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Well, here we are again. We have reached election day. The voting hour is upon us. It’s tick-a-box-and-consider-your-democratic-duty-fulfilled o’clock.

You might have already voted today. Or maybe you’re planning to go squeeze out a sneaky vote later. That’s fine. What you do in the privacy of a small booth with a curtain for a wall in a primary school or a church is your own business. I just don’t want to have this unnatural lifestyle of yours constantly crammed down my throat.

I’ve not changed my mind on this a great deal in the past six months, but the rhetoric over the importance of this democratic right may have become more obnoxious since the last round.

Maybe it’s the centenary that’s got everyone all a-flutter, but I don’t remember the memories of the First World War’s dead being abused so vigorously last time around in order to guilt me into doing what they supposedly died fighting so that I could do.

The average 19-year-old in a trench may or may not have had keeping UKIP out of the European Parliament on his mind, even more pressingly than praying he didn’t get shot by some other kid who was also only there because someone who’d been voted into office had told them to die for their country. But regardless, dragging up his sacrifice in an attempt to drag me to the polls fails as a coherent argument.

A cause isn’t rendered noble, nor a course of action obligatory, simply because some people died for it once. People died for the right to keep slaves. People died to kill thousands of others for the greater glory of God. Western democracy might be a more benign notion than either of those examples, but I maintain my right to my own moral decisions all the same.

Anyone still pushing this line should consider adapting it slightly for the next vegetarian they run into. “Hey, you should eat this hamburger. A cow *died* to bring you this. Its sacrifice will have been in vain if you cast this precious gift aside. You wouldn’t want to disrespect its memory.”

Also infuriating is the claim that it’ll somehow be my fault if I fail to vote and UKIP get in. Particularly when it comes from people who voted Lib Dem in the last general election and are thus equally responsible for the coalition they currently despise. Guys, I’m in that boat too; look how badly I managed to fuck things up when I did vote.

I’m treating this democracy like an angry wasps’ nest. You might be certain you’ve found just the right voting bat to thwack it with so that it’ll make things better and not release any furious insects this time, but I’m not going near it again in case I make it worse.

It’s a mathematically illiterate assertion, for one thing. And it hypes and over-prioritises the act of voting, as our one moment of political influence or social usefulness, to the point of fetishisation.

If the rest of our lives were as unimportant as some people imply whenever voting day comes around – if global politics, and people’s views on trade and immigration and economics, and the rules imposed on us which govern our lives, remained entirely unaffected by all our conversations, our protests, our discussions, our reading, our listening, our efforts to connect and engage with other people, outside of this one moment where you put an X in a box and select your favourite from the sanitised list of options prepared for you – then that would be incredibly fucked up and monumentally depressing.

Fortunately, it’s completely untrue.

If I have a political discussion with a dozen work colleagues, or if I post an infographic which gets retweeted to a few thousand people, and if just one person shifts from thinking “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, but this UKIP guy seems more down to earth” to “None of these politicians have any understanding of everyday life for someone like me, and that UKIP guy sounds like a bit of a twat as well”, then I have done as much from my computer as I will ever have the power to do at the polls.

If someone with a bit more clout changes two minds, then they’ve already had twice the impact of casting their own vote, by means of direct engagement and public interaction with other people.

There are other ways to get things done. If you’re going to vote, then vote, but stop acting like that’s the most important bit. Fucking talk to some people.

The bullshit idea of “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” also misses the point that I don’t want any of these people holding political power. I don’t want these authoritarian roles to be filled with better people, or for the least worst option to keep us safe from the BNP, I want them not to exist. We’ve had centuries to give this “just vote the right people in” thing a go and we just keep going round in circles.

The NHAP are enough of a shambles that if they had a candidate in my area, I probably would vote for them; they’re a one-issue party on one of the most important issues going, and I can see them doing more good than harm through the political process. Which is part of the reason they’re never going to sweep to power in their current form. (I say “shambles” in an entirely positive way, incidentally, in contrast with the well organised, highly efficient forces for evil they’re sharing space with on the ballot.)

But primarily, I object to the forced assumption that putting a small cluster of individuals, with a statistically implausible quotient of complete pricks, at the top of this particular power structure, with this particular set of checks and once-every-few-years-everyone-gets-a-say system of reshuffling things, is the way that anything should get done.

The part of the whole kerfuffle I consistently find most offensive is the constant insertion of the words “bother to” in between “don’t” and “vote”, when describing the behaviour of the substantial swathe of the population who remain unconvinced of their powers to effect meaningful change. As if the problem were solely located in the apathy at our end, and the predominant responsibility didn’t lie with the parties vying for our concession to their dominance, who repeatedly prove themselves inadequate to the task and fail to persuade a majority of us that they have anything to offer. (Blaming young people for their own disenfranchisement is especially galling. Never mind that you’re being ignored by all the major parties, they’re told; just bother to vote for some policies that won’t help you at all, and better ones will magically appear somehow.)

