Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Ethical Atheist Candidate: I Follow Polls

As your (pseudo) elected representative, I promise that I will read the polls and I will use them as an important guide to how I vote.

In our political system, we demand that our elected officials pay no attention to polls. We insist that they tell us what they really believe. Yet, at the same time, we only elect people who tell us what we want to hear, and the way they know what we want to hear is through polling.

In other words, we have set up a system where lying is a job requirement, then we complain about politicians being dishonest. It's like setting up a system where we hire only those people under 5' tall, then complain about the fact that all of them are short.

Techically, the ways by which a politician learns what the people want to hear - and how they want to hear it - involves more than just polls. It involves surveys, focus groups, letters from constituents, political editorials and cartoons, and generally reading the mood if the people. Both political parties have massive machines in place whose very purpose is to tell you whatever it us that will get you - or, at least, a majority of you who vote, what you want to hear.

If you do not vote, these political machines do not care squat what you think. You are dead to them.

We know that these robo-calls, political advertisements, and speeches are constructed with a massive amount of information behind them aiming at manipulating your vote. Yet, a part of that manipulation involves lying to you and telling you that the candidate sincerely believes what the polls tell him to say.

Personally, I do not think that there is anything wrong with a legislator in a democracy trying to figure out what the voters want in figuring out what they are going to support or oppose.

In fact, I think it is a legislator's duty.

As your (pseudo) elected legislator, I represent you. You hire me to be your voice in the legislature. In order for me to speak with your voice, I need to know what your voice is saying. In order to determine what you want, I will consult polls, surveys, and whatever other information is available to me.

Unlike politicians today, I am not going to lie and pretend that I enthusiastically support all of those things. I simply have no interest in playing that game. If I disagree with you, I will tell you. On some issues where we disagree, and I think the issue is important, I will try to convince you to change your mind. However, when it comes to casting a vote, I will remember that I am not there to represent myself. I am there to represent the people who sent me there, and I will vote accordingly.

This means that you should not be surprised to hear me speak in favor of some forms of legislation, yet voting against it. Or opposing legislation that I end up voting for.

For example, I may support a program to fight malaria underdeveloped countries. Yet, surveys show that a great many voters are opposed to foreign aid, and insist that it be one of the first things cut from the budget. In this case, I will try to convince you that we are all a part of this world, and that we are far better off with ah healthy and prosperous Africa than with a violent, sick, and impoverished Africa. I will remind you that these are human beings - sick and dying human beings - most of them children. We have an obligation to help them, if we can - and we can help them.

However, when the vote comes and surveys show that 57% of the people who I represent in the legislature oppose this legislation, that is how I will vote. Maybe, the reason that so many people disagree with me is because I have overlooked an important consideration. Perhaps I have not fully appreciated how a better way to help is through individual contributions to private charities who can spend the money more efficiently, and the ways in which a government pot of money ends up going to special interests groups rather than the people who need help. Or maybe I am right. It does not matter. After presenting my boss with my opinion about what should be done, the survey shows that my boss wants me to vote "no". I will vote "no".

There are limits to what I will do as your employee, however. As an employee in a private business, it would be my duty to carry out my employer's wishes to the best of my ability. However, if that employer should tell me to lead an armed assault on a competitor's warehouse, kill the guards, and haul away everything inside, I would refuse. I my employer should demand that I lie under oath, I would refuse.

Similarly, if, per chance, surveys were to show that you support an armed invasion of an oil-rich country for the purpose of taking control of their oil, I will refuse. If the polls tell me that you favor rounding up Japanese Americans and locking them up in concentration camps, I will vote against it, and leave it to you to fire me. There are some things that are simply wrong, and, even as your (pseudo) elected representative and your employee, I will not do them.

If you want a list of the things I will not do, you can find an excellent summary in the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States - known as the Bill of Rights. It is a most remarkable document - well ahead of its time.

Other than that, I assure you that I WILL listen to what the pollsters tell me. I will pay attention to surveys. I WILL try to find out what my boss wants me to do and, within limits, I WILL try to follow my employers' instructions to the best of my ability. That's would be my job - or a part of my job - as I see it.

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