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comment by user-inactivated
user-inactivated  ·  2627 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Eat Your Ballot

So! A few things.

    But the things being born in America has done for me don't equate to the things America has done for me. That's the difference, to me. America isn't a country that sets out to do things specifically for its citizens anymore, except for a very few with money and those over the age of 65.

Not entirely sure what one might reasonably expect from the state in terms of services rendered. I mean, if you're waiting for the president or your local congressman to come and buy you a coffee, maybe rub your back, ask you how your day went... no, that's probably not going to happen. Not much your local or national government will actively "do" for you personally. But, I mean, there's plenty of stuff the American gov't attempts to do for its citizenry, right? Besides the examples I already listed, there's public works projects, there's health benefits for those who need them (and now there's the increasingly dubious addition of the ACA). There's workplace discrimination laws. There's airline subsidies that, sure, help Big Airplane insofar as it keeps airlines from being entirely unprofitable and therefore unsustainable. That's national infrastructure. There are farming subsidies that not only help Big MacDonald, but also keep milk and grain prices stable for you, Joe Shopper. There are divisions of government set up to make sure that monopolies don't give corporations unfair advantages, there are food stamp programs, WIC, social services, uh, public schools. And by security, I meant security on a national level, not a local level. I meant more along the lines of "when was the last time there was a home-grown, nation-wide splinter movement that specialized in kidnapping randoms off of the street for political gains or big profits on a daily basis" type thing. Or a "how often do car bombings happen in America" type thing. Or "When did the Aum Shinrikyo last unleash a deadly cloud of Sarin into American Subways" type thing. Not really a "how much crime is in your particular community and how does that correlate to that community's socioeconomic standing" thing. Which is really up to state/citywide funding, isn't it? And a problem inherent to most nations above a certain population level.

And I'm still gonna give a shout out to federal loans, which helped my wife, who came from a less financially stable background, get through college and post-grad. Now, you could argue that a lot of these government-funded programs are getting worse and worse, but ultimately that depends on whose ideologies are driving state policy, and I'm pretty sure that goes back to voting, and making sure those ideologies are balanced.

So what could the government do for you personally that would convince you that America is providing you opportunities rather than just being the place you were born? Or is your main quibble that you have to pay for those services?

As for your second point- interesting! Where are you thinking of moving? I think that this, ultimately, is the only way to follow through with the whole "I reject this state of affairs" mindset. That said, however, you haven't left yet, and so the onus of responsibility still lies on you to help determine and, yes, take ownership of our political narrative. And by that, I might not have been clear enough in my definition. I didn't just mean, "voting helps or hurts our national community and you need to own that." In that case, yeah, you could do some service work in a limited capacity and kind of take culpability that way. I meant more on a global scale. The decisions that have to be made every day on that level in terms of economic policy (trade deals, supply routes, sanctions, etc.), security (who do we drone today?), diplomacy- these are all executed with our national well-being in mind. Which doesn't always equal out to your or my personal well-being. But without the one, the other is much less guaranteed.

So let's say the state makes all these nasty decisions, and then we sit all cozy with our property rights and basic freedoms and, yes, relatively strong national security and we say: "I can't condone this, so I'm not voting." Do you see the problem with that? There are so many world actors that are hurt by America's self interest (although, if we're being fair, all actors are hurt by every other actor's self interest when you're talking about the superpowers), and there's fuckall we can do about it. You're not going to fly to Pakistan and help re-build their shelled communities. Or at least I'm not. So anyhow, by not voting, it's not that you're rejecting the system that makes all of this possible. You're just refusing to put your fingerprint on it. After all, you're not voting those offices or those bad decisions out of existence, or willing those offices and bad decisions out of existence by not voting- you're just refusing to choose the name of the guy who is going to make your decisions for you whether you like it or not. Meanwhile, you're still reaping the benefits of those decisions, right up to the point at which you leave. Which means you ought to pay for those decisions- not only in tax dollars and opportunity cost, but in moral culpability as well. In my mind, that equals out to voting, although I'm willing to grant that maybe there are workarounds.

    the system that benefits me that you keep referring to ... I'm not seeing it, really. Everything in America has a cost

I mean, yeah, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a place where provided services don't have a cost. Just because you have to buy into national benefit doesn't mean that America is suddenly worse for your state of existence than, I dunno, Russia or Brazil or Saudi Arabia. You're not blessed to live here because you don't have to pay for services. You're blessed to live here because those services exist at all, and if you require them they'll work more or less as promised, and because if you don't like any part of it, you can complain about it and you won't disappear. We're so wealthy here that we don't even know how good we have it.

None of this is to say our system is perfect. In fact, my above philosophy on voting is based less on starry-eyed "you have it perfect and if you dont, gosh-darn-it yes you can change things" naivete and more on a deep, deep cynicism: "the state does horrible shit so you can live the way you do, so vote in order to help bear the moral brunt of those decisions."