I’m interested. I’m engaged. I try to be involved. I could always be doing more. I have ideas to share. I spent an hour getting all this off my chest last night, aided by the fact that my wife’s on a night-shift and I’m alone in the house with a cat who prefers staring out the window to getting in my way for a change. I am not an apathetic, disinterested citizen.

But I reject your sole sanctioned method of political engagement, almost as vehemently as I reject the fanaticism with which you insist my part in society is effectively nullified if I don’t fall in line and make my protest known in this one regimented, authorised manner.

Voting is merely one among many, many ways for you to make a minuscule, barely perceptible effect on society’s machinations. Go for it if you like; it’s very unlikely you’ll hurt anyone. But stop fixating. Broaden your mind and try something else as well sometime. Not everyone has to be into your weird shit.

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You’ll have already seen this picture. Wil Wheaton tweeted a link to it the other day, which I think officially makes it mandatory viewing for anyone on the internet.

It’s a handy, pithy, lightly humourous, serious-point-making chart of some of the differences between the two upcoming Presidential candidates in the US, comparing Obama’s generally progressive stance with Romney’s own comically backward positions.

Four years ago I would’ve been all over this shit. And I’m still not completely out of that mindset. Significant parts of me will be profoundly depressed if Romney wins the election. It’s just an instinctively, viscerally appalling thought, in a way that Obama’s continued presidency just isn’t quite yet.

But the seemingly high probability of Obama’s second term is scant comfort. And the graphic above is a fine example of what I refuse to find comforting, this time around, about the idea of a Democrat (phew!) who isn’t George Bush (mercy of mercies!) in the White House.

“Not hard enough on Wall Street” is a nice downplaying of the fact that Obama’s been about as good a friend as the super-rich could have hoped for. The mostly empty rhetoric about having billionaires “pay their fair share” was enough to get him branded as a despised socialist, by people who have no idea what actual socialism looks like, but he’s done very little to stop corporate power and wealth creeping every further toward the top.

“Took a while to warm up to gay marriage” means the government he’s in charge of still routinely discriminates against same-sex couples. Look, it’s nice that Obama doesn’t seem to actually have much of a problem with gay people, the way Romney pretty clearly does. But public opinion has been massively shifting in tolerance’s favour, and Obama’s views are a symptom of that, not a cause. Gay rights are obviously winning, and their victory is about people getting it right, not governments passing laws. It’s nice when they do pass the right laws, obviously, but given what Obama claims to believe about equality, he gets way too much credit for not being quite as oppressive and discriminatory in his policies as he could be.

“Continuing the drone strikes”? Well, that’s a lot of dead children you’re euphemising away there.

A lot of the statist left arguments focus on how much worse things would surely be under a Republican than a Democrat, which encourages this kind of brushing away of minor niggling points like the mass murder of foreigners. They’ll admit that Obama has some flaws, hasn’t achieved as much as they’d hoped, does some things they wish he wouldn’t. But look at the alternative.

I was convinced, in 2008. I stayed up on election night watching the news until fairly late here, when the first results were starting to trickle in. Then I spontaneously woke myself up at around 5.30am, turned the radio on just in time to hear a news update with the announcement of the winner, and went back to sleep with an immense sigh of relief. Finally, the nightmare was over. Bush was out, and the sensible, progressive, nice one was in instead. Everyone knows Democrats are at least better than Republicans. They might not be great, but at least they’re not awful.

And during Obama’s first term, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act, giving the government unprecedented authority to detain basically anyone they like without trial or legal recourse, and he deported more immigrants than Bush did in the same time-span, and he stepped up raids on legal marijuana dispensaries, and he granted fewer pardons than any other president, and he just kept on droning the fuck out of brown people, and it’s getting really hard to even see him as the lesser of two evils.

(By the way, if you acknowledge that Obama is the lesser of two evils, and think this is a reason we should vote for him anyway, but you still do so with enthusiasm – or really anything other than weary, disgusted resignation – than you need to look up “evil” in the dictionary and give yourself a reminder.)

The assumption, which still pervades a lot of my own thinking, that things will necessarily be massively worse under a Republican President because the Republicans are obviously terrible, really doesn’t seem to stand up as well as it used to. And I’m finding it harder to see Obama’s continued supporters as being as well-meaning as I thought I was, four long years ago.

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Wow. Cracking down on medical marijuana, protecting torturers, casually murdering foreign civilians… One of the candidates in the upcoming US Presidential election sounds like a pretty terrible choice.

