I think what this argument typically indicates is
an individual who is using the following logic, more or less
- My vote isn't going to be the vote that changes the outcome.
- Therefore, my vote is of exactly zero value.
Ultimately, this is a very selfish line of reasoning, because
it implicitly is claiming that only their vote should
count. Well, I got news. There are about three hundred million
other people in the good ole' US of A, many of them able to vote, and their votes count
Your vote does count; it is just one of many.
Moreover, even speaking purely rationally, vote ratios do
matter. A Senator who wins every election by a 90-10 margin will be
much more powerful in Congress then one that squeaks by; they will be
more able to take a particular stand that may be somewhat unpopular, and
Senators who last longer tend to rise to the top of various powerful
committees. By voting for or against someone, even if their win is
assured, you are still having a small, but real, effect on the power
they will have. This holds true for all elected offices, though we
usually only speak of a "mandate" for the Presidency.
In other words, voting outcomes are not really a digital thing, as
the logic implicitly assumes. There is certainly a big discontinuity
as you cross the threshold to win the vote, whatever it may be, but
the results of a 50-50 vote will almost always be sigificantly
different than a 90-10 vote, even when it comes to voting on laws or
resolutions. (A law just barely passed may be more likely to go
unenforced, or opposition to it will more quickly form to repeal it
then for a 90-10.)
I will concede that in game theoretic terms, the likely payoff of
voting does most likely exceed the expected value to any given
individual. But we can't always think like this, for the obvious
reasons. Plus, the intangibles should be counted as well, a sense of
ownership, involvement, the ability to affect outcomes beyond just
changing the winner. I honestly can't tell you with 100% confidence
that this is a wrong way of thinking, but I would encourage everyone
who thinks this way to at least consider the larger issues beyond just
I'm not going to end this with an exhortation to vote. If
you don't care enough to vote, then don't. I'd much rather only people
who have taken time to make up their minds and care enough to vote
actually do so. But I would encourage you to research and vote.
(This is #4 in the Government Myth series.)
(This is actually true of all voting systems, not just the US
It seems like common sense that the purpose of voting is to
determine the winner. But like much common sense, it is wrong.
The purpose of voting is to satisfy the loser that they
lost. Determining a winner is easy, it is the guy with the most
guys and guns who is still alive. A voting-based system depends on the
acquiescence of the losers, so that they don't just grab guys
and guns and take over.
This is a test post. This is almost, but not quite, only a test post.
I got suspend-to-disk working, for suitably small values of working, on my Linux laptop a couple of weeks ago. Since it boots up so much more quickly from a suspend, I was using it instead of a conventional power-down. Last Saturday, I took my machine down to a family re-union for a family file exchange.
Except it wouldn't come back from suspend. Reasons unknown.
Turns out that's a bad thing. Basically, every file that was open at the time disappeared off the face of the Earth. That may not sound so bad, except for the various critical files the OS has open at any given time. Oops.
I spent a lot of time trying to recover the install, but ultimately failed. No data loss, but a big time loss. I had to re-install everything. This is a test to see if I've got PyDS still working; if so, the third Myth will be posted shortly. I'm shuffling this one forward from my original list because it is topical to the election and I want to make sure it gets out there before Nov. 2, and my connection will be unreliable then, due to moving.
Someday, in my Copious Free TimeTM, I really need to dig in and discover what this "journalled file system" thing is all about. I thought it was supposed to ensure the disk was never in an inconsistant state, so that at any time you could forcibly power the system down and not spontaneously lose files and directories. I'm pretty sure that's the advertisement. All I know is that they have failed me, over and over. So I'm not really sure what they are good for....
So why then does the US have two meta-coalitions instead of a
multiplicity of little parties? I can eliminate one popular
misconception right off the bat: There
are no formal provisions for two parties in the US political
system. (At least, none to speak of.)
The proof is simple: There are more than two parties in the
US, something I daresay even most residents are only vaguely aware
of. There's Reform, Green, Libertarian, and a handful of
others. Clearly they are not banned from existing.
So, why then are they always marginal? Why does it take an act of
Perot to get them to even make a splash? Because of the nature of the
Each meta-coalition is always tuning its collection of special
interests. When a third party gets strong enough, the meta-coalitions
take note, and basically co-opt the reasons for the third party being
strong, in the process co-opting the voters, too.