If you're hung up on voting for one of the two yutzes on the ballot... that's not really a good reason to abstain from voting altogether. Write in. Hell, if you think somebody out there can do it better, jot their name down. Vote third party. I had a friend who tried to start a national movement wherein local liberals and conservatives could join up, go to the ballot box together, and verify that each of them voted third party, thereby depriving both large parties of an equal number of votes and doubling the third-party turnout. Neat idea, hasn't yet gained ground. Ultimately though, what I'm getting at is that it's not about validating the two cronies on the ballot, as you suggested- it's about taking ownership of the political infrastructure that makes it all possible, warts and all.

Does any of that make sense? Curse this little text box, so hard to review what I'm writing for consistency.





user-inactivated  ·  2627 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You can make the text box larger! Slightly. Bottom right dot arrow thing.

So. Your first paragraph is basically a list of services America renders. What say you to the argument that it is the duty of a state that imposes its will on its citizenry to render those services? There's one potential counter-argument. Another is simply that I pay taxes for those very things; like I said, I consider paying taxes a social contract for which I am rewarded with public works, stable food prices, all your other points. So on. Fair? The third argument, the one that seems slightly selfish no matter how I endeavor not to make it thus, is that I simply don't use almost all of the services you mentioned. Health care, public schools? There are taxes for that, paid in full. Food stamps? Nope. Governmental health care -- well, Aetna is an MCO, so kind of, but certainly not by choice. Public safety along the lines of what you mentioned? Expected, in my opinion. The baseline shouldn't be Iran. Agriculture subsidies, corporate subsidies -- definitely use those indirectly, good point. But I've read a few too many books on the American political process to think that those were put together for the common man.

So in the sense that I take part in the American economy, I owe my country that it is stable. I don't want to come off as a) ungrateful or b) oblivious to the difference between growing up in Equitorial Guinea and the US, as many anarcho-capitalists etc do. No. By far the stronger of the arguments are the former two, in my opinion. But I refuse to feel guilt about not voting because I am offered the opportunity to use many services which I do not need.

    The decisions that have to be made every day on that level in terms of economic policy (trade deals, supply routes, sanctions, etc.), security (who do we drone today?), diplomacy- these are all executed with our national well-being in mind. Which doesn't always equal out to your or my personal well-being. But without the one, the other is much less guaranteed.

    So let's say the state makes all these nasty decisions, and then we sit all cozy with our property rights and basic freedoms and, yes, relatively strong national security and we say: "I can't condone this, so I'm not voting." Do you see the problem with that?

Okay, what you're getting at makes perfect sense. But ... I'm not convinced that voting for the sake of the "right to criticize" is any nobler than abstention. Especially because before I moved I lived in one of the most gerrymandered areas in the history of the country. Does that ridiculous train wreck give my abstention the moral high ground? Does having the high ground even matter? I do lean pro-government, politically -- far more so than many on hubski -- so it's not like I go around waving a stick in the air (at least no often, and only when I get really mad). But I find it fascinating that you keep equating voting with responsibility, with morality -- when it's not clear to me that voting gives me either of those. It's a wonderful argument and I'm not not convinced -- but the ironclad fact remains that people beyond my ken have basically taken voting on a national level away from me. I don't even really begrudge them that, because I want to avoid the hypocrisy; they're just furthering their own interests.

    I mean, yeah, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a place where provided services don't have a cost. Just because you have to buy into national benefit doesn't mean that America is suddenly worse for your state of existence than, I dunno, Russia or Brazil or Saudi Arabia.

We agree this far, we're just hung up on what the cost should be. I wonder. Anyway, I spent last summer backpacking around western Europe; I'd like to live somewhere there, or Canada, or Australia, or anywhere really. My primary motivation for moving is less "get out" than it is to explore, but the "get out" is an underlying current.

user-inactivated  ·  2625 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Finally got a free moment, so I wanted to follow up, although this one is gonna be a little bit abridged.

I don't disagree with most of your first paragraph. Ultimately, our access to state-provided services, especially given that we pay for them with taxes, doesn't impose upon us any obligation to vote. I was more listing those services because you seemed to have some question earlier on about whether or not there was any benefit to living in America, as well as an assertion that America didn't do anything for you, personally. That you don't at this point need any of the potential services says less about America, though, and more about you as a healthy young adult in a relatively stable situation, right? Besides that, I totally agree. Basic social contract = I pay for a service (taxes), state provides that service (any/all of discussed). Voting never necessarily enters into it.

Only point that I'd debate in that paragraph is the following:

    What say you to the argument that it is the duty of a state that imposes its will on its citizenry to render those services?

