On the Fatal Synergy of ‘lesser of two evils’ Voting

A common refrain from liberals and some leftists during a Presidential election cycle is that even if we don’t like the Democratic candidate for President we should vote for that candidate because he (or in the present case, she) is the lesser of two evils when compared to the Republican candidate. What I’m not sure has occurred to liberals and leftists who think this is that conservatives make precisely the same argument to their peers. In 2012 I listened in on a conversation where a co-worker of mine was arguing vehemently in favor of voting for Mitt Romney, in spite of the fact that no one listening, including the person making the argument, liked Romney. My co-worker asserted that Romney was the lesser of two evils when compared to President Obama.

That last statement will undoubtedly sound preposterous to any liberal. This represents a failure on the part of liberals and leftists to imagine that the arguments we use to support voting for a Democratic candidate are often identical (excepting ideological components) to the arguments conservatives make to support a Republican candidate.

As the Republican party has shifted further right over the past few decades, the Democratic party has always been able to make this lesser of two evils claim even while the Democratic party itself shifts to the right.

By the same token, the Republican party can always represent the Democratic party to their constituents as being too left-leaning even when the Republicans abandon ideological space which is subsequently occupied by the Democrats. How else does one explain Republicans attacking Democrats as ‘socialist’ when the Democratic party’s current platform may be reasonably described as Reagan-era Republican…

This is the fatal synergy of lesser of two evils voting. Regardless of one’s party affiliation, the strategy of painting the other party’s candidate as worse that your own party’s poor candidate keeps everyone trapped in a two-party system that effectively functions as two sides of a single party, trading power across a narrowing ideological space that consistently moves to the right.

I’m neither a statistician nor a psychologist, but something I find consistently troubling about the lesser of two evils mindset in voting is that it both seems to greatly overemphasize the value of a single person’s vote while at the same time reinforcing the perceived necessity of playing on the winning team.

It seems to me that, statistically-speaking, one individual vote is entirely inconsequential on any scale much larger than that of a town. Votes are meaningful only in aggregate. The lesser of two evils mindset will always propose that votes should go to one of the two major parties, but consider, as Dr. Jill Stein has, what could be achieved if an alternative voting bloc could be formed.

Dr. Stein has just described one possible version of the winning team. Pity so few can imagine playing on it.

Perhaps the most fundamental thing to recognize in our current election cycle is that Donald Trump’s candidacy didn’t not rise out of a vacuum. Decades worth of conditions which have been contributed to, in part, by lesser of two evils voting, have brought us to a point in time where a classic Republican disguised as a Democrat (Hillary Clinton) is going to run for President against a fascist disguised as a Republican (Trump) who will be able to run to the left of the Democratic candidate on specific issues (like favorability toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership) while simultaneously proposing some of the most openly racist policies presently imaginable. Most think a Trump win will be horrific, as it’s likely to be. It’s not, however, unreasonable to be concerned about the different set of horrors we will likely experience should a) Clinton become President, and b) another more brazen fascist come along to challenge Clinton in 2020. The thread starting with the tweet below proposes a dire scenario.

If we’re really going to change the direction of politics in the US, and assuming the ballot box is the place to do it, we need to drop the lesser of two evils voting method, abandon the two-party duopoly and find the alternatives that best speak to our principles and beliefs, whatever they may be.

Related links:

An Adventure In Twitter Debate: Totally Biased Edition Featuring W. Kamau Bell

Earlier today W. Kamau Bell posted the following to his Facebook page, sharing it on Twitter as a screenshot soon after.

Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race, Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.” Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, I don’t care if you had no plans to vote for Trump or anybody, if you are white, he is your problem above all else. Simply put, white people, come get your boy.

I wanted very badly to agree with all of the above because I do think Donald Trump is a problem, and a symptom (and symbol) of a much larger and ultimately more dangerous problem. I cannot, however, fully agree with Kamau on this, and when I tweeted my disagreement, hijinks ensued.

