The Presidential Race and Wasting My Vote

Facebook can be a cesspool for baseless ad hominem mudslinging, or it can foster rich and meaningful civil discourse. I try to make my conversations more of the latter by maintaining respect for all parties, even when it's not merited or returned.

Civility has everything to do with your character, and virtually nothing to do with the receiving party.

To that end, I've started searching the Facebook archives to resurface some of my best op-ed writing.

My friend Scott recently pointed to an article from the brilliant technologist Clay Shirky titled "There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote". My lightly edited rebuttal is below. 

"I respect Shirky's views on technology, but this piece is pompous, reductionist, short-sighted, and wrong.

I've never called my vote a 'protest vote'. I doubt many third party or abstaining voters would use the term.

He and others argue that choosing the 'lesser of two evils' is the only moral choice. If voters don't choose the lesser of two evils, then the greater of two evils wins, and greater harm is dealt.

First: Shirky casually uses the phrase 'throwing their votes away'. What's the more wasted vote: endorsing a candidate who doesn't win, or voting for somebody you actively despise? Many people (including myself) won't support Clinton or Trump under any circumstances.

Second: This election is the only time I've ever heard people argue the 'moral' choice is to ignore your own conscience and do what the crowd says. That's not only contrary to my moral compass, that's contrary to every moral system I've ever heard of. It's insane.

Third: His argument is myopic. Consistently choosing the lesser of two evils is self evidently a downward trend, a descent into the muck. That thinking brought us here. Follow that road long enough, and you end up with Clinton and Trump, a compulsive incorrigible liar and a vacuous idiot. They're both void of integrity, and both focused on increasing their own power more than any ostensible service to country. Their corrupt ambition is what brought them here, and by voting for them, we endorse it.

Fourth: Polls represent a best guess at present standing. They don't dictate an exact future or inevitable outcome. By maintaining a third party vote is wasted, Shirky presumes 100% certainty of election outcomes. Nobody has that, certainly not Shirky. Circumstances change. New information comes to light. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out, Black Swan events are by definition unlikely, but very real, and dramatically alter the course of history. Stranger things have happened.

Shirky acknowledges the system doesn't really work. He's right, and election reform is long overdue. An example of positive reform:

Either the downward trend continues till the republic fails, or we have election reform, or a third party candidate marshals enough support from otherwise disenfranchised voters to win. The best case scenario is a third party win followed by election reform. That's what Gary Johnson proposes. While it's a long shot, I'll still aim for that. Simply put, the 'viable' mainstream options are a continuation and/or acceleration down the road to a failed republic.

Am I being hyperbolic? It really depends on scale. No nation lasts forever.

We're hiring somebody for a job. People should stop trying to guess how others will vote, and simply vote for the best applicant for that job.

It's worth noting that Shirky reeks of something worse than arrogance.

"None of the proposed theories of change change anything."
"Those voters only indulge their fantasy."
"Don’t kid yourself — and certainly don’t try to kid anyone else — that you are creating some kind of positive political change."

Those aren't arguments against third party votes. Those are arguments against democratic elections.

If that is really and truly true, then screw it all. Shirky is saying that my voice doesn't matter, that my opinions of are of no effect, that my values are valueless. If that's really the case, then I feel about the same as Penn Jillette in this interview. [NSFW Language Warning].