We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Low information voters

One new expression I have seen in recent months – ahead of and after last November’s US elections – is “low information voters”. It got my interest because it seems to be used, in the main, by right-of-centre commentators regarding what they assume are people who vote not by carefully weighing the policies and presumed philosophies of candidates such as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, but on trivia, such as whether a candidate looks or sounds “nice” or “nasty” or suchlike. Such voters, the argument goes, hardly watch any current affairs TV or read the serious parts of the media; they prefer game shows, talent shows, chat shows, and other dreck. And the assumption is that voters have chosen Barack Obama for largely trivial reasons. (This sort of way of explaining the issue is, needless to say, fraught with the risk that the person who makes it can end up sounding like a racist.)

One way of interpreting this is to suggest that such voters are more rational than the wielders of the term “low information voters” give them credit for. The voters may have figured out that policy will not change much regardless of whom they vote for, and so rather than spending their non-work hours fretting about fiscal cliffs, impending societal collapse and the affordability of the Welfare State, they watch junk, worry about trivia and don’t bother much with things such as defence policy or debt-to-GDP ratios.

The problem, though, is that even the “junk” can be saturated with statist undertones. Take the “celebrity culture” – all too often, a celeb who is held up as a figure of pity or ridicule might play the “victim” card and the narratives that infuse their lives often convey a sense of life in which people are not really responsible adults, or for that matter, youngsters who want to become adults. And so the daily diet of stuff conveyed to “low information voters” adds to the sort of culture in which support for Welfare States takes hold. (This is the sense in which obesity can be seen as a sort of Welfare State consequence, not an argument you tend to hear from the nanny-Left.)

One way to combat this is to stamp your feet and complain. That seems to have limited success. Another is to try and figure out how the sort of culture that might appeal to “low information voters” can be changed in ways that encourages a rather better set of outcomes. Take the huge popularity in the ‘States of people such as Oprah Winfrey. Say what you like about her shows, but anyone wanting to connect with the public should study her success. And that surely ought to include libertarians. Hence the importance, also, of making great movies and TV shows that are fun, diverting and also positive. Yes, we can bleat about the influence of “liberal Hollywood” and its non-US equivalents, but in this day and age, with a more fractured media and entertainment world, does it really make sense to despair?

Which is why, by the way, I think America suffered a grievous loss when Andrew Breitbart died last year. Because he understood this sort of issue instinctively. But America is a Protean place – and there plenty more like him, I am sure.

So on that positive note, a belated Happy New Year.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

51 comments to Low information voters

  • Another way of looking at it is that of a single defining issue which over-rides all else. Although it is difficult to for some parts of the media to accept, some Americans will not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black.

    Although I am not a US Citizen and therefore not part of Mr. Obama’s electorate, I would not have voted for him because of a single defining characteristic as well.

    I would not have voted for Mr. Obama because he is in thought, word and deed a Marxist – even if he has never read any of the classic works.

    All the minutiae that I am meant (by pundits) to consider as part of an overall decision is just froth-and-foam. In my book, Mr. Obama doesn’t even get to the starting gate.


  • TDK

    “low information voters”. It got my interest because it seems to be used, in the main, by right-of-centre commentators

    That particular phrase may well be right of centre but the technique of ascribing failure to gain agreement to “false consciousness” originates with the left, and one cannot read a single edition of the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman et al without finding article after article that rely upon it.

    For example, even though the vast majority of media articles discussing global warming lean to the warmist side, the public are apparently still misinformed by the handful of exceptions

  • So, we should target our content at people that watch dross?

  • “So, we should target our content at people that watch dross?”

    No, not ‘our’ content. But just as Samizdata and Guido do different things aimed at different targets, we are very much on the same side and want the same things to transpire… and so others ‘on our side’ should indeed target the ‘dross watchers’ because for better or worse,they also vote.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t care how clever or dumb Obama voters or Romney voters are. That’s not the problem.

    The problem is we have a society where “democracy” allows a group of people to trade away another person’s liberty without their permission.

