Today I’m makin’ a blog post! It’s been forever. I’ve been focusing mostly on the show. This one is, once again, about politics. Do we ever talk about anything else in America these days?
Shut up. That was a rhetorical question. Rhetorical means “I don’t really want an answer, I’m asking it for effect”. Pretty sure, anyway.
But yeah. I want to talk politics.
This is the rant I read on the show (which is going great, thanks for asking!), though typing’s quicker than audio editing and it may go up a little after this post goes up. Like I said, it’s going on here rather than on the show blog mostly because this is 100% me, and because I can. I know it’s unlikely that either of my listeners will both listen and read, but the words should be mostly the same, save for a few typo-fixes or cleanups. This is less a conversation, less about talking about a thing, and more taking a position on a thing. Don’t get me wrong: Argue with me if you disagree!
The D candidate is making, and/or getting caught for, more and more decisions. This is just a fact. And, if there were such a thing as an objective metric of “good candidate”, she’d be really fucking low. She is a shitty candidate for the highest office we’ve got in this country aside from corporate CEO. But there isn’t an objective metric and, besides that, there’s someone way, way worse. It seems like everybody agrees the R is worse. What we disagree on is what that means.
The thing that’s bugging me is that as time goes on, I’m hearing a concept more and more. Far more than one person on my facebook feed, a bunch of randos on twitter, commenters all over the various websites I lurk and argue, they’re all saying it.
Something I don’t like. Something about principles, and people voting for them. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, maybe it’s because I didn’t sleep well and I have to go in for another 12-hour shift in just a few hours, but well, what I’d like to say is: I don’t think that means what you think it means.
He makes a good point, and he’s right. Everything IS wrestling–people want to be interested. The day-to-day of making the right decision, or of compromise, or of making small changes to make things better? Boring. Nope. They want big change, big decisions, they want satisfaction, they want to be interested. Everyone has montage syndrome, and nobody likes hearing how mundane it is to actually do the work of making things better.
So Eli’s right, because he’s always right, except when he’s wrong (which is a lot). But here’s the thing: Wrestling is entertainment. The decisions of wrestling don’t have consequences, so… meh? It’s not a big deal.
You can root for the Iron Sheik if you want, or Andy Kaufman, or Rocky Maivia. Hell, you can hope Darth Vader finally beats those pesky Rebels, or that Mirror Universe Kirk finally kills Normal Universe Kirk. Sure, I’ll call you a dick, but I’ll laugh while I do it, because it’s just entertainment. Entertainment is not dire. Entertainment is never an emergency (though, seriously, those wrestling guys really fuck themselves up for their art, so props to them). Wrestling is kinda dumb. Sorry, but it is. And politics is super dumb. The difference is politics matters.
Politics needs to be Triaged because what happens matters. And Triage sucks, because it’s not satisfying. It’s not as entertaining, because it’s not as satisfying.
It’s always your right to make whatever decision you want in a democracy. But it’s my right to criticize the fuck out of it. I can say that a decision is shitty–even if it’s more interesting–if you didn’t do your triage right. Because important shit isn’t just entertainment, and it’s not always funny. It can be deadly, seriously serious.
I am a paramedic (don’t ask where and the-opinions-and-views-expressed-are-that-of-me-only-and-do-not-represent-the-anonymous-agency-I-work-for-or-anybody-else-for-that-matter). I ride the ambulance, I save lives, yadda, yadda, yadda. Most of the time, my job’s pretty easy in terms of “Life and Death“, y’know?
In case you didn’t know: The overwhelming majority of 911 calls are not emergencies. For what I do, there is definitely a real right way and a real wrong way, but…well…if I go the “wrong” way, generally the consequences aren’t that bad. I mean, don’t get me wrong: Try hard enough and you can fuck up anything bad enough to kill someone. I’m sure there’s piano tuners somewhere who managed to squish an infant. And obviously, if I were a crappy paramedic, it’s easier for me to make one of those huge really stupid mistakes as one. But, generally speaking, while I should not fuck up, my little mistakes won’t kill anybody.
Also I don’t make little mistakes, because I’m awesome. But that’s not the point.
Sometimes, what I do does really really matter. Sometimes, shit really hits the fan. I could get into the minutiae of, say, cardiac drugs, or the relative importance of science-based-paramedicine (C-spine is stupid, amirite?) But for this particular thing, I have something else in mind. Do you know what happens in a Mass Casualty Incident?
You might not.
It’s not hard to find this out, it’s not a secret. But we don’t, y’know, go around telling everyone all the time. It’s morbid, and people don’t like seeing how the sausage of saving lives is made.
A Mass Casualty Incident is one of those things where:
- You’ve got a disaster.
- You’ve got more hurt people than you do ambulances, and they have to get somehow to the hospital.
- Because you sure as shit can’t give them definitive treatment in the middle of a blowed-up building, or a 50-car pileup, or a terrorist attack.
- You’ve got people, they need help, and you have to know what to do.
