by Carlos Alberto Montaner
(FIRMASPRESS) The Argentines are preparing to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. Demagoguery, what foolishness is committed in your name! The maneuver was conceived by the ruling bench and approved by the Chamber of Deputies. The expectation is that the younger people will vote for whoever granted them that alleged right.
Naturally, many Argentines distrust the measure. They believe it is a maneuver by President Cristina Fernández to bolster her ranks (her popularity has plummeted to 35 percent) if Peronism decides to amend the Constitution to allow reelection.
It is known that politicians are ferocious animals who feed insatiably on votes. Some of the worst blunders in the history of the parliamentarian system have been perpetrated during the hunt for voters.
In the 1920s, Congressmen and senators in the United States prohibited the consumption of alcohol to court women’s votes, just before women’s suffrage was approved.
Because feminist militants, in addition to being suffragettes, were active in “temperance leagues,” some organizations that advocated the persecution of liquor hastened to please them so they could be rewarded at the polls.
Thus were born Al Capone and his trigger-happy gangsters in the era of Prohibition. They were the unwanted bastard children of the politicians’ electoral lust.
The Argentines have revived an old debate. The worldwide trend is to continue to lower the start of the exercise of that privilege. (It is not exactly a right, because it is granted or taken back at the legislators’ discretion.)
Today, most countries have adopted the 18-year start, but some have dropped it to 16. In Latin America, the citizens of Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador can vote at the age of 16. Those countries are not exactly democracies and the vote means very little there, but Austria, which is a democracy, follows the same pattern.
In the end, which is the right age to elect and be elected? As we know today, as an average, the reasonable age should be set above 20 years. It is at that point when people’s brains reach their physiological maturity, ending the tempestuous process that occurs inside the cranium between the ages of 12 and 20, the terrible stage of adolescence.
During that period, there is a substantial reduction in the youngsters’ gray matter and billions of connections are lost, which explains their sudden mood changes (sharper among women than among men), their frequent depression, the moments of rebellion against authority and many other features that we associate with that crucial stage of the physiological and cognitive development of our peculiar species.
The last region of the brain that stabilizes or matures is the prefrontal cortex, precisely the area that forges the criteria and decisions that we associate with the civic tasks related to the activities of electing and being elected.
Supposedly, both functions should be linked to capacity to reason serenely and – as those boring legal forms usually state – “in the fullness of our mental faculties.” That, I repeat, cannot be achieved until the fierce rattling of adolescence has come to a halt in our brains.
We have all gone down that road, and the oldest of us have seen our children and grandchildren take the same walk. It is a wonderful age to fall in love and acquire delicious permanent habits, like movies, literature or music. That’s where our identity is finally forged. “You are part of wherever you spent your adolescence,”Goethe felt and said – with reason.
Of course, during that stage you can also acquire harmful habits, like drug consumption, because of a very dangerous feature associated with that period: the inability to weigh the risks, the boundless boldness, because we consider ourselves invulnerable to physical injury.
In sum, giving adolescents the vote is not only a mistake but also a crime. It is turning them into cannon fodder for the demagogic politicians, as they often are fodder for the armies and some violent groups. It is also a perverse way to abuse them.