Sunday, September 25, 2011

lesser evils

This came up again in one of my online communities last week, as it does every few months and especially every election cycle. It's this idea that "the system is corrupt, so I refuse to participate." It's normally about voting, though an old friend of mine is also missing my wedding because they refuse to submit to the idiocy of modern air travel.
Gil [to Chris]: alright how about Pinochet vs. Hitler. donating to the Pinochet campaign? he only killed his political enemies, not 6 million members of a particular race. that's indisputably less evil
Gil [to Chris]: i'm asking if you really think voting for the lesser evil is always the right thing to do, or if there's a line at which you would say no, i'm not participating in this
Gil [to Chris]: remember we only get 2 choices, that's the nature of the system
Chris [to Gil]: "always" is a big word that I work very hard to avoid, but I do think that in general I have an obligation to create the best world I can given the options available to me. so, yeah, I probably would, unless there were some other action I could take.
Chris [to Gil]: but ducking out entirely and hoping things will take care of themselves? I don't think I can do that.
Gil [to Chris]: huh.
Chris says, "even if you think no one's listening when we speak, there's definitely no one listening when we're silent."
Chris says, "in the Pinochet vs. Hitler case, look at the choices: 6000 dead and 45000 tortured, or 10 million dead. it's a shit sandwich, but I can't imagine saying 'this system is corrupt, I quit' and not doing the minimal bit to prevent the greater number of deaths."
Set aside that Pinochet's definition of "political enemy" was pretty broad--the comparison is sound. And I don't get the attitude. I understand that things are frustrating, the system is broken beyond belief. But where do I get off deciding that I'm not even going to do the bare minimum of speaking up? How important do I think I am, really, that my very absence is some magical form of protest?

My friend is missing my wedding because s/he "doesn't want to give them the satisfaction" of putting him/her through the security theater. Well, whatever. The security theater isn't going to notice. The things accomplished by their avoidance are (1) they feel more comfortable, and (2) they inconvenience themselves (including missing other people's life events).

Every moment of every day, we choose whether or not to show up. We choose what to say, how we say it, whether to be cruel or kind, harsh or compassionate, honest or deceitful. They're not obvious choices, and we're often not paying attention. Think of our life as being an endless conversation with the entire world. Some people in the world know us, some don't. If I'm silent around people who know me, they'll notice because they expect me to speak. If I'm silent around people who don't know me, well, they have no idea what's normal for me. They'll draw their own conclusions, but the one thing we can say for certain is that I won't be part of the conversation.

Now imagine that voting is part of the conversation with all our fellow citizens who don't know us. What happens when we're silent?

No one really cares. They're too busy participating. They're showing up.

I just don't get it. How is that useful?

Even if we think no one's listening when we speak, there's definitely no one listening when we're silent.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. It's like saying that if you're trapped in a box you'd be better off sitting in silence than screaming, banging, kicking, doing anything to get out. How is anything ever going to improve if we don't at least try? And you have to dig an inch before you can dig a mile, so let's take the lesser evil and trade up as we go.

    By the way, I'm still sad I can't make it to your wedding, but I sure as heck would go through TSA hullabaloo and 'the idiocy of modern air travel' for you guys if I could get the time off and the money. (And I will go through all that at some point, perhaps during summer break.)