Continue reading

A Layman’s Evaluation of Risk: Likelihood vs. Magnitude

I woke up this morning to a Twitter feed that got the juices flowing regarding ubiquity. Nassim Nicholas Taleb quoted a tweet containing a link to a Washington Post editorial titled “You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist“. The text of Taleb’s tweet suggested he wasn’t too impressed with the article’s content.

More from Taleb…

Continue reading

Race Is a Social Construct, and It’s Built With Language

Every time I read the statement, “Race is a social construct,” in a blog post or editorial, I can’t help but think the unwritten assumption being made by the author is that race and racism are highly malleable, subject to easy disassembly. We might be led to believe race is merely a social construct and if we talk about it enough we can undo its very existence. I don’t think this is true. I think talking about race instead reinforces its existence and, by extension, strengthens racism. Our only language to talk about race is a language filled with words which only have meaning in relation to the construct of race itself. That we have no choice but to talk about race in this way seems only to make matters worse.

Continue reading

Captain America Lives In Ferguson, Missouri

Early this month I purchased some books at Barnes & Noble, and found myself musing on the seeming contradiction of purchasing The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero and The Autobiography of Malcolm X during the same visit. I don’t normally purchase pop-philosophy books, but am a bit of a sucker for Captain America. I was looking for a book about Malcolm X and an autobiography seems as close to the perfect book to buy as possible. But maybe buying those two books on the same day isn’t quite so contradictory as I thought.

Marvel is shaking up their roster of characters at the comics level and one of the most notable changes to the lineup is Sam Wilson, the superhero formerly known as The Falcon, taking on the mantle of Captain America. This is a good thing, of course, but it remains within the realm of fiction. The realm of fact didn’t seem quite up to providing an example (other than purely personal notions) of why it might’ve made sense to buy those two books together.

Several days after making the purchase, a young black man named Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Continue reading

Donating Blood to the Inkwell of Lies

Earlier this evening Imraan Siddiqi posted a link to a tweet by Avi Mayer in which Mayer claimed:

This piqued my interest (to put it most mildly, rather I should say my mind was poisoned) and more tweets by Imraan and myself followed:

The only other sites I could find posting about the allegations of blood donation refusal were The Algemeiner and San Diego Jewish World, both of which simply repeat the jns.org text. Note that The Algemeiner is both the source of the profile of Avi Mayer and a reprint of the jns.org story about the alleged refusal of donated blood. Avi Mayer’s idea of “Multiple news outlets” is not very multiple, especially as regards independent sourcing.

Continue reading

Eat a Peach For Palestine

In 1970, an interviewer named Ellen Mandel, working for Good Times Magazine, asked Duane Allman, “How are you helping the revolution?” Duane replied:

I’m hitting a lick for peace — and every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace. But you can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution. I understand the need for a lot of changes in the country, but I believe that as soon as everybody can just see a little bit better, and get a little hipper to what’s going on, they’re going to change it. Everybody will — not just the young people. Everybody is going to say, ‘Man, this stinks. I cannot tolerate the smell of this thing anymore. Let’s eliminate it and get straight with ourselves.’ I believe if everybody does it for themselves, it’ll take care of itself.

A year later, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. And one more year after that, some remaining recorded material he played on, studio and live tracks, would find their way onto an Allman Brothers Band album titled Eat a Peach.

Continue reading

Human Shield / Rhetorical Sword

Gaza—a piece of old Palestine which Israel has turned (and continues to turn) into brutal, hellish combination of open-air prison and live fire exercise—burns.

A model of the Gaza siege

According to Benjamin Netanyahu, “It’s only a model.”

