The tyranny of the uninformed

Posted on 30. May, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Man has wreaked many forms of tyranny on the world over the centuries. Some of them, like the dictatorships of the mid 20th century, stand in bold relief to the potential for tyranny that is enshrined in our founding documents. I’m speaking of our voting laws and the cause and effect relationship between the uninformed or no/low information voter and the running of our country.

Every so often we’re reminded of just how free we are as a nation. Generally, it’s every four years when millions of people cast their ballots for the man or woman who will lead us for another 48 months.

And while there are many serious voters who do their homework on candidates’ policies, pronouncements and promises, I would guess that there are probably many more who couldn’t describe any one of them to you in detail let alone in general terms. In short, they’re uninformed and/or low/no information voters who are choosing our leaders based on entirely different reasons.

That in itself is nothing new. Americans have been voting that way for generations and they probably won’t stop anytime soon. (I remember the Nixon-Kennedy campaign of 1960 when women were voting for Kennedy just because he was good looking and had a thick head of hair!) We are a collection of tribes and we tend to act like them.

Picture this, you’re a member of an indigenous tribe in the rain forest of Brazil. The time of choosing a new chief is drawing near. Your village has been preparing for this for weeks since your old chief died. Normally, the chief would have named a few possible candidates before he died, but he didn’t get around to it, so now it’s up to the men in the village to stand for election (I didn’t say women because this is a patriarchal tribe – 20 miles through the jungle there is a matriarchal village that only chooses women leaders). All eligible candidates and voters must be at least 15 years old, have successfully undergone an initiation to manhood and be recommended by at least one elder in the village.

Three men have come forward and thrown their blowguns into the ring. Each is well known to the villagers. Candidate ‘A’ saved the village from a ferocious beast that was attacking their livestock last year, but he is, as most would agree, dumb as a bag of palm fronds. Candidate ‘B’ is known for his storytelling and keeping the youth of the village spellbound night after night with tales of other people’s heroism. Candidate ‘C’ has faithfully discharged his duties on the tribal council, helped organize successful hunting trips deep into the forest and taken in the children of a deceased neighbor and raised them as his own.

Actually, this is the optimal voting situation as everybody knows everybody else. The candidates’ exploits, successes and failures are common knowledge and the voters are well-known to the candidates. All that remains is to choose among them by remembering their deeds, listening to them speak and watching their body language. There are no information filters, no videotape re-takes or sound bites. What you see is what you get. The candidates know that a promise made must be a promise kept and decisions made must be sound, otherwise all in the village could suffer.

What does this village have that the USA doesn’t? It has an eminently workable election system based on candidate and voter accountability, proven maturity, personal responsibility, and above all a sense of community that guides everyone’s decisions. Question: What do we have that they don’t? Answer: millions of voters who never met the candidates, don’t know anyone who knows them, have never been able to ask them a question and can only turn to the media for their information. Our voters must rely on their friends’ and families’ opinions and their ‘gut’ to choose who will lead them.

I’m not advocating we trade in our ipads for an ispear or pick up and move to the rain forest. I am suggesting that when the low or uninformed among us have just as much sway as the well-informed , those of us who are better informed have an obligation to bring the others up to speed. By the way, the tribe chose Candidate ‘C’ as their new chief.

- Editor

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