The Lesser of Two Evils
Many years ago I grew my beard out because I didn’t like shaving: I was choosing not to shave instead of choosing to grow a beard. This became a good life lesson for me because I learnt first hand (without paying a high personal cost) that negative choices are generally poor choices: I really didn’t like having a beard, and I was better off paying the price of shaving each day than having a beard.
Like the rest of life, whether we like it or not, democracy often involves choosing between the lesser of two evils. It would be wonderful if there was always a "best choice" to make when casting ballots; but, in my albeit limited experience, that is rarely the case---and I believe that this is a side-effect of power corrupting those who seek it.
If voters in a democracy always rationally evaluated the choices available and voted accordingly, then this "best of a bad lot situation" wouldn’t be too serious; but that is not how voters behave. More often than not voters mark their ballot against someone (or some political party) instead of choosing in favour of a candidate. Most of the time this practice---voting against someone---doesn’t cause any irreparable harm, but when it does go-wrong it is a disaster of unimagined proportion.
One of the best known examples of irreparable harm being caused by negative choices are the German elections before and shortly after Adolf Hitler taking power in 1933. The German people were hungering for change and when the National Socialist Party put forth a platform that promised change, the German people chose that change despite a National Socialist platform explicitly blaming Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities for the country’s ills and publicly charting a course that would take action against those minorities as part of the solution.
Looking back 70+ years, I am personally unable to fathom how any sane, rational person could vote for a party that organised gangs of bullies and thugs (that is, the so-called Brown Shirts, who today would be justifiably called terrorists) and had a documented political platform based upon the persecution of minorities; however, they are historical facts and I have no choice but to accept that those events transpired.
Fast-forward to January 2006: this past week history repeated itself and voters in Palestine made a negative choice and elected a party (Hamas) who’s aims, policies, and very existence are grounded upon the extermination of anyone who doesn’t agree with them that the Jews have no right to exist. As with the events in Germany 70+ years ago, I am not able to personally understand how a rational, sane person could choose to mark a ballot in support of a terrorist, but that is indeed what has happened.
There are two aspects of this month’s events in Palestine that we must take note of:
On 23 January, 2006, here in Canada where I live, Canadian’s also made a negative choice: they voted for and elected a Conservative government simply because they didn’t want the Liberals to return to power. In other words, many Canadians didn’t vote for the Conservative Party because they support the Conservative party platform; rather, they wanted to punish the incumbent Liberal party.
When I learnt about democracy as a schoolboy, I learnt that when one votes in a democracy one chooses the candidate (or party) that one wants to win. As an adult, what I hear politicians and political lobbyists preach is that one must vote “strategically” in order to keep certain individuals (and parties) out of power. Maybe I am naďve, but I believe that the "strategic voting" approach is not what democracy is about, and it generally requires the voter to violate their own personal ethics.
Part of the problem in Canada’s current negative choice situation is the press. The Canadian press are themselves anti-Conservative and choose over and over to portray the Conservative party in as negative light as possible: the classic issues in Canada being so-called "gay rights", abortion, and gun control. In each of these topic areas, the press has chosen a side, vilifies the Canadian Conservative party, and whips Canadians into a an anti-Conservative frenzy. If the Canadian public were not part of Pareto’s Unthinking Populace, then they would see through the chaff the Canadian press has thrown in their face; however, as the recent Live Science study has shown, most individuals only “hear” facts that bolster their preconceived notions.
As my wife and I have discussed these issues, it has become our personal prayer that if we fall into the abyss of negative choice, that we would become aware of the deception and make a right and rational choice in favour of a candidate that supports our values; instead of making a negative choice and contributing to the election of a person or party who does not support our values.