An Election of Greedy, Self-Interested Voters

The right accuses the left of winning votes by inciting populist interest in government handouts.

The left accuses the right of winning votes by inciting populist interest in tax reductions.

Ever notice that? Both sides accuse the other side of appealing to citizens’ self-centred interests. That is: they accuse the other side of abetting the selfishness of the masses to further their own political ends. Therefore, regardless of which ‘side’ one is on, the ‘other side’ appears to be populist, greedy, and selfish.

But wait… isn’t your political ideology inherently self-serving? Your politics serve your convictions, your conscience, your ethics, your beliefs, your instincts, your rationality, and factors that you believe affect your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your community. Like you, everyone else votes exactly for whatever makes the most sense to them, given what they know, who they trust, what they have been told, and how they perceive their situation.

In other words, they are exactly like you.

So if you think someone else is voting ‘selfishly’, rest assured that they probably think exactly the same thing about you. (Greedy conservatives just want a tax cut. Greedy liberals just want the government to build them stuff. Greed, greed, greed! Whoever’s not on our side is only in politics for some twisted egomaniacal payoff! Damn them and their appeals to the self-interested mob: they’ll say anything to get elected and their sheep will surely follow them.)

Let’s try a different perspective.

If you vote, you have already disclosed your conviction that it is better to participate than not to participate in your democracy: you are exercised to vote precisely because you perceive that it is in your interest to vote. If you honestly thought voting did not matter to you or relate to what you valued, you would not do it. There would be absolutely no reason to do so. Therefore, to fixate on the ‘selfishness’ and ‘self-serving’ agenda of your opponents is, if nothing else, kind of hypocritical.

I vote because I believe in something. That is, I vote because I have some extremely self-serving beliefs — you know, ideas about things like fairness and justice. But just because someone casts their ballot for a different candidate does not automatically mean they believe that cheating and corruption are principled values! No, it probably means we have some fundamentally different perspectives on the nature of fairness and justice. To accuse one another of rampant selfishness — to describe one another as the epitome of dishonesty and corruption — leads to nothing productive. A much more interesting conversation would be, say, to discuss how we define and perceive fairness and justice… and why we are so passionately interested in them to begin with.

What’s my point? To flippantly brush aside the beliefs of people who vote ‘against’ me in an election — to reduce their act of civic participation into nothing more an act of populist, self-serving greed — accomplishes nothing more than turning up the volume in my own self-righteous echo chamber.

But the reverb feels so good.

“Oh, how validating it is to know that I stand for truth and integrity amidst a population so easily swayed by little morsels to tempt their pitiful self-interest…”

Says everyone.

4 thoughts on “An Election of Greedy, Self-Interested Voters

  1. The self-interest doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the tendency to fixate on groups that are “not like us” in some way (just about any difference will do, real or imagined) to scapegoat, denigrate and punish.

  2. I’m not sure about this self-interest thing. There is self interest as in we want our ideals to prevail through a political choice, but then there’s self interest as in I want what will benefit me and my family regardless of the cost to others. The first kind of self interest seems to be the kind talked about in this article, the second kind seems to fall squarely on the Milton Freidman type of political economy where if we all act ‘selfishly’ then we will all get what we need and there will be little need for government, beyond the protection of private property. I don’t think I’m being ideological here, but the self-interest of the Milton Freidman type seems to be what underlies the current iteration of Conservative politics which has been appears to increase inequality and social injustices. A self interest that seeks to build equality and social justice (even at the cost of one’s own social and economic position) is simply at odds with a self-interest that doesn’t have a vision beyond one’s own pay cheque and pension plan.

    Therefore the statement “Whoever’s not on our side is only in politics for some twisted egomaniacal payoff!” to my mind does require us to look at why people will vote for a party, and some positions are simply more ‘egomaniacal’ than others. To reject this would assume that voting for a party who seeks equality through wealth redistribution (even when it means that I will have less money in my bank at the end of the day and will have to take a couple less all inclusive vacations or pass by installing my new granite counter top) is as egomaniacal as an already very wealthy person voting for more income tax breaks or a decrease in social benefits to the poor. It seems that the calculus is pretty clear and that the latter position is clearly more egomaniacal and self-interested in the bad kind of way (selfish at the expense of others), than the first option, which represents a person willing to sacrifice some of their own comforts for the betterment of the community. If making such a point is considered “turning up the heat in my own self-righteous chamber” so be it, but there are in fact many voters who could care less about a conversation on justice and fairness if such a conversation will negatively effect their pocket books (short term or long term).

    I don’t think such a position is flippantly brushing “aside the beliefs of people who vote ‘against’ me ” rather it is taking a sober look at what kinds of life styles those people want to live and what kind of discourse and society they encourage. I continuously try to not take people at face value, sure just because you vote for a party that I don’t like it doesn’t meant that I will judge you about your values, perhaps you haven’t thought through some positions, perhaps I need to adjust some of mine, perhaps we can learn together. But when a person is willing to continuously promote political parties that have been found to be corrupt and unfair time and time again, who does not talk about fairness and justice, who is explicitly racist, who does not seek to support the weakest in society, but rather can’t stop worrying about their own pocket book, then there comes a time to let it be said — you are only voting in your self-interest (read selfishly) and you continue to put your pocket book ahead of justice and fairness. Sometimes it’s true.

    On the upside, the Conservative vote last time around was only 39% of voters, so I’m glad to say that we have a population that is NOT swayed so easily by little morsels to tempt their pitiful self-interest…

    All that said, I’m glad to have a conversation about justice and fairness, but I suspect there won’t be many Conservatives (yes capital C) in attendance.

    Just some thoughts and open for debate.

    • You automatically tilt the windmill by use of terms like equality and justice. Equality of what? Incomes ? Opportunity? Benefits? Justice as in what – rule of law? Principles ensconced in a constitution? Giving people things at the expense of others? Before attacking Friedman, how much do you really understand the concepts of freedom and liberty? The idea of personal initiative and responsibility? You do understand that the system that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other known to man is capitalism, right?

  3. I think the only reason I’m voting is because by not voting I’m perpetuating a system that seemingly hurts a lot of people. If it was self-interest I wouldn’t bother. I’m privileged enough that whoever wins won’t affect my life drastically enough to affect my interests.

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