Do you feel like you’re the only person at your office without an "I Voted!" sticker on Election Day? It turns out that you're far from alone – 100 million eligible U.S. voters never went to the polls in 2016. That’s about 35 million more than voted for the winning presidential candidate.
In this book, Christopher Freiman explains why these 100 million need not feel guilty. Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics argues that you’re under no obligation to be politically active. Freiman addresses new objections to political abstention as well as some old chestnuts ("But what if everyone stopped voting?"). He also synthesizes recent empirical work showing how our political motivations distort our choices and reasoning. Because participating in politics is not an effective way to do good, Freiman argues that we actually have a moral duty to disengage from politics and instead take direct action to make the world a better place.
- Makes the case against a duty of political participation for a non-expert audience
- Presupposes no knowledge of philosophy or political science and is written in a style free of technical jargon
- Addresses the standard, much-repeated arguments for why one should vote (e.g., one shouldn’t free ride on the efforts of others)
- Presents the growing literature on politically motivated reasoning in an accessible and entertaining way
- Covers a significant amount of new ground in the debate over a duty of political participation (e.g., whether participating absolves us of our complicity in state injustice)
- Challenges the increasingly popular argument from philosophers and economists that swing state voting is effective altruism
- Discusses the therapeutic benefits of ignoring politics—it’s good for you, your relationships, and society as a whole.
Table of Contents
1. In Pursuit of Political Wisdom
2. We’re All Partisan Hacks
3. The Costs and Benefits of Political Participation
4. Fairness and Free Riding
5. Political Abstention and Complicity in Injustice
6. The Morality of the Message
7. Political Ignorance is Bliss
Christopher Freiman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at William & Mary. He is the author of Unequivocal Justice (2017).
"Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics isn’t just a wise, witty work of philosophy. It is a fantastic self-help book. And the more the title shocks you, the more you need to read it."
Bryan Caplan, George Mason University
"This is a terrific book addressing something of interest to a lot of people. It's clear, fast-paced, compellingly-argued, and delightfully contrarian. By the end, Freiman actually makes a strong case that being politically active is not just unnecessary, but morally wrong."
Michael Huemer, University of Colorado Boulder
Politics in a pandemic
Don’t Politicize a Pandemic
17th March 2020
The outbreak of COVID-19 has put the world in crisis. Thousands of people have died, confirmed cases are growing rapidly, and countries across the globe are edging toward a shutdown. If ever there were a time to be sober and scientific about how to move forward, this would be it.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has become a political football. Both sides are eager to argue that the pandemic vindicates the policy views they’ve held all along. To those on the left, the outbreak justifies expanding the state’s role in healthcare. To those on the right, the outbreak proves that we need to double down on nationalist resistance to globalization.
We’re also seeing a partisan divide in people’s beliefs about the risk of COVID-19 itself. Early on in the outbreak, President Donald Trump downplayed it as “a problem that’s going to go away.” Later he speculated that “one day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Democrats like Chuck Schumer, by contrast, were quick to sound the alarm and criticize Trump for being “asleep at the wheel.”
Republicans in general are less concerned about the risk of COVID-19 than Democrats. 68 percent of Democrats are worried that a family member will be infected, compared to 40 percent of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to see COVID-19 as an “imminent threat.”
These findings align with what political scientists have known for a while—namely, that ourperception of the facts is shaped by our partisan worldview. We tend to accept information that indicates that our political side is right and our opponents are wrong.And so it goes with COVID-19.If the severity of the outbreak has been overblown, then perhaps Trump was justified in forgoing an immediate, large-scale response. On the other hand, if he shrugged off what is truly a monumental threat, then he ought to be ousted in November.
Allowing our political motivations to dictate our beliefs about COVID-19 is dangerous. If, for example, you dismiss the scientific consensus about the risk because it’s politically inconvenient, you won’t take preventative measures to reduce that risk. Unsurprisingly, partisans who are skeptical of the threat posed by COVID-19 are less likely to increase the duration and frequency of their handwashing and to restrict their travel. But neglecting these precautions is quite literally deadly.
There’s no easy fix for partisan bias. But here’s a suggestion: simply try ignoring the politics of COVID-19. Turn off cable news. Forget the partisan pundits and listen to the advice of scientific experts.
Now, you might object that you have a moral duty to stay on top of the nation’s political situation, particularly in this time of crisis. I disagree. After all, you can’t change how the government responds to COVID-19—your single vote almost certainly won’t make a difference—but you can change how you respond. When you scrub up and stay home, you may not save the country, but you could save a few lives.
Christopher Freiman is the Class of 1963 Distinguished Term Associate Professor of Philosophy at William & Mary and the author of the forthcoming book, Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics.