Voting seems pretty straightforward, right? Choose what is good for you and avoid what is not. Well, evidence has clearly shown that people (meaning you, unless you are a dog reading this) can be remarkably bad at selecting what is good for them. Indeed, in the end, you may be your own worst enemy. And many entering voting booths simply make the wrong choices for themselves.

Let’s look at a commonly cited example: the poorer working class. Logic dictates that the poor should favor people and policies that decrease the gap between the rich and the poor and oppose those that do not. But does this actually always happen? Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business doesn’t think so and sees the opposite, as he explains in a piece for the Guardian, as does former political strategist James Carville, who related in the Hillthat “Democratic strategists struggle to understand why 77 out the 100 poorest and most government-dependent counties in the United States voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.” Members of the working class are certainly not the only ones who choose against themselves. How about women and minority groups who oppose equal opportunity for themselves? Or other people who vote against programs that give them benefits?

And bad choices go well beyond voting. Take a gander at how poorly people choose mates or significant others. Nowadays, marriage success is about as good as a random coin flip (with close to 50% ending in divorce). Even many couples that stay married are actually as happy as dung salespeople. Consider how many women continue go for “bad boys” and men for “mean girls” or “drama queens,” even when they realize that doing so is like hitting their heads with a iron trying to make the iron become softer. Even more telling is that arranged marriages may offer a better chance of success and happiness than those occurring by choice, as detailed in this Chicago Tribunearticle. Indeed, when given a choice, many people choose to choose badly.

So what do we do as a society? Take away the vote and dictate to everyone what will happen? This person will be your President. All drugs will be the same price as a vanilla latte at Starbucks. Cats will always yield to dogs.

No, dictatorships may not be too fun unless you are the dictator, and cats will never yield to dogs. Instead, think more carefully about why you may be making the wrong choices, such as:

  • Overwhelmed by the choices and complexities, you tend to focus on superficial qualities: People don’t do too well when things become complex. Think about speed dating as an example, which, as reported in Scientific American, can offer women too many choices. With too many choices, many men and women rely on very superficial characteristics (such as appearance, appearance and appearance…oh, and also appearance) to quickly sift through potential mates and thus overlook the real right choices. (Speed dating also can greatly increase the number of men and women who can reject you if you don’t quite have that look.) Similarly, the current problems in our society are quite complex and can seem overwhelming. Therefore, some have said that they voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump because he promised to give a “middle finger” to the establishment. But so would voting for lesser-known Presidential candidates such as Vermin Supreme, who wants everyone to have a free pony (which is cool); or Kevin Deame, a member of the Pirate Party…arrggghh; or Donald C. Sauter, a “Unarchist,” whatever that means; or Robert Allen MacLeod, Jr., the “New White Candidate” even though he seemed like an “Old White Candidate.” Heck, I know lots of people who can give middle fingers.
  • You may be looking for too-simple explanations:Yes, simpler is easier but not always right. Notice how the popular quote is “do what you love” and not “do what you enjoy from a day-to-day standpoint but is not illegal and doesn’t hurt other people and that you can actually be good at and not starve and will not face insurmountable barriers in doing because if you want to be a prince or princess you actually have to be somehow related to royalty which is tough if you are from a low-income population that has no such connections…” Similarly, candidates may present simple messages that seem more appealing, such as “just build a wall to keep the Mexicans out but get Mexico to pay for the wall.” Of course, a wall is the answer to our problems. Why didn’t anyone think of that before Trump? Wait, how exactly is that going to work?
  • You may be distracted by the wrong issues:Candidates stand for a lot of different things, some more or some less relevant to your daily life. When voting, are you really focusing on the most relevant issues or simply red herrings? For example, the Atlantic quotes one Trump supporter as saying, “Evangelicals in this country no longer feel they have the right to religious freedom and have watched what they perceive as a sacred institution in marriage gutted.” How exactly will Trump restore the sacredness of marriage? Perhaps, practice makes perfect, as Trump has been married three times. But more importantly, unless this Trump supporter plans on getting married to everyone else in the country (maybe he or she is really good looking), why should he or she care about other people’s marriages?
  • You just don’t see the whole system and all the connections, causes and effects: Trump has repeatedly said that he would cut taxes, particularly for the wealthy. He’s also complained about President Obama increasing the deficit. The math just doesn’t make sense. Tax cuts to the wealthy will result in less money for government programs and the middle and lower classes paying a higher percentage of the overall taxes. How exactly is this going to help the deficit and the lower and middle classes?
  • You don’t know yourself: This is the Karen-Smith-and-Gretchen-Wieners-on-Mean-Girls problem. A remarkable number of people do not even know what they want or even need. Yes, maybe you think you need an iPhone or a big screen television or maybe a Nicolas Cage pillowcase. But until you figure out what exactly you want, you will listen to others like Regina George tell you what you want. “Make America Great Again.” Won’t tell you exactly how this will happen, but trust me.

So when you go to the voting booth or make other choices in life, you may want to think more selfishly. Think about yourself. Which candidate, policies, and choices will actually improve your life and which will hurt you? Are you really listening to what you need or just listening to other voices. For example, if you chose against yourself in this latest election, you get to live with the consequences and will have no one to blame but yourself.

Bruce Y. Lee 

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