Tag Archives: United States

Why I’m Not Overly Excited About Voting

Vote

I’m bracing myself right now because I’m about to express a sentiment that’s going to put me at odds with a lot of people here in America. It’s a sentiment that runs contrary to some pretty loud rhetoric that has been brewing over the past two years. Some of it has even come from close family members. Knowing I’ll probably upset them too, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m not that excited about voting.

I’ll give my fellow American’s a moment to stop fuming. For everyone else, I think a larger explanation is warranted. Bear with me because these are sensitive times for freedom, democracy, and everything in between.

Today, my country will conduct its mid-term election. It occurs every four years, right in between Presidential elections. These elections are a critical part of the foundation on which the United States government is built. These are the elections in which a sizable chunk of governors, senators, and representatives are elected.

While mid-term elections rarely generate the same voter turnout of Presidential elections, this year is different. The impact of the 2016 Presidential Election has galvanized the passions of both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives seek to maintain their hold on power. Liberals seek to re-establish power after some of the worst setbacks in recent memory. To them, the stakes are very high.

I’m not entirely convinced of that. In fact, I feel like those stakes are so inflated that it makes me feel even less excited about voting. I see people in the media, on message boards, and within political circles calling this election the most important mid-term in history. That makes me suspect they have a narrow concept of history.

Now, I don’t deny the sincerity of those who say stuff like this. I get that they’re genuinely concerned about the direction of the country they love. They have this ideal vision for how they want America to be and getting like-minded people to vote is part of realizing that vision. Whether it’s reigning in the President, outlawing abortion, or legalizing weed, they have a fantasy that they want to make reality.

As someone who writes a lot about the sexy kind of fantasies, I can appreciate that to some extent. When I was younger, I even entertained similar visions. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve become less enchanted by my country’s democratic processes. The reasons for that have less to do with the content of those visions and more to do with the unique quirks of American elections.

The first complications surrounding American democracy, and one that sets it apart from other democratic countries, is that we don’t elect the President by a popular vote. We use something called the Electoral College. Simply put, our votes don’t go towards who we want to be President. They go towards electing the people who go onto elect the President.

If that sounds confusing, then you’re starting to see why I’m skeptical about voting. The logic behind the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago when trying to ensure that heavily populated states didn’t gain too much power over all the others. A lot has changed in 200 years and I’m not just talking about the prevalence of powdered wigs.

Since I became eligible to vote, I’ve seen two of the past three Presidents get elected without winning the popular vote. That means the candidate that got the most votes did not win the election. Call me cynical, but that does not sound very democratic.

To be fair, the Electoral College applies only to the President. Other representatives like governors, senators, and mayors are elected by way of popular vote. While that is more democratic, on paper, the logistics still aren’t ideal. That’s due to additional factors like gerrymandering, a practice that dilutes democracy to the point of watered down light beer.

Simply put, it ensures that your vote only partially matters because you didn’t necessarily pick the candidate. The candidate picked you by making sure you lived in their voting district. It’s a big reason why incumbents have such high re-election rates. It doesn’t matter how voting trends change. All that matters is aligning districts with a certain type of voters.

It’s not quite on the same level as the phony elections conducted by dictators, but it sends a painfully clear message. No matter how passionate you are at voting, there’s a good chance that it has little bearing on the outcome. That doesn’t mean your vote is thrown away. It still counts. It just doesn’t matter and I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion.

Most of the time, you live in an area where the overwhelming majority of people align themselves with a particular part of the political spectrum. Districts located in rural areas almost always vote conservative. Districts located in cities almost always vote liberal. That divide has only widened over the years, especially since I began voting.

Some of that goes beyond direct influences like gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. None of those tactics would even work if not for the predictable psychology of the average voter. In a perfect world, every voter goes to the polls as an objective, impartial citizens who weighs the worth of every candidate. However, we live in an imperfect world full of many imperfect people.

According to analysis of past elections, most people adopt the voting patterns of their parents. It’s not a minor factor, either. By a substantial margin, your vote was mostly determined when you were still a kid. That’s not a flaw in the system as much as it is a flaw in perspective.

If you grow up in a conservative environment, then you’ll vote in accord with conservative candidates. The same applies if you live in a liberal environment. The area I live is pretty liberal, for the most part. I’ve seen the polls for my candidates. The outcome is pretty much a given, no matter how I vote.