  • Paul Marks

    There is plenty of evidence that American entertainment shows (and, increasingly, British ones also) have a political agenda. In the United States the change in FCC regulations in the early 1960s (effectively giving a small group of people at ABC, CBS and NBC a monopoly of television entertainment – by not allowing outside companies editorial control of shows they paid to put on television) gave the left a chance at power that they jumped at. And, alas, the leftist control of entertainment has become so ingrained that the arrival of Fox (entertainment – not news) changed nothing.

    So people who are not watching news and current affairs shows are not free from politics – on the contrary, they are getting intense (although covered) political messages. And it is a deliberate process – not some vague matter of the cultural “spirit of the age”.

    I suspect that only bankruptcy (economic and social) will change what Perry would call the “metacontext”.

    However, whether it will change it for good or ill – remains to be seen.

  • RRS

    Here we go again. We are back at the issues articulated by Walter Lippman, beginning with his Public Opinion of 1921 and as evolved through his Public Philosophy of 1955.

    Does anyone here really think the U S electorate has low information? That portion of the public which actually votes is deluged with information. The issue is one of processing the information and converting information into knowledge.

    If anything, there is too much “information.” So much so that those who vote actually have to block out great swathes of “noise,” and rely on other determinants for their actions.

    There are no longer any “trusted” sources of information. Every source is flawed.

    “Where mass opinion dominates government, there is a morbid derangement of the true functions of power.”

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    So, we should target our content at people that watch dross?

    No Simon, that is not what I am saying. The point is to understand – as Perry has made the point already – that a division of labour works best here (Adam Smith’s insight applies to the spread of ideas and tactics as much as it does to making stuff). There is the world of think tanks, of lobbyism, of academic treatises, newspaper columns, and the like. And then there is the sort of thing I am talking about this specific blog posting.

  • Jacob

    Both camps, (right, left, whatever) say the other is full of “low information voters”, or even dumb and neandertal ones. Both are right.
    This argument is pointless, it doesn’t get you anywhere.

    The world is what it is, most people are irrational… live with it.

  • Excellent analysis. And Breitbart was a BIG LOSS to the truth about western civilization today. I do not despair. Media is entering a new age. I spent 40 years working in the ‘old’ media always waiting for the chance to ‘really do something’. Sadly, the old media was the opposite of creative. A corrupt group of spoiled cronies flattering each other and being petty who owned the franchise and despised their audience.

  • In the last US presidential elections voter turnout was at 57%, if I am not mistaken. Which means that close to half of adult US citizens eligible to vote, did not. Who are all those people who didn’t bother to vote, and why did they not bother, I have no idea. I also don’t know how informed or misinformed they are, but I have my guesses, specifically regarding the dross-watchers. My guess is that some of them vote and some don’t. Those who don’t may be ‘low information’ types – they are ‘low information’ because they don’t care about being informed and so they probably don’t care about voting either. That also applies, I imagine, to at least some non-dross watchers who don’t vote. The dross-watchers who do vote though are, in my low-informed opinion, very well informed – which is to say, they know exactly on which side of the bread the butter is.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Jacob anticipated what I was going to say.
    The fact is, keeping up with the news doesn’t do you any good, if news that support your point of view make you feel warm inside, and news that undermine your point of view are rationalized away.

    By and large, I think that the only people who have an incentive to understand what is going on are (a) professional politicians and (b) foot voters such as myself.

  • hennesli

    People often talk of the left ‘capturing the culture’ through Hollywood, music, literature ect, as if there is some conspiracy to keep those of a conservative political persuasion out of the creative industries.
    While there may be some truth to this, the fact is that ‘the right’, with a few exceptions (matt Parker and Trey Stone, the Ramones, Clint Eastwood amongst others) is generally crap at culture.

  • Paul Marks


    “as if there is” – actually there is no doubt there is, there are several books on the subject (with recordings of the, in context, words of the Hollywood power people and television power people – boasting of how they use films and shows to push Progressive messges, and keep conservtive stories out).

    The right are “generally crap at culture” – perhaps, but it is not possible to be sure. As “right wing” script writers are very rarely given a chance.

    An interesting exception (crap or not crap – depending on your taste) was the Batman film of 2012 – that was written by two people who describe themselves as “moderate conservatives”.

