Thursday, November 13, 2008

The greatest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter

ege wrote a killer post the day before the US election, which touched on a lot of thoughts and opinions I've gone through over the years. Consider me inspired.

I don't know a lot about the political process in the US, but I do know that I was hoping Obama would win. Why? For me it was simple. He's at least talking about moving troops out of Iraq (even though some people seem to think he'll just shift the troops around to Afghanistan, keeping up the same level of US military presence in the Middle East), and he didn't have a total nutcase as his Vice President candidate.

Comedian on the left. Psychopathic hockey mom on the right.

The main thing that caught my attention in the post has nothing to do with Obama or the US election in general though. It was one sentence:
“There are stupid people everywhere. Most people, in fact, are pretty fucking dumb.”

Yes. Yes, exactly. Most people, not some people, are fucking dumb. I stand by that. Sometimes I am “most people”. But usually, at least, I know what I don't know.

Like the Euro referendum in 2003. I left a blank vote. Why? Because I didn't consider myself fit to make that decision. I couldn't even make an educated guess as to where a yes or a no would take us, cause I don't know squat about national or international economy. So I voted blank.

Then came the confirmation that most people are stupid. I asked four people about why they voted as they did in the referendum. Only one could tell me why. One! Three out of four could not tell me. The lesson here is that people vote with their gut and hearts, not their brains. This is a mistake.

I believe that in order to vote, on anything, you need information. You need to take the time, and make the effort, to know what the issue at stake is, otherwise you shouldn't vote. Stay at home. Your gut has shit for brains (to quote Rob Gordon from High Fidelity), and should not be allowed near any decision-making process other than when and what your next meal should be. On the same note, your heart should also stay away from political decisions. Way away.

Here's something that usually gets people going: I believe there should be a minimum knowledge level required to vote. You should be able to answer ten, fifteen, maybe twenty questions about the issues at stake in whatever election you're about to vote in, to be allowed to vote.

I know some people think this would not be democracy. I don't care. If the majority don't have the time or the inclination to get some info on the issues they vote for, the majority shouldn't be able to decide. Very simple.

And by the way. The headline of today's post is a quote from Winston Churchill.


Jesper Bylund said...

This is a brilliant post! I agree completely, this is part of the reason why I don't vote. The other is that I'm hoping to change the system by taking away our parliaments legitimate power by raising the level of non-voters to over 50%.

EGE said...

Oh, jeez, here I go again... I have a bunch of thoughts, so I'll just number them:

1. First of all, thanks for the shout-out! And yeah, I knew you'd like that line.

2. While I do agree with your general sentiment -- and while I, myself, leave questions blank if I don't understand them or have no strong opinion --- I also strongly maintain (as you said) that implementing a voting test of any sort would erase all pretense of democracy. It smacks of paternalism (hush now, children, the grownups are talking about Important Things). America actually started out this way -- in 1787, when the Constitution was written, only land-owning white men were allowed to vote. They voted in public, because they were presumed to speak for the women and the poor and the -- well, not the black, not yet. Over the years, as the electorate became more all-inclusive, the ballot gradually started to be viewed as a more private thing. Which has nothing to do with anything, I just think it's interesting so I got off on a little tangent there. Sorry.

3. In my opinion this (the not-democracy thing) is okay, if this is how the government of the country in question was established or is now officially defined. But you can't call yourself a democracy and then draw any line, anywhere, deciding who gets the right to vote. Because that line is always going to be arbitrary, and it's a slippery slope from there to oligarchy. Which really just offends me to the core, but maybe there are some who wouldn't mind.

4. Speaking of which: anyone who doesn't vote really has no right to complain about the way things go. I understand (and actually, like I said appreciate) folks staying out of it if they can't be bothered to inform themselves on the issues (I just don't want it to be a rule). But if you choose not to participate, then you have removed yourself from the equation. So sit down. Monday morning quarterbacking is fine in football, but that's only because I never had the opportunity to tell Matt Cassell what to do during the game.

(You understand I'm ranting about America, here. I have no idea how Sweden works. Or the EU, for that matter.)

(Oh, and P.S. As far as I'm concerned, knowing enough to know what you don't know is the first and greatest sign of intelligent life. So I guess if I did have a test, then you just passed it. You are now officially allowed to vote in the United States of EGE. Please, I am imploring you: vote Yes.)

beardonaut said...

ege: Numbered answers then.

1. Not a prob, bob.

2 and 3. It is interesting, and the point sort of applies. I'm not saying only men should vote, or only the well-educated. I'm saying you should have a basic understanding of the issues, if you're going to vote on them. I know this could end up being totally arbitrary, and in the end creating more problems than it solves, but I still believe it.

I don't have the answer as to how to implement something like this, but I do try to live by it, personally. The times I've voted in the Swedish general elections, I've either listed a handful of issues and then voted according to how the various parties handled those issues, or it's come down to single issues, like road tolls in the latest election.

4. See, here's where we disagree. I do think you're allowed an opinion even if you choose to be outside the political system. Granted, these will be extreme examples, but Gandhi and Mandela didn't work within the system, they did it from without. I'm not comparing our situation here with India or South Africa, but I do believe that I get to have an opinion even if I don't vote. There's a difference between being a couch potato who can't be bothered, and someone that believes the system doesn't really work. At least I think so.

Then again I'm not all that informed on the inner workings of the Swedish political system either, but I do have opinions...

(Thanks. I vote Yes. On whatever it is)