Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My Deep Dark Secret: I Don't Vote

Here's why I don't vote: I don't know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision. Is it REALLY better (for society) if I vote -- even if I randomly push buttons -- than if I leave the field and let more knowledgeable people do it? I try not to make other decisions based on ignorance, so why should I do this with politics?

I suppose many people would respond by saying that I should study the candidates and then vote. I don't do this because it is extremely painful for me. I HATE politics. There's nothing fun about it for me at all. If I watch CNN (which I try to every now and then), I want to scream. This is probably because I grew up in a highly-charged, politicized household, in which political "discussion" became associated in my mind with anger and fighting.

So is it my duty to endure something I hate for months before every election? People keep making me feel like I'm a bad person for not-doing-my-part. And I would admit that I WOULD be a bad person if I failed to help a dying person because I didn't want to get blood on my tie. But that (hopefully), would be a rare event. Elections (when you count state & local ones) go on all the time. How much continual unhappiness need one endure?

Another problem: I can't stand us-vs-them mentality. (I've never liked sports, either. I don't like teams or sides.) If a political discussion veers into "those insane democrats" or "those horrible republicans," by brain turns off. I know some will disagree, but I think there are very few complex issues that are black & white. So it's hard for me to believe that one party is all right and the other is all wrong.

Take economics: from my (admittedly simpleminded) viewpoint, there are two major economic philosophies that are commonly pushed: (a) spread the wealth, because then poor people are better off, and (b) help the rich people because then they will spend more and we'll all gain.

Which one of these is best? I don't know and I don't see how anyone can know. To really know, you'd have to run a huge experiment in some kind of global simulator. Real-world examples don't count, because the test-tube is too dirty.

I don't get how people are so sure they're right about extremely complex economic issues. I guess it's akin to faith. And I'm not good with faith.

I wish I could find some balanced editorials about candidates. Something like "So-and-so will probably be good for health-care, because he supports plan A; on the other hand, he will might hurt national security because he believes in philosophy X. The other candidate has a more reasonable take on security. Unfortunately, his environmental policy is suspect because he always votes against Z."

But most of what I read is insult-flinging. As soon as someone starts badmouthing a candidate (or praising him to the heavens), I lose trust. I lose trust because I figure, how can a candidate be all bad or all good? If a columnist is acting like the candidate is always wrong or always right, then the columnist is probably oversimplifying the candidate. He's probably doing so because of a deeply help prejudice. I.e. he just hates all republicans.

Our culture pushed people towards developing political prejudices. We're brought up to be liberals, conservatives, democrats, republicans, environmentalists, or whatever. Then we're ushered into teams of like-minded people.

TV-shows and magazines prefer prejudiced people. They cause arguments, which are always good for ratings and sales. Which is why I hate shows like "Crossfire." When people start yelling, I tune out. How does yelling solve anything? My ONLY interest in politics is as a means of solving problems. I want to vote for X because he seems most likely to solve problems and not create them. I have NO interest in politics as a sport.

There must be people out there somewhere who aren't "team players." Who are they?

These people aren't into yelling and they're not wishy-washy. I am concerned by the confusion between balanced and wishy-washy. They are not the same. Deborah Tannon wrote a book called "The Argument Culture" in which she laments the fact that we view every issue as a combat. For instance, our courts are about finding out who is right and who is wrong -- not about reaching the best compromise possible.

I am probably more liberal than conservative. I am pro Gay marriage and pro choice, but I feel for people who are against those issues. Marriage is a HUGELY potent symbol for many people. It seems cruel to say, "well, too bad for you, we're going to pervert that symbol. Get over it." In order for Gay marriage to become a reality, we may have to say something like that, but I deplore the lack of compassion for the people on the other side of the fence. They are not necessarily all homophobic in the broad sense of hating gay people. They are trying to protect something that's very important to them.

Same with abortion. If I believed that life begins with conception, then I too would believe abortion is murder. I would, then, be a bad person if I DIDN'T oppose it. How can I hate people who oppose it? I disagree with them, but I don't hate them. I think their point-of-view is really easy to understand.

Still, many people tell me that if opt out of the political process, I lose the right to complain about the result of the election. I'm not sure I buy that, but it's fine with me. I never complain about election results.

I've also been told that I'm a bad person because people died securing my right to live in a democracy. But how does my not-voting hurt those dead people? They're dead.

If simply going to the voting booth and making random decisions would make a less of a bad person, I'd do it. But in my eyes it would make me MORE of a bad person. If I met someone like me, I'd tell them that I think a good person contributes to his culture. That contribution MIGHT be through voting, but if he really dislikes politics, I would suggest that he contribute in other ways: give to charity, make public art, work in a soup kitchen, etc. Similarly, it's good to give blood, but if you're terrified of needles, find some other way to do good!

I don't understand why voting (for many people) is the most important way to contribute. Is it REALLY more important, or is it just symbolic? Have we decided that "good people vote" simply because voting is a sign that you're a good person?

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