    Which might as well be ultra Barry Goldwater supporters – by Hollywood standards.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa and Snorri.

    Perhaps a lot of people (in a nation of some 300 million people with a first-past-the-post election system) think “my vote is not going to make any difference – so why should I waste time doing background reseach, if I even vote at all?”

    Although I do not like that attitude – I do not think it can be called “irational” Jacob (sadly it is only too rational – it is “rational ignorance”).

  • Paul Marks

    RRS – as you know…..

    Walter Lippman (although he may have repented later) was part of the original Progressive (Woodrow Wilson) effort to brainwash (“educate”) the people with disinformation and distortions (and it was going on before World War One).

    And, of course, his books on the role of journalists in “educating” the public are still used in “Schools of Journalism” to this day.

    Although the “High Priesthood of the Fourth Estate” have got so bad (so blatent with their lies – and so stuck up, boring, with their language) that they may destroy themselves.

    I certainly hope they do.

    By the way – when Mr Lippman could have used his power for good, he failed to do so.

    I refer, of course, to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.

    W.L. choose not to campaign about it the 1930s – NOT to “educate the public”.

    Perhaps because he was of Jewish origin himself – and feared pointing fingers.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Well, here in Australia, we have compulsory voting. Actually, it is only compulsory attendance, as they can’t make you actually vote, and nothing stops you from not ticking any boxes, thus handing in a blank form. I don’t know how well informed the public is, but we always complain about the result, whatever it is.

  • Eric

    Glenn Reynolds was on about this for awhile. His idea was what conservatives ought to do is buy women’s magazines, because while 95% of their content is fluff, the other 5% nudges an entirely apolitical audience toward the “government is your daddy” position.

  • Laird

    In about 30-35 states there really is no point in voting most of the time. Those states is so heavily slanted either Republican or Democrat that the result is a foregone conclusion, and with our winner-take-all electoral system (in all but two states) the only point to voting is to “send a message”. Which, of course, is a wholly pointless gesture, as the political elites pointedly ignore or willfully misconstrue any such “messages” anyway. So unless you’re in one of those “swing” states staying home on election day is a perfectly rational decision. So I don’t know if it’s fair to characterize those non-voters as “low information”.

  • RRS

    P M,

    You may assure your staff that I am indeed familiar with the background of activities and opinions of Walter Lippman. To cite his articulation of the existence of particular issues in US society, it’s economics, politics and culture does not imply agreement with his characterization of those issues, nor with the solutions that occurred to him.

    His ability to articulate the issues in Western Civilization led to the Walter Lippman Colloquium that brought together thinkers who ultimately formed The Mount Pellerin Society.

    His concept that “Society” should be brought into alignment with, and adapted to economic developments totally ignored the fact that society and its economy evolved together out of the same circumstances.

    Lippman’s works are still worth reading (in my view) for their identification of issues that continue in our society and indicate the serious potential for decline (regardless of his views for addressing those issues). I have recently reread (3d time) The Good Society, not for the solutions suggested, but for the issues on which it focuses that are still with us and becoming more acute.

  • RRS

    I think the date of that Colloquium was 1938.

  • RogerC

    I’m in the situation Laird describes, having lived my entire adult life in one safe seat or another. Over the years I’ve voted in a number of different directions, or not voted at all, and every time the predicted candidate got in, whether I voted for, against, or abstained. It gets to be a very frustrating situation when you realise that, because of where you live, your vote, by itself, doesn’t count.

    There was also one election in my youth when every party managed to put a deal breaker into its manifesto, something which I felt I could not in good conscience vote for, which was (naturally) the one time I didn’t vote. That really brings home the fact that you’re voting against, not voting for. If I had lived in a marginal constituency (“swing state”, in US parlance) at the time then perhaps I might still have turned out, but as the seat was safe in any case I didn’t want to dignify the process by endorsing a candidate whose policies I detested, as I would have done no matter who I’d voted for.

    What I really want to see is a “none of the above” option. Even if all they had to do was count it and report the numbers, that would be enought to get me to turn out every time, as there would always be an effective protest vote, something which might at least embarrass the political class. If it had any actual force to it, that would be even better.

