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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do Not Go Gently

What is the difference between six and half a dozen?

To many, to the undecided and indifferent, this question is at the heart of their uncertainty in the upcoming election, and in every election. Or rather, the obvious answer, 'nothing', is at the heart.

Few political candidates get to where they are by being radical; they get there by dancing with suburban Volvo owners, cosmopolitan fundraisers, and small town American values voters. No politician is a success by changing the system that empowers them. And knowing this paralyzes a lot of voters. To them a vote for either candidate is an endorsement of the system, and if a voter thinks that (a) the system is broken or (b) the system is fine they are going to feel exactly the same way about the two candidates on offer. If the voter thinks the system is broken then he won't vote for either of the champions of the broken machine. If the voter thinks the system is fine he also won't vote for either, because he is confident the system works and it just doesn't matter who is in office: the system protects us, lulls us, keeps us safe, so the consequences of choosing one rather than another are almost insignificant.

But to view the choice between candidates as being the same as the choice between six and half a dozen, and to thus view the choice as insignificant is to ignore one crucial aspect of decision-making: framework.

What is the difference between six and half a dozen? Perspective. The same as the difference between a half full or half empty glass: the worlds built around each, the framework of the choice, is an essential part of the choice. Choosing six is choosing a world were aggregation rules; choosing half a dozen is choosing a world where division rules. Do you see?

Neither tells a comprehensive story. How could they? Their individual existence is a fundamental denial of the existence of the other.

What every political philosophy offers is a different UNFAIRNESS. Although every proponent of a political philosophy will try to sell her view as the best, she does so as a Dr. Magnifico, selling snake-oil. That is, no matter the merits and demerits of the political philosophy, what you get from her is a sales pitch; a manipulation. Side-effects may include lower a lower poverty-line or higher gas prices. Because it's a sales pitch you won't get to hear about the UNFAIRNESS that gets packaged up with the miracle cure. And so all snake-oil salesmen end up sounding the same.

So look at the election in November as a choice, a real choice, between political philosophies. Look for, recognize, and accept the UNFAIRNESS that your endorsement of six or half a dozen entails. The worst injustice committed against the voting public is the promulgation of the belief that their choice is victimless. Because if our choice is victimless then the people hurt by our choices are not our victims, but our enemies, and we are permitted to hate them, hold them in contempt, and ignore them.

You may or may not know that I am a member of the Green Party. I'm not more environmentally conscious than anyone else; probably less so than most. I endorse a different unfair system than most people, and I accept my responsibility for creating the victims of that system. Without guilt we are golems, with no compunction to do better. Choose your own unfairness in November, but CHOOSE.

Do not convince yourself that the choice doesn't matter. And don't convince yourself that those you disagree with aren't going to be victims of your choice. Stare the decision in the face, and then make it.


T. said...

I LOVE this. I feel it is our duty as citizens to vote, and I feel pretty strongly about it. My only concern about third parties is that it makes one of the two principal parties stronger, to the detriment of the other. (won't say which is which) and therefore, I won't vote third party. I am not willing to gamble with another 4 or even 8 years of the same policies that we have now.

Do you also vote Green for President, too? Glad you wrote this!


T. said...

whoops! Hit send too fast...I meant it makes the other party stronger by splintering the vote. It's still early here, and have had a few late nights with my family in town.


Whit said...

I'm one that believes the system is broken, but I do endorse, wholeheartedly, one of the two major candidates. Is he perfect? No. Do I think he can change the system that he is a product of? I honestly do.

I agree with T. in regard to third parties. I would love to see a third party candidate have a serious run at the office, but until then a vote outside of the two legitimate candidates just increases the odds of winning for the one we like the least.

MereCat said...

I think it sucks that we have to vote for one unfairness or another instead of voting for greatness. But you are dead on. It's just a choice of two unfairnesses. And I intend to vote for one of them for the same reasons as above commenters.

Insightful post. I liked it.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Well written. There will never be a perfect candidate, nor is ours anywhere close to a perfect system. But I agree, we have to make choices within the framework we have. I can't imagine discarding the opportunity to do so.

Will said...

Very, very well said Mr. Burns.

