Why I don’t vote

I don’t have enough certainty that I’m right about any issue or candidate to feel like I could actually vote for (or against) one with a clear conscience. And even if I did, there are always other little hidden things I’d therefore be inadvertently voting for as well that I don’t have certainty about. So I don’t vote.

The alarming thing is this: hardly anyone really ought to have the level of certainty required for voting, and yet most people do, and voting is pretty common. Plus, when people don’t vote it’s usually for other reasons besides epistemic uncertainty.

Why aren’t things worse?? How can such a precarious system work so well?


Another day in paradise

How nice it is not to live in an outrage amplification chamber. (Oops, this blog is supposed to be for my angriest opinions!)

On a day-to-day basis I am generally filled with a sense of tranquility and balance when it comes to American culture: yes, there is some political polarization around me, but from my perspective it’s generally symmetrical, and also basically friendly. Mostly I exist in a wide middle-ground, where the poles are distant bumps on the horizon you can only see after a deliberate journey and a lot of squinting.

Granted, my perspective does not include journalism products or social media. But that’s kind of the point! These conflicts people get so angry and worked-up about are in many ways only existent in the virtual fantasy-lands of the news and Twitter/Facebook. Out here in the real world, people get along, even help each other out, and laugh or shrug it off if something isn’t to their liking. It’s something I think most people would realize if they turned off their phones and computers more.

Probably, the parts of the real world that are very ideologically homogeneous are not like this. There are definitely some places you can live and work that are a lot like an over-curated Twitter feed. I have trouble seeing why people would want to live and work in places like that, especially if at the same time they complain about ideological bubbles.

There might even be an unnamed, underappreciated virtue: buying groceries from, seeing around the office, living down the street from, sitting in traffic behind, (etc.) people who you know statistically might be just as likely on your political left as your political right, or in a higher or lower socioeconomic class, or things like that. It’s a kind of unification-by-uncertainty. And I would say it works well.

Long live diversity!

Crackpot theory: Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves” is inspired by a Devin Townsend song

In 1997 Devin Townsend released the concept album “Ocean Machine: Biomech”, which opens with a pretty cool song called “Seventh Wave“. Here are the lyrics.

In 2015 Neal Stephenson wrote a sci-fi novel called “Seveneves”. The third act climaxes with an epic battle between various human subspecies that have diverged thousands of years from now.

Here are themes/imagery/details the two works share in common:

  • The number 7 featured in the title
  • Planet Earth changed beyond recognition, and made waterier
  • A female protagonist “returning home”
  • Being greeted at an appointed time by something coming up out of the ocean

Also: Stephenson’s future world, in which swarms of micro-robots play an active role in everyday life as well as warfare, recalls Townsend’s lyrics about being “never alone even when you’re alone”.

Stephenson’s writing contains evidence that he likes heavy rock music, so it’s entirely plausible that he listened to Townsend’s album and some of the imagery in “Seventh Wave” made it into “Seveneves”, possibly on purpose. Of course the only way to confirm this hairbrained theory of mine would be to ask Stephenson directly.

Until then I recommend enjoying “Ocean Machine” and “Seveneves” close together in time, because they pair extremely well.

On Hitler comparisons, Alex Jones, and the evil of social media

The problem with saying “So-and-so is the next Hitler” is that because killing Nazis (and especially Hitler himself) was clearly in American interests, if So-and-so is basically Hitler reincarnated, then it must also be in America’s interest to kill So-and-so and his followers. In that way, a Hitler comparison constitutes a threat of violence.

Apparently Alex Jones was simultaneously banned from several major social media websites recently, on the grounds that his speech advocated hatred and violence. A survey of Jones’s speech will likely not turn up any hatred or violence, but rather a lot of kooky conspiracy theories about covered-up attempts by the government to turn everyone gay with chemicals in the drinking water, to create a protected race of superhuman transsexuals, or interdemensional portals through which child molesters travel, or some such thing.

Being charitable, what I think these social media websites meant but failed to say is that if Jones’s claims are to believed, then violence (against the government, transsexuals, etc.) is in order. Since Jones’s claims are not to be believed, but some people believe them, Jones’s claims constitute a threat of violence. But again, that’s if I’m being charitable. I don’t think reality is as charitable.

I don’t care about Alex Jones being singled out by the admins who work for social media websites. I’d be just as happy in an alternative reality with no Alex Jones in it. But it is menacing that these websites, used by so many people in the developed world, are administered so opaquely. The official terms of conduct are just there as theatre; your ability to use the website really depends on whether they decide they feel like silencing you for whatever reason. When your livelihood depends on using those websites (as I assume Alex Jones’s does to a significant degree), that gives them a lot of unconditional power over your life.