So why vote?

2 May 2008

Tony Curzon Price (London, oD): I voted once before yesterday. It was as a student twenty years ago, when, in Darwin's answer to the paradox of voting, the pretty politico from Pembroke knocked on my door and walked me to the station. The paradox of voting was part of my pathology of abstention: if an election is a dead-heat, then and only then would an abstainee's vote have made a difference; given that the probability of a dead-heat is about 32 million to one in the London mayoral election, voting would only make sense if I also played the lottery. I don't gamble at those odds, so why vote? According to the paradox, voting does not make sense in exactly the same way that Kant's categorical imperative does not make sense: "ask yourself whether your behaviour would be desirable if everyone followed it" is not a precept for the pragmatist who prefers the question: "ask what people actually do, not what they would do if ..." In those 20 years Darwin had not sent any other emissaries to counter the logic against Kant.

Why change a habit with such unassailable logic? Because Kant's categorical imperative makes the basic error of putting rationality ahead of ethics, and this took me a long time to see. Take the Good as given, and use it as a tool to discover the True, rather than vice versa. Listen to Levinas, not Sartre. Take the good of all as the proper object of action, and adopt the perspective of the global citizen. The paradox of voting simply disintegrates: the probability of influencing the outcome of the Mayoral race may be 32 million to 1, but influence is over all of us as Londoners and, with London's myriad diasporas, many more beyond that.

So, as a late arriver to the logic of accepting the logic of what we all together do, I voted. No girl, no violence to reason. Just us.

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