Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We Stand Together, Like It or Not

My mother used to tell me "if you don't vote, you can't complain." When I was younger, I remember nodding in agreement. Now, as an avid nonvoter, I failure to understand her arguments. You could say I've "learned" less over the years if you consider such reasoning knowledge. But it's not.

The fallacy assumes defection is a practical option. If three people vote to go see a movie, and one of them offers no opinion, that person still chooses to see what the others decide. We all recognize if silent Carl goes to High School Musical 3 with his friends, he is in little position to complain about which movie to see. If he didn't want to see it, why did he go? The same could be said of those voters who went along with the decision. If they wanted to see Saw V, we would wonder why they followed the majority.

But our process isn't like seeing a movie. It's more like being trapped in a plane and people voting on the destination. If the choices are between Alaska and the Yukon, and the majority votes for Alaska, we can understand why the Yukoners complain. But we can also understand why those that like the tropics, and don't bother choosing between two bad choices, complain. We would only be surprised if the Alaskaners protested the result once we arrived.

It turns out those with the least credibility to complain are those that voted for the winner, which is usually most of the voters.


cuprite said...

How is seeing the movie any different from the plane analogy, other than the fact that the plane literally has people trapped, and the final outcome is somewhat more severe. You know I think that the only people in either situation who would not say anything are those who either did not care about the destination/were just going to the movies to hang out with their friends, or the person who thinks that they have not influence on the plane/knows that their friends won't listen to them. In that latter case, I think that those people should still try to make their opinion heard, if only so that the majority making the decision at least becomes aware that they exist, and there is in fact a possibility for other options.

David said...

That's a crucial difference: people on the plane don't get to opt out. The "get your opinion heard" argument is also nonsensical. You write your preference on a paper and hand it in. No one knows it was you and no one will notice if you vote or not.

Voting can actually be detrimental to your goals in this case. It implicitly validates a system where the majority gets to lord over the minority.