Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On a lighter and more cynical note

It's Nov 7th today. Can someone please explain to me why my vote matters?

People who believe in voting can be pretty passionate about this issue.
And I agree that if 90% of the electorate voted, the country would be better served than when 40% do.
But I fail to see how this translates to any individual vote being important.

And I think we vastly underestimate the importance of being informed -- we're told to simply vote, as if that were enough. AFAIC, it would be FAR better for the country if everyone got some counseling and education than if everyone voted.

I completely identify with the apathy many voters (especially young minority voters, let's say) feel. When everyone running is repugnant, and you don't see anyone you feel would represent you, why bother?

None of the most significant social changes in our country (independence from Britian, ending slavery, women in the workplace, civil rights) came about through voting; they came about as a result of war, or of civil disobedience.

I'm tempted to think that proponents of voting have a lot of emotional security wrapped up in the idea that voting works, that things aren't irretrievably messed up, and when people (okay, me) contradict that, it makes them antsy and annoyed.

Tell me I'm wrong.

45 Comments:

At Wed Nov 08, 01:24:00 AM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan, I have to call you on this one. Do you really believe this or are you trying to get a reaction from your blog readers?

First of all you say you say “if 90% of the electorate voted the country would be better served than when 40% do”?

So is it a little bit better if 41 % vote or 45% or 55%? How about 85%? Is that close enough to 90%? Where do you draw the line when the country is not served or is served better? How many more votes from people like you and me?

You say “I think we vastly underestimate the importance of being informed –we’re told to simply vote, as if that were enough. As far as I’m concerned it would be far better for the county if everyone got some counseling and education than if everyone voted”

Education from whom? From people that tell us that our vote doesn’t matter? Do you think that a professor at a university has a better idea what is better for this country than the clerk at Seven Eleven? I don’t. Do you think that reading all the New York Times books written by talking heads about their political views is more valuable than a gut reaction that someone gets when they step into a voting booth? I don’t.

Then you say you are tempted to think that nothing of significance ever came from voting and a lot of it is just emotion as far as the importance of it and then question the idea that voting really works.
Then you say people that contradict it (the importance of voting) may get people a little antsy and annoyed.

Bryan, I’m not gong to get all dramatic and tell you about how many men & women shed their blood for the cause of democracy. I am also not going to list all of the significant things that have been changed by the power of the vote.

I just want to know from you what a better alternative would be.

Note: Sorry to come on so strong about this but the older I get (and this might sound corny) I feel we tend to take this country and our freedoms for granted.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 02:43:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

blogball, i appreciate your comments. and i don't care if you come on strong about it, or if you *do* get want to get dramatic (or angry); i hope you'll continue this conversation, because i really would like to understand this.
i had the beginnings of this same conversation with my grandfather, whom i loved and respected very much -- i just never understood the logic behind his position.

to answer your questions:
yes, 41% is better than 40%. but with millions of registered voters, the difference represented by any one vote is nowhere near 1% -- it's so small as to be negligible (ie, statistically insignificant).

and yes, i absolutely think that in general a univ professor will have a better idea of what's good for the country than the clerk at 7-11, and i do think listening to the talking heads is better than voting your gut. the talking heads will give you a variety of opinions and place issues before you that you may not have considered. your gut will tell you it's a good idea for the gov't to pay everyone whose name starts with "B" (eg, bryan & blogball) a stipend of a million dollars a week.

please note that i didn't say nothing of significance ever came of voting; i said the most *significant* social changes came about thru other means.

also, to be clear: i'm not saying the democratic process isn't valuable and important. i'm saying that it doesn't much matter if any one particular person votes or not.
and i'm also saying that we don't truly have a democracy, or even a representative democracy -- what we have more closely resembles an oligarchy. and it works great, for an amazing percentage of the population, but most of the standard of living we enjoy is ours NOT because of democracy, but rather because of a host of other factors.

and finally, i don't take our freedoms and our standard of living for granted for one minute. i just don't make the connection between me voting and me appreciating the people who died for this country.

as to my better alternative, it's what i said -- this country would be a lot better place if people:

1) got counseling to understand the things at work in their own heads that drive them to be the way they are. if people were more at peace with themselves, they'd raise their kids better, get along with their neighbors better, they'd be more productive, healthier, and happier. crime rates would plummet; when they DID vote, it would be a less self-interested act, and more likely to yield results that would be best for the country as a whole.

