitist, and just possibly dangerous.

I really wonder where to even begin. Every opinion is formed from a person's own life experience. Just because your base of knowledge is from the halls of higher education, does not make your understanding of life and what should be done for the people more relevant or 'correct' for the population as a whole. My father's high school diploma was signed when he was in his 50's, yet my father was one of the wisest and thoughtful thinkers I have met. Rather than trying to figure out who the 'best voter' would be, why don't we work harder on efforts to have a more informed population. Take information on what the issues are, and where each candidate stands to playgrounds, and bars, and bus stops, and country clubs and community centers, PTAs and senior centers, high school senior civics classes, and college dorms, etc.

We already have many elections where as few as 5% of the population end up making decisions for the other 95%. Are we that satisfied with their decision-making to say they know what's best for the rest of us? I'm wondering if the aristocratic group who should be running the country is the same set of people who--through the use of highly-touted, only-college-professors-can-understand-them derivatives--recently tanked our economy? Or, perhaps the group that should be running the world are the people who believe that "markets must be free" when any market without regulation is eventually just a monopoly run by a gun man. No, the question of whether a dictator or an aristocracy does a better job at making decisions than a democracy has already been decided. Everyone should have a voice. (N.B. I've voted in at least three elections where the election was decided by the votes of fewer than 10 people--every vote counts.) The focus now should be on getting good information to the public about issues of importance and about getting everyone who lives here to the polls. Giving Dr. Brennan's ideas any publicity accomplishes neither of these.

LOL. Beyond mere elitism. Well, rule by philosopher kings has never been tried before.

Bravo for challenging our elections and political system. The Senate and the House capture some of the spirit of differentiated politician so its not a foreign idea to say that there are more informed voters than others. We require tests and competency for driving and for many professions, but to vote or to become a parent. Is that wise? Many times we all pay the price for other people's bad choices. Maybe we should all be required to vote or be fined.