Saturday, November 12, 2016

What is it like to be a bat?

Okay folks, it's time to grab the hottest news topic of the week by the pussy: Why did Donald Trump win the presidential election?

[Note: I've edited the post since publishing, especially the final paragraph as my thoughts on the matter have evolved after discussing the topic with multiple people.]

Well, technically he didn't win yet, Clinton won the popular vote by 0.1 %-units and the electoral college will not vote before December 19th. But it is statistically unlikely that DT would lose the electoral college vote, especially when most states require their electors to vote for the candidate that the state has voted for. So a better question would be why the result turned out the way it did and why are people acting the way they do now after the election?

I'm not claiming the analysis to cover all aspects of how people chose to vote. So please consider this as an analysis among others (see, for example, the blog post by Tobias Stone in the Huffington Post). In large part the analyses on this election apply also to Brexit or any other elections anywhere in the world. Also, I had a side in the election as well (even though I couldn't vote) so I don't claim to be completely objective. But I find it comforting to try to understand the views of both sides. What eats us the most from the inside is hate, and not even trying to understand the other side will keep feeding the hate. And whenever you hate someone, it's you that suffers the most.

To get to the point, to me it seems that many people see the opponents as ignorant idiots who wouldn't understand the other side's decision to vote the way they did even if they tried to explain it in a civilized way (see for example this post by a Trump supporter). The third party who didn't vote are judged lazy or indifferent or wasted their vote to a candidate who couldn't win no matter what. If you would combine the opinions of all people and added "a bit" of contrast, anyone who voted for Clinton would a blind elitist who doesn't understand the life of a common citizen (a clone army of Hillarys) and anyone who voted for Trump is a Trump-like bigot who supports racism, sexism etc. (a clone army of Donalds).

Evidently, even if someone actually saw the opposing candidate(s) this way, most people had their reasons for their vote apart from being racist or elitist and endorsing the candidate who shares these views. One thing that is true in the statements above is that very likely the people endorsing one candidate or the other could not understand the views of the other side.

American philosopher Thomas Nagel published an article "What is it like to be a bat?" in the journal The Philosophical Review in 1974. According to Nagel, no matter how hard a human being tried to imagine what it is like to fly, use sonar, and hang from a ceiling of a cave or a tree branch all day long, they couldn't truly understand what is it like to be a bat. This applies to people as well: No human being can truly understand the life of another human being if you haven't experienced the same environment and social status as they. How hard different people try to understand others is a different, but tightly related question.

For example, take an American citizen who by American definition lives under the poverty line. Every day you have to think if you will be able to buy food the next week or even for today. It's good if you have enough money for the rent to have a home, or medicines if you get sick. All your brain capacity goes to thinking how you will survive, not the problems of other people. That's how our brain is wired to work.

An extreme example? Compare it to the life of for example an African person to whom the poverty line in the USA would be a definition of a really rich person in their country. Hundreds of millions people don't have an opportunity to a regular source of electricity, often not even civil rights. You don't have to go further than the US colony Puerto Rico to have people ripped from their right to vote. But even Puerto Ricans have a fairly stable power grid despite the huge debt (in a big part caused by laws made in the States, not only corruption and economy deficits on the island) that can cause the whole island to go dark.

Another example from a middle-class background: An American citizen representing an ethnic minority of Asian, Hispanic, or African-American people. On a monthly or even weekly basis you have people looking you suspiciously and occasionally throwing racist comments at you. Or you're a woman of any ethnicity who gets sexually harassed as often just because you happened to be born as beautiful as you are, without even bringing it out explicitly. Or you're one of the LGBTQ community, or just a lot more chubbier than most other people. If you have never been bullied or harassed for something you have no power over, you do not truly understand what it feels like. It can become all you can think of. And then you end up finding more than 60 million people endorsing the person behaving like your tormenters.

If you're fundamentally religious and get your brain filled with preaching of religious leaders (what many people do for the sake of feeling to be part of a community or pressure from the family), it is obvious that you will likely choose your candidate based on your own knowledge and ethics, not what science or other communities say.

For the people who are privileged to be highly educated, or for other reasons view the USA as one (significant) part of the world, climate change and the capability to maintain diplomatic relationships to other countries are primary reasons to choose between the candidates. What is it like to be a bat requires ability of critical thinking, but critical thinking is something that for most of us comes through a good education. Not all uneducated people are ignorant of global issues because they are stupid or lazy, but because of the education system and societal reasons. But also not all those who are good at "being bats" should become them, or should it be an excuse for racism, sexism, islam- or homophobias.

Almost half of the American people didn't vote at all. For sure, some were just lazy, for some their right to vote was oppressed in one way or another, but my guess is that many non-voters think that their vote is as good as a lottery ticket as one in hundreds of millions, or that either one of the candidates wouldn't bring the change they want. You could blame them for not thinking "what is it like to be a bat" but your assumption would probably include that you're the bat. Should they have also thought what is it like to be a cat and then evaluated if the cat is more valuable than the bat? What about rats? The fact is that at least one of the groups is currently terrified for their life.

In some countries (like Brazil) voting is mandatory, although the fine for not voting is only some $2 or so. Making a right to a responsibility may be controversial to some, but could bring out the voices of more people, which is what democracy is all about. If you don't want to vote any of the candidates, you could still make a statement by leaving an empty voting sheet.

As the one last point of the analysis (I'm amazed if you made it all the way down here!), a common misconception in presidential elections is the understanding of what a president of the United States can or cannot actually do. Everyone has troubles, everyone wants change for better in their lives. But what the president (or a political party) will have power over, is often a utopia created by the campaigning. Demagogues like Trump are people who specifically excel at feeding those utopias. People believe what they want to believe. And how they think their problems will be solved is often oversimplified, the infamous Mexican wall as an example. Again, many people are lacking the ability of critical thinking, but then again, is it their fault that the education system sucks in that sense? You can't blame one single person for all the faults in a society.

In my opinion voting for Trump was short-sighted and showed the incapability of masses of people seeing through the lies of a conman and whatever bullshit goes around in the internet, and in that sense stupid. At the same time, I think that judging over 60 million people as racist, sexist and/or stupid, that is, putting them in one single category, because they endorsed the racist, sexist conman does not make the judging person any better than the people who voted for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment