Tag Archives: 2012 election

Cons Say: “Liberals Are Selfish”

You may be poor, but not as poor as the uncalibrated picture on the left.

This morning I listened to This American Life’s episode #478: Red State Blue State about rifts in families and friendships caused by clashing politics. On it, we heard from a Republican woman who cannot fathom her friend’s Democratic views because, to paraphrase, “she’s not selfish, but liberals are selfish.”

This is standard rightwing fodder, the idea that liberals want “free handouts,” etc. I recall when I used to dog conservatives on forums for right-leaning news sites (where the cons were relentless at responding – I always had to get back to my job, don’t they have jobs?), and whenever I supported some liberal policy I’d invariably be accused of being a welfare recipient (which I’ve never been, btw). The idea here is clear: that I had to be defending liberal policies because I was benefiting from them, i.e., only someone on welfare would support welfare.

And I had an epiphany. Conservatives cannot conceive of the idea that someone would support policies that aren’t of direct benefit to themselves, because conservatives only support policies that are of direct benefit to themselves. The idea that I want systems in place to help the poor because I care about the poor can’t even enter their consciousness. It causes a short circuit in their thinking, because they themselves are incapable of thinking in this way. Help other people? How exactly does that work?

The TAL episode fascinated me because a conservative relative of mine and I have clashed in email (he usually sends me some spurious anecdote “all in fun,” which I subsequently attack with logic “all in fun,” and then his wife emails and tells me to stop upsetting him), and ultimately his arguments can be boiled down to how he doesn’t want his taxes to support liberal schemes. In other words, he wants to keep more cash for himself, to spend on things like a $400 specialized calibration of his plasma TV (true story).

So answer me this question, ye conservatives: what is more selfish, to agree to spread one’s own wealth to improve the lives of all people and society in general, or to keep one’s money to get a prettier TV picture?

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Voting, or, Pushing a Whale

whale rescue

from Barotrauma, © Capt. David Williams

A recent Freakonomics podcast explained that economists do not vote, because, according to Steve Levitt, “there never has been, and there never will be, a vote cast in a presidential election that could possibly be decisive.”

He’s wrong. Think of voting like “pushing a whale.” A whale* washes up on a beach. The townspeople collect, and determine that the whale can be saved if she is pushed back into the sea. And collectively they push, they shove, they haul. More people join, and eventually, there are enough hands pushing, and the whale is successfully returned to the water, where she swims off with a departing, appreciative flap of her flukes.

No single person was decisive in saving the whale. But the whale could not have been saved without the effort of the minimum number of pushers required to move that whale.

When you vote, you are part of the group, working together to achieve a goal. Each person who joins in strengthens the effort. You are being decisive.

The difference between the whale and the election: while it’s clear when your collective is big enough to push the whale (it moves, or it doesn’t), you don’t know whether your single vote is necessary to bring victory to your candidate. Win or lose, you’ll never know**. But does that mean you should sit there on a beach chair like Steve Levitt, eating chicken wings, watching everyone else do the work? Absolutely not. In fact, not knowing if your effort is needed makes your vote even more important.

So head on down to that whale, and push, dammit! Vote!

*For you conservatives who don’t give a shit about the whale, try replacing “whale” with something you love, e.g., “oil tanker.”

**Disregard polls. They only predict the outcome insomuch as they make people enact it.

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