Undecided

Some times a postings just take my breadth away. … Let’s leave it at that.

Well no.

This is another posting about the logic people use for justifying their not engaging with American politics. It is written in response to this posting.

The value of a platform of public goods is that you don’t have to negotiate everything. As you drive down the street you don’t need to negotiate how to pass the oncoming driver. Why? Because the social contract has a subparagraph about that. When you go to the hardware store and buy a length of rope you don’t need to bring your own measuring sticks because society has internalized a set of weights and measures. Should the exceptional cases arise and bad or deeply confused people abuse the social contract then, we can hope, society’s institutions will correct the problem.

Living inside a strong social contract gives the actors access to a deep pool of public goods. The economists would call that a club. Inside the club boundary so much seems to be free.

It is not free!

Each of us inside the social contract pay something toward it’s maintenance. We pay with our taxes. We give our attention to the maintenance of civility in the public square. We occasionally contribute to the commons. We give some our attention to good governance of the public institutions. We donate our conformance to societies norms. These contributions, in a healthy society, are amply rewarded.

While it is not free, but you may freeload. There are two standard justifications for freeloading.

One of these is the rational man justification. The ethics of the so called rational man dictate that everything is a negotiation. Always capture the discount. Always minimize your cost. Drive a bit over the speed limit. Cut the corner on the road. Never hold the door for a stranger. Capturing 5% here, 20% there; it is a pretty good return on the investment. Don’t vote; it’s not cost effective. Don’t engage in the political process it might dirty your ethics. The rational man lives inside the club and then declines to pay the dues. He is a parasite. He considers those who labor maintains the public goods to be irrational, possibly delusional, and at worse dishonest. He projects his nature onto them and assumes that their motives are similarly parasitic.

The parasite has a few additional decorative elements he usually deploys to decorate his self justification. He likes to argue that his taking is synonymous with thrift. Thrift creates economic value. He likes to argue that he was coerced into club membership and so it isn’t fair to hold him to it’s norms; the short form of that is ‘I don’t recall signing a social contract.” He likes to deploy the word freedom to mask his abuse of the social contract.

There is another justification. Attention management. Nobody can devote attention to all the clubs of public goods we draw upon; that is just impossible! The list of public goods we draw upon is infinite: the public library, the public street, the public park, the ecology, the peace and quit, the public school, the rules of the road, the language, etc. etc. etc. One will have to freeload on most of these.

So people focus. They pick their club(s) and they do what they can. This justification does not make you a parasite, it makes you humble. You are grateful to those who do maintain the public goods you use; you respect their work and you are grateful.

So back to the topic at hand. American politics. Some of the pool of undecided-voters or non-voters presumably fall into each of these camps.

Some are just parasites – they freeload on the public goods created by strong good governance. They reveal their allegiance to the rational-man/parasite world view when they project evil motives on those who do participate. Getting these people back into the political process is a bit of mixed bag; since if they assume that the political process exists to serve the rational man’s continuous striving to capture the best possible deal for his self interest they are very likely to participate in a way who’s emphasis is taking from the pool of public goods rather than creating a yet more vibrant pool.

Some undecided or non-voters presumably fall into the second rational. Their attention is elsewhere.

So what brings them back. One thing that brings them back is their sense of responsibility. Some come back because it’s a ritual like church on Sunday or parent’s night at the school.

Some come back because the word goes out from those they trust: ‘We need you now!”

This is a common pattern around public/club goods. On the good days a few caring souls can keep the boat afloat, but then a bad day comes and the call goes out. Funding for the public library is about to be cut. The traffic light at the corner of 12th and main has gotten really lousy. Somebody is trying to take private your open source project. The call goes out. People come out of the woodwork. People who care enough to come forward when they are needed.

For those who labor at the center of a public good’s maintenance it is always a little hard to understand why more people don’t step forward to help. Since there is always plenty to do, always the threat of a crisis. One is always making the call for help, to some degree.

But, for those of us involved with American politics it is particularly hard to imagine how anybody could still be undecided at this point.

The call has gone out. The voices are horse from pleading. The other side calls this shrill. American, that shining city on a hill, the hope of the planet, has fallen into the hands of the parasites. They are writing themselves checks and putting their idiot sons in the mayor’s office. It’s not clear if we can stand another four years of this.

The time has come for all good men to come to the aid of their party. Come out of your walled gardens. Duty calls.

0 thoughts on “Undecided

  1. Stuart Robinson

    Brilliantly put. I am following this election very closely because it’s a test of the ability of the American social and political system to self-correct before too much damage is done. Good luck!

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