    Under the present system in the UK, if you live in a place where the outcome is so much of a foregone conclusion then simply casting your vote isn’t enough to have any chance of effecting change – and without such a chance, you’re a non-citizen. Advocacy’s your only possible route, working to change the minds of those around you. If you can do it without boring them to death, so much the better.

    All of which is why I have such contempt for those who blithely trot out the old canard, the idea that “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to an opinion”.

  • Runcie Balspune

    A better option than “none of the above” is to allow multiple votes (one vote per candidate per voter), this allows convienient voting strategies; you can have an “anyone but x” vote or an anti- vote (vote for all candidates except one), a generic “one wing” vote (only vote for candidates matching your general left/right persuation), and it also encourages independent or rebel candidates which can break the stranglehold of carpetbagging party politics.

    The voting system is what makes people naturally adopt a football team mentality, and the current political parties are keen to retain this state of affairs, any proposed changes to voting systems are sure to only strengthen party politics when what is actually needed is a return to the original ideologies of parliamentary representation, not a gravy train for serial liars, control freaks and attention whores.

  • Jacob

    Avoiding the waste of time of voting, or of keeping informed about politics is a perfectly rational behaviour.

    When I said people are mostly irrational I meant – they do vote based on much less that a cool headed analysis of the policies proposed by the candidates. They vote based on some superficial impression such “he’s a nice guy”. Women usually vote for the taller candidate, maybe men too. People like Napoleon, Israel’s Ben Gurion or Jordan’s King Hussein stand no chance in an American election.
    Maybe history experts could tell if there was ever a shorter than average American president, I con’t remember such a case. Must be that tall people are wiser…

  • Kevin B

    O.k. Democracy has failed. It’s been taken over by the party machines and is run for their benefit. The machines only takes notice of the voters around election time, and then only peripherally. Almost all the pressure on the parties is exerted by various forms of lobbying and the lobby groups, (NGOs, QUANGOs, charities, the media, academia etc.), are subject to entryism from the parties and are, increasingly, paid for from taxpayer funds one way or the other. The whole thing is an elitist circle jerk and we ain’t gonna get no satisfaction.

    So, what to do.

    Well we could wait for the inevitable collapse and then try and pick up the pieces, or we could try playing the game.

    First, every time a conversation, at work, down the pub, in the clubhouse, turns to politics, loudly berate all the parties and vociferously bemoan the dreadful mess they’ve all made of the country. Then, when talk turns to “Yeah, but what can you do, eh?” just say “Vote for a third party. Give them a fright. Shake up their cosy little world.”

    Do this repeatedly on any and all social occasions. Use social media, set up Facebook pages, whatever you can do.

    Second, if you get something going amongst your pals, start your own entryism. Take over your local party, then kick up a big stink when central office parachutes someone in. Do a Tea Party.

    It going to take work and time and the statists who oppose you are building their careers in the ruling elite so to them this kind of thing is a full time job, whereas you have other things to do. But the only other option is waiting for the collapse and trying to get a liberal society going in the wreckage.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t mean to be a sourpuss, but I utterly refuse to vote.

    I have a serious issue with the idea that Group A having 51 people in it to Group B’s 49 should confer any special rights and privileges on Group A.

    It’s completely immoral.

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob – I am not a great admirer of the three political figures you name.

    Still compared to Comrade Barack Obama……..


    Not voting (on principle) is a good idea – AS LONG AS no one else votes.

  • Paul Marks

    I am not in love with the “representation” idea.

    It is bad enough for (as JV says) 51 people to vote to rob (or otherwise abuse) 49 people. As Gough (back in the days when Oriel Oxford was a great centre of learning) said against Locke – even in the Middle Ages it was clearly understood that majority consent was not the same thing as individual consent.

    However, even this is better than the 51 people (or 51 million people) voting for politicians who then do……. without the voters having any idea that is what they are going to do.

    For example, if the German voters really wanted to exterminate the Jews – they should have voted on it (directly). Not voted for politicians and then (years afterwards) “well we had no idea he would do that”.

