If you go to an office party, there are certain things you shouldn't talk about. Three of them, really: Sex, Politics, and Religion. The reason is simple. You're supposed to act professional. That means not offending people, and everyone knows that there's no better opportunity to cheese someone off than by voicing a strong opinion on one of the big three.
The same thing is doubly true if you're any sort of public figure. Smart public figures never stray into these dark waters because they know it's the PR equivalent of shutting your dick in a car door. Not only will the result almost always be awkward, embarrassing, and painful, but people will talk about it for years afterward. You'll never live it down.
For example, let's say you read my book and you like it. So you want to like me. But then you read on my blog than I eat my bread with the butter-side-down. Then you're horrified, because you're a staunch proponent of butter-side-up. So you swear off reading my books forever, convince your friends to do likewise, and as a result, I eventually end up naked in a ditch somewhere, penniless and dead of scurvy.
I've finally come to grips with the fact that I'm a bit of a public figure, though the thought makes me somewhat uncomfortable. But I'll be damned if I'll ever be smart about it. I don't like the thought of going through the rest of my life biting my tongue and thinking, "Can I say that in public? Whatever will they think? What if I offend someone?"
No. I'd much rather you hate me for who I am, than like some false face that I fake up for the blog. Screw that ten times.
So with that said, here we go. I'm going to shut my dick in the car door and talk about politics.
Yeah, me neither.
An open letter to the American populace.
Election day is coming up. That means that for months, you've been bombarded by all manner of forces encouraging you to vote.
I, on the other hand, would like to encourage you to do nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite in fact.
I'm not being sarcastic here. I'm not trying reverse psychology. What I'm saying is that I would like you to consider, seriously, the possibility of not voting in the coming election.
The problem is this. People seem to think that low voter turnout is the problem with elections. But that's simply not the case. All this Rock the Vote bullshit? It's just that, bullshit. If you think voting is a good idea because MTV told you to do it, then it is entirely possible that you are not very smart.
And if you are not smart, I'd really appreciate it if you didn't vote in the coming election.
For example, I was eating dinner the other day at a local restaurant and I heard someone at a nearby table say, "I'm voting for McCain. I heard Obama's into gun control. Nobody's taking away my guns."
I'm not making this up. I'm not exaggerating or paraphrasing. These words have been echoing around in my head for weeks, and it's entirely possible that I will never be rid of them.
If this sounds like something that might come out of your mouth, you need to realize that you are not very smart. I'm not saying you're a bad person. I'm not saying you're evil. What I'm asking is that you consider the very real possibility that you might not be capable of casting an intelligent vote.
Let repeat myself just for clarity's sake. If you're willing to throw in with one candidate based on senseless fear and "something you heard" you are not well-informed, and you shouldn't vote.
Again, I'm not saying you're a bad person. What I am saying is that the fate of the nation is probably too complicated for you to deal with properly. You should stay home on election night and watch some Nascar instead. That's right. Nice, comforting Nascar.
Similarly, I recently overheard someone say, "I'm voting for Obama. It's about time we had a cute president."
Oh anonymous young lady, on election night, please stay at home and watch America's Top Model, or whatever you insipid, feckless, witfucked pogs do for entertainment. I say this simply because all available evidence points toward you not being smart enough to vote.
Well... let me correct that. You *are* smart enough to vote. All of you are. You are also smart enough to design a skyscraper or assemble a nuclear bomb. You *can* do these things….
…But you shouldn't. You shouldn't do these things because, odds are, you do not possess the knowledge base and critical thinking skills to do them *well.* That's the problem.
Think for a second. If you were riding along in a plane, and the stewardess came up to you and said, "I'm sorry to bother you. But our pilot just fainted, can you fly a 747?"
Any rational human's response to this situation has to be, "Shit no. I can't fly this thing. People would die."
(Except if you're a pilot, of course. This analogy won't work if you're a pilot. Sorry.)
What amazes me is that sensible people who would refuse to pilot a plane because they don't know enough to fly, will, without hesitation, rush out to vote as if they're fully qualified. The result is that a mass of well-intentioned but ignorant people go into the booth and start pulling levers like they know what they're doing….
…But they don't. And because of this, slowly, our county begins to spiral out of control, spewing smoke and diving toward the hard earth below.
One final illustration.
About a month ago I was giving Sarah's friends a ride somewhere. Two 17 year old girls.
Sarah turned around to face them in the backseat and said, "If you guys could vote, who would you vote for?"
One spoke up quickly, "McCain. It would be cool if we finally had a woman vice president."
"Yeah!" the other one chimed in.
"Really," I said. It wasn't a question, just a statement. "Really," I said. "Wow."
"What?" one of them asked. "What do you think about Palin?"
"I think she's ridiculously underqualified," I said. "And her social policies are horrifying."
There was a pause from the backseat.
"I guess I'd vote for Obama then," the first girl said.
"Me too!" said the other.
This, in my opinion, is a terrifying snapshot of a large section of the American voting populace. They will decide who to vote for based on the information gathered from television commercials, Fox News, and youtube videos. Others will vote based on fear, based on misinformation, based on what their friends told them.
