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  1. #1
    can't handcuff the wind Z Buck McFate's Avatar
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    Default the ethics of voting

    From a PBS article Are bad voters like drunk drivers? New book says they are, and that they should stay home on Election Day.

    “If most voters decide, ‘We don’t know anything, we’re just going to kind of choose whatever we find emotionally appealing,’ then they’re imposing that upon other people,” said Brennan, a professor of political philosophy at Brown University. “And not only are they imposing it upon other people, they’re imposing it literally at gunpoint.”
    Brennan is the author of “The Ethics of Voting,” a new book that questions the conventional belief that voting is a civic duty, and that a person’s vote is sacrosanct. Brennan argues that voting is more than just a decision about personal preferences (Do I support reproductive rights? Do I oppose gay marriage?). Voting, according to Brennan, is actually a decision about how other people should live. And that, he says, makes it a “pretty hardcore ethical situation.”

    “When I’m at a restaurant deciding what to eat, I’m deciding for myself. I choose to have a hamburger, I’m the person who lives with the consequences. If it’s overly fatty, I get fat, you don’t get fat. If it causes heart disease, I get it, not you,” Brennan said. “When we’re voting, we are imposing costs upon one another. We’re not just deciding for ourselves.”
    And because of that, Brennan argues, there is no moral obligation to vote — in fact, not everyone should vote. “I don’t think people have a duty to vote. I argue that voting is just one of many ways you can exercise civic virtue,” Brennan said. “I think it’s sort of morally optional. If you do it well, it’s praiseworthy, but it’s not anything special.”

    The point isn’t merely that you should feel free to stop reading newspapers or paying attention to elections when they roll around. As Brennan put it, misinformed choices at the ballot box have harmful consequences for society, and we’re all forced to live with those consequences. So we need to reconsider what voting is, and who should do it.
    Of course, deciding whether you are qualified to vote is a tricky thing. Because we tend to view facts and evidence through the prism of our political ideology, we’re unlikely to be swayed by the argument that we shouldn’t vote because our beliefs are “unfounded,” or that they’re “contradicted by the evidence.” We view the evidence however we want to view it. Some voters even seem to pride themselves on their ignorance.

    That, Brennan says, is “irrational.” In a way, it’s like driving drunk.
    The topic of this article (and book, since it’s a book review) is something that has bothered me for a long time. The stigma for not voting is so strong it’s mindless. Someone who doesn’t vote because they haven’t taken the time to evaluate the all the facts is considered more irresponsible (perhaps not by all, but largely) than a voter without a clue. While I suspect the fact that it isn’t easily provable whether or not someone has evaluated the facts (it’s easy to form an opinion about, but it’s not easily provable in a fairer sense)- but whether or not one voted is a pretty cut and dry ‘yes or no’ answer- almost lends to the action a presumption that whoever has voted has necessarily gathered an appropriate modicum of information. Or maybe the mindlessness of the EVERYONE SHOULD VOTE mentality doesn’t even go that far, I really don’t know. I just know that ‘not voting’ is considered irresponsible, even though the act itself is relatively quick and easy to do. Saying one voted somehow seems to lift the irresponsible stigma (again, perhaps not by all, but by enough people to make it *seem* real). I’ve often thought it would do a tremendous service if that stigma were brought to light- then people wouldn’t get to feel like they’ve done their civic duty simply because they showed up and cast a ballot.

    Brennan restricts his book specifically to a discussion of the moral permissibility of voting — whether you’re acting unethically if you vote based not on a rational assessment of the facts but for emotional or ideological reasons. But Brennan confessed that, since writing the book, he has become more sympathetic to the idea that we should simply forbid some people from voting if they are “unqualified” to do so.
    If we were stick with the drunk driving analogy, for example, we should view the right to vote in the same way we view the right to drive. If you’re unqualified to drive — if you haven’t proven that you can do it safely and responsibly, with low risk to other drivers — you don’t get a license. And if you’re unqualified to go to the polls — if you’re misinformed and incurious, if you dismiss all evidence that contradicts your partisan ideology — you don’t get the right to vote.
    Of course, there are obvious dangers implicit in this view, as Brennan admits. Special interests, for example, might co-opt the voting process to exclude those who won’t support their agenda. Incumbents might bar voters who are likely to oust them from office. And literacy and comprehension tests have an ugly history dating back to the Jim Crow era, when they were used to disenfranchise African-Americans. That led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
    This^ part I disagree with. For the obvious reason that such a thing could never be ethically officiated. Also I, for one, am rubbish at regurgitating the details that lead me to the convictions I arrive at- but I know when something I believe has been well thought out or not. So I'd be screwed if I had to 'prove' I was informed enough to vote. And the author admits it would never really work out anyway.

