On 2016

As the year draws to a close, it is a perfect time to reflect on the year and look to the future.

According to some 2016 has been the “worst year” (e.g. here). Indeed, some very bad things did happen in 2016. Here’s a brief list: celebrities died, the United States continued to be a statist nation that elects presidents who have too many powers, there were diseases, there were wars, terrorism, other things anyone doesn’t like happened. How sad. I mean compared to 2016 all other years fail to even register as bad, for example: 1916 with the Battle of Somme; or the Plague years; or 1941-1945, with the Holocaust; or 1520-21 for the Aztec (fall of empire); or any of the years 1861-1865 in the United States.  I think my point is clear, 2016 wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t great but there has never been a “great” year if you think about it.

Beyond the nostalgic view of some golden pass, every year looks pretty bad but also pretty good. Here’s the long and the short of it. People die; fight; make choices others think are wrong, stupid, dangerous, or whatever; bad, even terrible, things happen, often to good people; there are diseases and wars and potential despots and dictators. However, there are many positive things that make life worth living, for example (without getting religious): the sun continues to rise and give warmth; people fall in love, make friends, and build communities; cures for diseases are found; disasters are avoided; people innovate more and more every day. Indeed, it is true that there are many, many things that are terrible in the world, but there are just as many things that are wonderful. Certainly, some things are looking down, but just as many things, if not more, are looking up.

There is an important point here that is easy to miss. All of us are very good at projecting problems into the future, both our own problems and the world’s problems; but we are very bad at predicting the innovations, the solutions, and the ideas of the future. If you truly believe that 2016 was one of the worst years ever, than it should be a starting point to inspire new solutions. Indeed, that’s what has happened before. Many things have gotten better over the time. Disease, violence, war, and poverty have decreased over time; whereas, life expectancy, literacy rates, and standard of living have increased over that same time. Indeed, if you think about it, one of people’s biggest complaints about the year is that it “took” so many celebrities.

First of all, the year does not “take” any one, the year doesn’t do anything. People die during the year, not because of the year, but because of any number of things including: age, health conditions, lifestyle choices, accidents, or a combination of these things. More importantly, it shows how go things actually are that one of the biggest complaints about the year is that so many famous people have died this year. It is true that anyone’s death is a tragedy, but it hardly makes a 2016 any worse. I also understand that many people that bemoan this year aren’t complaining mainly about the death of celebrities but about war (a legitimate complaint, but overall this year was better than, say one hundred years ago – WWI), or, sadly much more likely, political votes not going how they would have liked.

First it was Brexit (a truly ridiculous word, but never mind) and then it was the election of Donald Trump. Let me be honest, I think the British vote to leave the European Union was a good thing (light your torches) and I am a harsh critic of Donald Trump and I voted against him (for Gary Johnson). Let’s talk Brexit for a moment, I believe that it was the best option not because I believe strong nationalism is necessarily a good thing, nor do I hate immigrants; furthermore, I think the average British person that voted in support of Brexit did not vote nationalistically or because of some deep and profound hatred of immigrants; I would hazard the guess that most of them were simply unhappy with the increasing power of the EU. I understand that one can think I am totally wrong and that’s perfectly okay and won’t ruin my year. Now onto Donald Trump; if his election actually ruined your year, I’m sorry. I really am. You see, if it truly ruined your year you obviously are under the twin delusions that (a) the US president is all powerful and (b) government and society are actually the same thing. Guess who also has these delusions: people that blindly support Donald Trump. Will he be a great president, no; a good president, maybe; a bad president, maybe; a terrible president, maybe; a dictator, no.  If you are honestly afraid of Donald Trump, you have a problem; there’s a difference between being literally afraid of him and thinking his policies will be bad.

The president is not all powerful, they cannot do anything they wish, the likelihood that one will become a death camp administering life-long dictator is low; not impossible, but very, very long while this country is at least somewhat stable. The likelihood that Donald Trump will become dictator for life is next to zero, as is the probability of him jailing those that dissent. There is a simple reason: everyone is on guard about his actions before he has actually assumed power. The moment he does something debatably unconstitutional he will have hundreds if not thousands of people fight him in the courts.

More deeply, politics is not life. Government is not society. At most it is a poor and distorted reflection of society. We must not allow government to replace society, the bullet to replace the book, or the black-and-white thinking to replace nuanced, gradated thinking. In the end, life will go on no matter what individual is the president of the United States.

2016 has been a mixed bag, but every year is. Think back to any other year and you’ll find that there were just as many negatives as 2016. Perhaps, the problem is looking for the negatives. If one looks to be saddened, outraged, or otherwise made upset, they have ample opportunities and outlets. 2017 is fast approaching and it will be just as much a mixed bag as 2016. Maybe, just maybe, if we all try not to find ever more things to be upset by and to divide ourselves over the world can continue to improve. I hope that 2017 will be a year of increased intellectual dialogue, informed and nuanced thinking, and ever more free discourse.

Pulling away from this wide view of the year and towards the personal, you are the only one that can determine how the year was for you and how the next year will be for you. In the words of Marcus Aurelius: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

The Lexical Expander 3: Anteroom

Word: Anteroom

Definition: an outer room that is connect to an inner room, often used for waiting.

Example: She sat in the poorly decorated anteroom, awaiting her appointment.

