Friday, July 22, 2016

The Social Contract and Free-Riding, Third-Party Voters

Petulantly throwing away your vote on a hopeless third-party candidate is a form of bad faith within the social contract. It's asking for a free ride, refusing to pay or to take any responsibility for the "messed up system," but self-importantly expecting that same system to convey you to your personal destination anyway.

Dan Savage is right: the only people who reason this way are "assholes" (to use Aaron James' term)--i.e., those deluded by an entrenched sense of entitlement to believe that they--because of some presumed superior intelligence or wit or morality or wealth--have a natural right to special opt-out privileges (euphemistically called "voting one's conscience") not accorded to ordinary "little" people--people who, in their inferiority, remain bound by the social contract and obligated to ensure (by voting for a candidate who has an actual chance of winning) that the asshole gets his free ride. Quite dishonest and egotistical reasoning, that. I don't like it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I've been thinking a lot lately about several related fallacies of reasoning, all very popular in our current political debate: whataboutery (well, what about that awful thing Y did?), relative privation (well, X is even worse off), tu quoque (well, you do it, too), not as bad as (well, that's certainly not as bad as what you believe), appeal to hypocrisy (well, how can X say that when just last week he did this?).

What we tend to overlook is that none of these arguments can be legitimately used to prove the objective rectitude of any position. (The fact that Hillary Clinton erred in deleting emails does not prove that Melania Trump did NOT err in plagiarizing Michelle Obama; Trump's fraudulent business schemes do not justify Clinton's questionable money dealings). All that this reactive finger-pointing can do is call attention to inconsistency and hypocrisy in an opponent's behavior or thought.

We all engage in this kind of visceral, relativistic thinking, and it's undoubtedly a pretty normal evaluation process. Still, we should be aware of what we are doing. Whataboutery can help us prioritize and choose the least bad among possible alternatives--all of which (all sides, intriguingly, agree) are flawed. In other words, with reference to our personal rubric of expectations, whataboutery allows us to assign and compare DEMERITS for failures. But it can never prove that the performance of one of the alternatives merits our approbation because it is NOT flawed. Some other form of evidence-based assessment is required for that.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

You're So Vain: You Probably Thought This Election Was (Just) About You

Dear Bernie or Busters,

Perhaps it is time for you to consider the upcoming election in a new light: is it really about the country, or is it in fact just about you?

Yes, I know that you are thinking of voting for Jill Stein. You feel that you simply have to do this; it's the only way you can maintain your integrity, the only way you can remain faithful to your high-minded principles.

Which, by the way, are very high-minded, aren't they? Well, of course they are.

For example, you espouse the admirable notion that politicians and citizens alike must be conscientious, responsible, and--above all--caring. ALL of us must do everything we can to advance the common good, to help our country and our fellow humans.

And so, of course, you intend to vote for Jill Stein, an individual (like yourself) of high moral standards, someone devoted to the notion of making a better world, and...but wait, but wait.. also, alas, someone who has absolutely no chance of winning any political office whatsoever or of changing the world in any way. No chance. Absolutely none.

Hence, I must ask again: on behalf of whom are you taking this confidently noble stand? Are you sincerely thinking about the country and the common good (which Stein can never influence)? Or are you actually thinking somewhat more selfishly--of yourself, of your self-respect, of your "honor," of what you like to call your "personal integrity," of your self-image, of how you would look (or smell) to yourself and the other members of your high-minded fraternity if you let down your Righteous Guard? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I mean, how could you face yourself in the mirror if you actually allowed yourself to vote for someone like Hillary who, well, is just not as beautifully conscientious, responsible, and caring as you are? Mercy, she has made so many compromises, so many thoughtless blunders; she has so many political zits. No, no, clearly you must vote for unblemished Stein, the good person (like you), who does not calculate, misrepresent, scheme, break promises--who does not, in fact... do anything at all! There is such ease, such safety in stasis and pimple-free selfie-righteousness, isn't there?

Safety, at least, for your vaunted self-image. Perhaps not for the country or the common good--since your wasted vote for Stein might very well help deliver the presidency to Donald Trump, his acolytes and their poisonous programs and pogroms.

Yes, Hillary is a flawed candidate, one who--if elected--might fail to deliver many--or even all--the worthy changes you have been so hoping (somewhat naively perhaps?) Bernie would miraculously effectuate. But as much as you dislike her carelessness, her mixed motives and her lackluster liberalism, surely you do not consider HRC a threat of the same magnitude as Donald Trump. Do you? In your deepest progressive soul? Surely not. You've been excoriating him for months now.

So let's face it. You have repeatedly asserted that you want to do the conscientious, responsible, and caring thing for the country. And you have yourself said many times that this election is about the country, not about you. Well, then, BernieBros, are you just spouting insincere formulas or do you actually mean what you say? If so, then you simply cannot shirk your responsibility and waste your vote on Jill Stein--a vain, petulant gesture--intended merely to enhance your personal self-image, not to advance the common good of America. Vanitas vanitatum says the Preacher, calling you on your inauthenticity and bad faith. I agree.

You and I should both be with her.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Twitter Solutions: 140 Character Thinking

Isolationism, protectionism, nativism, wall-building--all are pretty trendy these days with those at both ends of the political spectrum, particularly those who favor "Twitter Solutions" of 140 or less (fewer) characters for all problems confronting us.

Now, I realize that circling the wagons can provide some useful immediate defense when one is actually under attack. But in the long run, if we want to get anywhere (wagon trains had a destination--no one wanted to just "sit tight"), we have to un-circle ourselves, venture out into risky territory, encounter our supposed adversary and either a) fight him (losses on both sides), b) negotiate non-aggression treaties with him (no gain, no loss), or c) cooperate with him in a mutually beneficial way (both sides win).

Note to Bernie Sanders and other anti-free trade Democrats: we can, without sulking in stasis or retreating into resentful protectionism, make legitimate demands on our wagon-masters about how negotiations should be conducted and how benefits should be distributed.

Note to Donald Trump and his crowd of rabid, anti-outsider Republicans: staying walled-up in your little jerry-rigged fortress will never get you anywhere and, moreover, killing all the "savages" (the only other option you seem to like) is undoubtedly the cruelest, costliest and stupidest way to move toward your coveted goal of Greener Pastures Over the Hill.

As medieval Europe, Ming Dynasty China, Tokugawa Japan all demonstrated, walled-in feudal societies tend to stagnate, rigidify, self-mutilate. Anglo-Americans have traditionally rejected such whiny, unimaginative navel-gazing. Therefore, shame on us 21st Century Little Englanders ("Brexiters") and Fortress-Americans ("Trumpsters" and "BernieBots" alike) for our pitifully lazy 140-character thinking.