    “Representation” is a moral cop out. A way that people can vote for something whilst saying (even to themselves) that they are not voting for it.

  • Paul Marks

    RRS – I did say that you were aware of W.L.s opinions and activities. Howrever, I should have said so more clearly – my apologies.

    Alas! his late life (part) repentance, is not (as far as I know) taught in the Schools of Journalism and universities.

    Many Progressives repented in the New Deal years – at least in part.

    Even the famous Dean of the Harvard Law School (the man who had done more than anyone else in the United States to undermine the concepts of limited government and the rule of law) was, by the post World War II period, horrified – horrified by the decline of the principles of limited government and the rule of law.

  • The problem isn’t low information (rational ignorance) so much as lack of mental discipline, what Bryan Caplan calls “rational irrationality” in The Myth of the Rational Voter. Voters lack the incentive to think clearly for the same reason they lack the incentive to become well-informed, but the implications of lack of mental discipline are far worse than those of low information. Rational voters could work around the for low information problem. Actual voters do not. I recommend Caplan’s book.

  • @Runcie Balspune:
    The last time I got into an argument on voting systems at Samizdata, I got so riled up that I build some tabletop voting system demonstrators. I like Condorcet, Instant Runoff (not shown), and Approval Voting. I’m not a big fan of Cumulative Voting, or proportional (or semi-proportional) representation in general.

  • RRS


    Where the general public seeks to use, and generally accepts the use of, the mechanisms of governments for ideological, economic and personal objectives, thereby sanctioning the expansion of the functions of those governments, the impacts upon the nature of “representation” in a representative republican form should not come as a surprise.

    The nature of the “representation” we observe (and sometimes decry) reflects directly the objectives sought by the bulk of the population from the operations of governments.

  • Paul Marks


  • Jaded Voluntaryist


    Which is why I prefer to speak in terms of specifics rather than generalities. If you’re not very careful you can end up giving credence to the “corporate man” fallacy used by statists to justify their position. “Society” benefits from government, even if individuals (sometimes a great many) suffer as a consequence. But the thing I try to continually remind people is that there is no such thing as society (as an entity). “Society” is composed of individuals and it is contradictory when the statists imply that “society” can be made more free by making its constituent members less free.

    Usually I will argue that even if everyone everywhere wanted X to happen, why should this fact in and of itself confer the right upon the majority to forcibly impose X upon this specific human being right here, i.e. me (or you)?

    Given that this thought experiment embodies the impossible ideal of flawless democracy, if it can be clearly shown to be immoral then by definition all of the imperfect models of democracy found on Earth must also be immoral. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the majority want, even if there were 59,999,999 in favour and only one against.

    Their numbers do not inherently confer rights upon them beyond the obvious “law of the jungle” advantage of numbers which democracy claims to save us from.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so J.V.

    Society (civil society) is the web of civil (voluntary) interactions between individuals and voluntary groups – there is no such “thing” (enity) as society, with a collective will of its own (like some evil spirit).

    However, when Mrs Thatcher tried to explain that – the lady had loads of filth thrown at her (and still is).

    Because, of course, when collectivists use the word “society” they really mean STATE.

  • Midwesterner

    J V,

    I agree with you on the morality of majoritarianism, rule by the 51%. I disagree with you on voting – I support the right to self defense. I have no right to attack somebody with a weapon, but if I am attacked, I have the right to defend myself with the same or similar weapons. Democracy is being used by various mutations of collectivism as the battlefield in a war of conquest. Voters are the infantry in that war. They are conditioned by the schools and the media to fight for their own subjugation. For now, elections are a/the major battle front.

    Unilateral pacifism never survives.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Perhaps Midwesterner, but that seems akin to retaliatory carpet bombing.

    Democracy is a very indiscriminate weapon and by engaging with the system you help bring about outcomes with in all likelihood will end up harming people who have themselves done you no harm.

  • Midwesterner

    It depends on what you vote for. I vote for candidates like Ron Johnson and against candidates like Tammy Baldwin. I’ll take the chance on which way that split goes on hurting or helping people.