2) were better educated about how things work: history, economics, psychology, sociology -- it would give people a broader perspective, a larger context within which to understand the world and make choices about how to live in it. the less we know about those things, the more shortsighted and easily manipulated we are.

those are my thoughts. yours are always welcome.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 07:29:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But each individual person adds to the percentage, which then grows and grows. So no matter how minute, your vote does add to the growing percentage of people voting.

Not voting means that you resign yourself to accept the crappy way things are. In psychology, we call this "learned helplessness" and it is the root of depression.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 09:11:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then don't vote and shut-up about it!

 
At Wed Nov 08, 10:16:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Lisa,
Understand the point about each little bit helps. Maybe it's like littering/not littering.
The Learned Helplessness thing is interesting, but of course I don't think it applies to me (what is that, Denial? Sublimation? Fantasy?). I just have lots of ideas about how to make things better (some of which I actually *do*) that I think are more important than voting.

Anon, Actually, this is a blog where people discuss ideas, so that's why I'm not shutting up about it.
But you're illustrating my point -- a no-voting stance makes people angry.
I mean, we're all used to Other People Doing Things Wrong. (In this case, to a voting proponent, I'm doing it wrong.) But in my experience, people usually don't get this annoyed about something unless they feel it threatens some thing or some idea they cherish.
So if you can convince me I'm wrong, I'll be on board. In the meantime, don't be hatin', feel the love!

 
At Wed Nov 08, 11:44:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point. I wasn't questioning the purpose of a blog, i.e. where people discuss ideas...the point I was making was...if you don't vote, you resign yourself to accept the way things are (thank you Lisa) and since you (or whoever) didn't vote, this person really doesn't have the right to say much about it...well, I guess they have the "right", but since they didn't vote, it's called "sniveling". Think about it...there's a difference between someone who comments on issues (good or bad) after they have cast their vote, and someone who comments on these issues minus the fact that they didn't even take the time to vote themselves.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 12:37:00 PM PST, Blogger SoozeSchmooze said...

Hummm how about this??? perhaps choosing not to vote indicates laziness and lack of caring because one is not "bothering" to get "educated" about issues and people so that their vote can be the best vote it can be!!! It is a lot of work to be informed and make a vote that stands for something...I choose to be as informed as I can and I vote the way I feel..not the way someone tells me to vote...and overall it doesn't always feel like I accomplished much; (I admit that) ..but I do feel like I did my best...that is my simple perspective..being basically on par with the college educated 7-eleven employee(there are many of those you know)!!

 
At Wed Nov 08, 12:49:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

One of the arguments for voting has to do with the categorical imperative (at least as I read it): "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law." In other words, "What if everybody did that?" But, of course, we know that everybody "Won't do that" (i.e., not vote) so does this change our obligation? I had a very difficult time with this election because of the savage and mindless negative ads. At one point I told myself, "I'll vote for the first candidate who tells me why I should vote for him/her, rather than why I SHOULDN'T vote for his/her opponent. Well, needless to say, it was very frustrating. I would add this: If you feel that you do NOT have a grasp of the issues involved (regardless of whether your grasp comes from a professor or a clerk) than I feel you have an obligation NOT to vote. Just going in and pulling the lever isn't doing your civic duty.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 01:21:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan, I will make a voter out of you even if kills me. Oh wait that would be one less person that votes so maybe not.
I guess it come down to the every little bit helps mindset. You related that to littering. I was wondering if you would tell your kids it really doesn't matter if you throw garbage out the window of your car because after all there are only a small percent that do this and your garbage doesn’t really count.
You also mentioned we are more like oligarchy than a democracy. You could argue that all forms of government end up as oligarchies because of human nature. Our vote and our right to vote makes us less like an oligarchy so isn’t that a good thing?

I thought of this analogy:
If 2000 people deicide to build their own building to work in and you decide not to help with the building process. You tell yourself or have a mindset that tells you what difference will it make if I help or not after all there are 1999 other people that will help build it.
Suppose during the building of this building there are 3 people that are killed in a construction accident. Finally the building is completed and you are able to work and make a good living in this building. Suppose you end up getting a promotion because they needed someone to replace one of the guys that were killed in the accident. Would you feel any type of responsibility that you would need to participate in the in the building of the new expansion of the building or would you stay home again and let the other people build it again?
I feel like this when we vote because it’s an important factor that helps and has helped build and shape this country to what it is today. For many people it was worth giving their life for. I believe we do have some responsibility to participate and that means learning about the issues to your saisfaction not just pulling a lever we should do this if nothing else out of respect for the process.
Lisa said not voting means that you resign yourself to accept the crappy way things are. In psychology, we call this "learned helplessness" and it is the root of depression.
When you think of the counties that have been repressed by their governments and without the right to vote chances are you will see a depressed society.
Finally I’m thinking that the environment that you are raised in might contribute a little to weather you feel the need to vote. You mentioned that your grandfather who voted so I would be willing to bet that most of his kids participate in the voting process. I have a brother in-law who I also love and respect but even with all of his incredible knowledge about the world and current events he never cared about voting. I would be willing to bet that at least one of his kids will end up with that same type of mindset. (Just a thought)

