For the last decade or so, come general election or referendum, there’s one comment that I always hear. More than Donald Trump, the upcoming housing market crash take 2 and the life and times of J-Dog Corbyn, it makes me worried for the future of democracy and Western civilisation.
“I wish stupid people didn’t get the vote.” It is said as a ‘joke’, you know, the one that will never get a laugh and is completely true but there’s enough residual guilt there to force it across as a lame attempt at ‘wild make believe’. Invariable, the person saying this wishes it was no fantasy, it is always an expression of a genuine desire to limit the voting rights of a certain section of the population.
It involves a line, drawn in the sand, between us and them. Us are the enlightened, the professional classes, the “educated” and “well read”, the “thinkers”, the eaters of avocado toast and the buyers of the Guardian.
Them, are the great unwashed masses, all the idiots (village or otherwise), the brainwashed chumps who read the Daily Mail, quite like Nigel Farage and haven’t gone to university. Them are the working classes, in particular, the working classes who scrounge on the state and can barely string together a profanity free sentence. Them never shop at Waitrose. Them aren’t too keen on immigrant. Them aren’t us.
Make no mistake, this view represents a paternalistic snobbery I thrice despise: once for treating those with less education as being unable to function as members of society, once for thinking that the professional classes are somehow able or entitled to lead these people into enlightenment and once for spitting on the hard won concept of universal suffrage.
The view that stupid people don’t deserve a vote is in itself so monumentally stupid, it is hard to know where to begin with it. So let me begin with some stupidity of my own. This will involve some boasting on my part, please forgive me for it but it is required to make a point.
I am a clever guy, to misquote Paul, if anyone thinks he is clever, I am more so. First class degree, working for a company that only employs the top few percent of graduates, according to their own maths and verbal reasoning tests I’m in the top 2% of their applicants, who need at least a 2:1 degree to even think about applying. Again, to quote Paul: “I am out of my mind to talk this way.”
But if you want a robust political opinion that is well researched and well thought out, I can do it. If you want a comparative account of the global political and economic systems, no problem. Politics is something I love to follow and my political opinions draw from the historic vein of conservative-libertarianism which has been populated by some of the great political scholars.
So if we’re talking about not letting stupid vote, I would suggest drawing the line right behind me. After all, I felt almost unqualified for a decision on Brexit, so why draw the line further back? And if the line stops with me then, and please don’t take this the wrong way, you’re on the other side of it. Because you’re just that bit too stupid. Ah well, just trust me to make the important decisions for you and you can go on watching Gilmore Girls, or whatever counts as dumb entertainment nowadays.
It’s annoying isn’t it? My smug sense of searing superiority? My paternalistic pride and excruciating elitism? My contempt for your sadly inferior education and mental prowess? What right have I to deprive you of political agency? What right have I to infringe your political right to express an opinion in our beloved democracy?
As a society, we had this conversion, we debated this issue back in 1838 with the Chartist movement, an attempt by the working classes to get an equal voice in the political sphere. Over time, they won, against a backdrop of many of the same arguments that we hear today: too stupid, uneducated, easily manipulated, no skin in the game, unable to grasp complicated subjects, etc.
All arguments such as these are put to rest through a principle and a reality.
The principle is that all human beings are created in the image of God, and are therefore worthy of respect regardless of what gift of intelligence God has given to each one of us. Therefore, voting is not something that should be earned, as a reward for education, refinement or for using the correct genderless pronouns. Instead, it is a political right: as human beings with self-determination, every man and woman should be able to join with their fellow countrymen in determining the direction of the political system.
This is a lofty principle, one that speaks of an equality that our society, obsessed with equality as it is, has forgotten. The working classes, the uneducated, the uninformed and the ignorant still deserve a say in our future, they have worth as human beings in the eyes of God and so they have political worth as human beings, to vote.
The reality is that the unwashed masses are not as ignorant or as gullible or as stupid as the sneering elitism of the professional classes would have it. Were the professional classes to mix with the masses they so despise, they might begin to realise this. And even if they were every bit as thick as is pretended, it would make no difference, stupid people still need political representation, they still deserve a say in the future of the country, they still deserve a voice, even a stupid voice.
To conclude, “If only there was an intelligence test for voting,” is said with sneering contempt by self-righteous nincompoops, who in saying it self-identify as the very idiots they are trying to oppress.