    Can you imagine the consequences of having two Baldwins and no Johnson? I think your blanket refusal to participate causes more harm to people than careful selective voting.

  • RRS

    @ J V

    “I try to continually remind people is that there is no such thing as society (as an entity). “Society” is composed of individuals and it is contradictory when the statists imply that “society” can be made more free by making its constituent members less free.”

    while I quite agree that “society is composed of individuals,” and that it is a contradiction to conclude that reducing the freedom of its constituent members increases the freedom of a society, it does seem to me that social orders, delineated by the relationships among their members, and by their members with their surroundings, do constitute “entities.”

    The delineations are probably the key to understanding the nature of the relationships, and hence the seemingly amorphous nature of the entity.

    The issues of dominations in certain (or specific) relationships within a particular social order are often determined by power rather than “right.” What is accepted as, or determined to be “right” within any social order (as distinguished from an exercise of power) is usually the result of the sufficiently commonly recognized, accepted and performed obligations of the members to one another. Many of those obligations calling for restraints or constraints on the part of one’s conduct in order to permit the free exercise of conduct by others.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Refusal to choose is also a choice. I’ve never been a big believer in harm reduction doctrine, but that’s maybe just me. If given a choice between a lesser and a greater evil I would take secret door #3 – I would refuse to choose. Evil is still evil be it big or small.

    “I want nothing to do with this” is almost always a perfectly reasonable response to any demand for action and I don’t think it reasonable to then say that I was complicit in the harm caused by the system I refused to participate in.

    To say otherwise is a bit like Homer Simpson when he says:

    Lisa, maybe if I’m part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions. Now where’s my giant foam cowboy hat and airhorn?

    Now that said, a person who has the capacity to act to save another and does not may legitimately be called a coward, but they are not the murderer. He still bears full responsibility for his conduct. I don’t think participatory democracy is that clear cut though, which is why I eschew it altogether.

    Ultimately the point is I don’t want to see my dream government elected or my dream society built. I want to mind my own business, associate with those who I wish to, avoid those who I don’t and generally make my way through life neither molesting nor being molested. I still haven’t got that part figured out…..

  • JV, I think it was Trotsky who said: ‘You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you’. That war Mid alludes to, it is very much interested in you. That secret door of yours leads back to the same room you thought you’d left – it’s just a matter of time. Only when you are eventually back in that same room and at that same table you thought you left and could ignore, you may find different players with different cards – or even a different game altogether, where participation is no longer optional.

    Now don’t get me wrong, refusing to vote can be an effective tactic – but it has to be that, i.e. a tactic in a war, most likely used in conjunction with other means. It is useless though as a means of escape from the war, which is what you seem to have been implying.

  • Paul Marks

    For a true 100% “Voluntarist” any government at all is wrong – because it is based on force and fear (nonvoluntarism).

    One can get such people to vote – if a clear choice between a bigger or smaller government is presented to them.

    However, the “alterative” of big government “compassionate” conservatives (such as George Walker Bush or John Major or David Cameron) so “turns off” voluntarists, that is is very hard to get then to vote again.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t think it’s a means of escape Alisa, I’ve still not got that figured out as I said. I just want nothing to do with “the system” and find the notion of trying to exert majority control over others highly distasteful. What I was expressing was my own personal preference rather than a coherent strategy to bring about a change.

    However, despite my objections to the very concept of representative democracy, if I thought there was someone worth voting for who would neuter the state then I might be willing to put my objections to one side and vote for them.

    Living as I do in NE Scotland, there is no such person. No vote I cast from here will ever make the slightest bit of difference. The candidates in all levels of election up here range from soft-left to hard-left. I tried voting UKIP at the EU elections a few years ago. There wasn’t much point.

    If there were some Ron/Rand Pauls or some Herman Cain’s to vote for then perhaps I would view things differently.

    Although all this talk of “You don’t vote for someone, you vote against them” got me thinking about a way to improve democracy (such as it is).

    How about if all elections had 2 questions instead of one “Should we re-elect Mr. X? and if no, Who should replace him?”.