 
At Wed Nov 08, 01:25:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

you're right, anon, i did miss your point. but now that i think i understand it, i still don't agree.
whence this common idea that if you don't vote, you oughtn't complain? i've heard it countless times, and i don't buy it.
stupid things are stupid things, and people have a right (or duty) to complain about them whether or not they previously took the opportunity to make what was likely an empty gesture in opposition.
if i believed my vote had a measureable effect, then yes, i shouldn't complain if i didn't vote. if the count came down to 100 Ayes and 101 Nays, then shame on me -- but that virtually never happens. if/when it does, i'll tell *myself* to STHU about the results.

sooze, i admire your approach, and agree it's a lot of work to be/stay informed.

unca, i have some problems with the categorical imperative, or at least how it applies to this situation. for example:
if my family's starving, i'll steal to feed them. i certainly wouldn't want stealing to be lawful. OTOH, one can make the case that the maxim i'm operating under is
"Dont' steal unless your family's starving."
in which case, i can make the case that the maxim i'm operating under WRT voting is:
"You must always vote when your vote has a measurable impact; if everyone else is already voting and your vote won't sway things one way or the other, you don't have to"

 
At Wed Nov 08, 01:29:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

blogball, u make some interesting points that i need to think about a little.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 03:14:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

"You must always vote when your vote has a measurable impact; if everyone else is already voting and your vote won't sway things one way or the other, you don't have to"

Well the problem with this is that you actually have no way of knowing. Also, by your line of reasoning you can pretty much justify any behavior -- I won't go through stoplights unless I'm sure there's nobody in the way. The whole point of the CI is that it directs your behavior even when then consequences of you acting alone are negligible.

But that aside, here's an interesting question: should voting be mandatory? It already is in some places, including Austrailia. How do we feel about this? I feel that the right not to vote is right up there with the right TO vote.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 04:06:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Voting should never be mandatory unless we vote to make it mandatory.

Hey maybe that's the kind of proposition that might get Bryan to vote.
He would be voting not to vote.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 04:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How you feel about this issue comes down to whether or not you are a voter...I think voters tend to "disqualify" non-voter's complaints, thus you get, "if you don't vote you ought not complain..."

Scenario 1...

Non-Voter: "I sure don't think it's right that minimum wage has gone up..."

Voter: "Well...did you vote?"

Non-Voter: "No...my one vote really wouldn't matter anyway."

Voter: "OK, I hear ya..." (eyes rolling)

Scenario 2...

Voter 1: "I sure don't think it's right that minimum wage has gone up..."

Voter 2: "Well...did you vote?"

Voter 1: "Yes, but I'm still frustrated."

Voter 2: "I hear ya!"

 
At Wed Nov 08, 05:12:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

That's funny stuff, anon.
Another thing I just thought of regarding voting and the right to complain. I notice that no one asks which *way* you voted.
IOW, in the popular mind it seems like someone who voted FOR the thing they're complaining about is granted more right to complain than someone who didn't vote at all, merely because they took part in the process.

They may have been ill-informed and may have made a gross misjudgment, but at least they performed the magic rites of pulling the lever or punching a chad or making an X in a box...

It seems like to be fair with the no-vote-no-whining policy, we should say "if you didn't vote against it, you can't complain."

I, of course, reserve the right to whine even about the people I *do* vote for...

 
At Wed Nov 08, 09:07:00 PM PST, Blogger Leo said...

The best reason I ever heard in favor of voting is that somewhere, someone is paying attention to the number of votes and the issues attached to those votes, no matter who they are for. Just because your vote might not swing an election does not mean that people are not paying attention. For example, you might reason that voting Libertarian is pointless, because Libertarians rarely win elected positions. But, the Republicans and Democrats are paying attention to how many votes the third parties get, and I'll bet they are trying to find ways to win those votes for themselves, which means they may adjust their platforms a little to capture those votes as well. It's kind of like protests; there's no legal basis or force behind them that can cause change directly, but they do get ideas into peoples' minds that may make them behave differently. To wit: Rumsfeld is out, and he wasn't voted out.

