Philosophy professor W&M morally pleads for ignoring politics

  • New book:

    Christopher Freiman, associate professor of philosophy at William & Mary, describes his moral reasoning for taking a stand in his new book “Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics” just in time for the November 2 election.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

by Jennifer L. Williams


21 October 2021

Voting is an important civic duty, and one is obligated to seek candidates and go to the polls, says conventional wisdom.

But not so fast, says Christopher Freiman. There is actually no need to do anything.

Freiman, associate professor of philosophy at William & Mary, describes his reasoning in his new book “Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics. Just in time for the November 2 election, he presents an interesting but controversial case and has suffered a backlash because of it.

In short, Freiman argues that it is morally preferable to forgo political participation in favor of more effective forms of altruism.

His book is part of the series “Why it’s okay: The ethics and aesthetics of our way of life.

“The basic idea behind the series is that philosophers stand for things that non-philosophers tend to do, but philosophers don’t like,” Freiman said.

“So in my case a lot of people don’t vote. And a lot of philosophers think they should vote. I therefore defended the actions of non-philosophers against the objections they receive from philosophers.

Freiman’s position is that political participation is generally not an effective way to help people. If a citizen is interested in doing so, they might instead be doing things like fundraising for key charities that help improve people’s lives.

“My basic argument is that you should take the time you would spend on something like preparing and voting – so researching, debating then voting – and maybe working overtime and donating your extra income to charity. like the Against Malaria Foundation, which helps save lives, ”Freiman said. “It’s a more efficient use of your time. “

In the context of the current polarized political climate in the United States, Freiman said, he believes it is okay to ignore all of this and not even talk about it, read about it, or pay attention.

I think it’s morally permissible to do that, to ignore it, ”he said. “And part of the argument for that is just that it won’t make a difference.”

You can spend hours arguing on social media or with your family about politics, but when you vote it is unlikely to make a difference in the outcome of an election, Freiman said. .

“My point is that you don’t have an obligation to do this because the chances of it actually helping people are very low,” he said. “And in terms of a polarized environment, another thing I talk about in the book is how politics seem to make us miserable. People literally lose sleep over politics. Their physical well-being suffers. They are anxious about politics.

“And my thought is that suffering for something that really helps people is often worth doing. So if you lose sleep because you are working on a cancer cure, you should lose sleep because you can help a lot of people if you’re successful. But in the case of something like political participation – I’m talking about voting as the primary case – you basically make yourself unhappy without a higher purpose. “

And yes, he tells people that they don’t need to vote. Since their vote alone won’t make a difference, according to Freiman, a person should ask if they, as an individual, have an obligation to vote – and their argument is no.

He’s heard quite a outcry against his point of view, and in fact, opposing it has been the standard reaction.

A counterpoint was, “What if everyone does this? Freiman makes a distinction between what would happen if everyone stopped voting and what would happen if a single individual stopped voting, saying there is no danger of everyone ceasing to be politically active. and vote.

“People sometimes think my argument implies that politics isn’t important or that it doesn’t have a big impact on people’s lives,” Freiman said. “But I’m not saying that. It is clear that it is important and that it clearly has a big impact on people’s lives.

“But there is a difference between saying that this thing has an impact and saying that, as an individual, I can have an impact on this thing that has an impact. And so everything I’m saying is perfectly consistent with the claim that politics is very morally significant. But that in itself does not imply that someone has to go and vote. “

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