On thinking traps in deciding who to vote for
This article appeared in August 2014, in Romanian, in Adevarul.ro
“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”Lao Tse
That’s what Lao Tse taught his disciples in the Tao Te Ching two and a half millennia ago. Meaning – in the brain, as in the house, it is better to clean up some things than to buy another ornament.
I started like this, with wisdom and some Oriental vibes, because the presidential elections are coming and I think it would be useful to be very rational – completely rational – when we vote.
It’s not easy to realize that you are about to vote irrationally. The brain protects its prejudices. People not only create post-factum rational justifications for choice-supportive bias, but, put in front of evidence that challenges their beliefs, they become even more convinced (backfire effect). A very recent study shows that people make mistakes even in math if the result does not match their political beliefs.
So, although there are many more ways to vote irrationally, I’ve put together an eight-point list of how I certainly won’t vote:
- The negative vote – we don’t like our candidate so much, but we’d do anything not to let X win the elections. Popular wisdom says to vote for the lesser of two evils, but the history of the last 25 years has shown that we need to be more careful who we vote for and not who we don’t vote for.
- The backstage vote – we are such big fans of X that we don’t even have to think before voting for him. Although fidelity and consistency are values on which successful marriages or careers are based, in a democracy it’s better to think twice and vote once.
- The vote for the head of household – we don’t elect our president as a future employee (because, after all, we pay him), but as a future boss who will tell us what to do. I agree that this nation needs leadership like air, but it seems to me that we first need to analyze what qualities should a country leader must have, and then what are the pros and cons of the other candidates. And even after we’ve chosen our leader, let’s not forget that our destinies lie in our own hands and we should be careful what steps we make and where the leader is leading us.
- The vote based on religion – in which we judge candidates by how and what kind of Christians they are. I know that the most important leaders of Romania were people with the fear of God, but today I don’t necessarily find a connection between faith and political competence. Not to mention it’s really hard to know what’s in a man’s heart. Bringing religion as a campaign theme is, as Andrei Pleşu says in the article “God as Campaign Leader”, “pure shamelessness”, and “faith displayed in a hypocritical and self-serving ways is much closer to blasphemy than unbelief”.
- The vote for the providential president – we expect the future leader to be like Ştefan, Cuza and Carol I, three in one. I somehow agree with Radu Magdin who wrote that we need a Shaolin president, but we must understand, on the one hand, the limits of presidential power, and on the other hand, we must not forget that there are no superhumans and that we must work with what we have.
- The vote for the president-prime minister – although this is not his role, we expect the future leader to make the economy grow, to create jobs and to increase salaries and pensions. Although the president appoints the prime minister and can publicly express his views on economic issues, the administration of the country is the government’s business. The president is, according to the Constitution, just a lever of control.
- The vote for a sharp tongue – we want the candidates to charm us with their speeches, to amuse us and to subtly ridicule their opponents. Obviously, a president must have charm, but we’re talking here about another class of eloquence, words that change times (“I have a dream”) or strengthen hearts (“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”).
- Voting as a slap in the face to the system – dissatisfied with the way democracy works in our country, we vote for the less preferred candidate, we spoil our vote, blank vote or we don’t vote at all. Even if we don’t resonate with the political class, protest votes or missing votes only makes it easier to manipulate the elections. For example: we have one thousand citizens with the right to vote and the elections are open. If the current mayor controls one hundred voters (family, acquaintances, friends and manipulated old people), that one hundred is enough to tip the scales if only three hundred people go to vote. On the other side, one hundred is almost insignificant if everyone (one thousand) votes.
I don’t have any miraculous expectations from the next president, but the future of this country, where I raise my children, depends on him / her. So, in the next election (and, in fact, in all future elections) I want us to be wiser and not smarter.