Often the most fanciful ideas become the least questioned assumptions. In this election season a few have made themselves apparent, such as the notion that "change" is good by definition and "experience" is definitely good. Yet an even better example is the oft-repeated platitude that greater voter participation yields a healthier republic.
Ah, I've transgressed against dogma, but let's be logical. Most of us agree that having an educated populace is a prerequisite for a sound democratic republic. We also know that not everyone is well educated. Thus, it cannot be a good thing for everyone to vote. For those of you who had trouble following that line of reasoning, please remember that Election Day is November 5.
And one needn't be disenchanted with universal suffrage to agree. It's one thing to have one man, one vote; it's quite another to have one man, one obligation to vote. Yet we still hear that it's our "civic duty" to go to the polls. Well, no, actually, it's a civic duty to make ourselves worthy to do so.
This "vote first, ask questions later" idea reaches the very nadir of inanity when it manifests itself in get-out-the-vote drives, which can quite correctly be defined as an effort to rally the idiot vote disguised as a noble exercise in democracy. Yet whether the call to the polls is organized or incidental, I would always make the same point: If people don't have the initiative to get out and vote without prodding, it follows that they don't have the greater initiative necessary to inform themselves on the issues; thus, they shouldn't vote. As I said years ago in "Get-out-the-dopes Drives":
". . . this is a problem that takes care of itself when we let nature take its course. Those who don't care may not inform themselves, but more often than not a result of that will be that they won't vote, so no harm done. The problem arises when we put the cart before the horse and encourage those who can't yet drive to take the wheel."
This is no minor point. When people don't vote, it's for the same reason why they don't repair cars, fly planes or perform brain surgery.
They're not interested in those things.
This is important because, generally speaking, interest is a prerequisite for competency. How often have you met someone who became adept at something through disinterest? "You know, I don't like playing the piano, but one day someone convinced me to tickle the ivories and my fingers started playing Mozart's Concerto No. 9." When you hear that, let me know.
Really, we delude ourselves. We see a lot of posturing about getting people "engaged in the process," but it's all talk. A process is just that, a process, "a systematic series of actions directed to some end," while voting is simply an action. Or perhaps we could say it's a reaction - catalyzed by one's own knowledge and passion.
If people really were interested in the health of the "process," they would start at the beginning of that "systematic series of actions" - which is the step whereby you encourage people to care, study and inform themselves - not at the end with voting. They would understand that once this step was tended to, people would naturally cast ballots, as it is merely a by-product of personal political health.
Yet we entertain the folly that for some mysterious, inexplicable reason everyone should participate, that it's a good thing, regardless of how ignorant or ill-informed he may be. Well, why don't we apply this to others matters? We might as well say that if everyone flies a jumbo jet, air travel will somehow be better; we should assume that if everyone performs brain surgery, medical care will somehow improve. Why? Well . . . participation is the answer! That is enough.
Does it sound ridiculous? It's no more so than asserting that having everyone vote will yield a healthier nation. What we should do is take the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm." This applies not just to those too ill-informed to vote but also those ill-informed enough to encourage them to do so.
You can call me an elitist, but it's getting easier to achieve that designation all the time. Study after study after study has revealed an appalling lack of historical knowledge among American youth - which carries over to adulthood - and our grasp of significant current events is no better. Quoting author of The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, The Wall Street Journal writes,
"(One poll that [sic] found more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map . . . .)"
Moreover, many aren't any better at navigating the political map - some people don't even know the name of our vice president (hard to believe, but true). Despite this, there still are those who would convince the uninformed to vote, even though when pulling the lever at a polling place, the latter have no more grasp of the consequences of their actions than if they were to pull one in a casino.
Yet, when some encourage the ignorant to vote, there is method to their madness. The people I speak of do in fact care about the "process," it's just that their process - that "systematic series of actions directed to some end" - probably isn't the same as yours. This is because they seek a very different end: The attainment of power.