Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Voting

Peter Schwartz, the author of In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice Is Unjust and Destructive, makes these interesting points on the subject of voting:

Does your lone vote matter? In an election, with so many votes being cast, some people wonder why they should go through the trouble of casting a ballot.

But this is a misguided premise. In deciding whether or not to vote, your premise should be: “I’m an individual living in a free country, and voting is what free individuals ought to do.” Voting is the means of choosing your political representatives—the representatives whose job involves the protection of your liberty. You should want the winner to be the candidate who best represents your political values. And in pursuit of that goal, you do what is possible to you; you do not bemoan the metaphysical fact that you exist as only a single individual, and therefore have only a single vote.

When you attend an enjoyable concert or play, you applaud the performers at the end. You don’t say, “There are thousands of people in the audience, so what difference does my clapping make?” You applaud worthwhile performers, out of loyalty to the principle that one should express—to the performers, to the audience, to oneself—one’s view of the performance. When it comes to voting, the relevant principle is that everyone ought to be concerned with the political system in which he lives. Casting a ballot for a worthwhile candidate is a means of expressing that vital concern.

This is not to suggest that there is some unchosen duty to vote. If no candidate has any significant virtues, if the choice is between two equal evils, then it is perfectly reasonable to abstain from voting. The same is true when the vote is for some minor office. But in a Presidential contest when there is a basis for preferring one candidate over another—or, to make the case clearer, let’s say there is a Thomas Jefferson on the ballot—it would be wrong to tell yourself that everyone else should vote for him, but that that it’s pointless for you to vote. If your vote is pointless, then so is everyone’s. One vote does indeed make a difference—because that “one vote” is the product of the proper decision of each and every voter.

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