Election Fever

I had two passing thoughts on elections while watching the recent Ontario municipal elections that I thought might be worthy of a little post.

First, I know all the criticisms of democracy from Moldbug and others. Let’s just take all of them as given. I’d like to talk about the positives. One of the major positive aspects of democracy that I recently read about in The Elephant in the Brain (book review forthcoming) is that elections act sort of like a placebo. Even if your individual vote won’t do anything meaningful (it won’t), you still feel better for having done something. This effect has its drawbacks, specifically that it makes people less likely to feel the need to do something that would actually help their situation. Nevertheless, this is something that makes people feel better.

Similarly, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon on election days. While voting is open, and after the polls close but before the results start rolling in, there’s always a wonderful, hopeful energy in the air. Both sides think there’s a good chance their team will win, so for a brief period, no one is angry. Before the voting starts, both sides are fighting tooth and nail for every vote. After the results come in, the losers are angry, and the winners are gloating. But for that brief period between those two, there is a lovely peaceful calm. I cherish those moments, the energy they contain feels like what an actually harmonious society would experience every day.

My other, related observation comes from reading Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. There are several stories in Lives that make clear that there are worse things than voting. Many of the stories that Plutarch chronicles involve the deposing of “tyrants.” What the populace does to those tyrants (and their families) after they’ve been deposed is truly horrifying. Rape, torture, murder, you name it, the tyrants had that done to them. What this made me realize is that, even in highly regarded classical civilizations like the Greeks and Romans, mob violence is swift, brutal, and terrifying. If a mob believes that you are a bad person, there is nothing they won’t do to you. With that in mind, maybe having a placebo effect making people think they’re doing something without needing to resort to mob violence isn’t so bad. I would certainly prefer to be voted out of office than to be torn limb from limb after watching my wife and daughters raped and murdered. Maybe that’s just me though.

Have fun voting in the midterms America!

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