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Monday, November 14, 2011

The Brookswood Bums

Category: Mind Change

Whenever there’s an election, the cynics come out in droves.  Not necessarily to vote, because they are cynical; but they can usually be lured into talking about whether they’re going to vote or not, and if not, why not. 

One of the main reasons that people give for not planning to vote, or for not voting as a matter of principle, is that “It won’t make any difference.”

Now, there are two distinct possible things that this might mean, and both of them are enough to get me standing on my chair and yelling and waving my arms around, potentially knocking everyone’s beer over.  One of the two possible things is just plain unacceptable and I won’t buy it!  I wave my arms around a lot because I disagree with it as a good reason for not voting.  The other of the two possible things is kind of worrisomely possibly true, I think, and I do sort of buy it.  I wave my arms around a lot over this one because I have a really good anecdote which illustrates the possible worrisome truth of the matter about voting.  I’ll save the latter (and the anecdote) for last and debunk the former first.

Interpretaton Number One of “It won’t make any difference.” 

The first thing that “It won’t make any difference” often means, when given as a reason for not bothering to vote, is that hey, just one person’s measly little vote only counts as one person’s measly little vote.  Nobody is going to notice if one person does or does not vote.  Usually when election results come in, the candidates win by much bigger numbers than ONE!  So if I don’t vote, it’s not going to make any difference anyway.  Even if I do vote, it’s only one vote, and won’t make any difference anyway.  There are so many other voters.  Either my preferred candidate will win or not; and he or she will win or not, whether or not I vote.  So I’m not going to vote, because it won’t make any difference anyway. 

This can actually be a tempting way to think, especially when you live in an area (and KNOW you live in an area) where you are vastly outnumbered by people who do NOT support your favorite candidate or party.  I have lived in such areas almost ALL MY LIFE.  Only once in my long and frustrating history of trudging out to vote has my preferred candidate/party actually won an election!!  And that time, they won by enough votes that they would have won anyway, even if I hadn’t voted.  So in fact, it wouldn’t have made any difference if I hadn’t voted. One is tempted to just move somewhere where people share your political views, just to be on the winning side once in awhile.  (And you wouldn’t have to trudge out and vote, in that case!)

It’s really depressing in western Canada during a national election, if you are hoping to elect a particular Prime Minister, because by the time the polls close in B.C., the result is usually already pretty obvious, based on what everyone did in the east a few hours earlier.  There are so many people living and voting in eastern Canada that not a few westerners have just shrugged bitterly and not bothered to vote, because “it won’t make any difference”.  (We had this problem with Canadian Idol, too.  The pasty lame guy from Ontario who looked like a waiter won, when it was obvious that the cool cowboy guy from Calgary was the much better singer.  There were just more people in Ontario and that was that.) 

Well, tempting as it may be to think that you shouldn’t bother to vote, based on this kind of reason, you had better not think this, because I will stand on my chair and wave my arms around and knock your beer over.  Here is what I will say: 

“You idiot!  What if everybody thought that way?  Then nobody would vote!  The people whose candidates were losing in the polls would not vote because they’d expect other people to outvote them, and the people whose candidates were winning would not vote because they’d expect other people to do the voting for them!  But then… aha!  Suppose YOU are the only person who does NOT think that way?  You could determine the whole election all by yourself just by going out and voting!  Go vote!  Geeze!!!  You never know!  If YOU think that you have a good reason for not voting, it’s just possible that other voters will think so too (what, you think you are the only rational agent in the country?); in which case they won’t vote, and YOU can (irrationally) make a difference!

“Apart from these paradoxical game-theoretical considerations,” I will shriek, “people DIED so YOU would have a right to have an input into what kind of government we have.  You sit there complaining about the government all the time but you don’t even vote!  If you aren’t even going to exercise your rights and try to DO something about it, you shouldn’t complain about the government!” 

As you can see, I am a lot of fun to go out for drinks with.  And not in a nice way.  Especially if you try to argue that you shouldn’t bother to vote based on Interpretaton Number One of “It won’t make any difference.” 

However, there is the odd occasion where the person who isn’t planning to vote, because “It won’t make any difference,” means something else, and at these times I get kind of pensive and nod sagely, and then I jump up on my chair and wave my arms around trying to get people to listen to my anecdote about democracy in the (so-called) free world. 

Interpretaton Number Two of “It won’t make any difference.”

The idea here is that there is no point in voting because the candidates, parties, platforms on offer (at least, the main contenders) are so similar that no matter how you vote, you are going to get essentially the same result anyway.  Sure, so-and-so says he is going to cut spending, and so-and-so says he is going to fix the roads and create employment… whatever, whatever… in the long run, no matter what the party in power is, it’s still going to be checked and balanced by the other party or parties, by whatever corrupting influences are operating (be as cynical as you like here; let’s assume there are lots!), and furthermore, the ability to do anything is so incredibly dependent on factors, both domestic and global (and obviously intertwined) which are not in the government’s control. 