As one might reasonably expect, the propagandists government, press, military, and some so-called “rights” organizations, have put fresh shoes on an old horse and trotted out that tired phrase “human shields”. They refer, of course, to Hamas, and their belief that Palestinians would callously use other Palestinians as meat to absorb the slashings of Israeli shrapnel, the concussive force of Israeli bombs. A couple of samples:

The Twitter account of the spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Force (an Orwellian name if ever one existed) posted this:

Imraan Siddiqi followed with:

to which I replied:

And it seems like an obvious enough way to state the problem with the phrase “human shields”. Palestinians are human when it’s convenient for the propagandists, and, to those same propagandists, wasted flesh when simply trying to live.

But maybe warning shots work to, “scatter the roaches,” as so perfectly stated by the fictional but apropos Colonel Miles Quaritch (in the film Avatar). An article in Haaretz suggests otherwise: Israeli army says the killing of 8 Gazan family members was in error. That headline and the article which follows is as close to insanity as anything I’ve ever read, and I don’t blame Haaretz. How could such an “error” be reported, spun left, right, or wiffle ball, and not be something out of the realm of nightmare?

We’re told Hamas uses human shields. Have you ever been told Israel uses human shields? Have you ever been told that Israel uses Palestinians as human shields against other Palestinians? (More from I Stand With Palestine and Amnesty International.)

The phrase “human shields” is a rhetorical sword, a weapon in the arsenal of the propagandists. Its use makes the enemy seem savage and immoral, while its wielder appears honorable and upright. It is a phrase hidden in a fold in the Newspeak dictionary, its meaning obvious, its twisting of our minds disguised.

Do I think Hamas uses human shields? My doubts are great. Do I think the Israeli government, military, and their Zionist supporters really care that Hamas might use human shields? No, not at all. One more dead Palestinian is nothing more than progress toward a greater Israel, as far as they are concerned.

(If you’re viewing this post via a method that shows the ‘Continue reading’ link below, click through to see addenda to this post containing links to an assortment of articles concerning human shields, warning shots, etc.)

Continue reading

The Curse of Expertise: A Variant

Moments ago I searched Google using the phrase “curse of expertise“. An assortment of links appeared, (as they do) with many cutting away to psychology treatises or economic laments over how best to spur innovation. The pages I poked at didn’t offer much to fit the notions about which I will soon by typing, so I’ll stick with the more freeform approach I tend to take anyway.

I’ve wanted to write a post on the Curse of Expertise for awhile and find, once again, that Twitter has provided a bit of fodder motivating me to do it. Vice recently published an article by Molly Crabapple about the refugee situation in Syria. I read it earlier today and found it to be a very moving description of her first-hand exposure to what internally-displaced refugees are going through in Northern Syria in the wake of the failed revolution. It didn’t occur to me to characterize the article at the time I read it, though in retrospect I would describe it as soft journalism in the human interest vein. This description is relevant because…

Continue reading

An Example of Our Shared Humanity: More From Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain drinks tea in Iran

Anthony Bourdain drinks tea somewhere in Iran (image from his Instagram)

One of the beliefs I endeavor to keep fixed in my mind is that of our shared humanity. While the newstainment media and well-meaning but misguided public intellectuals—along with some number of Genuinely Bad People—try to sell us notions of other cultures as monolithic, deluded, antagonistic, (mixed in proportions to suit the outrage of the moment) I hold fast to the simple truth that people living over there are not so different from people living nearer by. We, (and they, who are also we) the people who aren’t government stooges, corporate power brokers, or contaminated by a thirst for sycophancy/control/violence, are just trying to get by and, for the most part, be good to one another. I therefore hope you’ll forgive me if I think this tweet from Anthony Bourdain supports my belief.

Given Bourdain’s tweet was about Iran, I felt it entirely appropriate to reply with this.

(Clicking on the tweeted image to embiggen it may help.)

I can wish, knowing it will never happen, that the episode of Parts Unknown Bourdain & Co. have been filming in Iran will garner some sort of Game of Thrones-style popularity explosion. While I wait for season 4, (and wish) I should read Persepolis.