The other day, Carol Nichols linked to an interesting article. It is a transcript of a conversation between John Cusack and Jonathan Turley about politics. We traded a few tweets and I said I’d get back to her, but… tweets are short and shit is complicated and, here’s a blog post. I don’t generally talk a lot of politics here, but, screw it. It’s my blog.
So, before I read the piece, Carol was talking about deciding not to vote at all for the Presidency and some stuff about not letting the good things a person has done excuse the lines they’ve crossed. Hopefully I’m not mischaracterizing her statements due to some misunderstanding on my part. In any case, I’d said something in reply about choosing the lesser of two evils (I don’t by any means consider myself a Democrat, but the Republican party is… way off the rails these days). Then Carol said something I hadn’t really considered: If both options have crossed a threshold of minimum-allowable-bad, then choosing the least-bad rather than demanding better enables increasing badness. So I said I’d read the article and get back to her with my thoughts.
Having read the thing (you did, too, right?), I have to say I see what Carol was saying much more clearly. Surprise, surprise. The thing that stood out to me was that I’d heard about Obama’s whole authority-to-assassinate-US-citizens thing when it came out. I heard about it and thought, “That doesn’t sound right.” And… then forgot about it. Or, more accurately, I filed it under “Bad Shit In The World That, Thank Eris, Doesn’t Affect Me” and then got all riled up about health care and tax breaks for the rich at the expense of the rest of us, etc. How did that happen? How did I let that happen? Talking about how the Whitehouse has sold us ideas is true in a sense, but also false in the sense that it can sound like we are actors without agency. They don’t have some kind of mind control over us. I have to accept that I wasn’t really looking at the world as clearly as I’d like or as I’d been telling myself I was.
Some stuff that’s bad in the world and doesn’t affect me, I can live with ignoring (I think this is only pragmatic). But some stuff should go in the other file: Not OK, Damnit. Things like Sexism, Racism, Child Abuse… and The President of the United States deciding he has the authority to unilaterally assassinate people (whether US citizens or not). Ugh. So, OK. I’m upset about that now. And also upset that I wasn’t appropriately upset about it when I first learned of it. That feels like progress.
That issue when paired with the whole unprosecuted war crimes thing and the implications that has for mediating international interactions and Nuremberg precedents really drove Turley’s question home to me: “Morally, are you comfortable with saying, ‘I know the administration is concealing war crimes, but they’re really good on healthcare?’”
And, you know what? That’s a really depressing question to be in a position to even be asked. War crimes are serious shit, you know? They’re the list of things that we’ve agreed we don’t even wish on our enemies. It’s the list of things that super heroes won’t stoop to because “if we do, we’re not better than them.” They are exactly the stuff that we’ve decided the doing of differentiates the Good Guys from the Bad Guys. So if I’m OK with the POTUS doing them, or allowing them to be done or protecting those that did them, then I’m comfortable being a Bad Guy. And fuck that.
So, I guess we’ve established that I feel like there’s a problem and that I’m not happy with either of the candidates put up by the US’s major parties. The next question is: What do I do about it? As part of this discussion, there is the idea that voting makes you implicitly culpable and that if you refrain, you can be said to be calling for better candidates. The culpability angle, I agree with. But I’m also really wary of casting inaction as activism.
I am not an activist by nature; I’ve never been to a rally or demonstration. I’ve never occupied anything except various chairs and sofae mostly in front of video screens. I am also, by nature, physically lazy. So anything that sounds like something I’d do doesn’t seem like it should count as activism. Like changing your Facebook avatar to reflect some fad cause, or writing a ranty blog post about politics (heh). So on that front, I find the “so don’t vote” thing kind of… dissatisfying.
Also, there’s a sort of game theory issue, here. And this may be an illustration of why we’re all just screwed, rather than a justification for an individual’s actions. But this also bugs me: If I was planning on voting for Obama (I was), and now I don’t (undecided, still), then I am letting someone else decide which candidate wins. If I do vote, then I’m at least increasing the chance that the fate I’ve selected is the one I’ll suffer. It feels very Prisoner’s Dilema-ey to me. That’s not an excuse, but it seems to predict that getting a low enough number of people to vote such that the parties notice there’s a reason is infinitesimal.
Of course, on the other hand, not voting is throwing away a resource in a sort of a similar way as voting for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas is, so my vote or non-vote is actually pretty unlikely to affect which way my state’s electoral votes go. If I lived somewhere swingey, it would matter more. I guess the decision comes a little more easily, then.
Anyway, I’d love your (thoughtful, respectful) comments and reactions. Especially, I’m interested in help expanding and deepening my thinking about this stuff. I’m sure there’s prior art on some of these ideas that I’m unaware of.