While I too would love to see a third party candidate make a legitimate run for office, I fear that we will never see such thing in our lifetimes. As much as every individual in this country is a shade of gray, everyone is much more willing to accept things when they are back and white. Absolution is comforting to the masses and that is what the two party system offers.

One of the major challenges that any third party candidate faces is one of publicity. The only third party candidate in recent history that can be considered anywhere close to successful was H. Ross Perot. He had the drive to get his name and his message out to the masses an more importantly he had the capital. Which is the second great hurdle facing third party candidates. Without their faces out there constantly, speaking to the public at large and not just their base, we will never see anyone but a Democrat of Republican in office.

And with that in mind, two great philosophers from Colorado surmised best that in the end it ultimately doesn't matter what you do, because your choice always comes down to one between a giant douche or a turd sandwich.

Danielle said...

Oy, sometimes you make my head hurt.

But you are right.

But, I also don't believe either candidate holds enough "power" to change much of anything. To propogate only their own beliefs. There is too much red tape to really get much done. More than one person makes the decisions.

At the end of the day, I vote for the most ethical, honest person, regardless of each of their individual beliefs... I want the person with the honest core.

I don't agree with either of the big candidates on most of the issues, but I think they are both decent people. And I have nothing bad to say about either. I hate the venom that some people spew at candidates simply because they don't agree with them.

Rachel said...

Well said. I respect the green party and I am irritated when people say voting green is "a waste of a vote". It is not a waste of a vote when it is something you believe in. It is never wrong to follow your conscience. I have never been a fan of the two party system and I always feel as though I end up having to choose between voting for a douchebag or a turd sandwich (as South Park put it). I really wish Nader had a shot of winning because he is one of the few who have not let politics or power corrupt him.

Danielle said...

Still here - and am still thinking about this post... (nice job Mr. Philosophy!) :)

No. I don't think that there are victims. I don't agree.

How can one be a "victim" of a process that they willingly participate in?

We know the rules. We know the stakes. We play the game.

Does that make us a "victim" if we don't score the winning goal?

I don't think so. I think it means we shake hands and say 'good game' and meet back up at the park next weekend for another shot. We don't hate each other and terrorize.

And in the meantime, the "losing" party benchpresses and lifts and prepares to be stronger next time.

The victims are the ones who have no choice and no say.... and who unwillingly have no vote.

And I'll probably keep thinking this through... thanks for making me use my noggin a little on the weekend.


orlund said...

I agree that a vote matters. However I disagree with the "unfairness", people will complain about any government no matter how good it is. Just because our country has its own problems doesn't make our government bad. The world will never be perfect. Why doesn't any one post something good about the government for a change. The glass is half full if you look at the full part of the glass.

Backpacking Dad said...

So, the third-party thing at the end of this post is not the point of the post. It's just an example of a choice, and I'm not even advocating that other people vote Green here. Or that they try to change the system, even.

The point is to examine why some voters are disaffected, and to give them some reason to think that it does matter what they do. It matters what they do because there are real differences between the political philosophies on the table, and those differences are highlighted by the victims the policies create: the right tends to create more poverty-line victims, the left tends to create more affluent victims, but they are all still victims of something. What we disagree about is what kind of unfairness (social inequity or property theft) we are willing to tolerate and even endorse. Politicians classicly don't remind us that we are endorsing that unfairness, but it's precisely in that unfairness that we are best able to see the differences between the parties and. So highlighting those differences is a way of motivating the un-motivated voter.

I'm not really talking to or about those people who are committed, truly committed, already to one side or another. Although if they aren't also voting as though they are choosing not just a candidate for good but a philosophy with victims then they aren't making a real choice. I'm really talking to the people who are throwing up their hands out of frustration and then not participating at all.

@Danielle and @orlund: So I actually think I am posting something good about the government. Something honest. It's too easy to throw insults at the other side when you don't recognize that your choice does impact them against their will. Even if that is the system that's in place. We are all playing the game, sure, but that doesn't mean that there aren't losers and that the losers don't lose something. If we ignore the fact of the loss, if we don't keep it in full view and accept that we are the ones choosing for that to happen, then we lose our own political conscience. Golems. The great thing about our system is that it permits everyone to have a voice; but that doesn't mean that the results of policies will always be fair. They will be impositions of a general will on individuals who do not agree with that will. And if we let our leaders tell us that there is no such imposition, no victims, then when someone does disagree with us then we owe them nothing, not even the consideration of hearing them out. They aren't people, they are just enemies.