Now, I'm not going to totally refute this- I will say, however, that it is a highly controversial idea, and one that's only really taken as a given in functioning liberal democracies. There's an interesting book by this dude Mancur Olson called "Power and Prosperity," dealing principally with the issue of the state's role in economic dealings. Essentially, he suggests that governments could be viewed as little more than well-estabilished organized crime syndicates- "stationary bandits." They set up shop in a place, establish a monopoly on power (military might, biggest stick in the room and all that), and then slowly squeeze the natives for cash and resources. In return, they provide protection for those natives from other outside actors, and may even set up infrastructure to encourage economic stability. In so doing, they shore up their power twofold- 1) inhabitants are more likely to play along if they can, on a basic level, count on all their stuff to still be there in the morning, and 2) can, with a stronger local economy, in turn squeeze more resources from their victims, er, constituents.

What's the point of this diatribe? Not much, other than A) you strike me as the kind of guy who would like that book, and B) if you go by that argument, your original point- "duty of a state to render those services"- is a little off base. It's more like "a really successful/devious state will find it in their best interest to provide these services in order to raise a fatter, tastier herd to eat at its leisure." Duty never really enters into it. A state isn't defined by its duty to the citizenry, that's more of a liberal democratic invention. A state could simply be defined as the regional actor with the biggest claim to legitimized violence, and the ability to use that violence more effectively and with wider scope than all the other guys.

But I'm getting way off track- sorry, I haven't wanked political since I got my degree, and I forgot how fun it is.

Bottom line: your first paragraph is sound, although I'd question the whole "duty of the state" thing. And come to think of it, that you might believe that of a state is a huge point in favor of how great it is to live in America. That we accept that definition of statehood so readily means that certain expectations of comfort are so ingrained in our political psyche as to render other versions of statehood- think Yemen or Iran- pretty inconceivable.

As for the second half of your last post- a little more clarification. I wasn't suggesting that voting gave "the right to criticize." We all, by virtue of being citizens, hold that right. It might give one the right to criticize our system without tipping towards hypocrisy ("I'm so unhappy with this state of affairs that I refuse to do anything that might make me happier about it, and I refuse to stop the people who are making me so unhappy"). In fact, I wasn't trying to touch on our rights at all. More on our duty to advertise our personal culpability through voting: "I grant that America does terrible things so that it can keep on being America. I grant that America's continued existence benefits me as a citizen of America and (possible future) recipient of American privileges. Given these premises, it is my duty not only to grudgingly accept these American privileges, but to help select the Chief Bad Guy and thereby own up to my complicity in all of the above."

I agree, it's a fun argument, and I also agree- not necessarily convincing. I'm not even sure I find it convincing yet, I'm still chewing on it. So I can't really begrudge you for not being convinced yourself, especially given that you're living a heavily gerrymandered existence. Austin, wasn't it? Being a progressive in Texas sounds like a great way to ensure an early stroke. I'm still gonna stick to my earlier suggestion, though- even if you don't want to vote for either of the sanctioned choices, vote Mickey Mouse, or Frank Zappa, or your best friend. Just put something on the ballot- if not only because it's louder to voice your non-compliance with a nonsense vote than it is to just drop off the grid, which, after all, is exactly what those assholes are counting on.

I'd be careful with Canada- it seems like all wine and roses from down here, but I've got it from a few reputable sources that their economic/environmental policy is despicable. And given the events of this past week in Toronto, I'm not so sure that their politicians are any less infuriating than ours.

PS- I don't understand, Flag. Should I be "sharing" your comments or not? Goddammit, you keep on sharing mine but you put a fine point on being selective in what we share. I want to keep hitting "share!" Why can't I hit "Share?"

PPS- I am incapable of abridging any thought.

user-inactivated  ·  2624 days ago  ·  link  ·  

All right I too will do my best to pare this down just a tad.

    That you don't at this point need any of the potential services says less about America, though, and more about you as a healthy young adult in a relatively stable situation, right?

Yeeees, but I still pay taxes equal in some ways to a person who -- well basically the system of taxation has no way of distinguishing between who is paying for something they use and who isn't. Obviously. That's fine, that's how a social democracy works. But I'm still paying taxes and getting less back than many citizens, so there's an argument to be made that I'm going above and beyond there (as is any healthy non-criminal citizen). There's also the idea that as a larger and larger portion of America becomes overweight or obese, those of us who aren't will be essentially funding a giant fucking eating problem. I wonder which politician will have the nerve to make that point in 20 years. Anyway, yes. Yes, you can more or less write off my argument about not needing certain services -- with caveats.