Rarity:  bottom 40% of words in common usage (Merriam-Webster).

Etymology: 1762, ante (Latin: before) + room

Word in Use: “Despite the ruling, party investigators went into a detailed hypothesis as to what took place in the anteroom between Hookem and Woolfe.”(https://www.rt.com/uk/364172-woolfe-hookem-ukip-fight/)

Across languages:  Spanish: antesala; in use: “Pizzi ratifica a Sánchez, Vidal y Bravo en la antesala del partido ante Uruguay” (http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2016/11/14/pizzi-ratifica-a-sanchez-vidal-y-bravo-en-la-antesala-del-partido-ante-uruguay/)

German: Vorzimmer; in use: “in eine Kommodenlade im Vorzimmer und wartete ab.” (http://www.kleinezeitung.at/oesterreich/5118569/Wien_Putzfrau-soll-Pensionistin-mehr-als-100000-Euro-gestohlen-haben)

Why I like this word: I think it is a relatively useful and interesting word, the alternative “antechamber” is used slightly more often. I think both words should be used a bit more to befit their rather considerable utility, for example instead of calling it a waiting room why not be more lexically economical and call it the anteroom?

On Voting

Today is the day of the general election in the United States of America. It is the most important election of our lifetimes! You must vote! If you don’t vote, you are in fact voting for the worst candidate in history! You have a duty and an obligation to vote! Furthermore, you have an obligation and duty to vote for one of the two major parties, because voting third party is in fact voting for the major candidate you like the least. Voting for the lesser of two evils is absolved from any moral implication of supporting evil. Of course, if you don’t vote you can’t complain, because as it says in my made-up copy of the Constitution: “All citizens shall have the right to complain if and only if they have voted.”  The take away: Vote or leave the country, you democracy hating, ignorant, stupid, terrible, anarchist – you know where you can move? Somalia, have fun there with no omniglorious democratically elected government.

Wait! None of that is true, except that today is the day of the general election. You do not have an obligation or duty to vote, much less to vote for only one of the two major parties. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil, and even if you choose not to vote you still have a right to complain. In fact, voting is a hard-won right and, therefore, it is ludicrous (and dangerous) to claim that people must vote. This may be an unpopular position, but it is far more reasonable and humane than claiming that people are required by some civic or moral bond to cast a ballot for a political leader once in a given number of years.

One reason why one has no obligation to vote is that in national (and, often, state) elections a single vote does not matter (break out your pitch-forks, torches, and slogans: “every vote matters!”). The economists, Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter, assembled the data for 40,036 state and federal legislative elections and found only eight elections that were determined by a single vote, only one of which was a federal election. Thus, one the basis of purely individualistic mathematical analysis, a single vote does not matter. Only when many votes come together to achieve some real result (i.e. if you want to vote do not be deterred that your single vote will not really have tremendous impact). Some may claim that simply that it statistically does not matter, one still have a moral or civic duty to vote.

Is it a moral duty, or obligation to vote?  The simple answer is: no. It is hard to see how one can have a moral duty to vote for politicians that likely will enact or help enact immoral laws and advance immoral positions. Even if one believes that their favored politician truly is omniglorious and omnibenevolent, this hardly translates into a moral duty to vote in the abstract. There is no moral duty to participate in a system that one does not like, no moral duty to have a voice in a society’s governance, certainly no moral duty to check a small box on a ballot. Even if there were a moral duty to vote there would certainly not be a moral duty to vote for the “lesser-of-two-evils.” Indeed, that would seem to contradict most moral theories, as most moral theories tend to be against evil. It is hard to see why there would exist some moral duty to vote, but isn’t there a civic duty to vote?

The answer is no, there is no civic duty to vote. At least in the United States, there is no legal civic duty to vote, if there were it would be illegal not to vote. However, some would say that there is an extralegal civic duty to vote. A duty to pay alliance to the government that protects the citizens; a duty to honor those that fought for the right to vote; a duty, in short, to prove that you are a good and responsible citizen that cares about their country. There is no such duty, especially if you believe that the government does not protect or does not represent your interests. A civic duty to vote implies that to vote is to consent to the system.

This belief, closely tied for some to “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” is utterly wrongheaded and dangerous. What is strange is that many anarchist libertarians repeat the mantra that “voting is consenting to the system,” yet, also say that tacit consent does not really exist. They are absolutely correct that tacit consent to governance does not exist, but apparently they stop using logic when it comes to voting. Voting is nothing more, to quote the abolitionist, individualist anarchist, Constitutional lawyer Lysander Spooner, than replacing the “bullet” for the “ballot.” Indeed, Lysander Spooner makes a powerful case for voting, even though it is not an effective mechanism, a moral obligation, or a civic duty:

In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot – which is a mere substitute for a bullet – because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defense offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself that crushes them was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

Vote today, or don’t vote today: it’s your choice, it’s your right. Vote, or don’t vote, but, either way remember that this election doesn’t (really) matter.

















Also, thank God that this election is finally over (hopefully, I wrote this like two weeks ago, who knows what’ll happen tonight, Trump may legally contest the election, or something, but, at least it should be over now). Even as a political junkie this election has been a bit too much to handle, after this, I can go back to my regular arguments against the government without being associated with a political candidate.