Kyddryn said...

Thank you for saying this - I can't begin to tell you how many people I've heard saying they aren't going to vote this time. Oh, no!! No, no, no...we must make our voices heard, and even if one thinks one's vote is being squandered, one is sending a clear message...if only "Well, I may be wasting my vote, but you two main-party knuckleheads are so awful, I'd rather squander it than give you the satisfaction of knowing I was forced to vote for you for fear the other fellow would win." Or something.

Shade and Sweetwater,

Jerri Ann said...


attiton said...

This is going to sound snarky given my usual tone here, but I really don't intend this snarkily.

Can you vote in this country? Did you take on American citizenship when you got married?

Backpacking Dad said...

attiton: I have dual citizenship. Not from marriage, but from birth.

Loralee Choate said...

In response to T, I feel it is our duty as citizens to vote as long as you are INFORMED. Every time I see a "Get out and vote" I want to scream "Unless you have no effing clue as to what is going on. Then please stay the hell HOME."

That rant over...

For the first time since I turned 18, I am really, REALLY considering not voting in an election. (I've voted in every single one. Even local.)

WHY should I HAVE to vote? (This is more Kyddryn's comment) I consider myself informed, patriotic with an absolutely impeccable voting record and I really don't think in good conscience I cannot get behind either candidate. I also do not align strongly enough with a third party to feel good about throwing my vote there.

(I realize this is more about comments than your post BPD. Sorry about that!)

Backpacking Dad said...

loralee: not voting is a legitimate choice when it is chosen legitimately. That is, when you do so fully agreeing that those who will be the victims of the elected party are also your victims. It's harder for those in your position, because you have to agree to every kind of victimization and not just choose one unfairness rather than another; you are choosing all of them as acceptable, because you are agreeing with everyone who runs, even though you don't vote at all. But if you can do that then there is no reason for you to feel like you ought to vote. But don't confuse that with also not bearing responsibility for the future.

for a different kind of girl said...

More than once during this political season, my husband has told me that, at the core, the reason he's voting for the candidate he is (which is not the candidate I'll be voting for) is because he feels he has no other choice but to do so. He may not support everything his candidate appears to stand by, but because it is his belief and his usual method of operating during elections, that is how my husband has formed his decision. There's also been talk of " it's better than my other option."

But we don't really have options. There are different platforms, of course. More than any other election season, I've taken time to really try to educate myself on the two candidates. When I have kids coming home wishing they could vote because they have lived the bulk of their lives in what we have going now, I think I owe that much to myself, if not them. I think to be undecided at this point in the season is to be, on some level, entirely apathetic to what awaits us. No, there is no perfect candidate, no perfect answer, but there's a tremendous amount of repair work that needs to be done. Mine may be humble input, but I want it.

The Microblogologist said...

Some very good points have been brought up in both the post and the comments. Two points that stick out to me are that the president is really not in a position to make a whole lot of change given that it takes the legislative branch to pass a bill and if the pres vetoes it the legislature can still pass it if there are enough of them behind the bill. The other point is that too many people are going into the election uninformed. If you support the opposite candidate than I do based on what he stands for I may not agree with you but that is your prerogative. Voting based on gender and/or pigmentation is ridiculous.

I am on the fence about the other party candidates. Currently they do not stand much chance of winning, especially the ones who are only running in Iowa (I was told it is incredibly easy to get on the Iowa ballot). At the same time their running can draw attention to their views and that can make a difference, perhaps not always nationally but locally has importance as well.

Very interesting post.


Redneck Mommy said...

Damn Burns, you are making my head hurt.

I just come over (repeatedly) to see if you are ever going to post a picture of you from your Tight Pants Shawn glory days.

I'm shallow, I know it.


Maren said...

I saw your comment onEternal Sunshine and thought I'd check out your blog. That is a great description of this complicated process that really makes sense to me! This election is going to make history, and the following 4 years with it. Thanks for an insightful post!

Robin said...

I'm with redneck mommy..

Umm...Huh? ;-)

Miss Grace said...

Excellent. Although a tiny part of my heart still blames the Green Party for George W. Bush ;-)