Compulsory Voting

When you're in the business of helping people make decisions, you're both completely ignored (because the actual decisions and the people making them are, it's thought, all that matters) and in the driver's seat for observing the full range of wonderful stupidities and vanities. There's an art to decisions, getting the best ones in the quickest time. A mostly ignored and invisible art, except when somebody makes a Yes Minister, at which point the visibility rises, even if the same stupidities and vanities then perceive the art as mostly rank cynicism.

Those in 'positions of power' are often irritated by due process, except where it gives them an audience for prolonged windbaggery, after which they go ahead with what they'd already decided. (Interestingly, there is actually no such thing as a position of power, power can't be held, it can only be granted on an ongoing basis. As every flavour of the month pollie discovers when they're unseated.) But the due process crowd are often equally useless, launching into the same model of 'consultation' each time, based on some vague idea of 'democracy' as being lots of people all having equal time to air their own particular prejudices.

Decision-making wouldn't be an art if it were as simple as letting the loudest and most pompous just have their way, or wallowing in every personal and petty grievance. There are no rules, despite what highly paid corporate governance engineers might have you think. That's what makes it an art, each decision is a novel thing that needs its own specific decision process. If there were rules for making decisions, we wouldn't need politics, and the messiness of politics disgusts the very same people who at any given time might have half a dozen personal vendettas underway in their own lives.

However there is one very general, now emprically verified rule of thumb for making good decisions. And that is that the many are always smarter than the few. In the era of experts this fact is both almost completely unknown and disbelieved when it is known. Yet many studies have conclusively shown that a group of people, even with very little knowledge in the decision area, will always make a more accurate and better decision than even the most knowledgeable expert. This includes decisions about matters of fact, such as locating missing submarines or prediciting the outcome of sports games or elections. However there's one important requirement that must be met for this to be true - the people must all be acting and thinking relatively independently of one another. If they're thrown into the same room to make the decision like most consultation love-ins, the outcome is almost universally bad.

Elections are fabulous real-life experiements proving this. Countries that ditch compulsory voting have now been shown to degenerate into dualistic rival fanaticisms, as only that small proportion of committed zealots turns up on election day to make sure their side gets up. Followed by 3 or 4 years (whatever the term) of flogging the rest of the country to conform with the particular brand of zealotry.

When you force the completely apathetic, ignorant and even feeble-minded to front up on election day on the other hand, they act like the contingency in a building project, or the etxra hole in a belt, or the slack or 'give' purposely built into a machine. The whole country is better balanced due to this moderating effect, and the political climate is more temperate - politics does not become defining as a way of life in itself, as the culture warriors in the past decade would have had us believe. This applies at the organisational level or even group level too, it's the many apparent ignorances and stupidities and apathies that actually create a healthier group, and a group that makes longer term, smarter decisions. Obvious really, they at the very least embed all the possible ways the decisions actually made might be wrong, within the group. And decisions are always wrong, in some ways.


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