The Lesser of the Two Evil Argument

This is personal and might be emotional. It’s about Trump’s travel ban. Growing up I read how conservatives fall in line, while liberals want to fall in love. No one is good enough for them. Or how liberals eat their own because no one can stand up to their self-righteous morals.

We want new faces. When new faces have no responsibility we like them. When they actually rise up and become party leaders or get elected to executive positions, we turn on them because sloganeering and governing aren’t the same.

I was reading that for last 50+ years in every election this lesser of two evils argument comes up, mostly among 10-15% of young liberals. In 2012 Hillary had favorability ratings in high 60s and a third of Democrats wanted her to primary Obama. In 2016 she was the lesser of two evils. What changed in 4 years? In 2016 Biden had favorability in the 60s and he was more loved by liberals than Obama for pushing him towards supporting gay marriage, and today he is the lesser of two evils for 10% of liberals. What changed in 4 years?

Or is the lesser of two evil argument more to do with the inherent disappointment of our options or choices? Where something is more attractive when its a potential than a reality. The potential or perception of Obama was different from the governing reality of Obama. Where the perception of Hillary and Biden when not running are always different from when they are running? And when reality hits, we say this universally across the planet – politicians are all the same.

I am not arguing that we must resign ourselves to shitty politicians. We must hold the feet of public officials to fire. They must be criticized when appropriate. But governing is different from campaigning. Protest votes, even in Congress, is easy compared to making decisions in leadership. That’s something young idealists should not lose track of in a democracy. I also realize that I am reaching an age where pure idealism is starting to clash against harsh realism. Yes, there can be two truly evil choices. But if it becomes a pattern over decades for a certain age demographics, that’s something to think about.

Why do I care about those 10%? I had said before that some of us cannot afford “there is no difference between Trump and Hillary/Biden”. Once the Muslim ban happened, some lives were ruined forever. In immigration, it doesn’t take much for someone to lose access to United States forever. With the virus travel ban, some people were stuck outside. Now with the visa ban, some might not be able to come back ever. Someone very close to me got stuck, and now had to ship everything back to home country from New York. Don’t know if they will ever return. They had gone only for a short holiday to visit family overseas. Some of us don’t have the luxury of expecting the absolutely perfect world today. We hope to reach it through incremental progress. But we still have to face a daily existence that isn’t privileged.

Thoughts of Increasing Diversity

I have been wrong about the diversity vs merit debate. I support policies to increase diversity, but I used to think merit should be the final determining factor in admissions or hiring.

I am not arguing for hiring unqualified candidates, nor does the word diversity referred here means only skin color.

Diversity to prevent homogeneity of thoughts. Diversity so we don’t talk in an echo chamber. The 10 brighest people in the world might miss a different viewpoint if all 10 come from the same background.

We need diverse backgrounds in boardrooms, government, and policy centers. Today I believe that in certain places diversity should be forced, especially in places where decisions about future of societies are being made. And diversity does not mean grouping anyone with more melanin in their skin into a single monolith. Based on raw numbers, there is far more diversity within darker skin people than those of western European ancestry.

We need to educate ourselves about the infinity diversity of the human existence, thoughts, and experiences. Diversity should be an end goal, not homogeneous purity, including purity of thoughts.

Voting in Kentucky

Access to voting is a dear topic to me and I donate money towards expanding voting. But lazy outrage is one of my huge pet peeves. Because of the pandemic, 60 days before today’s primary, Kentucky announced that all registered voters can request mail-in-ballots. Nearly 900,000 such ballots were sent out. And because of the pandemic, the state had trouble getting poll workers to work polling booths. Therefore, 40 days before the election it was announced that individual polling stations will not operate in Jefferson County but voters can vote at the Kentucky Exposition Center that will have hundreds of voting booths. Parking was free, and public transportation to the Expo Center was offered every 30 minutes for free. Early voting was allowed every day last week and yesterday at the Expo Center without an appointment. Early voting was allowed at a second location from June 8 till yesterday, with an appointment strongly recommended. None of these are signs that Kentucky is suppressing the vote for today’s elections. And from all accounts, it seems that today’s voting went as smooth as can be hoped, with traffic being the biggest issue in Louisville to reach the Expo Center in the evening. It didn’t take me more than 15 minutes yesterday to read what exactly happened. Yet, voter suppression in Kentucky blew up in social media and blogs. We want mail-in-voting so people don’t have to go out and vote. We ask for expanded voting days and people got 12 days to vote in person, including today. Sometimes outrage just feels so good and consumes so little time compared to just taking a few minutes to read the context.  

