Friday, September 16, 2016

Zugzwang in the Voting Booth

As I may have mentioned before in some post or other, "zugzwang" in chess (and perhaps in other games as well) takes place in the case where the pieces are in such a position that any move which can be made results in a disadvantage and therefore is a "bad" move.  Here is an unlikely, but easily understood, example:

Neither White nor Black can make a move without facing disaster.  The pawns of course can't move at all; only the kings can.  If either king is moved, the opposing king can take the now undefended pawn of the opponent, and that's the end of that.

It occurs to me that "zugzwang" is a word which describes, most appropriately, the position each of us will be in when voting in the upcoming presidential election.

I've been dissatisfied with the nominees of both of the two major parties in the past, and so have on more than one occasion voted for a third party candidate or indulged in a useless "write in" vote.  I suppose I could do the same in this case.  But this election is remarkable in that the nominees of both major parties are so peculiarly unlikeable; even contemptible.  It seems I'm not alone in this opinion.  If polls are accurate, there have never been candidates for the presidency who were so unliked.  As one of those nominees will necessarily be elected, the result of the election won't merely be unsatisfactory, it will be revolting.

So, there's an understandable inclination to abstain from voting or, if one feels voting is a privilege which should be exercised in all cases regardless of circumstances, to vote for anyone who isn't a member of the dreadful duo.  But is this appropriate when there's so much at stake in this election?

That there's a great deal at stake in any case seems to be the prevailing view.  There's a sense of crisis, and we seem to become more and more angry, emotional, irrational.  We're polarized (that word seems to be used more and more these days).  The world is more dangerous than it has been; America isn't what it once was.

This is what many people say.  More significantly, this is what we are told that they say, and we're told this over and over.  Our ability to communicate, even when that communication is unwanted and unsolicited, is virtually unlimited.  The news media is ubiquitous; it can't be escaped.  It's always available and is always there, not merely on TV and radio but on the Internet, our PCs, laptops, tablets, smart phones.  Every dispute, every opinion, all conduct is noted and on display.

Those like me, who are cynical about human nature, may hold the opinion (also like me) that in actuality our circumstances are no different than they have been in the past.  They merely appear to be different because it simply wasn't possible, even in the not so distant past, to know or at least be told about ourselves and others and our multitude of disputes, opinions, problems, mistakes, crimes, immorality to the extent we can now.  There's a limit to what we can read in a newspaper, what we can hear on AM radio, what we can see and hear on TVs with 13 channels.  We were every bit as chaotic and misguided in the past as we are now, we're just better informed (or misinformed) than we ever were; and of course there are more of us.

Even so, though, we're more capable of causing damage and doing harm now than we ever have been, and that's particularly the case for those in power.  And we're more easily subject to manipulation.  George Orwell was keenly aware of the power of political manipulation and the tendency of government to manipulate us.  He was aware of the uses to which the media of his time could be put to foster manipulation as well.  But he couldn't fully anticipate the tools we have available to us now or how much they facilitate manipulation.

Due to an evil fate or our own foolishness, we're in a position where our next president will be one of two people, neither of whom should be president.  It's not in our power to prevent that from taking place.  It's prudent to consider which of them is less likely to cause harm, to us and the rest of the world.  One appears to be someone with no principles, someone profoundly ignorant, who is likely to make decisions based on whatever the last person he spoke to told him if experience is any guide, is erratic, with no experience in government and a tendency to act thoughtlessly and emotionally.  The other is venal, corrupt, secretive, stupid it seems in some things, a purely political creature, with considerable experience in government, who seems intent on benefiting herself and her friends, cronies and allies more than anything else. 

I think the latter is less likely to do damage than the former.  In these disturbing times, that may be the only reasonable basis on which to decide how to vote.  We're in zugzwang, yes.  But there are two moves available, and one move is less likely to cause disaster or at least will likely result in less of a disaster than the other.  Happy days.

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