Monday, October 22, 2012

Absurd Notions on National Reform: Kingmaker Edition

I was stopped in the street today by someone handing out pamphlets for Mitt Romney. Since I had the time, I decided to engage them in a conversation. I told them that I was not intending to vote for anyone in the election, and that I frankly didn't care about it much either way.

This would not do. The campaigner pressed me on the issue, assuming that I had never considered voting at all. I assured them that, no, I had once been political, and yes, I'd voted (by absentee ballot no less). I was asked somewhat personal things about my life, I suppose in an attempt to pin down what sort of demographic I came from. Eventually, I disengaged the conversation, probably leaving the campaigner quite confused as to why a person well-educated on political issues would choose to take no side in the matter.

Besides the fact that elections are a tribal conflict, of Optimates and Vaisyas against Helots, Dhalits, and Brahmins and I'm a Brahmin who doesn't really fit well into any political bracket (if I voted according to tribal lines, I would either vote for Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich), there's a more Bayesian reason why I don't vote.

It doesn't matter. Fractally so.

Orange-blooded reactionaries know that voting does not matter because the President and Congress have no meaningful power, and you can't vote for bureaucrats. What if we're wrong? What if the President and Congress actually have power?

Well, then voting still does not matter.

Voting is normally sold as a civic duty of high importance. Based only on the description given by election ushers, an alien visiting Earth might even believe that he was chosen, alone, among all humans, to choose the bearer of an office of high importance.

If voting were that - kingmaking - it would matter. It might not be a good way to do things, but can you imagine if it was indeed your duty to choose, alone, the next bearer of such an important and high office? You might not sleep for days. You would ponder every candidate, you would endeavor to meet them, to find out everything you could about them, you would probably take your job very seriously, and if you didn't, a great many people would think less of you.

Some people treat voting this way. I once did. However, most do not. Most don't think about their vote until the impelling heat of the election storm is at its greatest. Even then, they probably go to the poll and either vote along tribal lines, or vote for whomever they liked best on TV.

Voting clearly doesn't hold much importance to people, yet you ask almost anyone about voting, and they will assure you that it's very important.

Here is a stark case of lying without confidence. These people act as if voting doesn't matter, but their convictions do not agree with their actions. How confusing modernity is! Lying without confidence is a telltale sign of a religious belief (know of any armies that truly believed God would carry the day and laid down their arms? Neither do I), and we live in a highly religious country.

I've committed a grave sin. I haven't explained my thesis yet. So, why doesn't the very act of voting matter? Well, think about the reality, not the dogma for a minute.

There are 300 million give-or-take people in the United States. 217 million of these are eligible to vote. Of these, perhaps 90 million will actually vote. So if you vote, you are .000001% of the vote. You are, in fact, such an insignificant element of the voting population, that my phone's calculator rounded you to 0. To my phone, your vote does not matter at all.

To this, many will respond "but what if the vote is very close? Then my vote would matter!"

Ignoring the fact that the electoral college is free to give the popular vote the finger if it chooses, such close votes have literally never happened. Even the closest presidential elections have depended on no less than several hundred votes.

Ah, what fun would it be to end there, though? Let's say it happens. The Closest Election Ever. It's 2044, and Justin Bieber is running against aged statesman Tom Cruise in a personality battle royale. Besides being close, this election truly matters. Bieber's platform is that broiled babies make the healthiest breakfast. Cruise's platform is that babies shouldn't be eaten, cornflakes should, as they prevent compulsive masturbation. You truly believe that masturbation is a human right; Tom Cruise is going down!

Well, it turns out the Closest Election Ever was decided in the 9th district of Kandahar, in the relatively young state of Afghanistan, not in your native district, in the US capital in Honolulu (D.C. long since having been swallowed by Maryland's expanding marshlands). The pathans there feel strongly about masturbation, and Tom Cruise wins. Tough luck, kid.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

OK, fine, the election was decided in favor of Bieber in your native district in Honolulu by exactly one vote (it just so happened that all the half-votes cast by children under 13 ended up cancelling out). But, was it your vote that decided the election? The truth is that just as you have a choice to vote or not to vote, so does everyone else in the election. In the absolutely astronomically improbable event that the election comes down to one vote in your district, you are still not a kingmaker, because everyone else has that choice, too. Just as easily as you could make Bieber king, or deem him unworthy, someone else in your district could undo that by choosing to vote instead of doing something terribly important, like bathing.

Voting is easy. So why not vote? Well, let's put it a different way. What if you had a one in a billion chance of finding $10,000 lying on the ground at the courthouse if you went there today any time from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM (we're assuming here that you don't already have an important appointment there)? Would you go? You might say yes, but consider that one in a billion is a pretty low probability, and that you probably actually do have about those kind of odds of finding $10,000 dollars at the courthouse. Are you rushing out right now to the courthouse? I didn't think so.

Given this, I find it very strange indeed that my father, who would, often and loudly, declare that "gambling is a tax on people who can't do math", is a firm believer in voting as a civic duty.

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