Voting with the ego.

Posted Oct 13, 2004
Last Updated Nov 8, 2011
If you haven’t listened or read the debates, do so. Transcripts are available from The Commission on Presidential Debates. This is a guide to decoding the issues using some principles of egoism.

Egoism has a pretty bad rap in philosophy circles. Egoism is the belief that self-interest is the basis for morality, and the correct and just way to act is in self-interest. Egoism can decode political arguments by asking the question, "How does this affect me?” It clears through the smokescreen of the politicians’ personal moralities, and their attempt to appeal to the Judeo-Christian sense of morality that is most prevalent in the country. Egoism believes that what is best for the self will be best for society, that "What’s in it for me?” is actually a noble question.

The War in Iraq

Most of the focus of the debates is on what should have been done. Ask, "Did the war on Iraq affect me? Did I lose my job or healthcare because the budget was diverted to the war? Did I get a better job or contract because I am in the defense sector? Did I lose someone I cared about, causing me sadness and stress? Was I put in physical danger?” The way you answer these questions will help you answer the next. "Do I believe that voting for Bush will continue the war longer than voting for Kerry? If so, do I want the war to continue?”

We do get to hear a very little bit of how the candidates plan on dealing with the war. Ask, "Is foreign involvement in the war going to change my personal economy or happiness. If troops come home earlier, will I feel safer. Would I feel safer if the war in Iraq stopped, or continued?”

The War on Terror

Kerry’s focus on the war on terror seems to be to tighten internal security, place economic sanctions on countries (including allies) that harbor or fund terrorism, and to reduce dependency on foreign oil. Ask, "Will increased internal security make me feel safer? Do I have an economic interest in countries that may be sanctioned (such as Saudi Arabia)? How will a reduction in foreign oil dependency affect my economy or lifestyle?” Bush focuses on "spreading democracy to the world.”

Ask, "How will I be affected by a policy of eliminating terror through military action? Will military action make me feel safer? Do I work in part of the industrial-military complex?”


Abortion is one of the greatest smokescreens in politics. The moral issue of "choice vs. life” is used as a way for special interests to confuse voters into voting against a candidate. I believe that people end up ignoring what truly matters when they are told it is "sinful” to vote for a candidate that "supports” abortion, or that it is unethical to vote for a candidate that is "against” choice. Face it, we have more important things to worry about. If the economy collapses and we are out on the street fighting over who gets the last sewer rat, we aren’t likely to say, "Good thing I voted for that candidate who shared my beliefs about abortion.”

Abortion is linked to the economy. There are some who say that improving the economy will lower the amount of abortions, due to better education and safer practices. More importantly for Egoists is, who does abortion affect my wallet. These are difficult questions to ask, and sometimes seem morally apprehensible, however, they are interesting. "Who are the millions of people who are being aborted? If they had not been aborted would they be people who support my economy, or people who I would be forced to support through taxes? Would they be more tax-payers (generally a plus to most personal economies), or more low-income government-supported tax-takers?” Not enough research has been done to answer these questions effectively, and there are economists on both sides of the issue. An Egoist voter either needs to not base the vote on this issue, or decide which economic side he/she most believes in.


We hear a lot about the "No Child Left Behind” Act. Ask, "Am I in an industry directly tied to education? Has the last 4 years seen a rise in that industry? Is the quality of education affecting my business? Do I want to be more educated? Do I want employees/employers to be more educated? Customers and clients? Do I believe that a certain candidate will cause more people to be educated?”


Ask, "Did I lose my job overseas? Do I employ overseas because it increases my profits? How do I think that Kerry’s tax incentives for employing Americans will affect my bottom line? How do I think Bush’s tax breaks for overseas hiring will affect my bottom line? Do I think that we are "mortgaging our future” for short term profits?”

I’ve tried to not put in my political views too much in these questions, however, I have to make a comment here. As a web designer, I work in the IT profession, and have many friends who are engineers. I was offended by Bush’s answer to the question, "What do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?”

Bush’s answer was, "… here's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college… We want to help pay for you to gain the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century.” Fine, maybe he was focusing more on manufacturing jobs, but the overseas job-loss has happened in almost all sectors. Is he going to stand in front of a computer engineer who graduated with a Master’s Degree from Case Western Reserve University and say, here’s some money to go to Tri-C so you can learn a real 21st century job like "dental assistance” or "hospitality management?” It makes me want to vomit. I had tried to get web programming job on e-lance, a website for freelancers. I was constantly underbid by programmers in India who were willing to program for $3 per hour. Maybe I should look into "medical transcription.”


There are many other issues that I haven’t covered. Such as taxes, immigration, and healthcare. Here is my advice for the remaining part of the election season:

If it’s about Vietnam or the National Guard, ignore it. If you are looking to vote for a moral, honest, nice guy, I recommend joining a book club that elects a treasurer.

If it’s a bunch of statistics about who voted for what in the past, ignore it. These numbers, although correct, are spun out of proportion. If you want a simple decoding question ask: "Out of how many?” and "Which?” So and so voted 123 times to raise taxes. "123 out of how many total votes? 200, that would be a lot. 1000, not so big. Which taxes? My taxes? Richer people’s taxes? Poorer people’s taxes? How many repeats? Did he vote 100 times on basically the same thing that kept getting turned down?” Too many questions. I suggest ignoring vote statistics.

One last question to ask yourself when you are in the voting booth.

"If I vote for this candidate, will I be richer, healthier, safer, and happier for doing so?”

That’s the vote of an Egoist.


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