Friday, November 25, 2011

Knowledge and Franchise

Attention Americans: you are disenfranchised by your own ignorance. Sure, technically everyone (well, almost everyone) in America has the right to vote, but the idea that this vote belongs to you and is cast by you as a free exercise of your will is an illusion. The very fact of Americans collective ignorance is a de facto relinquishing of the vote to people who have, whether themselves ignorant or not, purport to be the possessors of authoritative knowledge. In the words of Stephen Prothero:

Few Americans are able to challenge claims made by politicians or pundits about Islam’s place in the war on terrorism or what the Bible says about homosexuality. This ignorance imperils our public life, putting citizens in the thrall of talking heads and effectively transferring power from the third estate (the people) to the fourth (the press).

Prothero writes here specifically of religious ignorance, but medical and economic ignorance play their part as well. In accepting ignorance as a necessary evil in our busy pursuit of the American dream, we defer judgement to those who we assume are more knowledgable than we. In reality, the electoral process boils down to little more than a contest between various groups of talking heads to see who can convince the largest mass of ignorant viewers that they are best informed. In the words of E. D. Hirsch, "the right to vote is meaningless if a citizen is disenfranchised by illiteracy or semiliteracy.”

For Christians, my advice is always simply not to vote, not because you are ignorant but because you are keenly aware that there is no participation in the political process which does not involve gross violations of the Christian ethos. To those who are not Christians, or to those Christians who insist on voting, I can only hope that you will make an effort to learn your religion from theologians, your economics from economists, and your medicine from doctors (and not, might I add, from Dr. Ron Paul or Dr. Sanjay Gupta, but from less obviously partisan physicians). Or, as James Madison put it, "A people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

No comments:

Post a Comment