Retraining Police

We expect police to do too much and without enough training. In Georgia, to be an officer requires a high school diploma and 11 weeks of training. In Germany, police training is 2.5 to 4 years. We can screen better in applications. We can train and teach better, including ethics, psychology and sociology. In Germany, visiting a concentration camp is mandatory for a police officer, and their federal police union organizes two annual trips to the Holocaust memorial in Israel.

This past Sunday I was invited to a panel discussion of the Odia Society of the Americas, to bridge the gap between the youths who support Black Lives Matter, and their parents who might struggle to understand it (I guess being 35 puts me in that age where I am 12-18 yrs older than the kids and a similar age younger to their parents 🤷🏻‍♂️😂). Some of the questions were similar questions we read in news – violence in black communities, the model minority myths, etc.

Centuries of subjugation, mass incarceration from a young age leading to poverty, lack of jobs, they all contribute to crime. Marijuana usage is same across skin color. But when a black youth is arrested, that record will stay in every job application, mortgage application, rental application. When parents get sent to prisons at a disproportionate rates, who will guide the youths? That is the term “systemic” that suppresses a population over generations. It was slavery, then Jim Crow, then war on drugs, and now voter ID laws. We have private prisons and states that take away a convict’s the right to vote for life. That is systemic racism. How will we fight mass incarceration that destroys a life when we authorize for-profit prisons?

Defund the police is a reductive hashtag. But policing reform is urgent and necessary, for the safety of the public and to help the police officers who are asked to do things beyond rational scope or training. Police have the power to take lives. Their training should be as much, if not more, than a physician’s training. And yes, they should be compensated as much (notwithstanding my earlier posts). They should be specialists for certain purposes, but their responsibilities and numbers should be reduced and redistributed to social workers and to address other needs. Not anyone should be a police officer.

Of Hoaxes and Conspiracy Theories

I am so sensitive, I cry frequently. I am so soft, I cannot kill a cockroach. But very few things boil my blood like hoaxes and harmful conspiracy theories. It can take days to write all the points to refute one, yet the burden of proof is not on the one spreading such claims, but on refuters.

Science justifiably cannot answer everything, and that is enough for believers to claim they know the missing answers. Vast organizations, scientists, experts are working perfectly to hide something, including cure for cancer. Has anyone ever worked on a project with other human beings seamlessly? All the experts have it wrong, but a few of my fellow believers on YouTube have managed to connect all the dots.

When people ask why do I get worked up about small pseudoscientific beliefs, my answer has always been – if we don’t stop the small and benign now, we are legitimizing a way of thinking that won’t be small or benign in the future. Yesterday we stayed quiet about benign placebo sellers taking money from people, but today we are dealing with Plandemic and other extremely deadly hoaxes.

Skepticism and inquisitive minds are excellent traits. But are conspiracy theorists skeptics, or extremely gullible? We cannot turn a blind eye to benign science denial and pseudoscience based on individual ideology, because it just creates a fertile ground for harmful science denial and pseudoscience. The scientific method is self-correcting, even if it takes decades or centuries for new technology to disprove old paradigms. But hoaxes and conspiracies do not follow the scientific methods, only picking and choosing of few facts to fill in certain ideologies. “I hate corporations. I just need a few tidbits to connect the dots why Big Pharma is hiding cure for cancer.” “I hate Barack Obama. I just need a few tidbits to connect the dots how he is a Kenyan-born Muslim.” And my fellow believers and myself are in a righteous struggle against a vast army of experts, media, ‘elites’ and anyone else I already do not like.

