Voting Isn’t Going to Solve Your Problems

“Every time you stay home, someone is making a decision about you, making decisions about the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food your kids eat, and how much money you bring home every two weeks. So, every time you sit out an election, every time you don’t show up because you think it doesn’t matter, someone else is happy you didn’t show up, so they can make that decision for you. Vote.”

-At the end of the video above.

Voting has a place. But, it’s a small one. There’s some measure of decision-making that goes into selecting a Representative, a Senator, or a President. But, let’s not pretend that selecting an elected official is the same as making decisions yourself. It isn’t.

Also, let’s not pretend the field isn’t rigged. Candidates are bad, representing a very narrow band of choice. Districts are gerrymandered. Election campaigns run on money, which mean moneyed interests have more say in who gets elected, more so than casting a ballot at the polls.

By all means, get out and vote. But, don’t expect voting to change much. If you want to change the world, you have to be out in it. Voting needs to go hand in hand with direct action, where you are directly making decisions that impact the world rather than selecting someone else to represent your interests.

Scalzi on Impeachment

Of course, this is just going to make Trump more, well, Trump. The man has never understood why people wouldn’t just let him be king, and narcissists never react well to blows to the ego. If you think he’s lost his shit and been completely unreasonable before, just you wait. Things are going to get worse, much worse, especially if, in fact, Speaker Pelosi frustrates McConnell’s plan for a rubber-stamp acquittal in the Senate. And while there is some schadenfreude to be had with Trump spinning in tight, angry circles about this, at the end of the day he’s still president, he’s still a petty, vindictive little shit of a human, and he has enablers. Expect bad news from this dude. More than usual, I mean, and including directives and policies and proclamations that will energize his most bigoted and violent supporters.”

-John Scalzi, “Impeachment Thoughts.” Whatever. December 19, 2019.

John Scalzi says everything that needs to be on the topic of impeachment.

Attack, Reframe, Normalize and Politicize

The playbook is: Attack, reframe, normalize and politicize. The goal is not rational discussion but repetition. I could write a bot to make far right political comments in Internet forums, and people do. Which leaves the question: how should we respond to people whose ideas could algorithmically programmed and whose goal is repetition? One place to start is simply pointing out what is going on. There’s no point engaging with the content of what is being said because it’s being offered in bad faith.

Blue Wall Voices Project

“One year out from the 2020 presidential election and without a clear frontrunner in the Democratic primaries, a large share of voters –about four in ten (41%)–say they have not yet made up their minds about who they plan to vote for in November 2020. These ‘swing voters’ either report being undecided about their vote in 2020 or are leaning towards a candidate but haven’t made up their minds yet. With a substantial number of votes still up for grabs, this analysis looks in-depth at this group of voters to explore the policy issues that could swing these voters to vote for either President Trump or the Democratic nominee.”

-Ashley Kirzinger, et al, “Blue Wall Voices Project.” Kaiser Family Foundation in cooperation with the Cook Political Report. November 7, 2019.

Four in ten of Americans on their preferred political platform.

Change Your Conversations/Life

tl;dr: Discussions with people with love and respect done in the spirit of discovery of truth can be a powerful force for personal change. Without love, respect and a concern for truth, discussions devolve into signalling group allegiances and programming / deprogramming The Others and is best avoided.

Anti-idiotarianism: Opposition to idiots of all political stripes. First coined in the blog named Little Green Footballs as part of a post expressing disgust with inane responses to post-9/11 Islamic terrorism. Anti-idiotarian wrath has focused on Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers in the Western political left, but also routinely excoriated right-wing politicians backing repressive ’anti-terror‘ legislation and Christian religious figures who (in the blogosphere’s view of the matter) have descended nearly to the level of jihad themselves.”

-The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 4.4.7, October 30, 2019

“But the Twitter conversation about national politics among U.S. adult users is driven by a small number of prolific political tweeters. These users make up just 6% of all U.S. adults with public accounts on the site, but they account for 73% of tweets from American adults that mention national politics.”

