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As I have noted before, I tend to avoid politics as a primary focus of my writing. But this last Ontario election worries me quite a lot.

My preferred candidate did not win, but that’s not what worries me. My preferred party is not the Ontario PC party, but that’s not what worries me. Doug Ford would not be my choice for premier, but that’s not worries me either.

What worries me is the number 43%. That’s the estimated voter turnout for the election, according to several sources. The exact number is not yet available, but all sources reported that this was the lowest turnout in history.

What worries me is that most of reporting on the election focused on how most voters were apathetic and didn’t like any of the candidates. Many saw all of the candidates as equally bad, and saw no one they were interested in voting for.

I spent a bit of time trying to decide whether this was an example of a false dichotomy, a false equivalence, or the Nirvana Fallacy, before deciding that it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that voting is one of the essential parts of a democratic society, and apathy is very dangerous for democracy.

The image above is a bust of Plato, who was arguably the “founder” of Western political philosophy. While he had a rather dim view of democracy (at least in the Athenian sense) and proposed the rule of “philosopher kings”, he was the earliest that I found warning about the danger of apathy.

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

Sadly, though, this appears to be a misquote or mis-translation of a passage from the Republic, which seems to refer to the motivations of a “decent” man to rule.

“for they are not covetous of honor. So there must be imposed some compulsion and penalty to constrain them to rule if they are to consent to hold office. That is perhaps why to seek office oneself and not await compulsion is thought disgraceful. But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule."

The (misquoted) point remains valid, though, and I found several other expressions of it. The most “pithy” is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

“If They Turn Their Backs To the Fire, and Get Scorched in the Rear, They’ll Find They Have Got To ‘Sit’ on the ‘Blister’!”

Another is attributed to Noam Chomsky. Perhaps more specifically relevant to the current day, but somewhat less quotable.

“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”

And then there’s another apparent misquote of Jane Goodall, which states that “The greatest danger to our future is apathy”, but is actually incomplete. The complete quote is more specific:

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy for endangered species”

Back to the original point, though, if all options were equally “good” and each voter were merely selecting their preference, not voting might be a reasonable option. In the real world, however, the options are not equally “good”, the parties are not equally “good”, and our votes are vitally important.

Even if there are no candidates you “like”, there are certain to be policies or candidates that you dislike. Political parties often try to set up false equivalences to get voters to believe that their votes don’t matter, but this is almost always a strategy to “suppress” voting in the opposing party.

Take, as an example, the 2016 US election. A very strongly-promoted message was that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were roughly equivalent candidates. Trump might be “bad”, but Clinton was “bad” also. This was a classic “false equivalence”, as Donald Trump was a totally unqualified “businessman” and “reality-show host” with no experience or expertise (or apparent interest) in public service, while Hillary Clinton was arguably the most qualified presidential candidate ever to run.

This message was intended to suppress Democratic voter turnout, and it worked. Many voters apparently believed that, since there was no candidate they “liked”, there was no candidate worth voting for.

In a better world, we’d be trying to decide between “good” and “better”, or between “acceptable” and “more acceptable”, but in the real world, we sometimes have to decide between “bad” and “worse”. Even if there is no candidate you are enthusiastic about voting for, there is certain to be a candidate you are enthusiastic about voting against.

I could discuss improving our current “first past the post” voting system, or go into more detail about strategic voting, but perhaps another time.

For now, just vote. If there isn’t a candidate you “like”, find the one you dislike most and vote against that person.

Just vote!



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