[ExI] To vote or not to vote

Anders anders at aleph.se
Fri Aug 19 09:09:07 UTC 2016

Good find with the full Burke quote. I think it nicely explains why open 
societies are more important than formally democratic societies.

On 2016-08-19 09:20, Rafal Smigrodzki wrote:
> Elections are in various parts a form of
> political struggle and a propaganda exercise meant to provide
> legitimacy to the political class. The two aspects of participatory
> democracy seem to be in a converse relationship. The unified political
> class does not want you to participate in the struggle for power but,
> in proportion to their ineptitude, they need you to legitimize their
> existence.

Often true, and I think it pretty well describes the current 
disenchantment in the West for parliamentary democracy. However, I would 
like to point out that the populist movements that have cropped up as a 
response, trying to mess up the cozy political class, have had pretty 
disastrous effects too, from Greece to Spain to UK to, perhaps soon, the US.

The key problem is that doing politics is nontrivial in big societies. 
It requires professional skills most people lack and cannot even 
accurately judge; they can at best evaluate charisma, apparent 
sincerity, and possibly past track records. So if you do not want a 
political class you need some other way of supplying political skill, 
evaluation, and selection (plus, of course, various ethical desiderata 
as legitimacy and representativeness).

> My interlocutor implied that I am responsible (i.e. could be blamed)
> for the Bad Things that would happen if I do not vote. To not-vote is
> still to vote, negatively. My answer is that bad things happen when
> good people do not hang together, not when they fail to vote.

Yes, but voting is a relatively low-cost hanging together. In many 
situations it might not matter much, but sometimes it does. The real 
fallacy is of course to imagine that voting is the only valid way of 
interacting with politics.

When I ran my think-tank in Sweden I didn't think it would be fair for 
me to vote, since I was influencing politics far more through my talking 
and writing than any single vote would.

> Contrary to what was implied, if everybody was like me, a
> conscientious objector to electoral participation, Hitler or Clinton
> would have no chance of rising to power. Suppose they gave an election
> and nobody came?

Actually, populist leaders are very good at getting people to vote. So 
unless you now assume everybody is super-rational enough not to fall for 
populists, you only describe a situation where a rational majority 
predictably allows itself to be oppressed by a minority (who are indeed 
doing the rational thing, given their bad values!)

> But anarcho-capitalism is not viable, people being who they are! -
> Well, this is not my fault.

Isn't that a bit like saying the president is not your fault since you 
did not vote? Shouldn't you be working harder on making people or 
society what they should be?

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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