Monday, November 10, 2014

A Plea for Rationality during Elections

Many variables exist when people vote or don’t vote during elections, very few of them having to do with rationality.

People often vote with their gut, a strong feeling about who or what is right or wrong. There are many studies about voting behaviors and at least one party seems to do a great job at convincing voters to vote sometimes against their own best interests, geniuses at marketing and playing upon people’s fear, and perhaps upon their hope and greed.

We all want the American Dream.  If the 1% has a bunch of money, then we want to vote for leaders who represent the 1% because we think that we may be able to achieve that Dream, too.  Unfortunately, these candidates are beholden to those wealthy 1% and will vote for tax benefits for them while asking for more taxes from the middle class and the poor. How does that  sync up with the best interests of the middle class or the poor?  What about voting for what is good for everyone and not just for what I think is good for me?  

Recently, Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse, Vanderbilt philosophy professors, spoke to the League of Women Voters about their new book, Why We Argue (And How We Should): A Guide to Political Disagreement. They discuss how we act upon beliefs about controversial moral issues. We watch and listen to the media. We devour sound bites without educating ourselves about what is real, factual and true.

Much brain research suggests that our first impressions about people are solid and don’t often change, even when we are presented with hard, cold facts.  Aikin and Talisse describe how we are influenced by the positive charisma of certain personalities.  If we watch a debate, we often believe what the most charismatic individual says even if he or she is inaccurate. Charm and even candidates’ good looks can win races on both sides of the aisle. We vote for the person or party much of the time and not about ideas or a platform of issues and planned actions.

Our country elects its leaders with a majority, so that a large portion of voters who voted against an elected candidate are miserable and dissatisfied, leading to terrible voter morale. Why vote at all?

It is a hard job to be an educated voter and election outcomes are highly influenced by the actions of those who don’t vote.  Tennessee recently had the lowest voter turnout except for Texas.  Why is that? 

Maybe partly because the poor can’t easily take 3 hours off from their jobs to vote. New early voting restrictions and voter ID laws rule out many, and some seem not to care.  Are we willing to live with laws decided by only 1/3 of our eligible voters?

Let’s do the hard work. Let’s look at all the facts, make rational decisions, and help everyone vote.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Violence Interrupted

The answers to decreasing violence in our society are not simple. There are many complicated, complex parts of our American system that need changing, and it will take us all working together to create and implement new ways to deal with violence within ourselves and between each other. 
As long as human beings walk the earth, some violence will occur.  Although we cannot eradicate all violence, we can manage our laws differently and focus on the mental and emotional health of our people to reduce the amount of tragedy among us.
Change begins with a shift in some of our beliefs about life and health. America teaches us that “healthy” often means “success” which can harm people and the earth. Some win and some lose. Competition reigns and only recently has collaboration been adopted as a possibly better way of doing business, supporting agreement instead of the winner takes all.  As long as there are people there will be conflict, and we should devote our attention to working through those conflicts nonviolently, if at all possible. Two of my hopes are reducing our own violence, verbally and physically, toward others and ourselves, and supporting laws that minimize access to assault weapons.
Unfortunately, when states like Tennessee and Georgia allow guns in all sorts of public places, then accidents, suicides, and impulsive acts and planned murders are more likely to occur. Also, as long as the large gap between the wealthy and the poor continues and as long as there is a death penalty, violence continues.
We live in a society that praises those who support both war and drone use with other countries, and who support violence within America in more subtle but no less harmful ways, like through increasing poverty by new laws and practicing different types of justice for the poor and the rich.
One belief that needs to be reexamined and changed: that girls'/women’s behavior prompts boys/men to violence.  If a male isn’t able to succeed whether by income, sexual prowess, vocationally, or socially, females are often blamed and accused, then targeted with violence. This is horrifying. We are grounded in a violent history: when the first settlers came to America, they moved and slaughtered our native people, displaying the greed that lives on today. Some of us take what we can get no matter that human beings or the earth suffer. This pattern is a circle. Violence begets anger, rage and despair which begets more violence.
Even though an antidote to violence may be compassion and love, all the love in the world will not completely stop violence.  Faith alone cannot stop violence.  We are a country full of bullies, angry, fearful, anxious and depressed people.  We need to deal with these feelings that so many share. Only if we work together will we have any chance of creating the space for a positive change in our current beliefs and in our systems.