Friday, March 25, 2011
Too much knowledge is a bad thing
Polling has ruined democracy
There is a constant stream of statistics and data that flows over us, at all times, regarding just how well each party is doing in relation to the others. Conservatives gained 3 points. Liberals are down a percent. NDP are... well, does it really matter? Basically at any time we all have a pretty good idea just how popular each party is with the people. This is a bad thing, a very bad thing.
For all that we like to believe that we are an “intelligent species,” we are deluding ourselves. Part of the problem is that the creatures we compare ourselves to are animals. Dogs, apes, dolphins, and so on, and we always do way better in any tests than they do. Yay! We’re smart! But we made up the tests! Talk about species bias! Are they any questions about butt-sniffing, lit-picking, or blowhole maintenance? Is really isn’t that fair (or smart) to believe that we’re so clever just because we test well. But these tests are designed to measure intelligence, you say? Well, who defines what intelligence is? I suppose we do. So in other words, humans are geniuses because we have defined genius to be precisely that thing we possess that no one else has. At least we’re smart enough to have a phrase for what we do (circular logic) even if we’re not quite cunning enough to accept it as truth.
Because we’re not as smart and rational as we like to believe, we are suckers for polling. It’s like we get a small window to the future, knowing who’s going to win before the first vote has even been officially cast. What precisely is the point of a secret ballot when you get to see what everyone else has written down? It’s like those votes your teacher made you take in grade school for class president. Everyone had to put their head down and raise their hand when the teacher called out the name of the person they wanted elected. The theory was that no one looked, but I know for a fact that some kids were sneaking peeks. I know this because I was one of the peek-sneakers.
Knowing (or believing we know) the outcome changes what we do. Some of us are sheep, and want to be part of the majority. Some of us try to be “strategic,” and spend our vote where we think it will have the most impact. Some of us automatically go for the underdog. Some just don’t bother to vote, thinking there’s no point because the winner’s too far ahead. Many of us might change our minds without really even being aware of why we do it. Foreknowledge changes what is to come, and therefore renders the results invalid. Sure, it’s still technically a democracy, in that people are voting and the candidates that win the most votes are elected. But what I’m claiming is that the people they’re voting for aren’t necessarily the ones they actually want to have win. We’re just too easily swayed by public opinion.
It’s impossible to live in an isolation booth (unfortunately, the “Skinner box for humans” has been deemed unconstitutional). I just want to do away with the non-stop, formalized pre-election polling. Let’s just roll the dice for once, and see where they land. It just might surprise us.