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We got our first unsolicited mail through the door today asking us to vote for someone as Police and Crime Commissioner.

Having taken a look at the options available to me, I’m relieved to be able to let go of any remote possibility I might be trekking out to a ballot box on November 15th.

The Labour candidate, Harriet Yeo, is the only one to have provided us with any literature so far. She has five campaign pledges, which I can only presume she’s telling me about as some sort of misguided effort to win me over.

The third of these pledges is to “Catch the really bad, not the merely bad”. The sole example she gives of the “really bad” – the worst of the worst, the most virulent blight on our fair county which she intends to urgently crack down on – is cannabis farms.

There’s also a postscript to the pledges list, which begins: “By the way I am ruthless on drugs” (emphasis in the original). I’d love to read this as warning: “Be careful around me when I’m off my face on coke, because I get fucking mental”, but I don’t think that’s how I’m supposed to parse that sentence.

Another of her pledges is: “Victims before Villains”. It’s quite a feat to make a statement in favour of Victim Support programmes annoy me as much as hers does. She expands on it on her page at choosemypcc.org.uk, and even adds a hashtag, #vb4v, suggesting that she’s even more pleased with the pithiness of this sound-bite slogan than the others. And why not? Dehumanising everyone who’s fallen foul of the law and completely ignoring the option of social reform and rehabilitation is quite an accomplishment in itself, let alone compressing that message into a five-character tweet-segment.

I’m inclined to agree with her opposition to the privatisation of the police, though. And she has nice hair.

So, won’t be voting for her. But at least she’s not the Conservative candidate, who manages to bring up the typical Tory divisive canard about people “paying their fair share” within the first paragraph of his election statement. He’s just as keen as the others that we see him as tough, uncompromising, and all the other things we’re supposed to want from an authoritarian arm of the law. “Zero tolerance of all crime, particularly drugs” isn’t just a policy, it’s his “key priority”. There’s not many areas of life in which intolerance is so proudly announced and so widely respected.

He’s also a chartered accountant. His hair’s fine.

The Lib Dems don’t seem to be bothering to get involved, but the English Democrats sound close enough. Their guy intends to have the police “relentlessly pursue” criminals, and will consider it a successful outcome if those criminals “remove themselves physically from Kent to continue their trade elsewhere”. No mention of considering the social circumstances which might lead to criminal behaviour here either; but if they push off to another bit of the country, he considers his problem solved. Fuck you, Surrey!

He’s also not going to tolerate the “politically correct culture”. Rejecting this culture apparently means “treating all the people of Kent in an equal and fair manner, and not special treatment for minorities”. Because that’s been the main problem with Muslims and gays and all that sort of crowd: they get given too cushy a ride.

His hair’s nothing special either.

Very similar to the last chap is our friend from UKIP, who also presents some of the only statistics to be found on any of these pages. The amount by which the national police budget has apparently been cut (£2.4bn) is no doubt relevant, but unfortunately he only brings it up in order to snipe at the Tories (no bad thing) and compare it unfavourably to the budget for overseas aid. Any analysis into the effectiveness or value of such aid spending is of course absent; apparently the lone fact that the UK devotes comparatively large amounts of money toward efforts to help the less well-off in other countries ought to be shocking enough.

Hair: grey, mostly gone into hiding. Forehead: shiny.

And then there’s the two independent candidates. Ann Barnes sounded like the most promising choice at first, when all I knew about her was her name and the fact that she was unaffiliated with any political party. Unfortunately, that’s most of what she has going for her. Her track records looks solid, but her priorities and promises don’t include anything that makes her stand out. Anyone can declare the importance of transparency and fighting massive spending cuts, or that “I never make promises I don’t keep.” Shouldn’t all that stuff be a given?

Her hair looks a bit triangular, but that’s probably just down to an unflattering photograph. It’s got a nice wave to it.

The other independent candidate is just as uninspiring and cookie-cutter. I suppose one part is slightly more eye-catching: “Most of my salary will be allocated to developing this aspect of technology” – referring to his aim of “maximising the use of social media”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I wish it didn’t make my heart sink. Social media awareness could play a significant part in such a role, if it were well thought out by someone closely acquainted with social media’s actual place in society, but until this guy’s elaborated on the details enough to convince me that he knows what a youtube is or how to google some tweeters, I just don’t see it ending well.

His hair looks like a losing entry in a “photoshop this guy to look like someone’s just dropped some ice cream on his head” contest.

So. What was my point with all this? I’m not sure. But I haven’t blogged anything in ages, and this morning’s junk mail rejuvenated some interest in complaining about politics. Not in voting, Christ no. But still.