On top of all that, and it’s more than enough to temper my enthusiasm for democratic processes, voting in America is extremely inconvenient. It’s not a national holiday. It’s on a Tuesday in the middle of the week and often involves standing in long lines at poorly-staffed polling places. Sure, you can cast an absentee vote, but that process has its own set of complications.

Taken together, I find it frustrating, as a voter. The older I get, the more resigned I’ve become. Each passing year, I see more and more flaws in the system. I see reprehensible human beings and shameless hypocrites win elections, time and again. I also see the list of candidates and groan at my lack of options.

Despite all this, I’m still told that voting is important. Voting is what separates us from tyranny. Ignoring the historical fact that some tyrants come to power through democracy, I’m supposed to believe that my vote will help further the ideals my country espouses. As much as I love my country, I just have a hard time believing that.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m pretty cynical about voting and the current democratic processes in place for the United States. I’m not completely resigned, though. I still intend to vote, but I’m under no illusions. I know it won’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Like renewing my driver’s license, it’s part of my civic duty.

Regardless of who wins and who gets voted out, I can already sense where this narrative will go from here. I have a feeling that as soon as this day passes, the 2020 Election will be subsequently billed as the most important election in history. Just like before, the act of voting will be framed as taking part in a battle against a fascist army led by Darth Vader and Joseph Stalin.

That narrative, in my opinion, will do more to undermine voting than help it in the long run. At the end of the day, elections come and go. Leaders change, politics evolve, and demographics shift the cultural landscape. Not every election will go down in history as the most important. The act of voting in those elections won’t matter that much in the long run. It’s still worth doing, but it’s also worth maintaining perspective along the way.

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In Memory Of Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who (Literally) Saved The World

Stanislav Petrov

Today is an important day, one that became even more important this past year. You probably didn’t realize it and for good reason. Until recently, the significance of this day had been lost to history, but it’s a day that deserves recognition, albeit for a very sobering reason.

This day became one of the most significant days not affiliated with a holiday sale at the mall on September 26, 1983. On that day, the world as we know it almost ended. That’s not a hyperbole. That’s not a conspiracy theory out of a an Alex Jones fever dream either. It’s painfully true. The world almost died in a nuclear fire on that day, but it didn’t because of a decision made by one man.

That man’s name is Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov and if you were alive on that day, or were born after it, then you owe your existence to this man. For a brief moment on that day, 35 years ago, he literally held the fate of the world in his hand and he made the decision that saved it. As someone who regularly lauds superheroes and the values espoused in comics, even I can’t overstate the significance of what that man did.

The incident that almost ended the world and made Stanislav Petrov a man for the ages widely known about until the mid-2000s. It involved an incident in the former Soviet Union that brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. In terms of worst case scenarios, this ranked right up there with an invasion by aliens armed with atomic anal probes.

At the time, Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces and had been on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow. In terms of Soviet defense strategy, his role in that bunker was pretty damn important. It was tasked with monitoring Soviet air space to detect an incoming nuclear attack.

It’s worth mentioning that this was a time of heightened tension. President Reagan, at the time, was going long and hard on anti-communist rhetoric. Being a former Hollywood actor who’d just been elected President, the Soviets had no idea if this guy was just going to shoot nuclear missiles at them because he thought it would make a great movie.

In a sense, this was the worst possible time for the systems at the Serpukhov-15 bunker to give a false alarm, but that’s exactly what happened. In the middle of Petrov’s shift, the systems began blaring every alarm it was possible to blare, telling them that America’s new Hollywood President had done just what they’d feared. He launched a full-scale nuclear attack to wipe out the Soviet Union.

I’d say it’s a nightmare scenario, but no amount of killer clowns armed with chainsaws can do justice to this kind of horror. As far as the men in that bunker knew, their country and everyone they loved was about to die in a nuclear inferno. It was the policy of the USSR and the Red Army to respond to any nuclear attack with a devastating retaliation, as specified in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.

It was Stanislav Petrov’s job/duty to inform the Soviet high command of the detection. Every bit of his military training demanded that he inform his superiors to retaliate, thereby destroying the United States and Western Europe in reign of nuclear fire. In a state of such heightened tensions, he might have been justified in doing so.

All it took was one call to his superiors. That would’ve been it. That would’ve ended the world, as we knew it. Try and think about that for a second. In that moment, the fate of the world and billions of lives lay on the shoulders of Stanislav Petrov. If he makes that call, then the world as we know it is over.

However, in that moment when he literally had the world on his shoulders, he didn’t make that call. In that moment, he made a decision that saved the world and its future. He did it by not following the protocol that he’d been trained to follow and by the Soviet Union, no less, who were not known for being understanding to disobedience.

