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People are shocked when I tell them I don’t vote. I’m always surprised that they do.

The first election I remember was the Bush/Gore debacle in 2000. I was eleven. My brain was already internet-shaped. I was horrified that a decision this important would be left in the shaky hands of volunteer chad-counters in Florida, and dumbstruck when it was simply hand-waved by the Supreme Court. They stole that election. It was obvious at the time, and it’s 20/20 now.

Ever since, I’ve been confused why people vote.

Is it a vestigial habit, the way people who grew up in the Depression still hoard canned food?

Are some elections more trustworthy than others, and if so, how do you distinguish them?

Are people voting for some other reason? Maybe voting is not for enacting the political will of the majority. Maybe it serves another purpose: virtue signaling, or self-affirmation, or something akin to prayer.

At one point, I got so confused that I thought whatever I voted for would come true. By magic. In an infinite, ever-branching universe of possibilities, each person would experience their own timeline where the things they voted for would always win. The ritual act of voting announces your intent to the universe, and you unlock the future you desire.

Of course, all evidence pointed the other way. Ask anyone if they feel America is going exactly the way they want. I rationalized that 1) I was nineteen, and had never voted, therefore the universe had not yet taken my preferences into account, and 2) I was nineteen, and therefore wasn’t interested in contrary evidence.

A theory so solipsistic could only be tested subjectively. I would have to vote, to see what effect I could cause on the universe.

It was 2008. Bush was leaving office, after two monstrous terms. The field was wide open. I did my research on all the candidates, and saw one shining star that I thought I could really stand behind. This person, despite serious government experience, seemed to float above the muck and slime of politics. I knew in an instant that this was my President.

I determined to vote for Dennis Kucinich.

What can I say? He wanted to legalize weed and reveal the truth about aliens. I was nineteen.

Unfortunately, I was too late to register as a Democrat. I couldn’t vote in the primaries. And elfin Kucinich didn’t last long against the handsome plasticine grins of his competition.

But I meant to do an experiment, and the death of one guinea pig wouldn’t stop me. When November came around, it was easy for me to choose Senator Cool Black Friend over Senator Racist Uncle At Thanksgiving.

And it worked! I had wrought my will unto the world. Now President Cool Black Friend could go forth and do those cool things we agreed on: jail the bankers, end the wars, and legalize the gay marriage!

Well… one out of three ain’t bad?

As “my president” expanded the drone assassination and total surveillance projects that Bush started, I felt worse and worse. I was responsible for all of this.

Eventually the contradictions in my magical thinking tore me apart. I’ve re-assembled my model of the universe many times since then, but none of the new configurations made voting look any better.

From a strictly mathematical perspective, one vote rarely matters that much. Don’t get me wrong – I value political organizing . Groups of people coordinating to solve the problems they see in the world, that’s real power. Organizing matters. Getting a lot of people to vote together as a bloc can be mathematically relevant. But after the Electoral Congress, the gerrymandering, and the deliberate disenfranchisement of inconvenient demographics, any particular vote is unlikely to tip an election.

From a technical standpoint, the election infrastructure is a hot mess . With over 10,000 election districts running different software and hardware stacks, manufactured by diverse private companies and their sub- and sub-sub-contractors, the system in aggregate is as kludgy and spaghettified as, I suppose, this sentence itself.

It’s a vast attack surface. It’s insane to think that this system should be in charge of enacting our collective will. The American Kennel Club has better security.

not many results contain hacked. search only for american kennel club "hacked"? american elections will be hacked - the new york times

The cognitive security angle is even worse. There’s no reason to assume that people who are good at getting elected will be good at governing. In fact, there are several proverbs to the contrary. Nobody trusts politicians, but we have to elect them, because they’re the only people who run for office. I’d love to vote for a ticket of climate scientists and nuclear engineers, but they’re a little too busy to kiss hand and shake baby.

I would venture that voting actually makes people dumber.

Sorry, not you – you’re special. Regular people. The sheer amount of information, the responsibility to have an opinion on a bunch of people and issues that they’ve only just been exposed to, weighs on their minds. It’s a cognitive burden .

Cognitive burden causes humans to make errors more often, and makes us more likely to rely on stereotypes and objectify people. There’s too much information, so our brains use quick-and-dirty heuristics instead of trying to accurately process the whole dataset. That’s how you end up with millions of people swearing fealty to some jagoff they feel they could have a beer with. It’s literally easier than thinking.

Given the weak spending power of each vote, and the burden imposed by paying attention to national, state, and local politics (and the cartilage of conspiracy that knits them together), the average voter is probably experiencing negative effects from their democratic ritual. They’re in cognitive debt, giving more attention to the two-headed monster than it will ever return.

I know many people will say that it’s stupid of me to forfeit my franchise in favor of fooling around with philosophy and AI. I’m willing to hear your arguments. I’ll only soapbox a bit more, so that you can be sure you’re not arguing with a strawman version of my point.

My current assessment is that change isn’t caused by politicians or by politics. Power comes from fuel, from water, from fertile soil, and from technologies. Power is about energy and resources and the human coordination to make use of them.

Right now, power is concentrated not in the stagnant government but in the military-industrial-surveillance complex. Look at the way that cities around the world debased themselves to gain Amazon’s favor in the HQ2 sweepstakes last year. Megacorporations rule the world.

The branches of the US military, and the sixteen (at least) intelligence agencies, are their enforcers. America runs a global soft-power empire to maintain control over the planet’s energy sources. This is accomplished through economic pressure and the occasional coup, but it’s ultimately backed by the threat of the nuclear bomb.

Those energy sources (including mineral and water resources) are becoming harder to extract, and less predictable. This is the wellspring of 21st century unrest, and the old boys’ club has decided to double down on the problem because, what do they care, they’re going to be dead soon anyway.

What are all the megacorporations and military types really concerned with right now? Artificial intelligence. They know that it’s a game-changing technology even if it never goes transhuman. But given the non-zero chance of an intelligence explosion, they can’t ignore it. It’s a nuclear-level technology: it could be a great new source of power, or it could destroy life as we know it.

So my time and thought are better spent providing an alternative to the war-machine version of AI than picking representatives to maybe vote for the policies I kind of agree with. If there’s going to be a revolutionary global change from this technology, then all the politicking we do now will be moot. If another world is possible, I see no better way of achieving it.

I have to be a Utopian. The odds of success are slim, but they’re infinitely greater than if I don’t try.

I’m doing what I think is worthwhile, but I could be convinced otherwise. If someone I trusted gave me a list of the best votes to make, I could walk into the gymnasium and click the buttons. I just can’t spare the brain cycles for the short-term infighting of rich people when all life on the planet is at stake.

JFK in the convertible with sign: we should exit Vietnam, back off of Castro, and cut the CIA's budget CHANGE MY MIND

Thanks for reading,

– Max


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