This year when I go in to vote, I know what will happen. I'm going to stand in line, and I will see some young college student, voting for the first time. Some young man, some young woman. They will be beautiful, bright eyed, and excited about participating in democracy.
Then I will see them wearing a T-shirt that boldly proclaims their political allegiance. And I will know that this beautiful young person is going to vote for a politician whose platform is pure poison to their future. I will see a young man ready to vote for a politician who will cut government funding to his university, raising his tuition and making it even harder to get a student loan. I will see a young woman ready to vote for a politician who will actively oppose her hopes for equal rights, good health care, and reliable birth control.
They will vote for politicians who will make it harder for them to get good jobs in the future. Politicians who will pollute the land and poison the waters. Politicians who will let write laws that will undermine the their right to free speech, then turn around tell them who it is legal to love.
These beautiful, young, hopeful people will go in and vote, fully believing that they are acting in their own best interest. They will vote believing that they are responsible citizens. That they are doing the right thing, that they are good people.
This last, at least, is true. They are good people. They have the best intentions. And they are slowly, confidently crashing my plane.
The truth is, no politician will every give you everything you want. But one of them will be better than the others. One of them is probably looking out for your best interests, and the others are looking out for someone else. If you aren't smart enough to figure out which is which, that's a problem. If you vote for the wrong one because you saw some catchy youtube video, then you are not a good human being.
So please. If you think you might be uninformed on the issues, consider not voting. If you are uninformed, not-voting is actually the responsible thing to do.
How can you tell if you're uninformed? Here's a tip: if you've spent more time planning your Halloween costume than learning about the election, you probably shouldn't vote.
If you're having doubts about whether or not you're well informed, well…. congratulations. Self-doubt is the foundation stone of critical thought. If you can admit to being unsure, there's a chance that you might actually be a rational, intellectually articulate human being. I salute you.
The next step is to get informed. Here's my advice on that.
First, be aware that your voice counts much more in local politics that it does in the presidential race. There are going to be all sorts of names on that ballot, not just McCain and Obama. Once, my friends and I got together and realized that if we voted in a block, we would control a full 10% of our town's votes in our particular district. That is power.
Secondly, make a list of all the loud people you know. The people who are always sure of themselves. Political pundits go on the list: Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Bill O'Reilly. Other candidates include personal acquaintances, relatives, and co-workers. Most bloggers belong on this list. So do I.
Got your list? You need to stop listening to the people on it. You need to take every piece of information they've ever said, and pull it squirming and fighting out of your of your head, because odds are whatever they told you is terribly skewed, if not an outright lie.
Sixthly and lastly, think of the people who you respect. Not someone you're fond of. Someone you respect. There's a difference. For example, I'm fond of the friends that I play board games with, but I respect the scrawny math teacher I once saw step fearlessly into a fistfight to save someone from getting their ass mercilessly kicked.
Ask the people you respect what they think about the election. Then ask them *why* they think that way.
Thirdly, think of someone you know that's smarter than you. Someone more informed than you. This is the person who, if you were going to buy a car, you would for their help. Not because they know about cars, but because they're smart, and they they're good at digging up information.
If you're having trouble thinking of someone like this, here's a hint. They are usually unassuming, considerate, and they listen more than they talk. Good candidates are teachers, librarians, and some journalists.
But honestly, occupation doesn't matter much. For me, this person is a friend named Andy, and I don't think he'll be offended if I call him what he is. A computer geek. I know other smart folks, but Andy tends to be my go-to guy when something is complicated, and I can't be bothered to do 10 hours of research to untangle the issue myself.
I've done my research on the election. I know quite a bit. But I still plan on talking to Andy before the event because I don't doubt for a second that he knows things I don't. Even better, Andy isn't afraid to argue. Best of all, Andy is more than willing to tell me when he thinks I'm full of shit and being utterly wrongheaded on an issue.
In brief, he is my favorite sort of friend, and I have no doubt that he will help me get my head on straight before I go in to vote. I hope you have someone similar in your life.
Geh. That's all. The pillar of burning rage inside me is guttering low, leaving me feeling kind of shaky and hollow, same as always.
If you're still reading this, I'm sorry. It's way longer than it should be, and has cost me a whole night's work on the book. But if I had gone this whole election without saying anything, I would have felt irresponsible. I would have felt by saying nothing, I was effectively committing a lie of omission. A coward's lie.
Good lord. Do I leave the comments on for this one? Though I know better, I think I will. I'm going to consider this a test, if y'all can behave like civilized human beings in the comments below, discussing politics politely and rationally, then it will give me renewed hope for the world. Good, honest conversation about the issues with other intelligent people is the key to understanding. Socrates knew that.
If things degenerate into snarky backbiting and proselytizing in the comments… well… then I guess I'll just heave a deep, weary sigh, and another little piece of me will die.
So yeah. Comments. Disagreement is fine, so long as we're polite and rational.
Did I mention polite and rational?
Polite and rational.