The complex calculus of voting
The Kansas City Star
We determine the course of our lives with our choices, distinguishing between what should be taken into account and what’s superfluous. As we make decisions that will shape the trajectory of our country’s future, it is imperative that we stop to consider our influences.
In the words of former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
The presidential race has reached the critical two-month stretch preceding the general election but instead of the anticipated post-convention energy boost and heightened clarity, there seems to be more confusion, apathy and ambivalence.
Although there are certain gaps that should be filled in out of respect for the voting public (release those tax returns, Mitt!), the real problem is information overload. Americans are overwhelmed by the facts they are supposed to remember, factors they are expected to consider and complicated issues.
Developing an opinion is a daunting task in this era of instant access to vast amounts of inconsistently accurate data, out-of-context media clips and the great misinformation machine that has ground fair and accurate reporting into near-oblivion.
An important component of functioning in this world is the ability to filter one’s information intake. We do this constantly or we would be too distracted by the sights, sounds, scents and other temptations that inundate us as we live our lives. But how many of us are actually aware that we are doing this? And what dictates how our subconscious identifies something as valid or an item to be disregarded?
There isn’t a definitive answer, as much as I’d like to provide one. However, we do know that the beliefs and values of our families and communities of origin play a role, as do our past experiences, present circumstances and future objectives. What we consider important is less rooted in what we know than in what we believe and feel and desire.
This tendency manifests in a variety of ways but it’s indisputably evident and problematic when it comes to relationships. Whether we are choosing a potential mate, adopting a pet, hiring an employee, making a friend or electing a public servant, most of us listen to our guts and our hearts even if they are in opposition to our brains. Even when confronted by historical precedents and demonstrable facts that should make us stop short and reconsider.
When an apartment-dwelling college student goes to the local Humane Society to adopt a calico and comes home with a Great Dane, or a close friend marries someone they’ve only known a short while, it’s not stupidity; it’s the capitulation to an emotional reaction, the defeat of logic by a venerable foe. Strong feelings untempered by reason often underlie some of our most guileless and ultimately disastrous choices.
American has two suitors. We have been involved with one for awhile and though he is caring and intelligent, our confidence in the relationship is a bit shaky; we’re not sure if it’s wise to invest any more time in this one. A second admirer is vying for our attention, assuring us that he will make all of our dreams come true, gifting us with the luxury of imagined possibilities.
The latter is exciting. As Obama so astutely calculated four years ago, it’s hard to tune out a siren of change. But what kind of change are we being promised now? Should we gamble our collective future on a guy who believes that life is an every-man-for-himself game or have the tenacity to stick it out with the one who has consistently demonstrated his commitment to leaving no man behind?
It is your duty as a U.S. citizen to make an informed decision but your choice is your prerogative and indicative of your character. I suggest a vote for liberty and justice for all.
Brooke Tourtellot, of Kansas City, works as a freelance writer and consultant. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO. 64108