[EM] The meaning of a vote (or lack thereof)

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Tue Aug 30 22:02:29 PDT 2011

```Jameson, Jonathan and Fred,

Jameson Quinn wrote:
> ...all of which merely serve to minimize its practical importance,
> not to assail its mathematical validity.

I guess the critique is not aimed so much at the formal, mathematical
validity of the method, as its actual validity in the real world.  A
method that strips the individual voter of power in the election is
unfair, because it leaves her (or him) at the mercy of political
forces that she is ill equipped to deal with.  She ought to have a
degree of influence over the course and outcome of the election.  It
is her right, and it is the responsibility of the election method
above all to deliver on it.

Not only is the individual voter placed at the mercy of forces over
which she has little control, but society as a whole is compromised
because of this.  We can argue that the individual has important
contributions to make to politics, ones that are sorely needed today.
Those other actors who have taken her place on the political stage are
not quite competent in that role.

> I've been trying to avoid entering this sub-thread, as I think it's
> mostly angels-on-pinheads stuff, but if you actually have a point, I
> suggest you make it, rather than portentiously musing on how it
> depends on a supposedly-proven, but still-debated claim.

I feel that the point (see above) is supported by the argument and
discussion.  Several list members have attempted to detect some trace
of utility in the election method with regard to the individual voter.
So far, nothing was detected save a 1 in 10,000 year event at which
the vote count lands on a mathematical cusp and every single vote is
suddenly pregnant with meaning.  Obviously that is insufficient for
real people in the real world.  With nothing else to deflect the
critique, I think the point must begin to stick.

Jonathan Lundell wrote:
> The usual argument that I've seen is that the expected utility of
> casting a vote (the utility of the result you favor, however you
> might measure that, times the probability that your vote will be
> decisive) is so small (because the probability is small) that the
> cost of casting the vote outweighs its utility.
>
> The validity of the argument depends on the election, of course. In
> a small enough voting body, it's not true. OTOH, it's obviously true
> for a US presidential voter in California, who we can safely assert
> will never be decisive in a presidential election. ...

Then too, people are naturally equipped to handle social interactions
at small scales.  At the very smallest, they don't even need a formal
method.  It's only at the larger scales where formalisms are
indispensible that it becomes possible for people to fall through the
cracks of a poorly designed method - or rather, one that's been
outmoded and had its weaknesses exploited - and be left defenceless.

> ... (And yet voters cast presidential votes in California.)

We know that many a voter is unsatisfied with demcocracy, and must
suspect at times that she (or he) is being cheated of its promise.
Maybe she points to politicians in the capital as the "culprits", but
rarely does she point to the electoral method that is her one and only
connection with that democracy.  Somehow she places trust in a narrow
bridge that now appears to be unworthy of it.

Fred Gohlke wrote:
> Your reference to the experts made me think of Will Durant's
> observations in the preface to the second edition of The Story of
> Philosophy[pp v, vi]:
>
>    "... philosophy itself, which had once summoned all sciences to
>     its aid in making a coherent image of the world and an alluring
>     picture of the good, found its task of coordination too
>     stupendous for its courage, ran away from all these battlefronts
>     of truth, and hid itself in recondite and narrow lanes, timidly
>     secure from the issues and responsibilities of life."
>
> and
>
>    "... The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from his
>     vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his
>     nose.  Perspective was lost.  "Facts" replaced understanding;
>     and knowledge, split into a thousand isolated fragments, no
>     longer generated wisdom.  Every science, and every branch of
>     philosophy, developed a technical terminology intelligible only
>     to its exclusive devotees; ..."
>
> Let us hope we can find a tiny chink in this formidable armor so we
> can consider the purpose of Electoral Methods as well as the
> mechanics.

I like those quotes :-) thank you for looking them up.  They remind me
of an analogy I once read (I couldn't find the source), that expert
cultures and societal fragmentation are the "wound" of modernity, and
that modernity, like the spear in Parsifal, is the only cure for it.
Today we have 18th century electoral methods and 19th century mass
parties.  Together they seem to be robbing the individual of
autonomous choice.  Rousseau's opening argument in the Social Contract
still rings true: "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains."

The social contract, or principles of political right.  1762.