Petrov, with his duty and the weight of the situation bearing down on him, believed it to be a false alarm. He had good reason for believing this. The systems were detecting only several missiles, which was pretty small, given the sheer size of America’s nuclear arsenal. If America’s Hollywood President really wanted to wipe out the Soviet Union, he definitely would’ve used more.

Even so, his training and his duty told him to inform his superiors. He only had 15 minutes to do so because that’s how long it took for a detectable missile to reach its target. That’s right. In the time it takes to watch an episode of “Robot Chicken,” Stanislav Petrov had to make a decision that would’ve determined the fate of this entire planet.

The fact that no nuclear bombs went off and billions of people didn’t die is proof that he made the right decision. It was later determined that the false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the erratic orbits of the Soviet’s satellites.

It seems so trivial now, but keep in mind that these were tense times during the Cold War. It really didn’t take much to spook either America or the USSR. It could’ve easily become a perfect storm, of sorts, for accidental nuclear annihilation and nobody would’ve been left on this planet to admit they screwed up.

It’s because of Petrov’s decision that day, to not follow protocol and trust his instinct, that we avoided Armageddon. For that decision, Petrov received no metal, commendation, or recognition for his decision. He just got a pat on the back, which was the most anyone could hope for in the Soviet Union at that time.

This man literally saved the world in the most painfully literal sense, but was quickly forgotten. There were no parades, movies, or free tickets to a Madonna concert. Petrov just went back to living his life until he retired from the military.

It really wasn’t until 2004 that Petrov began getting recognized for his actions, that day. By then, though, the weight of that moment had lost its place in the public consciousness. The fact I have to write about it on this blog shows just how little awareness this man and that fateful day have in the annuls of history.

Well, in this year, that day became a lot more important because back in May, Stanislav Petrov passed away at age 77. It wasn’t widely reported. It didn’t even get mentioned on any of the major news outlets in America or Russia. This man who saved billions of lives isn’t even alive anymore to appreciate.

He lived a quiet, unremarkable life towards the end. He never considered himself a hero. He never even tried to put that label on himself. He was just the right man in the right place to make the right decision. In doing so, he saved billions of lives and preserved the future of this planet.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the decision that this man made on that fateful day 35 years ago. Some may brag that they saved the world or are arrogant enough to think that they can. Stanislav Petrov didn’t need to brag because he did it. He saved this world and most people will never know what he did.

Now that he’s passed, let’s all take a moment to appreciate what this man did. By trusting his instinct and his humanity, not wanting to make the decision that would destroy this world, he proved just how heroic a person could be in the worst of circumstances.

From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all those who are alive because of the decision made that day, thank you Mr. Petrov. Thank you for doing the right thing in the worst of circumstances. This world is still spinning because of you. Rest in peace knowing you saved it.

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Thought Experiment On Democracy (The Non-Boring Kind)

I imagine that after last week, everybody is sick of politics, elections, and democracy in general. Believe me, I feel your pain. I almost long for the days when the news dedicated most of its time to what was going on with Kim Kardashian’s ass. Now that the 2016 Election is over, we can all stop fighting the urge to throw a brick at our TVs.

Now don’t worry. This post is not going to be about politics, at least not in the Anderson Cooper type tradition. I remain committed to keeping this blog relatively free of overly political bullshit that would otherwise kill the sexy mood I’m trying to create with my novels. While there are some political undertones in this topic, it’s not the kind that make most people want to beat each other to death with a sack of hammers.

This post is about something a bit more thought-provoking, at least that’s my hope. It’s another thought experiment. I’ve posed them before on this blog on other topics like disease and attitudes towards jealousy. I think it’s helpful to get people thinking about a difficult issue and this is as difficult as it comes these days.

More than anything else, the 2016 election in America highlights the flaws in democracy. It is prone to the irrational, irresponsible whims of our caveman brains. Those brains are wired in a way where we don’t give enough of a damn about what is actually true and instead go with how something makes us feel.

This is why demagogues, hypocrites, liars, cheaters, and reality TV stars can run for office and actually win. These people are smart enough to understand that the mass public doesn’t care if you’re a liar or a cheat. If you tell them what they want to hear and make them feel good, they’ll vote for you.

This is exactly why even the great Winston Churchill was critical of democracy. He said it himself.

