Sunday, January 27, 2008

Women and the Right to Vote

In the news today I read about a case in Mexico that directly touches on one of the subjects in yesterday’s post, the degree to which we should tolerate different types of societies.

According to an article I read on MSNBC Online, Some Mexican Women Lose Right to Vote, there are places in Mexico where women are not allowed to vote, not allowed to run for or hold public office, and not even allowed to apply for government assistance without the company of a male. This situation came about because the government has constitutional protections that allow Native Americans to live by their traditional ways.

We can easily imagine this same law applying to an institution such as slavery, where a misguided respect for traditional lifestyles suggests that we permit a slave culture to continue, regardless of its effects on slaves.

There are good reasons for demanding that women have a voice in politics.

People seek to act so as to fulfill the more and the stronger of their own desires. There are three ways in which a person acting on his own desires can, at the same time, act so as to fulfill the desires of others. Where only a subset of a community is allowed to vote, they will necessarily use that power to fulfill their own desires. The desires of those not permitted to vote will be sacrificed.

We see an instance of this in our own country regarding future generations. Future generations are not allowed to vote. As a result, we see present-day politicians on a daily basis sacrificing the interests of those who cannot vote (future generations) to the interests of those who can (future generations). We see this in the global warming issue, where the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on future generations are given little consideration in policy making.

We also see it in the national debt/deficit – which is actually nothing but a substantial wealth transfer scheme, that transfers wealth from future generations to present generations, so that present generations can spend it. It works the same way as taking somebody else’s credit card and going on a spending spree – a credit card where the owner of the card will be forced to pay the balance.

Denying women the right to threatens to put women in the position of being mere things – objects to be used in whatever way fulfills the desires of those who have political power.

This does not mean that the women will necessarily be abused. We do not give pets and other animals, or children, a say in politics because they truly are incapable of casting an intelligent vote. Yet, we still (for the most part) care for our pets and for our underage children – we are not fully inclined to sacrifice their interests for our own. The same might be true of the men in these villages.

However, we can distinguish between the case of pets and children on the one hand, and women on the other, by asking, “Who is in the best position to know what the interests of the individual are and how to protect those interests?”

In the case of pets and children, the person with strongest incentive to avoid making a mistake and the knowledge and wisdom necessary to minimize mistakes is not the pet or the child. The parent or guardian (in the vast majority of the cases) truly is the person with the best information.

In the case of women, the only way that this defense of denying women the right to vote can work is if it can be shown that men have both a better understanding of what is in the interests of women and a stronger incentive to protect the interests of women than those women have. If this is not the case (and it almost certainly is not), then we already have a case where the interests of women are being sacrificed – put in the hands of decision makers that are both, at the same time, less knowledgeable and more corruptible than the women themselves at directing their own lives.

In fact, it seems quite common for men to sacrifice the interests of women for their own pleasure, and to be quite ignorant of what is in the best interests of women.

So, if we are going to evaluate attitudes by their tendency to fulfill other desires, we can see how allowing adults to have authority over the lives of children and pets will tend to fulfill the more and stronger of all desires. However, allowing men to have authority over women, who are more knowledgeable of their own interests and less corruptible than men, will tend to thwart desires. It will tend to make women worse off.

People generally have more and stronger reasons to advocate for a global aversion to the type of situation created within these Mexican villages, than they have to advocate allowing these types of systems.

Even if there is reason to condemn the political system set up in these villages (as harming the interests of women), we still have another question to ask. Is condemnation enough, or are we permitted to meet the village’s decision to subordinate the interests of women to the interests of men with violence (e.g., criminal penalties resulting in such things as fines and imprisonment)?

In the area of freedom of speech, I allow that some claims are contemptible and worthy of condemnation. However, I also argue that it is wrong to respond to people who make those statements with anything other than words and private actions. The wrongness of the speech act does not justify punishment at the hands of the law. Is it the case that the rules where these villages deny women the right to vote fits the same model?

It does not. The reason for freedom of speech is that it is far better to counter bad ideas with the force of reason rather than the force of arms. Countering them with the force of reason gives people a better understanding of what is wrong with them and gives them reason to voluntarily refuse the bad idea, whereas force of arms aims to cause people to give up bad ideas without reason.

The situation is different when we are dealing with unequal political power. This is a case where the interests of those without power are being sacrificed for the interests of those with power. Those with the power have no incentive to change the system. People act so as to fulfill their own desires, given their beliefs. Those with power – those who are living in an environment where they can sacrifice the interests of others to fulfill their own interests – are not likely to easily yield to reason and private actions.

People in such a society have the right to claim that men have some sort of natural right to rule over women, or are inherently better at running the affairs of state than women. They have the right to say this, and the response should come in the form of words and private actions. However, once they are actively sacrificing the interests of others for their own personal benefit, there is reason to have enough power within the law to prohibit the act of sacrificing other people to one’s own benefit. There should be enough political power to prevent the act of sacrificing the interests of women for the benefit of men.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Politics is the glorification of the use of force to solve social problems. It's interesting that, in an essay that demands a high standard of fairness in politics, you say:
"The reason for freedom of speech is that it is far better to counter bad ideas with the force of reason rather than the force of arms."
To better explain what the heck I mean, read this essay by Wendy McElroy. - Act Responsibly: Don’t Vote!
As one who sees the evil of religion and other forms of coercion, you should also wake up from the fantasy that politics is a "necessary evil" just because it's the status quo. You speak about "unfairness" in government, but the entire concept of government is unfair.
Not really Anonymous, just not signed up yet.
Rick Dutkiewicz
Allegan, Michigan