    Now, I'm not going to totally refute this- I will say, however, that it is a highly controversial idea, and one that's only really taken as a given in functioning liberal democracies. There's an interesting book by this dude Mancur Olson called "Power and Prosperity," dealing principally with the issue of the state's role in economic dealings. Essentially, he suggests that governments could be viewed as little more than well-estabilished organized crime syndicates- "stationary bandits." They set up shop in a place, establish a monopoly on power (military might, biggest stick in the room and all that), and then slowly squeeze the natives for cash and resources. In return, they provide protection for those natives from other outside actors, and may even set up infrastructure to encourage economic stability. In so doing, they shore up their power twofold- 1) inhabitants are more likely to play along if they can, on a basic level, count on all their stuff to still be there in the morning, and 2) can, with a stronger local economy, in turn squeeze more resources from their victims, er, constituents.

    What's the point of this diatribe? Not much, other than A) you strike me as the kind of guy who would like that book, and B) if you go by that argument, your original point- "duty of a state to render those services"- is a little off base. It's more like "a really successful/devious state will find it in their best interest to provide these services in order to raise a fatter, tastier herd to eat at its leisure." Duty never really enters into it. A state isn't defined by its duty to the citizenry, that's more of a liberal democratic invention. A state could simply be defined as the regional actor with the biggest claim to legitimized violence, and the ability to use that violence more effectively and with wider scope than all the other guys.

This I love. If you look at all of recorded human history, from around 3000 to about 1700, nearly every single empire entity was exactly this. Kautsky called them traditional aristocratic empires. They, of course, saw it as the duty of the "citizenry" to provide to the elites. Now, I've been playing the devil's advocate sort of with the "duty of the state" argument for the most part, but I certainly like it better than the alternative, coerced "duty of the peasants." Why? Well, it seems better, doesn't it? And you bring up the traditional way empires formed and governments played out, but Kautsky's whole point in that book up there is that something has clearly changed since 1700 when most of the traditional empires died out, so why are we basing our expectations on the archaic past. I don't know. It involves the (extremely controversial of course) idea of a sort of manifest destiny of democracy, which everyone believed in 1955 and no one believes now (and, like you point out, couldn't even be conceived of Iran -- although they've come closer than most realize!).

There's also the middle ground, duty of no one to anyone, which is basically what we have in America, where people and government are locked in constant cold war. Whatever.

    our duty to advertise our personal culpability through voting: "I grant that America does terrible things so that it can keep on being America. I grant that America's continued existence benefits me as a citizen of America and (possible future) recipient of American privileges. Given these premises, it is my duty not only to grudgingly accept these American privileges, but to help select the Chief Bad Guy and thereby own up to my complicity in all of the above."

Ha!

    Just put something on the ballot- if not only because it's louder to voice your non-compliance with a nonsense vote than it is to just drop off the grid, which, after all, is exactly what those assholes are counting on.

They are. I hold out a forlorn hope that if ever we hit a presidential election where, say, only 30 percent of eligible voters vote, or less, (and every county goes 80/20 or steeper because of political pinwheeling) someone will realize that we must have election reform. However, I admit that not voting when currently more than half of eligible voters still vote is just the signal fading in the noise. That's why I'm extremely reluctant to call my apathy here "making a stand" etc. Increasingly I believe there's no solution. You're the voice of reason in this conversation and you just told me to vote for Mickey Mouse.

PS: I share any comment on hubski that looks like it took effort to produce and isn't overtly rude.

user-inactivated  ·  2623 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I gotta read me some Kautsky.

Just read this yesterday, it seemed appropriate to this discussion. There's an awkward conclusion tacked onto it to relate it back to NYC, but other than that, quick, good read:

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2013/11/18/131118taco_...

user-inactivated  ·  2622 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    The Times columnist Joe Nocera predicted these dismal results, and he proposed a number of reforms to pump some healthy, less toxically partisan blood into American democracy, such as moving Election Day from Tuesday—an agrarian anachronism from the mid-nineteenth century that is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution—to the weekend; opening primaries to all voters; matching small campaign donations with public funds, a system that greatly benefitted both Bill de Blasio and his Republican opponent; and ending gerrymandering by having nonpartisan commissions, rather than highly partisan legislatures, draw up congressional districts. Nocera even implied that it might be a good idea to make voting mandatory, as it is in Australia, where failure to vote is punishable by fine.

In my opinion we've hit a point where trying some of these ideas for the hell of it can't be any worse than the current system.

b_b  ·  2622 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Tuesday voting is certainly silly and really not all that justifiable. But the big fish is gerrymandering. Until that problem is solved, there will be no justice in the voting system (and probably not then either, but at least it would be a start). Look at a state like PA. They have 18 congressional districts, only 5 of which (according to the Wikipedia article I just read) are represented by Democrats, despite the fact that more total votes were cast for Democrats in PA in 2012. What kind of madness is that? And it will be that way until at least the next census, unfortunately. If that is democracy, I don't think I want to know how bad an oligarchy would be.

user-inactivated  ·  2626 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Not ignoring this/haven't forgotten about it! Just swamped with work, maybe until tomorrow. But there are some great points that I want to follow up on if you're willing to wait a while.

user-inactivated  ·  2626 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Course!