There are many people out there who say we should restrict universal suffrage, that certain classes of individuals shouldn’t vote. There are those who think people on welfare shouldn’t vote. Or college students. Or women. I am always against these arguments. I think that the moment we restrict suffrage from anybody, we seriously weaken and damage democracy.
But today, I’m going to say something different. I am going to say that there is one sort of individual who should be prohibited, barred, and rendered ineligible to vote.
Those are the people who bring forth an argument, and then demand other people go find the evidence to back up their argument. This is known as failing the burden of proof. I see it almost every day. Thousands of people put forward arguments based on intuition and evidence they heard about, but never really saw for themselves, and thus never really grappled with the argument they are actually asserting. The problem is that is a total abdication of critical thinking, which is precisely the thing you must be utilizing when going to the polling booth.
Voting is morally significant. Voting changes the quality, scope, and kind of government. The way we vote can help or harm people. Electoral outcomes can be harmful or beneficial, just or unjust. They can exploit the minority for the benefit of the majority. They can do widespread harm with little benefit for anyone. So, in this book, I argue that we have moral obligations concerning how we should vote. Not just any vote is morally acceptable.
He’s absolutely right. Just read the sample chapter in the second link. Voting has consequences. Voting is not just a political right in a democracy, but it is also a responsibility. If you’re going to exercise that responsibility, you damn well better be thinking critically and using your noggin to explore what options are before you and make the right choice. When you’re in that poll booth, it’s your vote. You can’t delegate that vote to anybody. It’s your responsibility, so when you make your choice, you better be the one doing the thinking.
This is not a call to, say, ban all liberals from voting. It is not what you think that pisses me off (although that does too, just not in this context), it’s how you think–or don’t think, really. Someone can be a socialist and as long as they evidence for their position, can credibly argue for said position, and actually go through and grapple with the consequences of their position, then that’s okay. Said socialist can vote. But if one can’t, if one can only spout talking points but refuse to actually do any actual thinking, you should probably be barred from entering the voting booth. You can’t be trusted with such a duty.
A great example of this was found on Twitter, when back in January I got into something approximating a debate with a liberal over welfare and job requirements. She made the assertion that all welfare has work requirements. I asked her to provide evidence of this assertion. This is sort of how it went*:
After this, she just failed to do any sort of debating at all, and just started calling me names and said I was “prejudiced”.
This is not the way you debate policy, or even think. She very clearly abdicated her role, and failed to defend her position whatsoever. And she’s not the only one. I see this almost every day. Not just on Twitter or the rest of the Internet, but in daily life. People get crazy ideas into their heads, back them up by saying “Well they say so” (who the hell are they?) and when evidence is demanded, they order the other side to do their research for them.
A person who “thinks” in this manner is clearly not thinking at all. They are not doing the research on their positions or anyone else’s. They are not coming to terms with the consequences of a policy. And considering what a vote entails, how it will affect millions of people in a democracy, a person who fails to do this critical thinking and understand consequences should not be voting. Period.
Of course, there is always the counter-argument that people don’t do their research on politicians because they don’t have the time to. It’s rational self-ignorance. They need to devote their resources to doing other things. That’s all well and good…except in this era of information technology, it’s crap. You can easily learn economics for free. Watch some videos from LearnLiberty or the Economic Freedom Project. Get a free copy of Frederic Bastiat’s The Law [PDF] (as well as his essay The Petition of the Candlemakers, which is just hilarious; doubly so since it was written in the mid-19th century.) And you can easily look up a candidate’s website, find his or her positions, then type that issue into a Google News search and find dozens of opinion pieces on either side. (As a general note, always read stuff from the Cato Institute. They know what they’re talking about.) I’m not saying voters have to be policy experts; far from it. But it’s not hard to get a more-than-cursory understanding of the issues at hand and the kind of person you’d be voting for. If you’re not able to do that, then don’t bother going to the voting booth at all.
I have no idea how one would test for this inadequacy and render such people ineligible. I just don’t. But I think it would be optimal. How many times have we gotten really awful politicians because our electorate is just uneducated and–I hate to say it but it’s true–just stupid? How on Earth did George W. Bush, of all people, get elected to not one, but two terms? Did we just not do the research?
I agree with Brennan. Voting is a mammoth responsibility. If you’re not willing to do the basic thinking required to make such a decision, then don’t bother at all.