[EM] Sociological issues of elections

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km_elmet at t-online.de
Fri Oct 4 01:19:51 PDT 2013

On 09/12/2013 07:08 PM, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
> Warning: long!

I didn't read it in detail because it was so long, but the impression I 
got from the first part, and forgive me if this sounds like a twisted 
caricature, was something that would sound like this if applied to the 
two-party system:

"The people could change the two-party system if they desired to do so 
and voted accordingly. They don't, so clearly they are in favor of the 
two-party system."

But barriers don't have to be absolute, and to change the two-party 
system requires great coordination. (One could even argue that the 
parties will place themselves just on the inside - be just ever so 
slightly better than trying to upset the system - so that no such plan 
of upset gains sufficient force.)

Similarly, to say that "if people don't take the risk of expressing 
their views even when there's a bias against them, then they weren't 
dedicated enough" is risky because it's not verifiable. It makes a 
judgement on what "dedicated enough" means, and seems to me to say that 
the existence of barriers is not such a problem because the truly 
dedicated will ignore them anyway.

Sure. Given enough bad treatment, even people of a dictatorship will 
unite in revolution. But the system of dictatorship can do a lot of 
damage before that happens: the barrier to participation, though not 
absolute (as revolutions have shown) deters change very effectively up 
until it breaks.

Of course, I also know that to go to the other extreme will produce an 
absurdity. If you were to say that people are being excluded because the 
political process doesn't pluck their thoughts directly from their 
minds, you'd invite ridicule. But the problem is that a response of the 
type "X chose not to challenge the barriers because he wasn't dedicated 
enough" says nothing about whether the barriers are a good thing. It 
says nothing about whether X should just be more brave or whether small 
towns can degenerate into, to crib a term, a "dictatorship of the 

And now that I think about it, there's a similar problem with the idea 
that low turnout is a good thing[2]. Obviously one can make ballot 
access easier, or get out the vote, or any number of similar things to 
raise turnout. But if turnout is a matter of people expressing their 
utility, then making voting too easy will dilute that utility 
information - in the extreme, making voting mandatory would remove it 
altogether. But then the question is: what is the optimal level of 
difficulty? We can't know, from the argument itself, whether the optimal 
level would be near-mandatory voting or if it would be having the 
polling places pretty much inaccessible so that only the truly dedicated 
can influence the election. It could be anywhere between those points, 
and without further information, we have no way of knowing when we've 
gone too far. The picture becomes even more murky once we remember that 
voting is instrumentally (game-theoretically) pointless.

Also, I've been very busy and probably will be, too, so it may be some 
time before I reply again.


[1] As a Scandinavian, I could point at Jante, and more specifically at 
the "rural beast" (bygdedyret). Other nations have their own concepts: 
tall poppy syndrome, crab-bucket syndrome, deru kugi wa utareru, etc. 
Though less specific than the rural beast, all of these suggest that it 
is possible for a small town to become collectively oppressive. But I 
have indirectly raised that concern in the past, and I think you replied 
by saying that if the town truly is that poisoned, there's nothing else 
that can be done but getting out. I suspect going to transparency at all 
costs will make collective oppression easier, however.

[2] As it happens, I'm not all that hostile to the idea, particularly 
not regarding runoffs. But the argument shares the weakness I have 

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