some votes are more equal than other votes

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Every election brings on the debate about the Electoral College, even as there is no real prospect of its abolition, nor is the debate taken seriously. It is merely a part of our system that we accept, an antiquated, uniquely American institution that endures like U.S. customary units. Some people even defend the Electoral College, either by hewing to the old apology as a means of combatting the idiocy of the voting majority (which I admit, is rare and you won’t see it any respectable media), or by arguing that it is simply a quirky way to measure the vote, but ultimately works. Some think that it protects the less populated states from tyranny by the big states, the rationale for the two senators each state gets. But what is failed to address is how undemocratic the Electoral College is, and the way that it skews the entire political system for the benefit of the two major parties at the expense of the American public.

The simplest way to gauge this is by examining the amount of electoral votes a state receives in contrast with its population. The other manner is to look at the existence of swing states. Let’s take two states as exemplars, California and Wyoming. With a population of 38,332,521 by a 2013 estimate, the state receives 55 electoral votes. That means that each electoral vote is worth 696,954.9 people. The national population (~317,677,000), divided by the total number of electoral votes (538), comes to 590,477.7. By that measure, California should have 64.9 electoral votes. You can round that up or down if you want to, but that means California is shorted at least 9 electoral votes, or in other words, the votes of 5.9 million Californians do not count.

Of course, not all Californians can or do vote, but the points and representation that a state receives is not based on its voting age population but its total population. In comparison with Wyoming, which receives three electoral votes with a population of 582,658, eight thousand under the average for just one point, California is underrepresented and Wyoming is overrepresented. A Wyomingite’s vote is worth more than three times the vote of a Californian. The fact that state populations rise and fall in contrast to each other over the ten years between censuses, as well as the variations in voter turnout among the states, means that your vote may be worth less or more in compared to other Americans in other states. Changes like in Maine and Nebraska, which apportion electoral votes based on districts, still do not fix the inherent inequality between the worth of some votes. The problem is not winner-take-all but the Electoral College itself; amending how electoral votes are given to candidates does not address that Californian votes will be less valued then Wyoming votes, though it would be a step in the right direction.

Swing states increase the disfranchisement of voters by allowing candidates to rely on their bases to carry party-dominated states. Thus you will see candidates campaigning not for the country but for Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, and the various “purple” states. This means that the needs of Wyomingites and Californians, and other blue and red states are under-addressed by the candidate. The argument that this moderates candidate ideology to fit these middle-of-the-road states does not hold water, nor is it worthwhile. A greater sin, in my opinion, is that the Electoral College almost completely precludes the viability of third-party candidates, who may not have any state as a base but pockets of support around the country. This can only serve the two major parties. From a capitalistic perspective, the Republican and Democratic parties maintain a duopoly on American politics, and without any competition, have no incentive to improve or do better. From a social democratic perspective, to borrow the term from Chomsky, the “capitalist party”, being both the Republicans and the Democrats, are able to maintain their hegemony and continue to be unaccountable to a voting public without any alternative.

By ridding ourselves of the Electoral College, candidates will be more beholden to the whole voting population, all of whose votes will matter equally, and it will mean that a candidate has to campaign all over the country. Republicans will be able to find votes in California, and a Democrat can stump in Texas for some actual gains. Independents and third party candidates will also be able to find support that is not geographical locked and overwhelmed by the local majorities. As it is now, only the two parties get any benefit from this system today.

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our poor, fractured home

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I had a discussion with a friend recently about how highly we regarded cultures that emphasized meals as a gustatory and social event, instead of our own, which commodifies time and makes eating a solitary habit even in the presence of others. The TV dinner comes to mind. T. S. Eliot said, “Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” We sit around one another and learn nothing, say nothing, and most importantly we expose nothing.

I’m not going to give some hackneyed rhetoric against this practice, which no doubt any Westerner has heard (at least of the English speaking world) because more important than targeting it is understanding why it exists, and also because it most certainly has been spotted since its inception.

It’s impossible to address this issue without wondering whether the TV dinner or any other noncommunicative meal is used as a bandage for familial dysfunction. Rather than argue or miscommunicate, it’s much easier to avoid one another with a distraction, or simply avoid the meal altogether. Many families are so busy that neither child nor parent can find time in their schedules that allows for simultaneous dining (and tell me that’s not a symptom of something). But why do families miscommunicate or fail to communicate at all?

For so many reasons: technology, class, education, interests, personality, culture. It would be hard to name all the culprits, nor very productive, because these are all, again, symptoms.

If one were to look at the happier families or groups, one sees shared interests, shared values, shared language (I don’t mean the same as in all speak, say Finnish, but that the words being used are understood by all parties, carrying the same definition. And pay attention to the word “shared”). The Scandinavians are generally considered to be the happiest group of people in the world. If examines them, they will see racial, religious, cultural, and social homogeneity. The more similar we are to one another, the happier we are. I have to warn here that I am not at all advocating any kind of ethnic cleansing or forced conformity. But this dissonance we find in American culture matters (I can only speak for my own country), and it is very evident in all aspects of life.

Just look at the proliferation of articles dealing with how to be a man, or how a man should treat or ask out a woman, or etiquette to hook ups or so many other phenomena; it’s very evident that we don’t really know what to do or say, even within our own social groups. Nothing can be tacit anymore because anything or nothing can be implied, too much is misunderstood or not understood at all. Values and mores are in complete and constant flux, and between generations this gap can be even more pronounced. Increasing the nuclear family is strained, and where before there were strong communities to keep people from falling through the cracks, the advance of the center-less city has decimated such a net. We are constantly segmented into our own age groups and rarely work or interact with people of a different generation. Just look at how segregated bars are according to social groups, with infringement on such environments (i.e. going to a bar you’re your crowd is not welcome at) bringing on greater isolation within those environments.

This all has a great impact not just on how we pass time and eat our meals, but also on our politics. The Scandinavian countries have a strong social democracy, and they believe that they government has a duty to help people and care for them. That’s impossible here because of strong bigotry and distrust in this country. Resentment against other racial or ethnic, groups, genders, or sexual orientations has created the gridlock we face today. One side actively yearns for Scandinavian style social democracy while the other does but can’t get over its prejudices to work for it. That is, as one might hear someone saying, “I don’t want that damned, lazy other group getting my hard earned cash for their special privileges.”

I think this all looks pretty bleak, and it may appear that there is no way forward, but there is, and it is the answer that I have mentioned quite a few times already: communication. We need active discussion between groups. We need dialogue that is not out to prove a point but to foster understanding.  The bigots will always have cotton stuck in their ears, and they may always be around. But ignore them, we need to be speaking to people of all stripes, we need to seek out people who are different from us and talk to them. Get over the awkwardness, because we need to talk about real shit that matters. Talk, talk, talk. And then listen, listen, listen. It is the only thing that will save us.

I see now, how funny it all is, that the only way to end these TV dinners and sort out all these problems is to start talking to each other. How wonderfully straightforward.