Elections and Social Consensus

October 5, 2012 § 8 Comments

Modern people are under the impression that the main function of democratic elections is to exercise individual influence over how we are governed. This is not the case. The main function of elections is to build and maintain social consensus over how we are in fact governed, which is under the political philosophy of liberalism.

Now in general social consensus over how we are governed is a good thing. The problem with liberal democracy though is that it pretends that elections are about something else: it pretends that when you vote you are influencing the outcome of the election, rather than pledging your allegiance to a preexisting governing consensus. In fact this is what leads most people to go out and vote: this idea that in so doing we are having our personal say in how we are governed. Absent this motivation far fewer people would voluntarily go out and cast their ballots.

This gives rise to the “viability” argument. The viability argument starts with the premise that only the major party candidates are “viable” – that is, likely to win. So far so good. It then leaps to the conclusion that you are “wasting” your vote – that is, self-censoring, making your voice in governance go unheard – if you fail to vote for a major party candidate.

What is going on here is that two extremely low probability events are being implicitly pitted against each other: the probability that someone other than a major party candidate will win versus the probability that you will cast the deciding vote (or alternatively, the probability that your personal influence will alter the election outcome, including such things as the work you do convincing others to vote the way you do). But we are only supposed to notice the infinitesimal probabilities involved in the first one, not the second. We are supposed to take note of the fact that the influence of third parties and conscientious abstention are very small without noticing that your personal influence is very small no matter what you do. As I wrote in the combox at Mark Shea’s:

The odds of a third party outcome, or even of the Second Coming happening on Election Day, are greater than the odds that your vote will decide the election. People who vote for “pragmatic” reasons are being anything but pragmatic. People who claim that it is mathematically illiterate to vote third party or abstain are, themselves, mathematically illiterate.

If you are not idealistically voting (or abstaining) your conscience, it might not be because you are making an evil choice. But it is definitely because you are making an ignorant choice.

So the viability argument consists in convincing people to irrationally deploy their personal infinitesimal influence in support of candidates they find morally abhorrent, but somewhat less morally abhorrent than the “viable” alternative. This builds social consensus around the major party candidates, the liberalism they represent, and the kind of governance that results from advanced liberalism: gay “marriage”, abortion, misandry, divorce and cohabitation becoming the norm rather than the exception, endless war to impose democracy everywhere: the whole package.

Should it come as any surprise, then, that over time liberal democratic elections build a social consensus in favor of things which are morally abhorrent?

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