Have healthy skepticism. It is important. But everyone, including myself, must be aware of our blind spots and ideologies before we spread misinformation. As a liberal if I see a meme that said “Donald Trump said there are hundreds of governors”, my instinct would be to think “it proves my belief that he is an idiot and therefore he must have said it”. But healthy skepticism is checking if the meme is actually true. Different ideologies will always exist, but doesn’t mean we should be beholden to sharing false information no matter the dopamine hit it gives us when we share it.

Roles of a Government

Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, not the solution. And in the last several decades the United States has been on a deregulatory binge while slashing government services. Has that been beneficial to most of us? Anyone who has used government bureaucracy would attest that dealing with government is not easy. I am not advocating socialism where government runs and/or makes decisions on entire sectors of the economy. But I do believe a government should be competent. And a government should ensure a fair playing field where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed. We must find an appropriate balance between the free market and fairness. I have five core responsibilities of a government.

  1. Safety
  2. Competency
  3. Mitigation Strategies and Disaster Planning
  4. Social Safety Net
  5. Equal Opportunity

Safety

Humans are a social species. We formed societies, and a nation is a form of society, so we can work together for our safety and advancement. There are many times I feel like a libertarian where I do not want anyone telling me what to do, but I also know I will not survive long without a society. Therefore, whether government is a problem or a solution truly depends on how we define the roles of a government.

I believe the primary function of a government is the safety of its citizens. And that does not mean spending hundreds of billions to keep us safe from other human beings. I am not naïve to think that all humans mean well. Our species’ history is proof enough of an argument against that sentiment. But in the 21st century, we face more dangers than just marauding tribes. Infectious diseases kill more humans than wars and homicides combined. Yet we minimize the threats posed by microbes, a concept that is brand new in our species’ history, while our evolutionary memory maximizes the threats posed by the “others”. I hope there is a future where there is no military spending. That future is not here yet. But that does not mean we outspend the next ten nations combined for military spending when infectious agents, obesity, and cancer is killing millions of Americans annually.

Competency

To have a competent government we must hire competent government employees. Public service must be made sexy again. Government must attract the brightest in our society. We are having an exodus of talent from the government in this current administration. An efficient government needs competent professionals, not unqualified political appointees.

And that leads me to – qualifications matter. Not everyone should be a surgeon, not everyone should be a pilot, nor should everyone be a politician. If I have learned one thing with age, political skills are important. I am not a purist nor am I calling for a progressive utopia. But we need politicians with the skills to negotiate, to compromise, to give and take, and who have the power of persuasion. We need politicians who have basic qualifications in management or business or the sciences. Yes, the beauty of America is that anyone can become the President, but that does not mean anyone should become the President. We need competency in the executive department, not ideology. Let’s leave ideology to the legislative branch. Humans will always be ideological, but competency should be non-negotiable in government.

Social Safety Net

In a rich country like the United States, we should strive for the government to provide a comprehensive social safety net. Education must be free and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t mean anyone who wants should be able to get into a medical school or a PhD program in the sciences. Admissions in specific specialized programs should be merit-based. But in the 21st century, education through an undergraduate degree or a technical school should be free. Education is the best investment a society can make in its citizens.

We should strive for a society where no one has the fear of going hungry or being homeless. I want a nation of risk-takers, of entrepreneurs. I believe if we have a strong safety net, more people can take risks and come up with ideas and inventions to help society. Government should not be doing everything, but it should be providing the resources so that we can be the best version of ourselves. Healthcare should be guaranteed. Clean air and water should be guaranteed. Instead of seeing social safety nets as handouts, they should be as seen as investment in citizens. I am willing to bet that it is more economically viable to have a healthy, well fed, well educated populace than one where everyone fends for themselves.

