Similar to my post on Brain space and real estate, this is a post not much related to my own general areas of research (when I’m researching). It is even less related to my research. It’s just an idea. There’s a bit of time stuff in it, but it’s mainly naive politics.
A. Proposal: Every important thing we vote on should have a statute of limitations, and be up for re-vote on a regular basis.
- When we vote, we vote for someone to do something (e.g., the referendum) or for someone (a politician) so that, when they can, they will do something. For example, we vote for the eighth referendum (in 1983) or for the 8th referendum to be repealed (in 2018).
- In most cases, we vote for something to happen that has future and/or long-lasting consequences (it might also happen only in the future but that’s a separate issue). For example, the 1983 vote forced many women to travel overseas for operations outlawed at home (with many other consequences besides). In most cases, we do not vote for something to happen right now with consequences that are only right now.
- Yet, in such initial votes (let us call them), many people who will at some time be capable of voting and on whom the consequences of such a vote fall — who will reap benefits or suffer woes — do not have the opportunity to vote. These are adults who are children now. For example, your two-year old daughter will grow up to be an adult. If a government is voted in today who sets certain policies about the environment, policies that have long-term effects stretching to her adulthood, then what happens to her is determined in part by these policies of your current government. People who are children now will have to live and act in the consequences of our present votes.
- This means what we are voting for is a society that is occupied by many adults who, currently, cannot vote for it.
- One way around this is to only vote for short-term, temporary actions with short-term, temporary consequences. Say you vote in a constitutional change: it only lasts, say, for a generation, e.g., eighteen years. Then everyone has to vote again for it. That way, for every action we vote on, our children do get to vote — in 18 years.
This may work for voting in governments. We certainly do it. Such votes have a time limit of about four or six years. However, some actions need longer than this to carry out or develop. For example, some environmental or social actions need decades to complete.
Perhaps in that case we do not vote for them. We only vote for things that take a short time to do, say, for the lifetime of our own lives. We vote as members of a kind of temporalised or presentist society. We are not concerned with the future beyond our own homes or lifetimes. To use a business term, the consequences of our votes and their resulting actions on the future beyond are externalities.
It’s just like the voting we do — it is a vote for only what happens in our own country and not what happens in others. For example, to increase jobs, we vote to sell warplanes to a foreign country, to invade a foreign country, or to stop refugees. It’s not like voting most people do — to develop ourselves as a humane society, concerned about the environment, we vote in a party that is fine with decreasing spurious and menial jobs, discourages materialism, welcomes refugees, and even tries to help them in their own country.
I’m sure this suits some people. They only care about life as they are living it and not about the future, and only want to vote on consequences that happen during their lifetime. It is, again, like being someone who only cares about life in their own country and not overseas, and only wanting to vote on consequences that happen in their own country, and not overseas.
B. Some Responses
- There will be consequences in the future beyond the voter’s life. If I vote in economic and environmental policies that make it easier for me to drive in my own car to work every day, then the consequence will be that there more petrol will be burned now.
- At some future point, there will be no petrol — not for someone like me, who wants to drive to work (but I never liked my kind of person anyway). However, there is also not enough petrol for, say, a hospital’s backup generator you terrible person you.
- Still, you’re free to vote for actions that only consider what happens now; that won’t change given this idea.
- However, not everyone only cares about what happens in their lifetime. They also care about the future beyond their lives. They care about things like their kids; they like to be remembered. Few people would feel warm and happy knowing that, in the future, they will be predominantly remembered with contempt.
- So, when they vote, they may vote with that in mind, for example, voting against the action that will make it easier to drive to work over future hospitals getting petrol (what a nice person they are! Oh. They own the hospital….).
C. Another question is: Should the vote that only considers the present have the same weight as the vote that considers the future?
That is, say we have two options: one has negative future consequences and positive present consequences; the other has positive present consequences, with no sense of or else only negative future consequences.
Which is a more important vote? Which has more value?
It’s not much point asking future people: for them, the future is the present. They need to ask that question about the still further future.
It’s not much point asking past people. They are either present people, and so also future people to their past selves. They are then in the same boat as us.
There might be a point about asking ourselves about past votes. Should the votes of, say, people in 1919, 1945, 1967, 1983, and 2011 have had less weight if it only considered their time than the votes that considered now?
Why I ask this is because, for votes that have more weight, we may then wish to give every generation a chance to vote on it. We may renew the social contract between us in society by acting to maintain or overturn our laws.
I’m aware there have been some terrible voting outcomes in the minds of many of my friends, especially those not in Ireland. The possibility of overturning old good votes may seem a dangerous idea. There are others that may worry current good votes — now sacrosanct — may get destroyed.
But I do not see how we can decide for the rest of time, and expect everyone us to simply obey and yet remain active political animals. We need to pass the responsibility of deciding for society to each generation. Voting is one way we enact our responsibilities. I struggle to see that it is bad to make the rules of our society something we explicitly uphold.
Just as this idea has nothing much to do with my research, it hasn’t much to do with my teaching. I’ve taught political philosophy, along with lots of other things I’m not expert on. However, my teaching focused on the history of the subject: Plato’s Republic, Libertarianism, Utilitarianism, etc. And I taught it through my own obsessions, of thinking about human beings as things. It seemed to me that different political systems think of humans as different kinds of thing, with different fundamental properties, capacities, and so on. So, for example, to a libertarian, humans are fundamentally free beings; to an Aristotlean, they are fundamentally reasonable; to a utilitarian, they are fundamentally happiness-seeking, pain-avoiding, desire-satisfying (I guess racists might think they are fundamentally race-loyal, or some other stupendously dumb thing). Each conception of a human being has different consequences for how one thinks society should be organised.
This has also got nothing to do with my personal life as it is currently. I do not have children, adopted or otherwise, and so am not a parent. I am not making decisions for future people who will remember me, with contempt or otherwise.
I guess that’s sort of relevant to my idea. My question is, however, more about what a vote is, rather than what a person is. A human may be desire-seeking, free, reasonable, etc… but it’s still a question of if how to spread votes among human beings. And how the weight of a vote relates to the responsibility and the consequence of a vote.
Finally, this question has nothing to do with Big Brother, Dragon’s Den, Atlantis’ Got Talent, or anything else in which the results of vote don’t actually matter.