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Hey, people very keen that one political party win and the other one lose in the big upcoming political event:

Remember not to let the wrong side win.

You can imagine the kind of thing they’ll get up to if they aren’t soundly defeated. They’re already misrepresenting the whole political debate – from the way they talk sometimes, you’d think they were the right side, and ought to actually win. As if the things they want to do with political power were better than the things you want to do! The nerve!

So, don’t let them win. This is very important because politics.

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Hello, you in the future!

I am writing this last night, a little while after recovering from my extended Danny Dyer rant which should be a little further down the page. If all’s gone well, it should appear on a delay sometime Thursday morning, so that you don’t get too saturated with me and I have some more time to plug that last entry again on Twitter before this one appears.

Anyway. I just have a couple of brief thoughts left over about politics and stuff, which I never got around to airing properly, but which deserve a mention before this election thing is technically over.

Skeptical Voter has done great work bringing the policies and agendas of many politicians to light, but I never got around to exploring a slightly different approach that occurred to me a while back. How about if voters worked together to form some sort of pincer movement to really nail down where a candidate stands?

For instance: one concerned constituent asks what the candidate will be doing to preserve the noble and treasured institution of the traditional British family unit, while another asks whether they plan to extend fundamental human rights equally to all members of society and minority groups, such as affording legal protection to gay couples under the law. It might be revealing how flexible their principles become when trying to keep people happy.

It’s not my favourite idea, because it’s quite disingenuous and unkind, but something about the sneakiness of carefully phrasing loaded questions like this appeals to me.

– I’m planning to vote tomorrow (or today, by the time this goes up – don’t worry, I won’t miss it), and I get the impression that turn-out will be up this year. But if anyone chooses to exercise their right not to vote, that is also fine.

Yes, political involvement is good. People should be encouraged and urged to take an interest in these things. But a lot of people don’t know enough of the details to have a solid factual basis for supporting any particular candidate. I don’t understand how it helps democracy to compel or oblige someone to pick a name from a list for no sound political reason.

And fuck off with all the “If you don’t vote you don’t get to complain about anything for five years” thing. Like people have no right to expect and demand a better class of candidate anyway. Like supporting the least awful of a shitty bunch is really so meritorious. Like opting to play the role of 0% of the electorate instead of around 0.000005% is so damnably unpatriotic that it excludes you from playing any part in this country’s democracy. Like voting is the only way any of us can ever play any role in our democracy any way, so anyone who doesn’t do it must be completely politically inert.

Screw that.

– A hung parliament will not break into your house and kill your family.

– And I’m still not buying the voting tactically thing. I sympathise with people feeling compelled this way; I don’t deplore anyone who decides that this is the best way to employ their vote. I just can’t get behind it as a strategy.

I’m not really bothered about whether voters are “lying” by casting a vote for some party other than their favourite, as that post discusses. And I don’t think I oppose it on philosophical grounds, either. That sounds like my objection is based on some fundamental ethical principle which can’t be further examined. But I think my discomfort with tactical voting is a pragmatic thing that I’ve reasoned through, and I’ve tried to explain my thinking on this quite recently.

The Practical Ethics blog there says:

As to the claims that tactical voting is undemocratic, it seems clear that it is more democratic than the alternative, which is allowing a candidate to win even when the vast majority of people think they are the worst candidate.

I don’t find that clear at all. If tactical voting is used to oust the party that did have the greatest number of followers, then an even vaster majority of people will think that the winning candidate is not the best. And then we get into the self-perpetuating cycle I discussed yesterday, where nobody ever realises how popular that distant third party really are, because all its supporters are busily voting for someone else.

I will be so glad when this is all over.

… Unless the Conservatives win.

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Presidential hopeful John McCain has announced that Sarah Palin, the current Governor of Alaska, will be his vice presidential candidate in the upcoming election. I’ve no idea what Republicans are thinking about this, but the buzz I’m getting from the parts of the blogosphere around which I linger is that not much about her is surprising, and it’s all piling on to the reasons why the Republican Party really doesn’t deserve the chance to keep screwing things up for another four years.

Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate recently too, which I don’t think I blogged about properly. Not that I have much to say about Biden either, having barely heard of the guy, but the general response seems to be more or less one of “eh, makes sense”.

One thing getting commented on about Palin is that she seems to be, if not a creationist herself, then someone who doesn’t fully understand evolution and science and is willing to pander to that crowd. (The whole “teach the controversy” idea is something I should write about later.) Eh, I don’t know. There are crazier and scarier ideas being suggested by other Republicans out there (and no doubt a few Democrats too), and I guess I don’t want to be too much of a single-issue non-voter. I doubt this decision really sways many people.

Hat-tips to PZ and the denialism blog, both of whom have rather more on this than me.

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