Saturday, November 08, 2008

On the election and more

One baffling features of the the presidential vote in the United States is the fact that even though voting is seemingly direct, each vote does not count equally. The electoral college system of counting votes assigns a different weight to each vote depending on which state it is cast in. Thus, if you are a Republican in Oregon or a Democrat in Tennessee, you might as well not vote because regardless of your choice the majority vote in your state will send all electoral college votes of your state the other way (that's how 'swing states' are born, and that's why the election of 2000 will haunt Democrats for a generation).

Thus, when election day dawned, most of my voter friends and acquaintances in California (a non-swing Democrat-voting state) weren't thinking of their presidential choice, but on how to vote on their mayoral, legislative, and initiative choices. The 'initiative' is a form of direct democracy practiced in about half of American states, wherein voters bypass the legislature via mass vote on citizen-proposed laws. Twelve propositions were on the ballot this year, ranging from disallowing gay marriages to promoting renewable energy.

One strange initiative which voters passed this year was Proposition 2 titled Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which lays down statutes for providing more cage space for animals and birds raised for slaughter or eggs. For a nearly total meat-eating nation, I find moral posturing by Americans on methods of slaughter laughable (as I have written before). What exactly constitutes cruelty - the act of slaughter or the pre-slaughter treatment of the animals? Based on these statistics, I estimate that Californians kill and eat approximately 4.2 million cattle, 1 billion chicken, and 12 million pigs each year....yet they voted resoundingly for Proposition 2. Beats me how being less inhuman passes off as humane (the term humane slaughter is the ultimate oxymoron). In the same vein, I find Americans' distaste for horse and dog slaughter baffling.

No better time to ponder on this passage from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (it follows a chilling description of an industrial hog-killing operation):
Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice?
Can't help repeating myself: Californians eat 4 million cattle, a billion chicken, and 12 million pigs every year. And then they go ahead and vote 'yes' on an initiative to provide more cage space for animals destined for slaughter, for humanitarian reasons.

Another initiative on the vote this year, which also won, was Proposition 8, which restricted marriage between gay individuals - perceived to be a big loss for the gay rights movement. I was undecided about Proposition 8; not because I do not support gay rights but because I felt recognition of gay marriages by the state was a regressive step for individual liberties - the recognition of any marriages by the state seems wrong to me, and two wrongs do not make a right. The state should only recognize civil unions between individuals for tax and legal purposes; whether and who they choose to marry should be left to their own social and religious beliefs. Like religion, marriage is too personal a thing for the state to have a say in.

There were strong lobbies and big money both for and against Proposition 8. The slogan that the pro-gay marriage side had chosen for their campaign was Equality for All. I find the slogan discomforting because of the semantic redundancy in the phrase (whats the point of the 'for all'?). It seems like a unintentional play on the classic refrain from Animal Farm, with its inherent logical flaw:
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal.
Also, I find it mildly amusing that the above proclamation in Animal Farm was made by pigs. Ironically, those who used the slogan in this election lost their cause, but the pigs won theirs (some extra cage space via Proposition 2)!

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