Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The "right" to vote

I’ve said it before: democracy just doesn’t work.

A classic line from the Simpson’s news reporter and social commentator Kent Brockman, it’s something I completely agree with. (A poli-sci friend of mine disagrees completely. He says democracy works perfectly, as it creates the illusion of control for the masses that prevents any serious revolt. With such cynical/realistic views, it’s no surprise we’re friends.)
Basically democracy gives power to as many people as possible. There’s a minimum voting age but otherwise, not too many restrictions. You don’t have to be a landowner, wealthy, white, or male, the common ways we have historically limited the right to vote. It’s pretty easy to vote, and judging from recent voter turnout numbers, pretty easy NOT to vote, too. Is that a good thing?
For those who’ve read the classic Heinlein novel Starship Troopers, there’s a character that contends “something given has no value.” Basically, if you got it for free, it’s worth what you paid for it. I’m not sure the world at large would agree, but there’s no doubt that we assign a greater value to the things we’ve personally earned. Your first paycheque, your first apartment, a car you paid for (or maybe fixed up), a crappy dog house you made yourself, whatever it is, your personally-assigned value for it tends to be higher if you a) wanted it, and b) had to struggle to get it. (As anecdotal evidence, consider the classic rich kid. Does he really care about his many possessions as much as you value your own?)
If this theory is true, voting shouldn’t be a right. It should be a privilege. You should have to earn it. A citizenship test comes to mind, the same way you have to jump through some hoops and show at least mild competence before they let you behind the wheel of a car. How many of us understand how our government actually works? Who’s your MP? Your MLA? Your councillor?
How many people understand the close relationship between education funding and societal wealth? Not many, to judge by the way they rail about property taxes and school budgets. How clear is our understanding of parliamentary procedure? How much value do we place on the rules that define our nation? All of this stuff should be second nature to a citizen before he/she is allowed to vote. Furthermore, you should have to APPLY for the vote, not have it handed to you. If you don’t want to vote, don’t.
Obviously this system, like all others, benefits the wealthy more than the poor. In spite of our (relatively sad) efforts, education is still a luxury item, which means only the rich can afford as much of it as they want. However, since the rich can sway the opinions of the masses during election time anyway, this would actually mean MORE work for them rather than less. After all, they can just hire mud-slinging consultants to smear political opponents, but they can’t HIRE someone to take the test for them. Even with tutors, they’d still have to actually learn this stuff.
Once this is in place, there would be two benefits. First, our government, right or wrong, would be chosen by interested, engaged, and educated individuals. Second, and most important, we would have a comprehensive list of those Canadians who have actually earned the right to complain about the way things work! Everyone else would be legally required to shut their cake-holes.
That’s the world I someday want to live in.

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