But it isn't purely a crass play for votes; yes, there is some of
that, but the party must walk the walk at least enough to keep people
happy or they will lose the voters, so such co-option does have a real
effect on the policies of the meta-coalition.
You can tell which meta-coalition has co-opted which third party
issues by who the third parties are accused of stealing votes
from. The Green party "steals" votes from the Democrats, because the
Democrats took up the environment issues. The Libertarians "steal"
votes from the Republicans, because the Republicans took up small
government as part of its "Contract With
America" reformation. It isn't explicitly in the contract, but it
is implied strongly by the fiscal resposibility clauses and how they
were intepreted at the time, if I recall correctly. (As a
sidenote, it is interesting nearly ten years later to look at how well
they did, and how far the Republicans have wandered in that time.)
But such things are not permanent, nor are they always
equal. Right now, both parties seem to stand for large government, and at
least in some of the circles I frequent, the Libertarian party is
being talked about much more than in 2000 as a result, because the
Republicans are not keeping up their end of the vote bargain for the
Libertarian vote. They still talk the talk somewhat but they are not
walking the walk.
While I don't think the Democrats have stopped trying to be
environmental, a lot of the Green voters are probably expressing their
discontent with the Democrats inability to do anything meaningful from
their point of view on the environment, because of the current
Despite party-line rhetoric to the contrary, there is nothing
except inertia preventing the Democrats and Republicans trading their
big industry and environmental interests tommorow, and life would
basically go on as usual. Lesser interests are in fact often traded,
though usually over a period of a decade. One party loses interest,
and somewhat later the other percieves an opportunity to gain
votes. Or perhaps a party reforms itself and reaches out to some
interest group and succeeds in wooing them away from the other
meta-coalition; that can happen more quickly.
The two "party" system results from emergent properties of the
United States Goverment system, which is to say, it is completely informal as
defined in my introduction to this series.
(This is #2 in the government myth
Many democracies run, with varying degrees of formality, on a
coalition system. Many parties via for seats in a legislative
chamber, representing many distinct interests. Generally, there is
something that can only be done with a strict majority, often things
like passing bills or electing a Prime Minister. Since the interest
groups are so fragmented, for a given bill, many of the groups may
have weak or even no opinions about it; for instance, a labor party
may have no strong opinions either way about a gun control bill. (I'm
not saying that everybody who calls themselves "labor" parties, and I
think there are a lot of them, won't have an opinion, just that they
These bodies usually run on a vote trading system. The labor party
will vote for your gun control bill if you vote for our minimum wage
raise. As in all human interactions things can got complicated, and
this is simplified, but this is the general effect. These voting
arrangements form coalitions, and barring a really strong
showing by one party, it is these coalitions that really run
the relevant body, not a particular party, with strength generally
proportional to the number of seats controlled. If I've got my
specifics straight, I believe that a coalition that elects a Prime
Minister is even referred to as a "government" in Israel and the UK,
leading to people talking about "toppling governments" when a
coalition falls apart, which sounds quite strange to American ears.
Because the Labor party and the Republican party share
the same word, it is commonly thought that they are basically the
same thing, and therefore the US is only a two party system. This is
only the first of many times in this post series where I will point out
that the terminology is misleading. They are not "parties" in this
If you think about it, the problems with the US being a two party
system, with the coalition-based definition of "party", is obvious. A party
usually has a reasonably well-focused platform. There are many
parties because there are many, many types of platforms someone may
be concerned about. Having only two parties would tend to imply only
two basic types of interests, which is clearly absurd. Every party in
any government you can point at will also be represented to some
degree in the US. Clearly, no group of three hundred million beings
in the modern world is going to be sliced in two that neatly; the US
can't be a two party system.
And it is not. Republicans and Democrats are actually
meta-coalitions. A coalition bands together in the relevant
body to push their policies. A meta-coalition actually bands
together at a level one higher (hence the "meta"): In the US, the
dominant problem is getting the votes of the people in the first
place, so what would be "parties" in the British or Israeli system
actually band together at election time to get elected. The purpose
of the Republican and Democratic parties is to assemble a coalition
of special interests that will be considered superior to the other by
a majority of the voters.
Referring back to the title of the myth, the US is not a coalition
system in the normal sense. But it isn't a two-party system in the
typical sense either.
(This is #1 in the government myth
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