Sand in the Gears

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On the vice of chimps with shotguns

February 10th, 2012 Posted in Curmudgeonry

“Voting is a universal right.” This wisdom from Victor Sanchez, president of the United States Student Association, explaining his efforts to get more college students to vote. Mr. Sanchez is himself a recent college graduate, and a fine illustration of why marching columns of students to the polls is not inherently virtuous. A vote cast in ignorance, conjoined with enough ignorance to carry the day, has to be cleaned up by someone who works for a living.

Voting is not, of course, a universal right. We don’t let children vote. Nor do we vote for what Golden Corral loads onto its buffet trays. Most human decision-making is characterized by exclusivity and authority, in fact, and thank God for that.

The right to vote isn’t what’s in question in this case anyway. What Mr. Sanchez wants is to make it easier for college students to exercise the voting rights they already have.

It’s all well and good to encourage eligible citizens to select who will govern them, but what chaps me is that nowhere in this get-out-the-vote fervor — which will only increase as November approaches — will we hear anyone suggest that before someone tramps to the voting booth, he ought to educate himself.

Educate himself about what? There’s plenty for that list. Economics. Public policy. The actual records of the actual candidates. Hell, the actual names of the candidates. All this would be an improvement over what the average student knows about history, politics, and most important, the principles that undergird freedom and prosperity.

It’s a curious position, vote-for-voting’s-sake, given that the same voices calling for it tend to favor insuring that students know in exquisite detail every possible birth control option available in the Western hemisphere. They recognize, in other words, that action in ignorance is inherently dangerous.

In the case of student voting, however, ignorance benefits (and motivates) people like Mr. Sanchez, whose organization’s motto is: “Education is a right.” It sounds nice, until you ask who is going to pay for this, and how much of his right to property we need to deprive him of in order to pay it, and whether we ought to slap some responsibilities on those right-besotted students, such that they forfeit said rights when they fail to demonstrate any sense — a reform which would probably make the whole enterprise worth it, since the net effect would be to empty a good many schools of most of their inhabitants, faculty included. The greatest danger to the aspiration of the U.S. Student Association, in fact, is very likely the education of the listener.

Here’s a thought experiment: imagine that, statistically speaking, whenever droves of students rushed to the polls, they pulled the lever for the candidate who most favors limited government. Does anyone for a hot half-second doubt that Mr. Sanchez, rather than brainstorming ways to make voting more like ordering a pizza, would instead want to treat it more like buying a handgun?

And that’s how we should at least to think about it, which is to say that we ought no more encourage someone who doesn’t know what the Constitution is to vote than we ought to give a chimpanzee a shotgun. In either case you’re not exactly sure what we’ll happen, but chances are it won’t be pretty.