Friday, July 23, 2010


The previous post about involving India and China in building a viable, tollerant and democratic Afghan state, makes me think about the win/lose paradigm at the heart of the Sports Metaphor. I’m too lazy to go back and re-read my series of sports posts, so I’m not sure how I said this before, but the win/lose paradigm is dangerous. To me it’s the win/lose way of looking at life and the world, that keeps us from seriously considering the very common sense strategy of involving India and China in building a viable, tollerant and democratic Afghan state.

Aren’t there a whole range of experiences between winning and losing? Aren’t those experiences valuable and meaningful too? What about the idea of “win some, lose some”? Or the idea that “you can’t win ‘em all”? I remember a commentator saying a couple of Olympics ago, when the athelete who was cracked up to be so great ‘only’ won the Bronze and was sad and the media were crying foul, “When did winning the Bronze at the Olympics become something to be ashamed of?” And for the folks that do win the Gold, what becomes of them? Do they go on to live charmed lives on Mt. Olympus? No, they go on to become dentists in Peoria.

It’s good to go for the Gold, but keep a sense of perspective. If billions of dollars that might go to actually improving peoples’ lives is being siphoned off by drug lords and a corrupt Afghan government, perhaps it’s time to consider the Bronze.

How might a new perspective on win/lose apply to our electoral/political system? Currently we have a winner-take-all, zero-sum system – either you win or you lose, no middle ground. And the winner is considered ‘wrong’ to talk to the losers, think about the loser’s ideas or represent the loser’s constituents. So if someone wins an election by 51%, she feels no obligation to consider the ideas of the 49% that lost, talk with them or bother to represent them. After all, they lost, too bad, so sad.

This zero-sum, win/lose, winner-take-all, way of doing things has brought us to the current, worst in 120 years gridlock, polarization, fear mongering and wastefulness in DC. Thank goodness the current, awful ways of DC have not trickled down to the local level, though they are being more and more manifest at the state level.

Our political/electoral system is designed to run on win/lose. If we’re not happy with they way things are going, and nobody either on the left or right seems too happy about it, let’s consider redesigning our political/electoral system to be less win/lose oriented. That’s doable; there are a number of nations that run their systems differently. But we won’t be allowed to consider it, or serious consideration of it will be ridiculed, because the political class and their big economic supporters, like the status quo and want things to stay as they are. In spite all the noise to the contrary, the wealthy are continuing to not only hold on to their wealth, but accumulate more.

The new government in England, a veritible model of miracle cooperation across seemingly intractible differences in party rhetoric, is offerring a ‘constitutional’ amendment to the voters that will allow them to decide on a new form of proportional representation. Proportional representation will shift the system from win/lose to something more in the center. With proportional representation the 49% that ‘lose’ would not go unheard, unrepresented and ridiculed. They would not even lose.

I’m not clear on the British proposal, but basically with proportional representation, voters would vote for their first, second and third choices, see:

The benefits of shifting to proportional representation are immense:
• Incumbants and the special interests that support them would be weakened
• Third and perhaps even Fourth parties would be encouraged
• It would be clear to voters that their vote and their active involvement count
• If we believe in democracy, we’ll have more of it
• If we believe democracy results in better decisions for more people – a move towards a system that works for everyone, then we’ll have more of that, too

The transition to proportional representation might be messy, but to me, it seems worthwhile. We seem to have reached the limits of effectiveness with our present way of doing things; it works well for fewer and fewer Americans and concentrates political and economic power in the hands of a few. The name of such a system is Oligarchy, not Democracy.

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