—From CB—

Why do we vote against our interests? For a start, it should be said that we don’t: most of us don’t vote. Granted, the last Presidential election set a record, but in 2022 the rate dropped from 66% to 49%. And of course the fundamental question: what our interests are? Whatever the extremes of the spectrum, we can surely agree that most sentient folks want the same things: enough to eat, shelter, good health, a good start for their kids, and respect. The definitions of these things vary radically. For some, a living wage insures most of these things; for others, ten billion dollars a year is inadequate, being addicted to the addiction of gain, as compelling as an addiction to heroin or some other designer drug. I have my notions, my neighbor has his; we live side by side without speaking, except when it’s unavoidable.

But pundits have noted a chronic discontent, and to me, it’s fed by our human capacity for symbolic thinking. If we’re part of a group, the group identity assures our own survival. A gated community does assure security from other people. Most of us can’t afford that, but a Bulls T-shirt is relatively cheap, and if the Bulls win the championship, we’ll last another five years, and if they come from behind, it’s special—we too might come from behind.

That might indicate, from those to whom it applies, a low intelligence level. I disagree. It’s as natural as belly-button lint, no matter whether it’s an enflamed radical or a knuckle-dragging reactionary: both can be equally convinced of their own gifts, at least by the crowd they run with.

But how does that translate into votes, whether in our own democracy or in others? Again, I can’t help thinking it comes from symbolism.

Toughness and dedication: Everyone wants a “tough” leader. On the Right, that means someone who threatens to crack heads or worse. On the Left, someone who screeches with fervent resolve will do. No one wants a compromiser.

Prominence in the media: You want someone who’s known for something. They’re more real. It does make a difference to some what it is they’re known for, but if it’s bad it might be persecution by the accuser, and it shows they’ve got balls.

If your guy is elected, you’ll win the Lottery. You’ll get promoted. Your rich uncle will die, leaving you a bundle. You’ll hire someone to do the dishes. You can smoke six cigarettes at a time. Your neighbor will be royally pissed. Things will be better somehow.

If elected, your tribe will win, leaving other tribes in the dust. You’ll look around and see everyone wearing the same T-shirt, same headline on it, same logo. You belong the right place. Whether or not you’ve been part of the high school In-crowd, you are now. You’ve pinned the tail on the donkey.

And things will change. Not the same old stuff on the news. The “mess in Washington” has been a campaign headline, in my memory anyway, since 1952, and if it takes carpet-bombing to change things, bring it on. Both Left and Right deplore the Establishment; career politicians, entrenched bureaucrats, all claim dedication to the Little Guy or the Little Gal. The catchphrase “I’m not a politician” will win you lots of votes, but in my mind, that’s as if I’d prefer brain surgery supervised by the first-year medical student.

It’s all symbolic. We do vote for our interests: enough to eat, shelter, good health, a good start for their kids, and respect. Or we vote for the symbols of those interests. It’s as if headline-writers wrote the news. Meaning whatever will grab attention, so the next-door ad might at least plant the name of the product in your head.

What to do about it all? I have not the foggiest idea.


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