By Jay Penny

Most Americans should not vote because they are misinformed, ignorant and irrational.

That’s the opinion of  Jason Brennan, an associate professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, who gave a recent lecture at Western Michigan University.

Dr. Jason Brennan. Used with permission from Gage Skidmore.

Dr. Jason Brennan. Used with permission from Gage Skidmore.“Knowing what they advocate does not tell you who to vote for,” Brennan said. “You actually have to know something about the likely effects of those policies and that requires significant social scientific knowledge.”

Many in the audience of 30 to 40 people were largely skeptical of Brennan’s position but appreciated the importance of informed citizens to a working democracy.

Kalamazoo City Commission Jack Urban felt that Brennan’s lecture was only partially serious.  Urban said that there were a number of points that have some merit, but stressed that from a psychological point of view he was way out of line.

“Voting gives one a sense of participation and a sense of being responsible for what happens on account of the election outcome,” Urban said.  “Even if the sense of participation is somewhat illusory, psychologically it’s still good for us.”

Urban said that if someone does not vote it is an act of bad faith to complain about officials or the government they direct. Urban also mentioned the harm that could happen to minority communities if they acted on that assumption.

“It’s been my observation that older African-Americans tend to be most diligent in being sure to vote,” Urban said. “They remember the struggle their generation went through to gain that right, so are not about to take it for granted.”

Urban and Western Michigan University student Sonja Allen said that it is important to vote in local elections were vote tallies can be quite small.

“Nationally, we put so much so much emphasis on the presidential election, but what have we thought about local and statewide,” Allen said.

Keagan Potts, a WMU graduate student in philosophy, read Brennan’s book, “The Ethics of Voting,” and said the book was much more daring than his WMU lecture about the American voting population.

“It seems to me that he points out a well-known problem, but doesn’t do much to propose a solution,” Potts said of the book.  “I know how difficult a problem it can be to solve, but most people seem to view democracy as repairable. Brennan clearly doesn’t think so.”

Jacinda Swanson, professor of political science at WMU, said she can certainly understand why people would be disillusioned with the system and pointed to examples such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as candidates, who are considered outsiders.  Swanson said that people in the university and the political science department feel very committed to teaching young people to vote and be good citizens.

“I think we are lucky to live in a democracy,” Swanson said.  “And I wish our democracy was healthier, but citizens have to take some responsibility, but it’s not easy, politicians spin.”

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