Sleeping Cyborg

Jonathan David Page talks about whatever he happens to be thinking about. Sometimes other people join in.

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Why I Hate Politics

by on 12 September 2012
in , ,
with some comments, maybe.

Okay, there are a couple reasons I hate politics1. The one I want to talk about right this instant is this one which I'm sure many engineers2 agree with: that the system itself is broken. Yes, the Constitution, as written, is a great basis. It's flexible, largely balanced between various branches, contains provisions for its own modification, pretty fair, protects human rights: all good stuff. Then again, a lot of people feel this way, and they can argue about politics all day. What is my point?

My point, and my problem, is that I regularly find myself looking at a political question and, rather than choosing a side, find myself unasking3 the question. In other words, I take the position that the question itself is wrong. Not only that, but when someone presents an argument against my opinion based on another government policy, my response ends up being "actually, that's broken too." (This response tends to be pretty well-received.)

I'm sure many other people with much more sense than I feel this way, but for some reason I find it crippling when it actually comes down to acting on my opinions. Perhaps they see the system, and realize that it's too entrenched4 to change, and so decide to make the best of a bad lot. Now that I am able to vote, I find myself struggling more and more to decide what the best course of action to take there is. I wish to vote, but I also don't want to vote for someone championing a suboptimal solution.

Perhaps I'm just too much of an idealist (read: hipster5) for my own good? How does everyone else handle this?

  1. When I say "politics" in this article, I specifically mean USA politics. Not because I think it more important, or because I like it better, but simply because I am far more familiar with it than other countries' politics. Perhaps what is written here is more widely applicable, or perhaps not. But I feel that this is a useful bit of context to have here. 

  2. An engineer's dream is to be told "You can tear this all down and start over from scratch with no strings attached, and design it in exactly the way you feel best." Legacy solutions are often kludgy and inelegant, and large-scale examples of clean, elegant engineering are sadly rare due to the fact that they go from small and clean, to large and patched, because a) it's really really hard to design systems which scale cleanly, and b) requirements change over time. In my terribly humble opinion, this particularly goes for bureaucracies6. But it is just that -- a base. And what we have currently built on it is, in fact, very flawed in a variety of ways7

  3. Take, for example, the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" (This is actually the traditional example!) Of course, you've never beaten your wife, so both "yes" and "no" are incorrect answers. Yet any other response does not answer the question, since it is a yes-no question. Therefore, one might suggest that the question itself is wrong, rather than any of the answers. You might therefore "unask" the question. Most people will do this implicitly by saying something like "I never started." Explicitly unasking the question names the problem so it can be discussed. I first ran into the concept discussed philosophically in the context of Zen Buddhism as discussed in Hofstadter's GEB8. In one chapter, he discusses the idea of mu -- a response which unambiguously indicates that the question was faulty. (One of my favourite things about being in the Honors program at Uni is that I can respond to a question with "mu" and not always get a funny look back.) 

  4. Is it? 

  5. It has been asserted (I use the passive voice intentionally) that the word I should use here is not "idealist", but "hipster". This is because I used the word "metadiscussion" once, and apparently only hipsters can use "meta". However, that is a rant for another day. 

  6. Sad but true: I can't spell "bureau" or anything derived from it without looking it up in a dictionary/spellchecker. 

  7. Trendy things to rant about as flawed: patent law, copyright law, social security, tax law, lobbying, campaigns, effectively over-strong executive branch, federal government is too strong, federal government is too weak, and any number of other things which are not the point. 

  8. Hofstadter, Douglas. Gödel, Escher, Bach. New York: Basic Books, 1979.