Discover more from Overcoming Bias
Imagine a “democracy” where citizens could technically vote for anyone, but where authorities strongly recommended particular candidates for each office, and those who voted for others were given extensive psychiatric treatment, out of concern for their welfare, and taken away from their jobs and families, out of concern for the welfare of others. Technically, this could make sense — maybe there really is always a clear best candidate, and only crazy folks would think otherwise.
But this situation could also easily describe strong repression, and it seems to dis voters by restricting their control. People like democracy in part because it raises their status, by making them seem in control. But if so, voter status must fall as that appearance of control is restricted by law — there is an essential tension between democracy and regulation that overrules voter beliefs.
While we have many kinds of regulations supported by many kinds of rationales, one very common rationale is bias, that people make bad choices, bad not just for society as a whole, but bad for each particular choosing person according to their own preferences, holding constant all other decisions. Such rationales are commonly offered regarding product safety, professional licensing, and financial regulations, and in legal and election procedures.
It may well be that many people do often make such mistakes, and that they are furthermore stubborn enough not to listen to advice telling them about their mistakes. So it might well require government force to keep folks from hurting themselves via unwise choices. But there is a real conflict between telling voters they are wise enough to run the government, and using force to keep them from acting on many of their beliefs.
Consider: which voters are in charge of the policies that keep voters from acting on their beliefs – can these two groups of voters really be the same? Yes, citizens may realize they are error-prone and intend to use government to keep them from making mistakes. But then voters would only need to be advised by the government of their mistakes, not forced to follow government advice. And voluntary deals with private orgs could achieve the same outcome. Yes perhaps a majority of voters tries to keep a minority of voters from their mistakes, but if so why is such force applied to all voters?
This tension becomes especially strong when voters are prevented by force from acting on their political beliefs. Consider legal limits on which candidates voters may elect to public office, limits on policies candidates may advocate, or limits on advisors voters may hear on candidates and policies. Such limits should detract from the status of being a voter in control of government – these limits seem to publicly declare that voters cannot be trusted on certain of their beliefs, and that the elites who set and maintain such limits (e.g., court judges) are the rightful higher-status rulers over such foolish lower-status voting rabble.
But what is clear to me may well not be clear to most voters. Voting is done in an especially thoughtless sort of far mode, where a great many contradictions remain unnoticed. But with time, this conflict may become more obvious – how then will voters resolve it, by demanding fewer limits on their actions, or by limiting the vote to a smaller subset of less obviously foolish citizens?