Ilya Somin: Cognitive Enhancement and Political Equality at The Volokh Conspiracy
Cognitive inequality is already “inscribed in the human genome.” There is a huge difference in intellectual ability between a person with an IQ of 150 and one with an IQ of 75. And there are already massive differences in political knowledge between different individuals and groups (many of them not caused by genetics), some of which I discuss in this article. Political theorists such as John Stuart Mill argued that these differences justify giving the more knowledgeable extra voting power long before anyone ever heard of genetic engineering.
Whenever I think of all the people who vote in irresponsible manners, it always think of Citizenship from Starship Troopers where only the citizens could vote and not the civilians.
“A citizen accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic, defending it with his life, a civilian does not.” – Johnny Rico
“A citizen has the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility.” – Johnny Rico
Heinlein was onto a kernel of truth here. Back to Ilya who starts to make my next point:
If the case for political equality can be sustained at all, it must be on the basis that people qualify for it by meeting a certain minimum threshold of cognitive ability, not on the clearly false premise that everyone’s ability is essentially equal. On this account, rising above the minimum threshold does not entitle people to extra political power over those with lesser intellectual ability. As Thomas Jeffersonput it, “[b]ecause Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others.” Unlike Francis Fukuyama, the author of the Declaration of Independence did not believe that the political equality enshrined in that document “rests on the empirical fact of natural human equality.”
Mill made a fairly good theoretical case for giving extra votes to those citizens who have greater political knowledge. Ignorant voting often inflicts harm on all of society, and not just on the ignorant voter himself. Because, as Mill puts it, voting is the exercise of “power over others,” it cannot be seen as purely an individual right that the voter is entitled to without regard to its effects. However, the theoretical argument is only worth implementing in practice if 1) the knowledgeable minority can be trusted not to use their extra power to oppress those with fewer votes, and 2) the government can be trusted to come up with a knowledge test that is objective and politically neutral. I am extremely skeptical on both counts, especially the second. These problems will not disappear with the development of cognitive enhancement. Thus, the case for political equality is buttressed by the realities of politics as well as theories of natural rights.
Voting as an exercise in “power over others” is a succinct way of defining the problem. Of course, nothing is either good or bad except thinking makes it so. Power over others is not necessarily bad depending on what power you are talking about. Parents wield power over their children. Having the power of self-defense against others is necessary and proper. Having the power to decide in what shape, form and function the holiday festivities at the town center take place is an essentially harmless power. The power to arrest a criminal, while frequently abused, is the bulk ward against anarchy. Power, like law, when confined to its proper sphere of enlarging and protecting freedoms is necessary and proper.
At some point “We the people”, the majority of people, strayed from the proper sphere of liberty, and there is no check against democratic suicide. In fact, most democracies have historically committed suicide.
The logical check against this democratic death has to be based on freedom, and forming effective and useful alliances is basically freedom of association. As things are now, the solemn compact of the constitution can be broken when a majority of people decide so. An intriguing idea is conditioning citizenship (and voting rights) on adherence to a core set of principles. If you stray or change your mind, that is fine, but you lose your citizenship and can no longer adversely impact the core of values. Implementation of such a concept would be troublesome at best, but the idea sufficiently intrigues me that I think it worth pursuing more.
Think about religious denominations. Something similar happens. Religious “citizenship” is conditioned on adherence to a core set of principles. If you do not share those principles, then you do not get to vote on or influence the churches activities. You may share in them and have your say, but you are not enfranchised or empowered to weaken the core principles.
There are certain core principles that openly advocating against should warrant removal of voting rights. There, I said it. Communists and socialists have no business having the right to vote. Let us take things to the extreme to clarify this point. If a majority of people decide that they themselves want to be slaves (e.g. abdicate responsibility for some or all of their responsibilities — Nanny statists), they do not have the right to enslave everyone else and they should not have the power, namely the right to vote, to enslave all of the people.
Any future society to build a constitution from scratch should make it a voluntary association, which requires adherence to a small, limited, easily understood set of core values necessary and proper for freedom. Citizenship and voting rights should be conditioned upon loyalty to such precepts.
Back to the comments, a constant theme emerges — people are not equal. I would add that this goes doubly for men and women. The virtuous equality that is desirable is equality of rights (negative rights NOT positive rights), attempts at instituting equality of any other type invariably leads to decreased freedom and liberty.
Re: equality–This is an excerpt from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and was uttered by Mr. Lincoln:
“Now I protest against the counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either. I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.”
The equality is not equality of talent, a la Harrison Bergeron (Kurt Vonnegut), but equality of rights.