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Why I Vote (in plenum) January 31, 2008

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Political Philosophy.

Josef has an interesting (albeit dispersed) argument for why he doesn’t vote. (Here, here, and here) I agree with (most of) his premises but come to a different conclusion.

I vote because (a) I care deeply about global warming, poverty, health care, wars without justification, and the fate of our nation (b) I think at least one candidate, if elected, will pursue policies that will advance the cause of what I care about, (c) to care about something without caring for it is to lead an alienated existence, and (d) one way to care for items listed in (a) is to vote.

To care about something but then do nothing to nurture what one cares about is to allow one’s actions to drift apart from the commitments that define who one is. That is the very definition of a loss of agency.

Josef’s posts (if I understand them properly) add up to a compelling indictment of our political process. I am taking some liberties here in the interests of being concise, but I think Josef’s argument is as follows:

(1) Our political traditions assume that people are fundamentally selfish and self-aggrandizing and seek to marshall other people to their cause in order to achieve power.

(2)  Thus, Madison (and others) designed a system, not to produce excellence in our leaders, but to prevent undue accumulations of power, thus protecting individual liberty and a diversity of interests.

(3) This is accomplished by giving power to states and to legislatures.

(4) However,  power now rests with the media that, ( I am assuming) in collusion with big government and big business, manufactures consent. That is, the voting public’s real preferences are being manipulated, in ways they may not fully grasp, to support the plutocrats who run things.

(5) This undermines the checks and balances, leaves voters ill informed, and fails to constrain their selfishness.

(6) The liberal intellectual tradition’s (Hume-Rawls)  commitment to impartiality as a way of dealing with selfishness is ineffective and (perhaps) encourages a bureaucratic mentality that enables the powerful to hold on to power.

(6) Thus our political system does not protect individual liberty or serve a diversity of interests.

(7) Therefore, the system is corrupt

(8) and voting cannot diminish the corruption.

I have some quibbles with some premises, though I agree with most of them. I doubt that, in a interconnected, globalized world, giving power to the states or local legislatures will protect individual liberty and a diversity of interests. That is an 18th Century solution to a 21st Century problem.

And, although I think the mainstream media’s influence in manufacturing consent for a corrupt system is deplorable, I don’t think that American voters are “sheeples” utterly without agency. They are being manipulated but are complicit in that manipulation.

But on the whole I think Josef is exactly right–except for his conclusion about not voting. 

Political (and economic) systems do not exist in a vacuum. They function within cultures, and culture shapes how political systems work. Voting will not change the system. Only cultural change will do that. But as long as people are not “sheeple”, elections can serve an educative function and help galvanize cultural change.

Furthermore, voting is about putting people in power who can articulate a vision that most of us can share and who can solve problems without screwing  things up.  If we elect responsible people with good ideas that can solve problems, instead of dimwitted, moral cretins with itchy trigger fingers, we give people the cultural space to shape our social and economic systems to serve our diverse interests.

Yes, the people we elect will be beholden to the plutocrats who pull the strings. But good politicians can service them with one hand while doing the people’s work with the other.



1. Pages tagged "philosophy" - January 31, 2008

[…] bookmarks tagged philosophy Why I Vote (in plenum) saved by 3 others     extremejay1 bookmarked on 01/31/08 | […]

2. Moriae - February 3, 2008

What seems to be the issue here is the crucial role of “the informed vote.” It has been suggested that by voting some kind of expression about how one feels, or cares, “for” something is taking place. But Mr. Furrow’s position is rendered rather moot if an uninformed public is voting rather than an “informed one.” There seems to be to my mind an implicit faith in the people that vote that may simply be unwarranted.

In that case, the true question is if there are more thoughtful people than boobs voting, then Mr. Furrow’s opting to vote stands some chance of mitigating the effects of Boobus Americanus trying to have their way. But if the number of boobs in this country outnumbers the thoughtful and informed Americans inclined to vote, then what thoughtful and informed people want is rather immaterial. I would think I’d be generous to opine that the evidence easily suggests that the boobs outnumber anyone of substance in this country roughly ten to one, although I think one hundred to one is almost as generous. [‘Substance’ being defined in this case as those who have sufficient conscience to moderate their opinions to the extent of the evidence that supports it, or those willing to become, or eager to be, informed about matters they claim are important to them regarding the country they live in]

I think I should support these claims, although people with a different opinion about voting seem to rely on that faith in the people they curry favor with rather than face any facts about their voting brethren.

This past spring the Pew Research Center published results that throw a great deal of light upon the nature of our ‘informed public’ that our voting system depends on. They reported (thru Washington Post-ABC) that 66% of people polled thought that Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales’ firing of the eight U.S. attorneys was “politically motivated” (the cause celebre of that month). Yet 31% of these same people didn’t know who the vice president was, less than half of them knew who Nancy Pelosi was, only 29% knew who “Scooter” Libby was, and only 15% could name who the Senate majority leader was, Harry Reid– no one could name the state he was from.

So what are we to think about people who cite polls for their views, or against the views of others? Should we be impressed about what Americans ‘think’ about anything?

In another poll 45% thought the phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” was in the Constitution. In an American Bar Association study a full third of the people didn’t know what the Bill of Rights was. It is no too much of a stretch to think that the 70% of people in favor of getting rid of the electoral college are related to the others polled and not worth listening to.

I also hope we don’t take too seriously what the people get when they vote. I’m inclined to think they have little idea what they are doing, and will have little memory four years from now when they’ll be asked again to vote for “change”— despite thinking they are voting for that every time they vote. As Mencken wrote: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

3. Moriae - February 4, 2008

P.S. This morning a poll was published in the UK that shows that 1 in 4 Brits don’t believe Churchhill ever existed. Looks like it’s going to get very crowded soon for the bottom-feeders of life.

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