Thursday, October 06, 2011

Get Out and Vote... If You Happen To Agree With My Values...

Gatineau - QC - Museum of Civilisation

Today is a voting day in Ontario. and I see signs around encouraging people to vote. I remember the "rock the vote" campaign in the 1980s trying to do the same thing. What's striking to me about these initiatives is that they are trying to get people to vote at all, rather than trying to get people to vote for a particular cause or person.

If the goal is to increase voter turnout without biasing in favor of a particular cause of candidate, then it makes sense to target everyone, not a particular demographic that might vote in a particular way. The ultimate goal would be to increase voter turnout for all of the issues or candidates on the table. If you're targeting people would tend to vote liberal, then you'd get more liberal votes, relatively, than conservative. This would be disingenuous with the stated mission of the cause.*

This is where it stops making sense to me.

Let's assume that the primary reason for a vote is to determine a winner. Equally increasing the number of votes for all issues or candidates, which is what these initiatives seem to want to do, would, if successful, lead to no difference in the outcome of the vote.  So in terms of the primary objective of a voting system, these initiatives make no sense at all.

It is not as though there is no cost. Money and time are spent trying to get people to vote-- resources that could be put to making a real difference in this world. On top of that, for every extra person they get to vote is at least a half hour of wasted time for that person. Wasted, because if these initiatives are successful, your vote is cancelled out by someone else's anyway.

There are other benefits of having a lot of people vote. The country can be proud of itself, claiming that the people care about politics. However I think this is a minor benefit and certainly not worth it.

I will anticipate a counter argument. Perhaps, if everyone were equally encouraged to vote, there would be a different outcome of the election-- perhaps people who don't normally vote, as a group, tend to favor one position over another. In fact, I believe this is true. Poor people vote less, and poor people tend to be more liberal. In this case, the stated goal might be greater turnout, but the either hidden or unanticipated consequence would be an increase in the relative amount of liberal votes.

So if you're out there, trying to get people to vote for what you believe in, I get it. But if you're just trying to get people to vote, what is the point? I'm not asking rhetorically; I really have no idea what they have in mind. Think of the opportunity cost with this activism-- isn't there some science you could be doing?

*When I use terms like "liberal" I'm not referring to specific parties that might be called "liberal." I'm referring to the general political outlook.

Pictured: The Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec. 
Wladyslaw [FAL, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pictured: a graphic showing values differences between the left and right wings. From the blog "Information is Beautiful."
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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Filling the Well, Drawing From the Well

By Bluemangoa2z at ml.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Most people spend the first part of their life preparing themselves for doing things in the next part. School is a great example. For the most part, going to school isn't intrinsically valuable. It's building up your mind, your habits, for what you will do after school. I call this kind of activity "filling the well." 

In contrast, doing productive things in your life is "drawing from the well." I have found that I'm reaching the point in my life where I need to focus on drawing from the well, and keep the activities that I'd classify as filling the well at bay. 

There are things I endeavor to do every day. 

1. Anki: This is a flashcard program to help me remember things.
2. Writing by book:  I try to work for half an hour on my current book.
3. Journaling: Basically the "morning pages" from "The Artist's Way," I use to try to write three pages every day.
4. Processing and Reading: I try to spend half an hour every day going over the notes of things I've read and incorporating them into new notes, papers, and books I'm working on. Leftover time I spend reading. 

Doing all of this takes two hours every morning (I used to meditate too, but stopped.) I can't always get to all of them, so I need to prioritize them. 

1 and 3 are filling the well, 2 is drawing from the well, and 4 is a bit of both. I was in formal education for 26 years. That's a whole lot of filling the well. It's time I started giving back to the world. The world has invested in me, and I need to contribute. 

I have always had the policy that it's always better to produce than to consume, but now I feel it has a bit more urgency. It makes one think differently about things like reading-- people seem to think reading is an intrinsic good, but I feel it's filling the well. If you're reading all the time but never doing anything valuable with the insight gained from the reading, then you're just filling the well and never drawing from it. It's like continuously raising money for charity but never spending it on actually helping anything. 

As you age, you should focus more on drawing from the well and less on filling it. Until you're 20 I think it's fine to focus entirely on filling the well. In your 30s you should have a mixture-- it's still early enough in your life that investing in your mind will have time to pay off. In your 40s you should be very focused on drawing from the well. After you retire, and you just want to rest and enjoy, it's time to focus your life on appreciation-- you can go back to reading now.

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