7 Nov 2012

From elections to governing

Peter Gleick* inspired me to write with this comment on yesterday's post:
I consider your decision not to vote grossly irresponsible -- why should anyone in the future listen to anything you have to say?
Peter apparently assumes that (1) my vote would matter, (2) my vote qualifies my opinions as worth considering, and (3) work without voting is not worth doing.

As I replied to Peter, I prefer to judge someone's work by its logic and appeal to common sense. I consider voting on ideas and laws (that may or may not work as proposed) to be a separate issue.

In fact, as I said yesterday, I consider it MORE important to concentrate on the process of governing, the everyday implementation of laws, and the actions that determine how well we work with each other in managing our economy, environment, and civil discourse.

This focus on everyday work over occasional votes means two things. First, elections are not winner-takes-all events that instantly allow the winner to impose his ideas on the losers. Elections merely place one side on a higher ground from which they must work with the other side. We are not barbarians who put losers to the sword, take their property, and rape their women in an effort to dominate. The whole point of civilization is not just reasoned discourse as a means of reaching agreement and improving our lives. Its point is that we live in harmony with ourselves and others, dying happily in our beds, surrounded by loved ones in a prosperous community.**

Second, I wonder how partisans from both sides are going to respond to these election results. Although some on each side think that it's ok to pull dirty tricks in an "all's fair in love and war" rationalization that nearly always backfires in ways that reveal their narcissism and foolishness, many others -- including the ones who considered both sides before making a decision for either side -- are more reasonable. These are the kinds of people I want to live with. These are the kinds of people who I'd trust to make policy or decisions on my behalf.****

What I fear is that Republicans will see this loss as an excuse to double-down on their unpopular plans to impose their beliefs, policies (and lies) on others.**** I fear the same of the Democrats, but they have two advantages -- a reaffirmation of a weak consensus in favor of their policies and a need to make their policies work with a minority that can block anything too extreme. The trouble will come when (or if) this Republican minority vows to block policies based on their ideology instead of logic or common sense, a strategy that's turned the US into a caricature of "greatness."

What I want to see in the US, going forward, is an acknowledgement from the Republicans that they lost and that they need to work with the Democrats, and a Democratic willingness (already in evidence) to work with the Republicans. That's how you govern; that's how you prosper; and that's how you move ahead as a country.

Bottom Line: It's not how you vote that matters, it's your attitude towards your fellow citizen that matters. Elections have winners and losers and elections have consequences, but no election makes you a dictator with the ability or right to rule without respect for the rights and dreams of all citizens.
* For those few of you who have not heard of him, Peter is a (MacArthur) genius, "visionary," "water hero" and all-round "fellow." He also doesn't like it when I criticize his ideas, but he appears to possess an ironic sense of humor regarding the connection between the ethics of action and the validity of one's views.

** I ran the "fishing game" for a class of students yesterday. The game is meant to illustrate the tragedy of the commons by putting candy on an "open access" table and allowing students around the table to capture fish. Fish that survive period 1 multiply so they can be harvested in period 2. I've run this game five times in the US and the fish are wiped out every time in the Period 1 (sorry, tragedy!). Yesterday, I was surprised that the students (80 percent Dutch and some foreigners) did NOT wipe out the fishery. They not only got more fish through their forbearance and lack of greed, they added an excellent observation to my "Europe is different from the US" data set.

*** As I've said yesterday, we'd have more agreement on policies if the policies were more oriented towards public goods (roads, environment, wars) and less oriented towards private actions (marijuana, gay marriage, abortion, religion, etc.)

**** Some Teapartiers apparently think Romney failed because he went to the center (presumably they also think that the two "Rape-is-God's Will" candidates who lost their elections should have elaborated on other things God would want).

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