First things first, you worry about your own safety. That is, to use the lingo, “scene safety”. Is the scene (that is, the place where all this shit’s going down) safe for you to go to? Because, hey, you’re number one, right? But also because, well, you know how many people you can help if you’re gasping and choking, or on fire? Not a lot, is what I’m getting at.
So. First thing’s first: Scene Safety. Check. I’m going to come back to scene safety, because it’s a big deal and is really going to tie the whole thing together–and I think it’s a big deal in terms of politics, too. But that’s the answer to a question that only comes up once I talk about decisions and Triage, so, I’m talking about that first.
Scene safety done, you begin Triage. Now, there’s more to it than that, there’s command structure and staging and such, but that’s not super relevant–I just don’t like leaving shit out. So, there’s that stuff. But what I’m talking about is Triage.
Triage. From the French, “Trier”, which means to sort. Triage is sorting patients. Most of the time, in an MCI, the way this is done is with tags. To oversimplify:
Green Delayed. You can walk–no matter how hurt you are, you can walk. So get your ass on the busses and you can wait.
Yellow You can’t walk.
Red You can’t walk, and you’re pretty messed up.
Then Black. Black if you’re dead.
That’s the criteria. You go around, you tag people, you sort resources, you save lives. That’s what you do, that’s what you have to do. It’s hard as hell, but it’s what you do. Part of why it’s so hard is because “dead” in triage isn’t actually dead. It just means, really, “Not green, not yellow, and not red”. It can mean dead–but it can also just mean “mostly dead”–can just mean “Needs too much”.
There are criteria. Reasonable criteria, if potentially imperfect criteria (it gets updated any time there’s a flaw found, and we’ve had, unfortunately, plenty of times to execute the system). Criteria we are expected to follow. Should follow. Have to follow. Criteria which we need to recognize is, 100%, going to result in the deaths of people who could have been saved–maybe even saved easily–in order to ensure the saving of the most people.
Because you can’t commit to “one-on-one” treatment. You can’t spend more than 30 seconds per person–and should, ideally, be spending less. Because there are lots of people, and there’s limited YOU. And you have to make the right decisions.
So you do the best with what you got–not the best with what you wish you had. You don’t have that. You’ve got what you’ve got and you do what you can.
Here’s what you get: You walk up to a person. They aren’t walking, so: Not green (If they were walking, they’d be green). Are they breathing fine on their own? Yes? Yellow. No? Adjust their airway once (twice if it’s a kid, but again, not trying to get too much into minutiae, but rather the principles). Did that fix it? Red. If they don’t start breathing right then? BLACK.
They are dead.
But they aren’t, of course. I have things I can do. I have ways of getting a person to start breathing. To get a heart to beat properly. To make “breath go in and out, and blood go round and round”. I can save a trauma code arrest. Yet I can’t do those things. Because I need to do triage.
I don’t want that. That offends my principles as a paramedic, because I’m here to save lives, and not to say “fuck it” and move on.
So I could refuse.
I could go out there with the little triage pouch, I could say “Nay! My conscience refuses to let me tag this person with a black tag, I can save them! Je refuse!” I could bust out the Bag-Valve Mask, start someone breathing. Could be as simple as they were knocked out, and their mouths have some dirt. If I can get them going, it could be that they’ll recover real quick, and that that as the line between “Dead” and “Not dead”. Mostly dead, is slightly alive. It’s what I’d do if it wasn’t an MCI, and I’ve saved lives doing that sort of thing (well, and other stuff…but again, not minutiae, but principle).
I could do that–I could say that my conscience refuses to let me let someone die who doesn’t have to, who maybe only needs a little extra help, and I could spend my time helping that person. That decision would have consequences.
Everything is wrestling, and wrestling is entertainment. But some decisions have consequences. The problem is that we have a really hard time recognizing that.
- If I let someone die that I could have saved, that’s a consequence.
- If I let more people die because I saved one, that’s a consequence.
I have to make a decision. It may well be that there isn’t a good decision, if we define “good decision” as one without any bad consequences. But refusing to acknowledge that doesn’t change that. It’s just a way to comfort ourselves by lying to ourselves. Like cancer patients refusing chemo because it’s unpleasant, even if it will save their life.
If I stop and save one life by going beyond what Triage allows me to do, we know that more people will die. It’s happened, and it’s why the Triage system is what it is: To maximize the saves. Sure, I can’t see the future, but I know how things work. If I don’t follow what we know, I’m still responsible for it.
I can’t sit there and say “My conscience simply wouldn’t let me let this man die”, without answering how the hell my conscience let all the people who did die, die, because that was the consequence. We aren’t psychic and nobody is, there’s no omnipotent watcher we can appeal to. But there’s a pretty big gulf between “Don’t know the future perfectly, but can make reasonable decisions” and “Don’t know the future perfectly, therefore can ignore the foreseeable consequences”.
If I ignore the foreseeable consequences, and more people die, those deaths will have to rest on my conscience. It was a foreseeable consequence of my actions. I don’t get to pretend that they weren’t because I “followed my conscience” and saved that one guy at the cost of the others, because the expected consequences of my actions are part of what needs to factor into the decision of my conscience.
That’s a long way around the mountain to talk about politics, isn’t it?
