We live in strange times.
Within the first fifth of this young century, we’ve had our minds rewired many times over, courtesy of the Internet, wifi, social media, and smartphones. We’re thinking faster, and we’re aware of more people — more types, more attitudes, more earthly perspectives. Our shared digital space has encroached upon our once personal, once more private space. This has all been mind-blowing to experience and behold, and in no way more so than our political life…
Used to be, politics had an air of privacy about it. People didn’t always readily volunteer which side they were on, much less who they voted for. And even if you chose to be open about such things, you were conditioned to be respectful when others chose not to be.
Now it’s different; everything’s all on the table. Our whole lives are out there, for all to see: who we are, what we think, which side we’re on. Where we live, what we prioritize, which values we uphold (or pretend to)…and, of course, who we’re voting for…
This transparency around voting is new. So new, in fact, that it can seem like shrillness. So many of our social media accounts have the impact of plain ole’ bumper stickers: over here, look this way, here’s what I stand for!
If you agree, come and stay. If you don’t, go away.
This shrillness isn’t exactly helping to encourage people to participate in the political process. Between 38 and 39% of registered voters didn’t vote in the last U.S. presidential election — well over a full one-third. In fact, since 1960, U.S. voter participation has been in a state of steady decline. Here in 2020, at a moment when Americans are extremely divided, every single voter who feels left out of or at a remove from (or simply turned off by) the political process constitutes a major loss to us all.
Meanwhile, in this digital age, voting can often come off as quaint. It’s an aging process, as old as democracy itself. The idea that every vote counts for something tests both our optimism (“Do I TRULY count, among so MANY people?”) and our common sense (“With so many people voting, can the tallies TRULY be accurate?).
And yet voting must be granted respect, and carried onward.
I remember a car ride from my childhood. My grandfather (d. 2012), a man of raw, potent wisdom, was philosophizing about the nature of juries: “The system stinks,” the old man declared. “But it’s the best system you can hope for…”
I never forgot that. My young mind found it dazzling. On one hand, the thing he described was bad, but on the other hand…it was a noble good. As a kid, I found the duality (a word I wouldn’t know until much later) instructive.
And my grandfather’s point about juries applies in a direct way to voting…
Juries are imperfect because the defendant is at the mercy of 12 human minds. The human psyche is a vast terrain of mysteries, deeper than our ocean floors. Conjoining 12 wells of mystery to arrive at one single truth is therefore an incredibly unruly process. But, as embedded subjects in the greater mystery of human existence, such a measure is more than likely the best we’ve got (until, of course, something better crosses our minds).
The scale of voting utterly eclipses the scale of juries. The jury box has 12 souls in it. The voting pool, depending on how vast the region is, can bear anywhere from thousands to millions of souls. So many minds, all working together — or against each other, but ultimately, theoretically together — to capture truth, justice, and progress. It’s all so sloppy. It’s such a crapshoot.
But it’s the very best that humankind can do.
Embrace the custom. Cherish its ingrained way of honoring your will. Know that your voice, although just one among many, is still a robust producer of sound, and thus a force that can actually be heard. The results won’t always satisfy — even if they’re the ones we initially wanted. But the effort, the intention, the impulse to weigh in, pitch in, join in, be heard — these are all noble and sacred things.
Vote, then. Be heard. Mourn the outcome if your candidate loses. Celebrate if they catch a win. But don’t sideline yourself — i.e., silence your voice. Yes, the system stinks, but it’s optimal. Two opposing thoughts, joined together to form one perfect truth.
As it turns out, Grandpa was right.