Another thought: I don't think there is a difference between 40% and 90% voter turnout. I never studied statistics, so I can't provide any references, but I am under the impression that once you get above a certain sample size, the volume of samples doesn't change the ratio.

 
At Wed Nov 08, 10:11:00 PM PST, Blogger Left Coast Sister said...

So the university professor has more valid input about how the country is run than the 7-11 dude? Are you serious?? Believe it or not, many folks for whom the American Dream has eluded them, are still intelligent enough to bring their opinions to the table... and their opinions are valid.
On another note, consider the Virginia senate race (I think it's that one) that was decided by 7000 votes... and tipped the scales of the senate for the Democrats. That's 7000 powerful voters.
i couldn't agree more with the littering analogy. The one I was thinking of is driving gas-guzzling cars. Are you single-handedly ruining the environment? No. But you aren't doing your part to help it. Instead you are joining the ranks of those who are draining Mother Earth of her fossil fuels. So vote. Or don't. Perhaps if you are this apathetic, then don't.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 01:14:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Blogball, The littering thing’s okay as far as it goes, but it’s not quite the same because even one gum wrapper out the window is visible, whereas IMO my vote isn’t.
I think LCS’s SUV analogy is probably closer to the mark, which brings me to this:
assuming that draining Mother Earth of her fossil fuels is a bad thing (debatable: in my view, Mother Earth has no need for them), is it defensible to blame each individual SUV owner for the sins of the group (which only *become* a sin in the aggregate)?

The building analogy doesn’t work very well for me, because I don’t view voting as the equivalent of helping to build the building. To me, the country is far better served by teaching people to read, promoting the arts, sowing seeds of trust and harmony and critical thought and community and brotherly love, than by voting. I think it’s FAR more important to mow your neighbor’s lawn, take dinner to someone who’s sick, serve on a jury, help someone make peace with themselves or someone else, volunteer at the hospital or the school or the soup kitchen, or give money to Oxfam or the library or public radio or Habitat for Humanity or United Way than it is to be involved in a political process that’s mostly reserved for rich connected white people and that I see as usually offering little choice.

I think you may be right that our environment growing up affects our feelings about voting. My dad is a lot like your brother-in-law WRT his attitude to voting, altho I bet I’m a lot more cynical than my dad is. I sometimes find myself thinking that real change in the country is sometimes actually stifled because instead of making the effort to do things that require genuine hard work and sacrifice, we allow ourselves to feel we’ve done our civic duty by participating in the voting ritual.

Rather than learning about each other, helping each other, questioning our own prejudices and pre-conceived notions, we troop down to the polling place and color in the little squares and feel that we’ve fulfilled our main duty as citizens; then we go home and act the same as we always have, secure in the idea that we live in the Greatest Country in the World and we’ve just Participated in Democracy, and people are still hungry and we still have no national health plan and we spend a jillion dollars a year on movies and pro sports and liposuction and fake titties but Janie down the street has no money for insulin.

I do like Leo’s comment about people paying attention, and votes affecting the platforms of the various parties.

Re the professor vs the guy at 7-11: yes, I’m absolutely serious, and I think the common idea that everyone’s ideas are equally valid is ludicrous. There are plenty of college professors who have nutty ideas, and plenty of 7-11 clerks who are pretty savvy. The educated classes are often the more financially secure classes, which means they can easily lose touch with basic facts about how life is for most people. But speaking in generalities: the more you have learned, the broader your perspective, and IMO the greater your ability to make intelligent choices in the voting booth. One of the main things I got out of a college education is a feel for how much I DON’T know, and sometimes it helps keep me from accepting simplistic explanations and positions on political/social issues.
Someone (Harold McMillan?) said that the purpose of education is to know when someone is talking rot. When I see what kind of ads work, what resonates with the average voter, I’m not terribly impressed with their understanding of the issues or ability to think critically. IMO, the voting public is awfully shallow and easily manipulated. When I see or read interviews about why people support a particular candidate, I’m not encouraged.

David Brooks said that we typically don’t choose a political party based on its platform anyway – rather we align ourselves at a young age with the party having the people we feel most comfortable with; from then on, we form opinions that tend to align with that party’s platform, rather than forming our own ideas independently and choosing the party that matches up best.

So again, yes, I think more informed people make better voters. And I expect our average college professor to be better informed than our average 7-11 clerk. God help us if they’re not…

Anyway, don’t get me wrong: I do vote, and I’m really really glad we have the right. I just don’t vote all the time, and I don’t vote if I’m not informed or if I don’t like any of the candidates, and I don’t consider it to be anywhere near the top of the list of things I owe my community or my country.

So if you want to vote, great. Sometimes I do, too. It’s probably voters who are most likely to do the other things *I* think are important anyway. I think *having* the vote is incredibly important. I just don’t think that the act of voting entitles us to think we’ve done something terrifically grand, and I don’t think much of voting/not voting as a litmus test of someone’s patriotism, citizenship, or appreciation for their country.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 09:46:00 AM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan, (hypothetical question) If it was possible to have college professors vote for all of the 7-11 clerks do you think this country and the 7-11 clerks would be better off and better served ?

Yes or No

 
At Thu Nov 09, 10:02:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

If it's all-or-nothing, then No.
Because the professors would vote for the things that serve their interests, which might not serve the clerks' interests.
But that's merely recognizing the self-representation aspect of voting; it doesn't suggest that each group on average has equal grasp of what's best for the country.
A country made up entirely of professors would likely make better decisions at the voting booth than a country of clerks.
If only professors voted for president, Americans wouldn't be dying in Iraq.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 10:14:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...so why then should we vote? BINGO!

 
At Thu Nov 09, 10:40:00 AM PST, Blogger blogball said...

So you’re saying the clerks would vote more for their self interests and the professors would vote more for what’s best for the country?

 
At Thu Nov 09, 10:50:00 AM PST, Blogger blogball said...

"If only professors voted for president, Americans wouldn't be dying in Iraq"

Not sure what point you are trying to here. Maybe because I’m not a college professor.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 12:19:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

If only professors voted for president, we'd have switched over to socialism (or possibly communism)many years ago.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 12:22:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Re:
David Brooks said that we typically don’t choose a political party based on its platform anyway – rather we align ourselves at a young age with the party having the people we feel most comfortable with; from then on, we form opinions that tend to align with that party’s platform, rather than forming our own ideas independently and choosing the party that matches up best. I think this is probably true of perhaps 70% of the electorate. It's the other 30% that then swing the vote.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 01:04:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan, I think you’re giving college professor’s waaay too much credit.
I agree with Unca, we would have something a lot worse than what we are experiencing now.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 02:31:00 PM PST, Anonymous Kate said...

Wow, the common themes these days in your posts revolve around gender and education issues. Interesting.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 05:18:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

bb, i'm saying that both will vote partly in their own interest, and partly for the greater good.
and that the professors' self-interest is apt to be more enlightened or effective than the clerks', and their concept of the greater good is likely to be better informed.

the crack about the president is just a bonus for your enjoyment -- it actually has nothing to do with my argument.

unca, not sure how to respond to your 70/30 idea or what it implies exactly. more clarification welcome.

re something much worse: you might be right, if professors voted for *everything*, we might be socialists now. i was just thinking about using professors to elect a president. (next time i want one who's more articulate and doesn't invade other countries as much.)

i know what you mean about college professors. i've listened to (and read) some pretty nutty stuff coming out of the ivory towers of academia. but i still think someone with a knowledge of history & psychology & economics is likely to be a more informed voter than someone with "These colors don't run" on the back of their car.

kate, i'll try to do better in the future, i promise.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 07:02:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

"but i still think someone with a knowledge of history & psychology & economics is likely to be a more informed voter than someone with "These colors don't run" on the back of their car."
They may be more informed but that doesn't mean they don't carry their own set of knee jerk values to the voting booth.

 
At Thu Nov 09, 07:13:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

"Rather than learning about each other, helping each other, questioning our own prejudices and pre-conceived notions, we troop down to the polling place and color in the little squares and feel that we’ve fulfilled our main duty as citizens; then we go home and act the same as we always have, secure in the idea that we live in the Greatest Country in the World and we’ve just Participated in Democracy, and people are still hungry and we still have no national health plan and we spend a jillion dollars a year on movies and pro sports and liposuction and fake titties but Janie down the street has no money for insulin."
Wow what a smokescreen. Actually, the people I know who feel most passionately about the issues you've raised are the same ones who feel passionately about voting.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 12:32:00 AM PST, Anonymous Cal said...

observations from a late entrant:

Stuff everyone agrees about:
- The democratic process is important and valuable;
- One individual vote will never swing an election.

Stuff Bryan thinks (I think):
A. Voter apathy on the part of those who currently and historically are not / have not been represented by the process is both understandable and defensible.
B. On the list of Actions We May Take for the Common Good at Personal Cost, voting is well down the list, both in terms of what is costs us as well as how much common good it generates.
C. Since one individual vote will never swing an election, there is little or no value to my individual vote. Consequently, I feel no obligation or responsibility to vote, since whether I do or not will make no difference to the outcome.

Stuff I think:
A: Agree
B: I agree with Bryan to the extent that there are other valuable things do to for the common good. Some will make more difference. Some will be more personally costly.
C: Nuh-uh. I'm with unca on the Categorical Imperative here, but it since it seems Bryan is attempting to sidestep the CI as an indicator of moral responsibility, let me try this:

Individual responsibility isn't determined by the measurability test. That is, there are many moral standards that are measurable only in the aggregate; this doesn't mean they're not valid standards of behavior.

Examples abound. LCS's SUV is one. Some others:
- ocean dumping
- ignoring catch limits
- (lightly) skimming government contracts
- shoplifting from walmart
- picking poppies by the side of the road :-)
- stealing office supplies while working for a huge public company
- using ozone-depleting manufacturing processes to fatten profits
- etc., etc.
... sorry, getting carried away. Anyway, there are lots.

Point: While Bryan's vote will never make a difference, the democratic process-- which was bought and preserved with blood-- depends on the informed votes of people exactly like him.

The fact that votes only have measurable effect in the aggregate in no way diminishes the value of his individual vote. That there are millions of others just like him doesn't exonerate him, because they are just like him... because (back to the CI) the rules that he chooses to govern his own behavior are appropriate or inappropriate to the extent that they're appropriate for others like him.

Or this:
Complex Systems Theory is very relevant here. In a complex system (such as the democratic process), cause and effect are not linear, the way they are in ordered systems. Rather, in a complex system, positive and negative patterns emerge based on the rules or heuristics that govern the behavior of the individual elements. Therefore, the individual value of the component elements is NOT determined by the impact they have individually on the entire system (i.e., none), but by the cumulative effect of the elements of the system governed by similar/identical behavior (i.e., people who vote).

 
At Fri Nov 10, 11:08:00 AM PST, Blogger jay are said...

Why can't you learn about your neighbor, mow his lawn, bring him dinner when he's sick, sit on his jury when he's arrested AND vote?

 
At Fri Nov 10, 01:16:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

i didn't intend that as a smokescreen -- i agree with unca/jayare (i think i said this already) that it's probably a lot of the same people who do those things. my point is that all those things that i said i think are important, to me they're not just more important/effective, they're MUCH more so.
maybe it comes down to me whining something like "quit saying i'm not a good citizen because i'm disheartened with teh process and the candidates and don't always vote -- there are a lot of other things more important.
and i do know people who are adamant that voting is a must, and feel proud of doing it, yet at the same time don't volunteer, and try to get out of jury duty whenever possible.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 01:39:00 PM PST, Blogger jay are said...

well, I was being a little tongue in cheek---I think you did address that issue. And I have to be honest here, I'm pretty much a non-voter too, but not for the same reasons. Mine are much worse: laziness, lack of being educated on the issues and taking the time and effort to become educated. I, however, DO think it's important to vote and think that---like was mentioned---a big price was paid so that I could. I don't have any illusions that my one vote will change anything, but I definitely see how if everyone thought that, no one would vote. So obviously at some level---however miniscule---it DOES matter.
Well, that was very rambling and confusing. But there's my cent and a half.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 02:06:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

as to Cal:
it seems like maybe it comes down to the CI. it's a tricky moral problem. we operate best (and we're happiest) in linear mode (eg, you did X, your reward/punishment should be Y).

we are frustrated by things like raising children or training puppies or eating healthy or whatever, where achieving the goal takes many many tiny efforts with little or no discernable result/reward for any one event.

so what we do is simplify:
we get mad at our kids for not picking up their room, not because any harm is caused by a messy room on a particular day, but because a whole lot of such lazy choices make for a bad life.

we invent the idea of bad food and good food, because that's simple to understand and feels ordered and right. but the fact is that pretty much any food is good for your body -- even twinkies -- if you only eat one of them.

So maybe you're right, a person's individual responsibility IS to vote. But just as the result of voting/nonvoting is measurable only in the aggregate, so should be the apportionment of culpability.

IOW, it's a very small sin, because
a) the effect of the individual nonvote is negligible, and
b) the guilt is shared among millions of people.

I know it's much more satisfying to blame an individual non-voter (or poppy-picker or whatever) for the sins of the whole group. But I don't think it's logical.