Ideologically, the main contenders in, say, both Canada and the United States are not REALLY very different.  America’s Democrats and Republicans are both to the right of Canada’s most right-wing main contender in any election; from a Canadian’s point of view, there isn’t all THAT much to choose between them.  No matter who wins the next election in the States, America is not going to change all THAT much.  In Canada, the Conservatives are “conservative,” but so are the Liberals, really.  They aren’t going to make any really radical changes if they get elected next time.  There are other parties, but not enough people ever vote for them.  So what’s the point in voting?  It won’t make any difference anyway. 

This is the argument, anyway.  It’s the “I’m not going to vote because there’s nothing to choose from” argument. 

Now, in Canada, at least, it’s not literally the case that there is nothing to choose from.  In a federal election, there are always lots of parties on the ballot, and you can even vote for the Communist Party if you want to.  There are lots of loony parties you can vote for if you want to.  This is a democracy!  Yeah!  You have a choice!  Get out and vote!  If you think the Communist Party, or the Marijuana Party, or whoever, should be in charge, go vote! If they win, they win!  This is a democracy!  Right?

This is the part where I get pensive.  And now comes the part where I start waving my arms around and try to get people to listen to my anecdote.  I start out by yelling, “Do you REALLY believe that you would be allowed to vote for the Marijuana Party if there were really a remote chance that they would get elected??” 

Anecdote:  The Brookswood Bums

Back in Grade 9, in BC’s lower mainland, I moved to a neighbourhood where the population was increasing and they had to build a new school.  I was lucky enough to be one of the students at Brookswood Secondary School (because the subdivision was called Brookswood) when it came time to decide on the school motto and team name.  This was B.C., back in the late 70’s, and we were an open-minded, progressive, democratic type of province.  So the principal, who was open-minded, progressive and democratic, called an assembly after lunch on a Friday and told us all that we were supposed to democratically decide what we wanted our school team name and motto to be.  Suggestions were submitted in writing by the students, put into a hat, and then these were read out loud on the podium by the vice-principal, who was also open-minded, progressive and democratic.

We got the usual range of boring stuff:  “Brookswood Tigers: Let’s Roar!”; “Brookswood Broncos: Let’s Stomp ‘em!” ... whatever.  We were all sitting there on the floor of the gym thinking about what we were going to do after school (by this time it was about two in the afternoon and we were supposed to go home at three).

But then the vice-principal pulled another piece of foolscap out of the hat. He looked at it and he paused and he probably remembers making the decision, but he decided to read it to us.

“Brookswood Bums: Let’s Wipe Em!”

YES!  The whole gym went wild.  This is what we wanted!  We wanted to be the Brookswood Bums!  We wanted to Wipe Em! 

At first the vice-principal thought it was funny.  Everybody did.  He read a few other boring submissions (we were all still chuckling and weren’t really listening anymore) and then it was time to vote.  The first time we voted, none of the other contenders got any votes, and when “Brookswood Bums: Let’s Wipe Em” was read, we all went wild again.  Every hand went up. 

Ha ha, the vice-principal still thought it was funny, but he was looking concerned.  He said something along the lines of, “Yes, kids, that is funny but now let’s get down to business,” and read all the choices to us again.

Same result.  We wanted to be The Brookswood Bums and we wanted to Wipe Em!

By this time it was about 2:45 and we were supposed to go home in fifteen minutes. 

A consultation was held between the vice-principal and the principal.  The principal then got up on the stage and tried to reason with us.  He said, as I recall, that we shouldn’t choose that name because other schools would laugh at us.  He was in favor of “Brookswood Tigers: Let’s Roar!”

Another vote.  Same result.  We wanted to be the Brookswood Bums.  We wanted to Wipe Em!  It was now after three.

Everyone wanted to go home, but it became apparent that we weren’t going to be allowed to leave until we had decided on our team name and motto.  Never mind that we HAD decided on our team name and motto.  Another vote was taken. 

This time, a few people capitulated and voted for “Tigers”.  They still weren’t allowed to leave, because the rest of us stuck to our vote. 

It was about four o’clock when the principal finally got a majority vote for “Brookswood Tigers: Let’s Roar!”  I was among the minority who were still voting for the Bums, but even I was getting fed up by that point.  What difference did it make? I wanted to go home. 

In fact, it didn’t make any difference to my life that our school’s team name was “Brookswood Tigers”, but I have never forgotten the fact that we weren’t allowed to vote for what we wanted to vote for.  What kind of vote was that? 

So when this “It won’t make any difference” thing comes up, I always wonder what would happen if, by some incredible stretch of the imagination, all of the Canadian people went into their polling booths and actually voted for, say, the Communist Party or the Marijuana Party.  Not that we’re going to, or course.  But what if we did? 

I bet that a Mistake would be declared and we’d all have to keep going back into the booths until most people had voted either Liberal or Conservative!  That’s what I think!  And if such a thing ever did happen, it would never, never, be allowed to happen again!  That’s what I think! 

There.  That’s my anecdote.  Thanks for listening, and sorry for spilling your beer.  Let me buy you another one.  Just to be clear here:  I still think people should vote; I still think I should vote.  There are small but important differences between the parties that everyone expects us to vote for, and it’s cool that we have the right to contribute to making small but important differences. 

I’m just a bit cynical, that’s all. 

Posted by julianyway on 11/14 at 01:04 PM | Permalink
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