28 October 2010

Popularity ≠ Merit

Although it is obviously true in most other subjective fields that popularity is not equal to merit, most progressives try to deny the fact that what voters think they want is not necessarily what is best for them. Even suggesting that much is instantly dismissed as condescension and garners all manner of ad hominem responses (“Who are you to say what’s best,” etc.), since it casts doubt on the populist, bottom-up democratic fantasy common among progressives. Further, it is counter to the contiguous idea that the best judge of what is best for a given person is that given person her/himself, which is even more a part of progressive thought. However, to obliviously presume – whether for the sake of humility, conceptual respect, or democratic faith – that each eligible voter is equally informed, politically savvy, and capable of voting not only for the candidate that is best for her/himself, but for their greater society, does a greater disservice than considering otherwise. I will call the idea that every citizen of a democracy is equally aware of her/his political circumstance – candidates, issues, etc. – the Democratic Political Omnipotence Fallacy. It is a symptom of our individualistic culture that, in ascribing such independence and agency to individuals, we forget that people are varyingly able (or willing) to keep abreast of the political climate in which they cast a vote in a given election. Despite what people want to admit, it is clearly possible (likely) that many voters are changing the political climate with their vote while not knowing the likely implications of their political action, and this ignorant action can affect everyone negatively. Of course, I am not advocating the dismantling of democracy or the implementation of a more autocratic political scheme; I simply believe we should recognise this fact.

The reason I was prompted to write this is that progressives have lately been legitimising Ford’s mayoral election by saying such clichés as, “The people have spoken!” and concluding that the suburban rage that got him elected was justified. This interpretation ignores the existence of misinformation (e.g. the fallibility of the media), myopic interests, and countless other reasons political popularity isn’t always justified.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!

    I think this is a pretty insightful piece, but if I understand your argument correctly, I disagree with the notion that this is a (the) common sentiment among progressives.

    I think I'm a progressive sort, but I'm pretty sure that yes, a lot of people voted against their best interests.