And my original points, which I still believe, are that:

1) voter apathy -- especially among those for whom the system doens't work that well -- is logical and understandable

2) voting is not how the most significant social changes in our country were brought about

3) the reaction against non-voting is not as much logical as visceral/emotional.
The opportunity to take the position I do my duty and you do not is *extremely* powerful.
More importantly, the idea that one is taking part in something sacred and important (religion, tradition, voting) is also powerful, and it makes us angry if someone suggests that our individual contribution is not that big a deal.
Our need to feel that our process works, that things are under control, that our freedoms are secure, that our country and our system are the best -- all those things are important to our emotional security, and we irrationally assume that voting is what preserves that for us. When someone suggests otherwise, it threatens us and makes us cranky.

When it serves us, we have a bit of a history of subverting the democratic process. Poll taxes, WWI sedition laws, undeclared wars, Lincoln's statements WRT the constitution, etc.

I view the democratic process as a fantastic thing. But I think it's more a *result*, a benefit, than a cause. (ie, democracy is not the cause of itself -- democracy is part of our freedom, democracy didn't bring us our freedom.)

In a very simplistic sense, in this country democracy resulted from war. We didn't vote ourselves a democracy.

A bunch of enlightened lawyers, landowners, and businessmen (not 7-11 clerks) were willing to risk their lives (and fortunes and sacred honor, yes, and the lives of thousands of other people) to get out of paying so many taxes. No, sorry, I meant to be free of the yoke of tyranny.

When this country was defended, and people died to preserve our way of life, it wasn't voting that made that happen, it was fighting.

Civil rights was achieved through people getting beaten and hosed and jailed, and taking what was rightfully theirs by their physical effort and sacrifice. The c.r. amendment was voted on, yes, but as a result of all that other effort.

My point -- belabored beyond belief -- is that I love this country and I love my freedom and I am deeply grateful to have been born here, and to the people who died preserve what we enjoy. But my belief is that preserving all this (including preserving the right to vote) is more about being diligent about other aspects of good citizenship than about voting. Voting's great. Yay, voting. But it's NOT what we seem to think it is (ie, the best means to preserve the democratic process) -- it IS the democractic process that we're trying to preserve by all means, including voting and a whole lot of other more important stuff.

One concession: i do think it's critical to vote when we can see a candidate as a threat to the democratic process -- in that case, voting IS the best way to preserve voting.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 03:43:00 PM PST, Anonymous Cal said...

i agree with much of what you say, altho i believe you understate the importance of the voting process to the preservation of our freedom. Our freedoms are preserved by our Constitution, which in turn is preserved by a system of checks and balances, which in its turn is inextricably linked to the notion of one (wo)man, one vote. Without ultimate accountability to the voting public, the system breaks down.

But more specifically:
"...But just as the result of voting/nonvoting is measurable only in the aggregate, so should be the apportionment of culpability.

IOW, it's a very small sin, because
A. the effect of the individual nonvote is negligible, and
B. the guilt is shared among millions of people.
"

Completely disagree here. I think there are 2 problems with this reasoning. With A, you're thinking linearly again. The point of my prior comment was that in a complex system, it's meaningless to assess value based on individual effect (what color is six?); the only meaningful assessment of the value of a choice or action in a complex system is to look at the heuristics which led to the action being taken. So saying it's a small sin because it has negligible effect is invalid (by skimming govt contracts, I could make myself filthy rich at no discernable cost to any individual... doesn't mean it's a small sin).

With B, you're assuming that guilt or culpability is a zero-sum game... that shared culpability is by definition lesser than unique culpability. Not so. If I allow a kidnapping to succeed due to my inaction (I watch the kidnapper and struggling victim get into his van, don't challenge him, don't call 911, don't answer queries for information), I bear culpability. If I'm with my friend at the time, he's also culpable... but I'm no LESS culpable. If 100 of us are there, we don't each bear 1/100th of my initial culpability, but in fact the same level of culpability I would have if I were the sole witness. Not zero sum. So saying it's a small sin because it's shared with millions of others is also invalid: sharing culpability with others doesn't diminish one's own culpability.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 04:00:00 PM PST, Anonymous Cal said...

oops, quick follow up:
- by saying 'completely disagree', i didn't mean i think not voting is a BIG sin... just that it's not trivial or unimportant. i meant i completely disagree with your reasoning.

- in rereading my comment, it seems to have an arrogant tone i didn't intend. i need to be more careful bandying about such terms as 'not so', 'meaningless' and 'invalid'. pretend that wherever applicable, i said, 'it seems to me that'... :D

 
At Fri Nov 10, 04:41:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

hmm...
i partially buy your not-zero-sum argument, but mostly not.
the kidnapping analogy would hold true if elections were determined by randomly picking a voter (there was a sci-fi story -- ray bradbury? -- kind of like that) and doing whatever he said.
it seems to me like voting/not voting is more like if 100 of us watched the kidnapping and each of us saw 100th of it, and then one of us did/didn't answer queries for information.
the gov't contract example, however, resonates with me. i need to think about it. i think what i'll come up with is that it's okay to skim gov't contracts, so all my friends can get ready to receive some cruise tickets in the mail for xmas next year...