    That seems like a good way to ensure every single election was a total bloodbath of all but the most popular politicians, and that can only be a good thing. If the pols were fighting among themselves, they’d have less time left for me….

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Paul I would generally agree with what you say. Coming from a Voluntaryist position (which may or may not be the same as Voluntarist depending on who you ask), it is hard to conceive of any form of government which would please me.

    Not impossible though.

    Some form of night watchmen government (it doesn’t have to be a democracy) governed by an inviolable constitution which cannot be amended and which clearly defines their sole task as protecting life, liberty and property, and expressly forbidden from expanding its remit – kept in check by fear of the civilian militia….

    Something like that would suit me just fine.

  • Yes, JV, you did mention not having it figured out yet – so consider my comment an attempt to help:-) And like I said, the refusal to vote is only problematic in my view depending on the reasons for the refusal.

  • Paul Marks

    Alas that alternative is not on offer J.V.

    But if the alternatives were a smaller government (lower taxes, less regualtions and so on) against bigger (indeed totalitarian) government, I think you would vote.

    The problem is that after SO MANY BETRAYALS it would be very hard to win over your trust again.

    It is like a Congressman or a Senator or the United States (or an MP in Britain) making a wonderful speech about how much they want to fight big government – with the tears rolling down their face (or whatever).

    Then one finds they voted FOR TARP (the bank bailouts), FOR the auto company bailouts, FOR the recent tax increaes (and on and on).

    One is tempted to say.

    “Spare me your speeches – till your DEEDS match your words, I am just not interested”.

  • Midwesterner

    J V,

    I think I pick up on the specific moral issue you are facing. It is one that I wrestled with for some time before resolving. When one is attacked by a collectivist entity, then any part of the collectivist entity is morally burdened to share the costs of defending it.

    If you are attacked by a feral animal, you don’t confine yourself to counter attacks and defenses against just its teeth and claws, you justly attempt to disable its body as well. Even though the legs themselves are not doing you any harm, they support and launch the teeth and claws against you.

    An individual defending themselves against a collective entity must treat every unit of that collective entity as one cohesive unit. That is the nature of collectivism. If any unit in the collective wants out, they are welcome to join the cause of individual LLP. So long as they support the collective, they are part of a monolithic enemy of liberty.

    My recommendation to you, and to everybody else facing this question, is that you not project your individualism on to collectivists. They are collectivists by choice and they share in the spoils. Just as they do not recognize your individuality, you are not recognizing their collective identity.

    Just to be clear, morals must always trump utility. Utilitarianism can turn the best of intentions into the darkest of evils. I am speaking of the moral burden that members of a collective must bear. Even if only at the ballot box, they are allowing themselves to be agents of evil. Actions have consequences. Their actions are causing consequences so they are responsible for those consequences.

  • RRS

    Writing on a different point, Michael Polanyi gave an interesting example of a swarm of insects moving as a cloud across the field of vision with a seeming “sense of direction.” On closer inspection of that cloud it could be observed that the tiny creatures within it were all buzzing about in different, uncoordinated directions colliding with and avoiding one another, with no seeming common direction. Still despite the randomness of the activity within it the cloud had a direction, albeit random and wavering.

    A social order will probably move much like the cloud of insects. Those that do not move within it, and thereby cause others to move, will possibly dropout, but the cloud will move and it will move because of the random individually directed actions of the members within the cloud. If not dropped out, the members will be moved along by the motions of others.

    The analogy is also thought to be applicable to molecular motion of contained gases.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Jacob: Maybe history experts could tell if there was ever a shorter than average American president…

    James Madison (1809-1817) – 5′ 4″

    Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) – 5′ 6″; known as “The Little Magician”.

    William McKinley (1897-1901) – 5′ 7″; twice defeated William Jennings Bryan, 5′ 11″.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Very good, Rich Rostrum!!! However, you did leave out a factor- what was the average height of a typical American at that time?
    We tend to think of Napoleon as short, but he was average for France. However, he insisted on tall guards around him, so he looked, next to them, to be short!

  • Jacob

    Thanks, Rich,
    Maybe the preferrence for tall men is a modern feature, introduced with the TV.