-Adam Hughes, “A small group of prolific users account for a majority of political tweets sent by U.S. adults.” Pew Research Center. October 23, 2019.

Let’s start with the obvious. The baseline is that no one cares what you think, about anything. People don’t want to read your “hot take” about the news of the day. They don’t want to hear about how the world would be so much better, if only you were installed as Emperor of the World. You’re not going to be Emperor of the World.

Even if Emperor of the World were a position for which they were hiring, if you were picked, it’s a certainty you’d fuck it up, as would anyone. Socrates, Buddha, or Jesus might be able to pull it off, but they wouldn’t want the job. You cannot liberate people and rule them at the same time.

For any discussion, this is the central question. Is it going to be an open ended process of discovery searching for truth? Or does it serve some other purpose, like binding a group together around an established ideology? The answer, at least 1 out of a 1000 times, is the latter.

There are people that want, more than anything, to be part of a group, to share in a collective power, even if it is a small share of that power. Discussion, in this context, is programming. With one side trying to program or deprogram the other.

But, people following a program are idiots. Merriam-Webster defines “idiot” as a foolish or stupid person. In this context, I think a better definition of idiot is: a person that subscribes to a particular ideology in order to be accepted as part of a group, thinks their opinions are correct (though they are idiosyncratic reflections of the opinion of their group), other people are wrong, and other people desperately need to hear what they think, whether they want to or not. There’s little point in talking to idiots, or people acting like an idiot.

Everyone acts like an idiot, every now and again. But, for many, being an idiot is a calling. The goal is promotion of the partisan, whether it is true or not. Although, many of these partisans are true believers, even if what they believe isn’t true.

The sanest strategy is not to get in the business of programming others and to try to avoid other people programming you. Avoid discussions of this sort, unless you deeply care for someone and feel an obligation to help pull them from the path they have chosen. Just be careful to give higher regard for your relationship rather than to your ideas.

If you eliminate those types of discussions, what’s left? Let’s assume we are contemplating an open ended discussion as a process for the discovery of the truth.

  • Why engage in a process like this one?
  • Who should we have these discussion with?
  • How should we do it?

Sometimes talking our ideas through with someone else helps us to develop them, particularly if that person disagrees with us. It allow us to confront problems or aspects of a problem we might not have considered otherwise.

But, our feelings about the other person are key. While it is possible to have civil discourse with people we don’t like, it’s best to have these discussions with people we know and like. If you don’t know or like someone, you are going to be less open to what they are saying. It becomes easier to become partisan or be contrary in a way that blocks a useful exchange of ideas.

What is useful discourse? Paul Graham has a helpful essay, “How to Disagree,” that talks about a hierarchy of disagreement:

  • DH0: Name-calling
  • DH1: Ad hominem, personal attacks.
  • DH2: Responding to tone
  • DH3: Contradiction
  • DH4: Counterargument
  • DH5: Refutation
  • DH6: Refuting the central point

If most of the discussion is equal to or less than DH3, it probably indicates that it isn’t useful. We can safely avoid conversations that drop down to these levels or we believe will quickly devolve into them.

In sum, we know what good discussions look like. If you don’t care for the person and there’s no forward progress to be made, end it. As an act of kindness, let them have the last word. It’s trying to get the last word the prolongs conversations that are better off dead.

Excavating A.I.

“Datasets aren’t simply raw materials to feed algorithms, but are political interventions. As such, much of the discussion around ‘bias’ in AI systems misses the mark: there is no ‘neutral,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘apolitical’ vantage point that training data can be built upon. There is no easy technical ‘fix’ by shifting demographics, deleting offensive terms, or seeking equal representation by skin tone. The whole endeavor of collecting images, categorizing them, and labeling them is itself a form of politics, filled with questions about who gets to decide what images mean and what kinds of social and political work those representations perform.”

—Kate Crawford and Trevor Paglen, “Excavating AI
The Politics of Images in Machine Learning Training Sets.” Excavating.AI. October 2019.