Democracy, as beautiful a thing it is, has room for improvement. It’s definitely an improvement on the Game of Thrones style governments of the past where kings could routinely spit on peasants and shoot them for sport if he wanted. There are still tyrants in this world, but their governments tend to fail miserably in the long run. Just look at North Korea.

So rather than just throw democracy out entirely, why not give it some added polish? Why not look for ways to make it better? The Founding Fathers of America did that. People often forget that the first form of government they chose wasn’t the Constitution. It was the Articles of Confederation, which was so flawed that it didn’t even last a decade.

With that in mind, let’s channel the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and look at our current forms of government, not just in America, but all around the world. How do we improve it? How do we make it better, more efficient, and more just?

It’s a hard (if not impossible) question to answer. Many have tried though. Listverse even compiled a list of bizarre, hypothetical governments that have never been tried, but do seek to make improvements over the current system.

Some aren’t all that radical. The concept of the Perfect Commonwealth or Jeffersonian Democracy all have concepts that are fairly well-rooted in the real world, if not historically, then most certainly practically. Then, you get much weirder concepts like Liquid Democracy or Technocracy, which require more imagination than bureaucracy.

These are all interesting/strange/downright crazy ideas. So for the sake of this argument, let’s keep them all in mind as we conjure a better form of democracy. Let your imagination go a little crazy and conjure a government that might actually work in the real world.

Having done this thought experiment already in my own slightly crazy brain, I have an idea I’d like to share. It’s not something James Madison would probably approve of, but here it is. I even have a name for it.

Negative Democracy

Now don’t let the name scare you. I’m not talking about a democracy that will allow the King Joffrey’s of the world to reign supreme. I’m talking about a form of democracy that takes the current flaws, turns them upside down, and keeps them there so that the current corruption doesn’t get a chance to return.

So how does it work? Well, it goes like this:

  • There are three tiers: local, state, and federal
  • The local tier elects its leaders by popular vote
  • The state tier elects its governor by popular vote, but legislators are appointed by the local-elected officials
  • The federal tier elects its congressperson by popular vote, but the president/prime mister is appointed by a 2/3 vote by state governors
  • Every year on the first Saturday of November, the people can vote to remove any appointed and/or elected representative at any level if the vote is greater than 2/3 of the population

I know it’s basic, crude, and simplistic. I’m no Thomas Jefferson. That much, I admit. However, I make these points to highlight one key component of Negative Democracy that makes it unique.

It doesn’t focus as much on electing officials to public office as it does on removing those who don’t do a good job. Here in America, we do way too good a job at electing incompetent officials. The Constitution says a lot about how to elect these officials. It says far less about removing them.

That’s the key, Negative Democracy. You remove the incompetent, corrupt elements of government in hopes of allowing better, more qualified officials to fill the void. At some point, somebody who isn’t a total screw-up should come to power. Even politics is subject to the law of averages.

The second key is that democratic elections be held on the local and state level for the most part. Why is this important? That’s because people tend to be more in tuned with the officials in their neighborhood. They’re more likely to interact with the mayor or city council than they are a senator or a President.

As such, those local officials are closer to their constituents. They’re more likely to know them personally and when you know someone personally, you’re less likely to screw them over. It’s one thing for total strangers to hate you. For your own community to turn against you is pretty powerful. Only a select few have the ego and cruelty to try a terrible stunt like that.

Under this system, most of the federal officials are appointed and don’t have to run an election campaign. They can still be voted out of office every year if their constituents don’t like what they’re doing, but the key is they don’t run expensive, dishonest campaigns in the first place. They get appointed, they go to the capital, and they do their job.

If you think that might be prone to corruption, I don’t doubt there’s a chance. There’s a chance for corruption in every form of human-centered governance. It’s just a matter of managing the incentives to cheat as much as possible.

There’s a reason why the Judicial Branch of government in America gets less press and is often seen as the most effective branch. It gets to exercise Judicial Independence. Judges in this branch don’t have to run for office and they don’t need to be re-elected. They can, in principle, lose their jobs if they do something egregious, but those instances are rare.

So much time, energy, and money is spent on just electing officials. In a large, diverse country like the United States, that’s wholly impractical. For every country and society, the emphasis of all government should be to maintain rule of law, protect people from harm, and manage public services. It’s a difficult, if not impossible task to accomplish, but it’s too important not to be improved upon.

With this in mind, I challenge others to conduct this same thought experiment. What sort of new government system would you come up with? What would you call it? How would it work? Share it! During these trouble timed, these are definitely ideas worth exploring.

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