    So what do you all think of this article/this writer’s views?
    Reality is a collective hunch. -Lily Tomlin

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  2. #2
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    That's interesting... I've had some of those doubts before - when you are unsure about the evidence, is it more responsible to vote in someone you support, so as to not be apathetic to your country's political/social decisions, or to refrain from doing so in order not to elect a bad leader?

    And that's not even going into the "prominent party" vs. "third party" quandary...

  3. #3
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    I concur; unless and individual has both the motivation and knowledge to make a careful vote, then they should probably refrain my voting entire, or actually take more of an interest in choosing their leaders. Nothing is worse than the fool who knows nothing and votes for an idiot based on the childich notion of 'oh they're in my political party, so I'll vote for em'.

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    Senior Member InTheFlesh's Avatar
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    His argument assumes that politicians follow their campaign promises with action in office, which is almost never the case. You can be aware of a politician's stance on major controversies, but that doesn't mean what he says will translate into anything more than rhetoric.

  5. #5
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    Voting is just a way to make us feel like we have some power over what's going on. If the person I vote gets through, I will not protest their politics unless they are clearly different than what they promised. So, whoever wins can trust this anti-protest deal and run the country for a while. It doesn't matter if the people are well informed or not, it only matters that now they have promised that the winner can rule them.

    If we wanted to have a real democracy we should make everything in politics transparent. The politics won't do this of course. Ever wonder why?

  6. #6
    Senior Member InTheFlesh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nolla View Post
    Voting is just a way to make us feel like we have some power over what's going on. If the person I vote gets through, I will not protest their politics unless they are clearly different than what they promised. So, whoever wins can trust this anti-protest deal and run the country for a while. It doesn't matter if the people are well informed or not, it only matters that now they have promised that the winner can rule them.

    If we wanted to have a real democracy we should make everything in politics transparent. The politics won't do this of course. Ever wonder why?
    Protesting is a way, just like voting, for the over-arching power to maintain control while still giving the masses a feeling of strength. Isn't it kind of odd that to hold a protest rally you have to get a permit to gather in a public place or walk along public paths/roads/streets?
    Look at the Stop the War Protest of 2003 against the invasion of Iraq, there was the largest organized protest in human history, yet it didn't change a thing. Public opinion isn't much more than tolerable opposition in the eyes of political decision makers.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by InTheFlesh View Post
    Protesting is a way, just like voting, for the over-arching power to maintain control while still giving the masses a feeling of strength. Isn't it kind of odd that to hold a protest rally you have to get a permit to gather in a public place or walk along public paths/roads/streets?
    Look at the Stop the War Protest of 2003 against the invasion of Iraq, there was the largest organized protest in human history, yet it didn't change a thing. Public opinion isn't much more than tolerable opposition in the eyes of political decision makers.
    I agree. A real protest against the system would be something "illegal" by nature. To ask for a permit is to agree that the rulers are rulers. There are protests, though, that are not against the system, but against some part of it. Anyways, my point was that the voting is one valve that releases pressure before it is anything the ruling class has to worry about. Legal protests are another. As we move to illegal protests, the rulers might start listening.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Bamboo's Avatar
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    If your choice to vote in the last election was significantly motivated by the above, you probably shouldn't have voted.

    I opted out of past elections because I felt I was lacking the appropriate level of understanding to make an informed decision. That's not to say that I should not take on my part of the civic duties - I try to keep up with politics and policy so I can make those choices now.
    Don't know how much it'll bend til it breaks.

  9. #9
    Senior Member redcheerio's Avatar
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    In theory, it seems like a good idea for only informed people to vote.

    However, I don't think there is any practical implementation of this theory that ends up being good, fair, or useful.

    First of all, who should decide who is "informed" enough to vote?

    If it's decided by some test, who designs the test, and how should it be designed? Even if there was some way to make the test fair, how would it not eliminate uneducated or unintelligent people? How would it affect politics if poor uneducated people dropped out of the "voter" ranks that politicians had to think about in creating their policies?

    If it's left up to the individual to decide, who do you think would opt out? I would guess that it takes a lot of intelligence and self-awareness to recognize that we don't know enough. It's like the old saying "the more I learn, the less I know."

    So I would guess that the people who are actually the most or nearly the most eligible to vote, would be the most likely to see themselves as not informed enough and opt out. And the people who get their "news" from incredibly manipulative propoganda media like Fox News or the equivalent extreme left media, would ironically be the most likely to think that they are the most informed and eligible to vote.

    I think the parody of democracy we have at the moment is bad enough as it is, and trying to implement something like that would likely only make things worse, and propoganda more powerful.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Viridian's Avatar
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    I think we're kinda drifting... The OP's question isn't whether voting is efficient, but whether it is ethical and under which circumstances...

    /voluntary thread police

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