by Joyton H.L. Fu
Image source: CBR
Former prime minister of the UK, Winston Churchill once said: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Democracy is often recognized as the best system to select the right group of people to govern a state. One of its core values is the voting right for all eligible citizens. While democracy is said to be a system where voters can evaluate the progress and attitude of political candidates, it is an onerous task to build an impartial mindset, especially under the influence of social media. Plato, as one of the most well-known Greek philosophers, famously rejected the idea of democracy on the basis that they followed citizens’ impulses rather than pursuing the common good.
In order to understand how our perspective is being built in the first place, let us analyze a popular anime show, Attack On Titan. Hajime Isayama, the author of the popular manga and anime show, showed a great example on how by changing the perspective of the story, we can define what is good and what is evil, although there is no clear boundary between these two. The story first started by introducing humanity within the walls that was constantly being suppressed by enormous man-eating creatures that inhabited outside the walls, known as titans. It was later revealed that these titans were created by a country, known as Marley, in order to destroy humanity within the walls, which undoubtedly induced some sort of sympathies among readers.
Nevertheless, when the story started introducing humanity outside the walls in Season 4, readers started to despise them regardless of the atrocities committed by humanity inside the walls few centuries prior to when the story started, as readers clearly established the mindset of humanity inside the walls is the freedom fighters that wanted the best for their own kind, while humanity outside the walls is vicious and brutal as they intended to annihilate humanity inside the walls.
This concept was once again presented when Eren Yeager, the main character of the story, unleashed millions of colossal titans to destroy humanity outside the walls in order to attain freedom. Majority of readers felt that it was justifiable due to several decades of oppression and they clearly thought that humanity inside the walls was the bright side and possessed the right to do so, when in fact both sides were explicitly fighting for their own interests.
Image source: the edge market
With that said, we tend to create our own justification based on the perspectives that are presented to us and what we have experienced. A study conducted by International Islamic University Malaysia investigated the voting patterns in various societies of Malaysia. It was found that FELDA Chini became a stronghold for Barisan Nasional because their settlers preferred the party as a sense of gratitude in order to express their appreciation for the government’s contribution. Voters living in urban and rural areas also have striking differences in their voting pattern. For instance, the same study concluded that rural women are concerned with issues close to their daily survival such as cost of living, employment or issues related to religion and race relations. As for urban female voters, the majority of them decided their votes based on the candidates who represent them the best. Apart from that, voter choices are also determined by other attributes such as marital status, age, race and political party, not to mention the influence of social media as well.
All of these voting patterns correspond to different voting behaviors, which is the result of fighting for one’s interests. It is natural for us to make a conclusion from what we perceive on a day-to-day basis. To simply put, a wealthy businessman does not know the hurdles that a farmer must overcome, and the farmer does not know how taxes have affected the economy of the country. This phenomenon often leads to neglect of certain groups of people as there will be discrepancies of influence between different groups of voters. This is why Plato rejected democracy, because people vote for themselves instead of the community.
If we account for the influence of social media, the effect of biases will be further exacerbated to the point in which people build a radical mindset and become sentimental when it comes to politics. On 6th of January 2021, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Hill in the hope of overturning the election results. They believed Trump had won because he repeatedly insisted that voting fraud was prevalent on his Twitter account due to a surge in mail-in ballots. Although the statement was reported to be untrue countless times, his supporters seemed to believe no one but him, which induced a radical mindset that was immensely harmful to the democracy of the US. Several hosts on Fox News such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson advocated Trump’s theory too and further narrowed the views of Trump supporters. The algorithms of social media also play a huge role, as it recommends posts and videos that one is interested in. With that said, users only receive information from one side without knowing what other communities have gone through.
So here’s the question. What should we do in order to build an impartial mindset? A lot of people thought of following both the opposition and ruling party on social media, or simply acquiring information from both sides. A study conducted by Michael Hannan from Nottingham University concluded that voters with more political knowledge will not make better political decisions. Instead, the result is opposite from what they intend to achieve. Just like how coffee lovers want to learn more about coffee, people who want to learn more about politics tend to find information that they agree with, as humans are systematically biased towards conclusions that they ‘want’ to reach. As they become well informed, they gather an arsenal of information to reject information that disagrees with their beliefs. Individuals with a high level of analytic skills are also more likely to twist data at will than people with low reasoning ability. Thus, acquiring more information will not necessarily ameliorate one’s impartiality, but is highly likely to exacerbate bias and polarization.
The best solution is to understand the manifesto of each candidate. If the candidate is an incumbent, voters can make a checklist of how much they have achieved from the past few years to assess his/her performance. If the candidate is new, we have to gain a better understanding of the overall social and economical circumstance of our electoral district, which can then be compared with the manifestos of each candidate.
It is certainly not easy to vote based on the general circumstance instead of one’s opinion. However, in order to preserve a functional democracy, it is our obligation to be tolerant and objective. With that in mind, we can always forge a better future for the next generation.