Mitigation Strategies and Disaster Planning

The Covid-19 crisis was a stark example of how a government isn’t ready for a tragedy that was easily foreseen. We could not have medicines or vaccines ready, but we should have been ready for a pandemic. We should have had plans in place for lockdowns and social distancing. We should have had disaster management plans in place for food shortage, wastage, healthcare, and homelessness. This is the time where we need social safety net to work. This is where foresight should have helped us to be ready – having masks, PPE, business continuity plans. This is what I mean as core competency of a society and government. By being ready, we could have mitigated all this suffering a bit. This is also the time for us to prepare for future disasters – other pandemics, climate change, and other natural disasters. A competent government is one that is ready in the background.

Regulations are a double-edged sword. I am from India where the regulatory tape destroyed the economy. But I have also seen what a laissez-faire economy did to the United States in the late 19th century or in the last few decades. We need regulations to ensure a fair field, and to protect the safety of our citizens. That means environmental regulations and safety regulations. If a business cannot protect its employees, its customers, or the environment, then its business model is flawed. We cannot have airline executives having a revolving door with the FAA or pharmaceutical executives having a revolving role with the FDA. There must be interactions and discussions. Government agencies should not make rules by diktat. But regulatory agencies must have the power and authority to prevent industry excess or abuse. We must have regulations in place to prevent insider trading, or stock buybacks in times on plenty, and asking for bailouts when disaster strikes. Regulations exist because of past tragedies. We must have proactive and preventive regulations, not reactive regulations that try to fix a problem after disaster has struct. A government must function with foresight, not hindsight.

Equal Opportunity

A competent government ensures an even economic playing field. It is not about taking from the makers and giving to the moochers. Income inequality, rise of populism on both sides, wariness of experts and public officials are many of the ills that arise when a few own everything and make their own rules. A government should allow healthy competition, not mergers and consolidations. I am not against billionaires or those who have made it. I am happy for them. But either through taxes or wages, we must come to a compromise about what to do when working people live paycheck to paycheck. We must consider whether the high salaries in certain industries should not be taxed to provide safety net when required. Instead of spending those taxes, maybe keep it in a rainy-day fund for situations like pandemics and other disasters. There will be those who will take advantage of the situation and they should be punished. But both rich and poor take advantage of it, unions and employers take advantage of it. Human nature is both good and bad, regardless of ideology. We must have safeguards to prevent abuse. But the government must provide a strong safety net for all citizens, regardless of wealth or ideology.

A democratic government must ensure every eligible citizen is registered to vote and can vote. In a democracy, the most important right of a citizen is the right to vote. Instead of making voting harder, a government must do everything in its power to make voting easier. Election day must be a federal holiday. The United States has the resources to ensure its citizens can vote. It chooses not to. Politicians should not be choosing their constituents. Voting districts should be drawn by non-partisan bodies, not Democrats or Republicans. A legislative body should be representative of its electorate. If Republicans win 55% of the vote, their voting share in a legislature should be closer to 55% than 45% or 65%. This will ensure everyone’s voice matters. And that leads me to the Electoral College. New Jersey is a state that votes 40-45% Republican, yet it is a solid Blue state. Democrats have won six of the last seven Presidential election popular vote, while losing three of those seven elections in the Electoral College. A government must reflect its citizens. We must consider ranked voting. We must reconsider first-past-the-post results. If a Libertarian Party or Green Party wins 5% of the popular vote in a legislative election, they must get 5% representation in that legislature. I believe all these changes will increase compromise, so politicians are not beholden to the intransigent purists and hyper-partisans of their political parties. Citizens will have a greater voice in a more representative government.

Ultimately, a government is its electorate. The United States does have free and fair elections. Two proofs that voters have more power than the establishment – Eric Cantor lost in a primary and the entire Republican establishment lost to a failed businessman turned reality TV star. For a government to work, its citizens must be civic-minded and engaged. The citizens are the shareholders of the corporation called government. If the shareholders are apathetic, it will reflect in the leadership and performance of the corporation. We, the people, are the government. And we, the people, must demand and vote for a competent government.