Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seniors, "You're Being Selfish!" Really?

I listen to a lot of NPR programs nowadays.  During the last election I learned there that there were now people splitting up over their political beliefs.  Thus, long time friends demanded of one another how they were going to vote and if they didn't like the answer, they broke off the friendship.  One frequent accusation leveled by the departing "friend" was that the other person was being selfish and not acting for the good of the country. Seniors with a lot of time on their hands were avidly joining into these confrontations.

In one incredible instance one brother-in-law told the other that he could still come over to his house but he could no longer eat his barbecued food while there! This guy was known far and wide for his barbecued food. 

I had had no idea that people had gotten this up close and personal about their political beliefs. I know history courses were not popular with many students when I was in college but I loved them.  Jim hated them but at least would type my history papers for me so it was easy to overlook his disinterest. As I took my history courses, some salient facts emerged about the advances made in political choice.

First, as a woman I have had less than one hundred years of the right to vote. Naturally, when women got the vote, the men in their families wanted to tell them how to vote. Earlier yet, people had to cast their votes out loud in public, which also exerted pressure. It was thought that the "common man" needed help in exercising his uneducated voting rights. Thus, a huge leap forward in the right to vote was the secret ballot, which we use to this day.

Unless you want to tell someone how you voted, it is your right to keep it absolutely secret and that is why you are using the curtained booth when you vote. If you want to lie about how you voted, no one can prove you are lying. Many were the husbands in the early years of our voting rights who were assured we were going to vote for their candidates when really we went into the curtained voting booth and voted however in the hell we pleased.  They would never know.

We live in a democracy and fundamental to such a governmental choice is that every adult votes and whomever gets the most votes, wins.  It is assumed that each and every person voting will vote for what is best for his own special interests. This is so well recognized that the powers that be in Washington are besieged every day by special interest groups and lobbyists who promote their own interests. In short, democracies were tailor made for us to be selfish when we stepped into the voting booth.

I think one early example of deal making in a democracy should bring this home. When Utah wanted to enter the Union, it was told the deal breaker was polygamy. Polygamy had to end in Utah if it wanted to become a state within the United States. Utah outlawed polygamy and thereafter entered the Union. People in Utah could claim that we were and are being selfish by not letting them be polygamists and that would be true. Our interests outweighed theirs and so they have to live by our selfish preferences. Thus, they faced a choice, the same choice everyone in America faces today. With majority rule being a fundamental of democracy, they either graciously continue to accede to the majority distaste for polygamy OR they move to another country with another political system which accepts polygamy. This means they would, at best, be moving to the Middle East. To put it mildly, all the legal rights they’ve grown up expecting to be used for their protection, do not exist there. They still behead people there! This is why the outlaw polygamists in Utah, who exist to this day, are not decamping for other countries despite our selfishness.

Thus what one side is claiming when it says the side that won is selfish is in reality that the majority do not agree with the minority preference. If a minority preference is to become the majority one in America, there are ways to achieve this which do not involve cutting off barbecued food sharing with friends and family. (Besides, how effective is it to get votes for your candidate by barring people from your dining table?)

Of proven effectiveness in getting votes is that Americans can give money to the people and ideas they support.  They can work at the campaign headquarters as a volunteer of the candidate who best espouses their interests and beliefs. They can join peaceful marches and protests which mirror their beliefs. They can join special interest groups and give them time and money to push their shared ideas forward.  These Americans can be as selfish as they want in promoting their own agenda, just like the guys who won the last election were. Shown to the above right is a sampling of some of these well funded special interest groups.

There are, of course, places which do not have one person one vote political structures, aka they are not "free societies". They are the purple and orange colored countries on the map below which one could try instead.  I think that is as likely as the person in Utah, bemoaning the loss of polygamy, moving to the Middle East though.

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