sorites paradox

Horse chestnut in prickly shell
Mother nature flings horse chestnuts down from the trees to konk you on head. “Winter is coming!” So too society has arranged warnings of that an election is coming. Society is throwing about all the old chestnuts.

Sorties paradox is back for a visit. You remember old sorties don’t you? A grain of sand is not a heap. I add a grain. Still not a heap. So! Argh! It’s hopeless I’ll never get a heap. Heaps don’t exist. They are impossible. Might as well give up on the heap thing. Move along. Nothing to see here.

The election version of this silly chestnut substitutes votes for gains of sand, and heaps for political power.

The story goes like this. The chance your vote will effect the outcome of the election is very small. So it’s value to you must be small. So be sure to make the cost/benefit analysis before you bother to go vote.

The problem with arguments like these, so popular with the self ascribed rational man, is that in the rush to get a sweet little model we had to kill the patient.

Voting is not a game you win. Voting is one of the rituals performed to denote your membership in the body politic. That body is already heap and to think usefully about it’s function you must focus on the body, not on single cell. The argument is like saying “You don’t need that skin cell over there do you? … So see you don’t need skin.”

Chestnuts like this are deployed to a purpose. In this case the purpose is not to amuse or be cute. The purpose is to suppress turn out. High turn out is good for one side and bad for the other. It serves the same purpose as Republican resistance to simplified voter registration, or deploying a heavy police presence at polling places in black neighborhoods on election day.

It’s purpose is to shape the body politic. Like much of the rhetoric of the right it’s disingenuous. The Right isn’t anti ‘big government” it’s just against a big, diverse, body politic. A small uniform loyal body is easier to coordinate. Everything you have been so carefully taught about how politics is evil, and government is bad – it’s purpose is to convince you to volunteer to exit the body politic. Collective action is not evil. Hard? Yes. Evil? No.

That guy? The one arguing that heaps don’t exist. He’s defending his heap.

0 thoughts on “sorites paradox

  1. Doug

    To claim the argument is solely owned by the right is, itself, disingenuous and protrays a bias. Power on both sides of the aisle has one major desire: to perpetuate itself.

  2. Ben Hyde

    Doug – Thanks for helping to clarify who I am. Disingenuous, biased, … your so sweet. The issue is not that groups want to thrive over time; the issue is the means they use to get there. The consistent effort to drive people out of the body politic is an offensive tactic.

  3. Doug

    You know, I try. 🙂

    Seriously, though, I believe your comment is more to the heart of the matter. Power seeks to maintain power, and abuse is found on all sides. So, my point was simply that you cannot call one party on the carpet about such abuses without realizing that your own party is equally guilty of abuses (perhaps the same ones in different times and/or places). It’s a question of humanity, not ideology.

  4. Santiago Gala

    There are three thing that sprang inmediately to my mind when I read this:

    – unless you opose, I’ll translate the whole post to Spanish and post it to my blog, annotated as I think more about it.
    – the similarities with lotteries. Each one of us looses very little, but there is someone who wins the big lot. In the lottery is the organizer (*not* the winner); here it is the dominant elite.
    – the memetic character of the whole thing (included the “no difference” meme). It is a particularly effective meme since it is propagated (typically) by successful people, the ones most interested in keepìng status quo, and we humans do have a trend to imitate successful people.

  5. Doug

    I don’t particularly agree that the “no difference” meme is engineered/designed by the political parties. In fact, the parties are often in violent agreement with one another in order to create the illusion of difference. The “no difference” meme appears to me to be a reaction to how significant people feel in the political process and the general public’s inability to discern subtleties in the overly scripted messages presented by all politicians.

    And, here’s a counter point to Ben’s assertion that “The Right” is being dirty with their attempts to remove illegitimate voters from the rolls, etc. The Democratic party is doing everything they can to keep Nader out of the election. Is that not forcefully removing people from the body politic?

    My point here is not that either party plays fair. I don’t believe that. I think they both play dirty, for power seeks to perpetuate itself at almost all costs.

    Perhaps I’ve mischaracterized this blog entry as attempting to needle the Republicans, but I don’t find any basis for either party to claim the moral high ground in the political process. The process is dirty, and both sides play it that way.

  6. Ben Hyde

    No, I entirely intended to needle the Republicans. They have and are methodically demonizing their opponents. A pattern you mimic above. Having constructed a straw man of their opponents of vile and bereft of ethics they have then used that to license a wide collection of offensive techniques; Hiding behind one’s fantasy that the other side is evil is no excuse; worse it leads to violence.

    The Right pulled away from the median of the American public (as clearly indicated by the divergence between the voting statistics shown by VoteView and the statistics shown by the Michigan surveys). This imbalance between where the public mindset actually is and the right desires for what to do with power has driven the right to increasingly desperate and increasingly offensive means.

    Nader? Nader has no support to speak of on the ground. His only support comes from cynical labor and funds provided by the right. A good person could only accept that kind of cynical behavior if he really believes that the other side has lost their moral compass. God help us.

  7. James Briggs

    Democrats do the same thing but they don’t prevent prevent people from voting they slander them. They taked every issue and turn it on ist head. If you believe that race shouldnt be an issue in treating people then you are a racist. If you if you believe that peple have a right to be safe intheir homes and their persons from crime then you are agaist the 4 amendment. If you oppose policies that increase proverty then you are agains tthe poor.

    I am running out of time so I will clsoe with this one, not abot Democrats exacetly. Guy’s like Al Sharpton encouraged burning down inner city businesses and kills business onwers and employees. After the businesses were detroyed Al was complaineding that there were no inncer city jobs.

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