 
At Fri Nov 10, 04:43:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

PS. didn't notice any arrogance. you'll have to make it more pointed next time to get thru...

 
At Fri Nov 10, 05:30:00 PM PST, Anonymous Cal said...

not so. invalid. meaningless.

i kill me.

asimov, not bradbury.

now you're mixing the two issues up. you provided two reasons as to why not voting wasn't a big deal:
- neglible impact
- shared culpability

i think they're both invalid, and addressed each independently.

the kidnapping was an illustration (not an analogy ;) ) of how culpability is not diminished when shared, so your assertion that "the guilt is shared among millions of people" does not support your argument that it's a small sin. if we were thinking linearly and trying to construct a direct analogy to not voting, then yes, we'd need a different scenario.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 09:29:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

so your illustration was just to show that sometimes guilt is not zero-sum...

i have an illustration:
one guy kills his neighbor with a stapler; another guy curses when he staples his tie to an important document. in this illustration we see that that some things should make us feel guiltier than other things. but i'm not sure what it has to do with voting.

or is your point that shared culpability *never* diminishes guilt (ie, that guilt is never zero-sum)? cause that would be dumb.

 
At Fri Nov 10, 10:20:00 PM PST, Anonymous Cal said...

i like your stapler illustration.

Bob: A is true.
Sam: I do not agree.
Bob: But B is true.
Sam: Yes, B is in fact true.
Bob: And if B is true, then A must be true.
Sam: No, I fear you must support your assertion of A in another way, for I do not accept the universality of "if B, then A". In fact, I will cite an example of "B but not A". *cites example*
Bob: Ah. Now I understand the flaw in my argument. While B -> A in SOME cases, I must demonstrate that B -> A in THIS case before I can rely on B & (B-> A) to support my argument of A. You are very wise. I also find you very attractive. I hope you don't mind my saying so.

= = = = = = =

IOW... the burden is on you to demonstrate WHY spreading the blame over millions of people diminishes your own culpability, because it isn't a given that shared blame = diminished blame. So stating that "I'm less guilty" (A) because "millions are also guilty" (B) is insufficient.

 
At Sun Nov 12, 07:27:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One point that I've wondered about that hasn't been brought up yet that I can tell (the comments are long and my attention span is short) is where most intelligent folks like yourselves stand on the difference between representative democracy versus direct democracy.

This came to mind with the back and forth on the college professor and the 7-11 clerk. In my view many of the issues *are* too complex for many voters to understand the impacts of and that's why we elect the real voters who are supposedly to have the time and broad view to consider the ramifications.

In Colorado we had 2 ballot initatives related to the amount of education funding that must be directly spent in the classroom. I didn't vote for either one since I didn't feel like I knew enough about the education industry to try and make that call...the question is, is the trend towards ballot initiatives, although making people feel more directly connected to decision making, actually a positive development or do you end up with poor decisions based on what often *sound* like good ideas to the uninformed?

 
At Sun Nov 12, 12:44:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

I think that a referendum makes some sense in local decision making (at the county or city level)where most of the issues are clear cut and don't cut across such a huge populace. For instance, it may be wise for one community to adopt certain ordinances and for others not to). As you say, you also run the danger of people voting on things they don't understand and where their local interests rather than the larger interests hold sway. James Madison called direct democracy, "the tyranny of the majority."

 
At Sun Nov 12, 07:59:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

sorry folks, been traveling.

like dan, i see a connection between the professor/clerk question and the representative vs pure democracy question.

i understood unca to say that the referendum is appropriate for local issues and a representative model better for larger issues so that local interests don't weigh more heavily than they ought (ie, if voters are too local-centric or don't have a grasp of the larger issues at stake).
it seems like voting frequently involves a choice between local interest and some broader interest, you don't get more local than self-interest. ie, you often have to choose between self-interest and the greater good.
and i suggest that all else being equal, a professor is likely to have the broader perspective of the two.
there's no guarantee that professors will get it right -- as acknowledged, they're often confused -- but at least he knows what more of the issues are.
if you're not even aware of the EXISTENCE of the of the larger issues, how can you be as effective a voter as someone with a broader educational experience?

 

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