When it comes to politics, most of us don’t have a clue.
To understand why voting for X or against Y is bad, we need to have an informed opinion. But here’s the thing. It’s hard work.
Take a look at what you must do to have an informed opinion on something as complex and obscure as politics:
- Understand the historical, geopolitical and economic underpinnings of the issues at play.
- Explore all sides of the issue in great depth. Especially the side opposite to the one you favour.
- Understand why you maintain your position, and why people argue against the position you hold.
- Uncover how fear and ignorance are tainting people’s views.
- See how the media is framing the debate and how that framing is influencing your own and other’s perspectives.
- Trace out the higher order effects of both side’s arguments. Which means looking ten, twenty, fifty years into the future to see how each scenario could play out.
I could go on. But you get the point. Having an informed opinion requires a significant investment of time and energy. Which is why no one does it.
So if we’re all uninformed and not willing to put in the effort to become informed, what can we do?
Here’s six strategies to help you vote without the aid of an informed opinion.
A) BY MAJORITY
If you think that people are sensible, intelligent and wise, find out what everyone else is doing and do the same.
If you think the masses are ignorant and foolish, you can do the opposite of what they propose. Do as Mark Twain said: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
B) ASK A SMART FRIEND
This is self explanatory.
C) ASK A ROLE MODEL/SMART PERSON
If you don’t have a smart friend, you can ask someone you look up to. Perhaps a teacher or an authority figure in your life. And if you can’t ask because you don’t have an open line of communication? Try to imagine what they would do. Or look for evidence of their position in the media.
Can’t ask and not willing to use your imagination? Then you can just take the same position as someone who is way smarter than you.
But there’s a caveat:
It’s hard to figure out who is smart, and who just appears to be smart.
D) BY PEER GROUP
Do what your everyone else in your social circle is doing. Or what everyone at your work is doing. Or what everyone in your class is doing.
E) LEAST WORST > BEST
Most debates centre around the upside. The benefit to be had from this or that position. But most of the time, it’s just speculation. Nobody can predict the future.
In politics, you’re betting on the future. And to do that well, you have to focus on mitigating risk rather than maximising the reward.
The logic behind this is that it’s easier to sense risk than it is to determine gain. There are a million ways to benefit. But typically, there are many fewer ways to screw a country or an economy up.
So rather than picking the best option, pick what appears to be the least worst.
F) THE OPPOSITE OF IDIOT
Find an idiot. Ask them what they think and how they’re going to vote. Then do the opposite.
Ever heard of illusory superiority? It’s “a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others.”
Everyone thinks they are better drivers than they really are. More attractive than they really are. And in the political arena, we all think our opinion is more accurate than it really is.
But the reality is different.
We’re uninformed because we’re unwilling to do the work required to have an opinion. We’re misinformed by all the propaganda, spin and biased information that we consume. And any sound knowledge we do have is skewed by the biases and prejudices we carry round in our skull.
I read somewhere that scientific integrity is not the elimination of bias, but the frank admission of it. When it comes to politics, most of us don’t know what the hell is going on.
We should remember that as we play our part in the democratic process.