Eliezer Yudkowsky wants us all to think more rationally, and is involved with various attempts to train people to do so, including the fascinating web site Less Wrong. A pet hypothesis of mine is that rational thinking leads inevitably to a desire for a smaller state. Evidence so far includes the Micklethwaitian observation that if you look around the world you find that people are better off when they are more free: an honest rationalist cannot fail to notice this. Additional evidence is Eliezer Yudkowsky, a man who spends his life trying to be as rational as possible and who apparently wants a smaller state.
Suppose that you happen to be socially liberal, fiscally conservative. Who would you vote for?
Or simplify it further: Suppose that you’re a voter who prefers a smaller, less expensive government – should you vote Republican or Democratic?
That is from his essay The Two-Party Swindle. It starts by noticing how, for probably evolutionary reasons, people like to divide themselves into us and them, which leads to sports team fandom. It goes on to point out that the fans of either team have far more in common with each other than with the players.
Why are professional football players better paid than truck drivers? Because the truck driver divides the world into Favorite-Team and Rival-Team. That’s what motivates him to buy the tickets and wear the T-Shirts. The whole money-making system would fall apart if people started seeing the world in terms of Professional Football Players versus Spectators.
And I’m not even objecting to professional football. Group identification is pretty much the service provided by football players, and since that service can be provided to many people simultaneously, salaries are naturally competitive. Fans pay for tickets voluntarily, and everyone knows the score.
It would be a very different matter if your beloved professional football players held over you the power of taxation and war, prison and death.
Indeed, I LOLed too. Politicians want you to support your favourite team in order that you see the other team, rather than the politicians, as the enemy. In the next essay, The American System and Misleading Labels, Yudkowsky strips away the abstraction of the American political system to identify where the power is, and show that it is very much not with the voters.
When I blur my eyes and look at the American system of democracy, I see that the three branches of government are the executive, the legislative, the judicial, the bureaucracy, the party structure, and the media. In the next tier down are second-ranked powers, such as “the rich” so often demonized by the foolish – the upper-upper class can exert influence, but they have little in the way of direct political control. Similarly with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, think tanks, traditional special interest groups, “big corporations”, lobbyists, the voters, foreign powers with a carrot or stick to offer the US, and so on.
Since voters have such a small share of the influence pie, Yudkowsky argues that the main benefit of living in a democracy is that in theory, if you got them angry enough, the voters could vote for a third party. It is fear of this hypothetical situation that keeps the politicians “too scared to act like historical kings and slaughter you on a whim”. I do think, though, that those in real power have worked around this somewhat by making changes in unpleasant directions small enough that the voters do not notice, or at least do not get angry enough.
All this is brought together in Stop Voting For Nicompoops, which argues (quoting Douglas Adams on voting for lizards along the way) that you should forget about the rhetoric of wasted votes and just vote for who you like.
Remember that this is not the ancestral environment, and that you won’t die if you aren’t on the winning side. Remember that the threat that voters as a class hold against politicians as a class is more important to democracy than your fights with other voters. Forget all the “game theory” that doesn’t take future incentives into account; real game theory is further-sighted, and besides, if you’re going to look at it that way, you might as well stay home. When you try to be clever, you usually end up playing the Politicians’ game.
Clear your mind of distractions…
And stop voting for nincompoops.
Update: There is a follow-up to this post.