Up until today, I have remained undecided whom to vote for President. Searching for a photo to accompany this post, I came across this one. It highlights the chorus of ridicule I’ve heard aimed lately at the undecided ‘wishywashers’ among us. Slinging ridicule back is tempting; however examining this from a symptomatic point of view instead will get me farther.
Support the Tribe
It is easy to see how tribal instincts influence public opinion. Which tribe are you on, the Democratic or the Republican? If you can’t decide, well, then you must not be one of us. If not one of us, then you are “un-American”. This kind of groupthink is endemic, although not usually as pigheaded and ignorant as this sign portrays. No, often the undecided are just scoffed at as fools unable to make up their minds about anything, from choosing between chocolate or vanilla to—heaven forbid—choosing between Romney or Obama.
It is especially ironic that many of the people who quickly and unquestioningly decide on which team they support also wish the two teams would cooperate enough to make government function efficiently. That is a perfect example of wanting to have it both ways! On one hand, the public gives Congress a bottom-of-the-barrel approval rating; on the other hand—through our blind partisan choices—we keep voting for those most likely to ensure we’ll continue to have a dysfunctional Congress. When a politician is certain he has your vote, what is his incentive to be fully honest or competent?
When we decide between alternatives, what actually drives the decision? Is it free will that chooses, or is it our emotional bias rooted in need and fear that chooses? All evidence points to the latter. For example, take standing up to get a glass of water; I just did that because I was thirsty and wanted a glass of water. My need for water chose, not free will. The most I did was observe and record the experience just now. Any thirsty animal would have chosen to drink water. Only a human would observe, evaluate, and record the experience after the fact.
The only time such a mundane decision becomes worthy of ridicule is when I can’t decide if I want bottled or tap water, chilled or flavored water, or some other petty preference at which any thirsty desert nomad could justly scoff. However, being undecided about who to vote for isn’t a petty option. That said, desire and worry (a.k.a., need and fear) drive both the trivial and vital choices we make.
Facing up to desire’s pull is where the journey to wise decisions begins. As chapter 64 notes, Taking this, the wise person desires non desire. It helps to be as undecided as possible, weigh the ostensible facts as best we can, and know that every side out there wants to entrap us using our own desires as bait. Chapter 15 sums this approach well… He prepares as if fording a river in winter; as if like in fear of neighbors.
I suspect that if the polls were saying that 50-75% of the country was undecided about whom to vote for, politicians would have to either be more honest and competent, or step down and make way for those who were. As I’ve said before, we get the kind of government we earn and deserve. Government can’t possibly be more mature and responsible than the masses it governs… government is us.
Yes, this is a sobering picture, yet hope is on the distant horizon. See, Don’t trust anyone under 60 (p.193) and Core Issues of Human Nature: Ethics (p.594) for some of the silver linings I see.
And the Envelope Please
I finally decided, filled out my absentee ballot, and will hand it in tomorrow. Up until now, I just didn’t know which way to go. I like and dislike some aspects of both Romney and Obama. Also, as you can see, I don’t expect much to change. Congress is the branch of government that actually determines the country’s fate. There is a chance that Romney will be a little more adept at getting the opposing forces in Congress to cooperate more. Serving the lower position, as chapter 61 put it, appears to be Obama’s youthful weak point. Given a few more decades to mature would serve him well.
So, I voted for the Libertarian fellow who is certain to lose. If more people threw away their vote this way, perhaps politicians wouldn’t take the electorate for granted as much. As long as people vote their tribe, politics will be more like that of a children’s playground than the mature ideal for which we dream.
Great blog. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these latest posts on politics. The Tao Te Ching is in many ways an ancient ancestor of ‘Western’ libertarianism and I use it for guidance when approaching political issues. Mainly because these teachings pre-date the concepts of ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Socialism’ which are almost always included in a debate on the merits of libertarian philosophy and it’s application to public policy. Through the TTC, we can discuss the idea of the ‘Government’ without getting bogged down into the tribe mentality you mention in the post over whether State-run capitalism or State-run socialism is more beneficial, we can say there is a Middle Way approach to either, and the more human intervention and manipulation in either system, the farther you travel from the center. I know this is overly-simplified, but how great of a case can you make for something with 250 characters?