Meditations on Futility (Elections)

A couple months ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in Palo Alto reading and in the booth next to me was congressional candidate Ro Khanna.

He was there with a woman, of whom I do not know, and it seemed as though he was trying to convince her that his campaign was the right path (I will not speculate on his motives). Their conversation ended and she quickly exited the coffee shop, as he gathered his things to exit I grabbed his attention and asked him a roundabout question about his policies, which implicitly asked him: tell me why I should vote for you over Mike Honda.

His response to that question and all my follow up questions were always framed dichotomously to Honda. Meaning, he did not say I believe in this, or that. But statements, like Mike Honda did X, or Mike Honda says X, or Mike Honda voted for Z– implying that XYZ are bad, and his polarized position is, ergo, good. Conversely, if you watch Mike Honda’s youtube commercial (which seems to play for me every time I go to youtube) you can see this theme is consistent from Mike Honda too. His positions are defined as the implicit opposite of the evil ideas of Khanna.   If you have paid any attention to mass media during elections you would most likely be able to testify to the notion of campaigning from the negative. I will noe denote my position, but I will allude to my position as a connotation from the process of negating the Other (my opponent).

In the political arena maybe this slight-of-hand political maneuver, that we all know well, is a means of non-committing to a position, but at the same time alluding that they are Good. Like how Google’s corporate slogan of Don’t Be Evil—what does this really mean?   Is non-evil inherently good? If there were objective truths, then it would not be possible for both Khanna and Honda to be non-evil (ergo good (true)) if their good positions– as deduced by the negation of the Other– were in contradiction. In other words, can they both be right (good)?

If two politicians were dichotomously opposed on a topic we would have the following possible outcomes:

  1. They are both right (truth is subjective)
  2. They are both wrong (truth is subjective and indiscernible)
  3. One is right and one is wrong (truth is objective and indiscernible)

Outcomes one and two lead to subjective truth and by the product of indiscernibility, as does outcome three. If I stated the following question:

Which is greater—1 or 2?   The answer is 2 and it is discernible.

However, if I asked the following:

Which is greater– # or *? Even if you argue that there is objective hierarchy in symbols, it is indiscernible. This would be no different than asking:

Which is greater—Picasso or Duchamp.

 In other words objectivity, at least in politics, does not exist.

From this process we have synthesized the following ethical ideas: first, the ethics of what is good is perceived (in politics) as an opposing force to what is perceived as evil[1], and second, truth is subjective. Therefore, all politicians are both evil and good without contradiction, but they (implicitly) sell themselves as objectively good as the product of the negation of the objective evil that they are not.

This reasoning would argue that the 2016 GOP Presidential candidate should simply be named ­Non-Obama, as whoever it is they will not actually express, campaign for or explicitly state what social telos they stands for, but merely repeat to the point of absurdity—I am non-Obama. Similar to the campaign slogan of Richard Pryor’s character in the movie Brewster’s Millions: ‘none of the above’[2].   This is oddly ironic, as the non-Bush positions were opposed to exhibitions of the military-industrial-complex, policies that favor the rich and the intrusion of privacy and infringement of rights from the Patriot Act—to name a few, but Obama has done next to nothing to promote pacifism, reduce economic disparity or to negate the Patriot Act (and the overtly intrusive NSA).   In other words, Obama is both Obama and non-Obama, and Bush is both Bush and non-Bush.

If both candidates are going to campaign from their side of the aisle (right or left), but are ultimately going to govern from the middle, then in reality, there is no difference. As follows:

P1             Bush = non-Bush

P2        Obama = non-Obama

P3        Obama = non-Bush

P4        Bush = non-Obama

C          Bush = Obama

And as reasoned earlier:

Bush = non-evil, ergo good

Obama= non-evil, ergo good

If they are going to ultimately govern from the center, then why do they not campaign that way? It is reasonable to assert that a politician campaigns from the left or right as an appeal to their party (and its members/followers). But, if both parties campaign from the negative, viz. non-evil, then what are they campaigning for?

It could be interpreted that an appeal to non-evil is an appeal to non human-suffering. Because we are all “the active, determining subject of judgment—he who, in identifying suffering, knows that it must be stopped by all available means.”[3] Arguing that political discourse goes as follows:

POLITICIAN X to THE PEOPLE: I recognize that you suffer under governance of POLITICIAN Y and if you vote for me I will create non-suffering by being non-Y.

POLITICIAN X gets elected and governs from non-x, ergo Y and perpetuates the aforementioned suffering.

 Four years later….

 POLITICIAN Z to THE PEOPLE: I recognize that you suffer under governance of POLITICIAN X and if you vote for me I will create non-suffering by being non-X.

 POLITICIAN Z gets elected and governs from non-z, ergo X (and Y) and perpetuates the aforementioned suffering.

If evil = human suffering, then it is reasonable to assert that non-suffering = non-evil, viz. human rights: right to life, right to body and right to culture.[4] However, earlier I reasoned that non-evil, (or good) is subjective. In other words, if evil= human suffering and non-evil = non human-suffering, but non-evil and evil are subjective, then its reasonable to assert human suffering is subjective.

You may read this and protest that you can reason human suffering, and this is probably true for yourself, but is it true for the non-self or the Other? Can human suffering be objective and universal? For example, what is the difference between a militant-terrorist and a militant-hero? Answer: depends on what side you’re on? Lévinas would argue that this is product of the ‘ethics of difference’, or rather ‘the ethics of the other.’[5] Seen as follows:

  1. I know thyself, insofar as my ego will let me.
  2. I do not know thy non-self, however, I see non-self insofar as my ego will let me.
  3. My ego will only see-itself (mirror-effect[6]) and presume sameness of self and non-self.
  4. Therefore, I will assert my subjective idea of human suffering, non-suffering, good and evil as equal to non-self.

This argues that even if ethics are subjective, they’re perceived as objective. My truth is objective truth and anything that opposes that is wrong. This creates a paradox were everybody is right (good) and wrong (evil) without contradiction and, a fortiori, they’re all perceived themselves as objectively righteous in their position, or in short, as Badiou puts it: “the truth is exactly the opposite[7]

And this is the paradox that politicians appeal to.

From this, the modus operandi of American political discourse is self-contradicting, paradoxical and absolutely futile. And, it does not matter who you vote for—the result will always be the same.   There seems to be only one political position that all politicians agree on: the get out the vote campaign. Why is this?   I’d posit that exercising your right to vote has the semblance of Freedom, and it would be absurd for the symbol of our free democracy to also be the symbol of our enslavement.   Or maybe that is completely non-absurd. I have reasoned the following idea of myself:

            I am good;

            I am evil;

            I am suffering;

            I am non-suffering;

            I am master;

            & I am slave.

I do not know or claim to know the way out of this paradox and perhaps “every collective will to good creates Evil,”[8] – in which case, we are destined to fail. But, I would posit the following maxim as a good place to start:

Freedom cannot be granted, rather, it’s asserted.  






[1] Badiou, A. (2001). Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. London: Verso. Page 9

[2] Hill, Walter. (1985) Brewster’s Millions. Universal Pictures, Los Angeles, CA. Film.

[3] Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. Page 9

[4] Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. Page 9

[5] Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. Page 18

[6] Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. Page 21

[7] Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. Page 6

[8] Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil. Page 13

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