Obviously, this election isn’t a mass casualty incident.
But it’s still a hard decision. Government is full of hard decisions. And that’s, largely, how it should be. We’re a big country with a lot of people and a lot of things that need to be worried about. So we should be worried. But we should make the right decision factoring in all relevant data. We might miss stuff, we’re not perfect, and there’s no god watching out for us. But it sure as hell doesn’t help if we choose to ignore what we know because it makes us uncomfortable to consider. It never does.
If the two candidates are essentially equal, sure, you can vote for the 3rd in hopes of incremental change, or because you refuse to accept the consequences of either, which are close enough to the same not to matter. Because you know your third party vote won’t “win”, but the two real choices to win don’t matter, since they’re the same. In that case, the benefit of “incremental change” or “showing the people are fed up” that you get from voting third party, outweighs the “picking between two equals” aspect.
But they aren’t equal, are they?
Just like a group of patients with very different chances of survival, we have to decide who gets our resources.
Sure, we don’t want Hitler OR Nixon. We want a good option (although, I would argue that neither Jill Stein nor Gary Johnson can be called “good options”). We want ponies, and unicorns, and puppies. But the third partiers are simply not likely to win, are they? Their odds of survival are essentially nil. Wasting our resources on them, means we don’t have resources to put where we want them.
We don’t have the luxury of perfection. We can wish for it all we’d like, but you know what they say: Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first.
It is, to be fair, part of a bigger problem that we put up with the nonsense of ignoring reality, of putting wishes before what we know to be true. As a culture, we defend people wishing really hard as though they’re accomplishing something–“I’ll pray for you!”, they say, and as a society we nod. We know–as best we can know anything–that those prayers don’t DO anything, but we act like they do. We have “invocations” before legislative sessions, asking an imaginary friend to help us out, because we want things to be easier.
Wishing don’t make it so. That’s why I think we often let this idea, this refusal to acknowledge the consequences of your decision, slide. Because it’s our culture to be okay with it. Because you don’t WANT to deal with the consequences. You really really wish you didn’t have to deal with the consequences. You want it to be wrestling, to be entertainment. You wish you could have a choice that made you feel all good, and no bad.
But look at your other hand: It filled up first, didn’t it?
Decisions are made with a calculus. A quantification of change. You take the information you have and factor it in, and make the best decision you can. So let’s quantify:
– It is, I’d argue, a fact that third party votes are almost always “spoiler” votes. That needs to get factored into the calculus.
– It’s also a fact that party change has happened! That factors into the calculus.
– But it only happens when the third party has things like, y’know, a presence in the legislative branch, reasons to see it as legitimate. More things to factor into the calculus.
– Grandstanding as a third party for president doesn’t work, and we have recent history where it directly contributed to having someone who was, I can conclude with as much certainty as I can in any situation where you weigh what happened against what could have happened, a worse president than we could have had. Again, something to factor into the calculus.
What chaps my ass the most about all this is how often we have to have this conversation, this notion of trying to appeal to principles that ignore facts. We do it with political systems, when people advocate systems that we know don’t work in the way their proponents claim they will. And we do it with votes, when people say they “vote their conscience”, consequences be damned.
Should people who voted for Nader be happy that they voted their conscience which….changed nothing, and helped put Bush in power? I do not believe Bush to have been as bad as Trump is. There’s some level of quibbling as to whether Nader voters are “really” to blame. These are details, but it’s the case they certainly weren’t helping to stop that from happening, were they? Certainly not like the people who voted for Gore (who, yes, should have won or whatever). Naderites made their voices heard in a way that accomplished nothing, and let the wrong one in. How did their conscience allow that? What part of their ideals led them to ensure that they got the opposite of what they wanted? “McDonald’s didn’t have the exact chicken nuggets I wanted, so I’m going to eat 20 scorpions. On principle.”
It’s absurd, but it’s what people are saying. I think it’s important to consider how you’re triaging, and what the consequences of your calculus are. But, I also think it’s important to ask yourself why your math is the way it is? See, I’ve got a theory.
Scene safety is a mantra in EMS. It’s the first thing you say before every practical test, and it’s one of the most critical failures if you forget it. We say it by rote. We think about it every call, because if we don’t it can end very badly. And it’s what got me thinking about all this. In politics, the “Scene” of scene safety is the whole country.
I think it’s easier to make these decisions, when they’re less about consequences, and more about entertainment. When you don’t have to worry about scene safety, or saving lives. Bernie was entertaining, wasn’t he? Saying what folks wanted to hear, regardless of whether there was a chance in heck of him accomplishing it. Populism! It’s so easy to see politics as a game, to see it all as bullshit, to stand on principle regardless of consequence, when you don’t have to worry about scene safety.
Minority voters, by and large (they’re people, I’m not saying every one’s the same, I’m saying trendwise–I’m aware that they are not a homogenous group. There are LGBT Republicans, technically) have to worry about scene safety. Because they’re in danger, even when they “do everything right”, even when they do the requisite bowing and scraping and putting their hands up, they’re in danger of getting shot by a system that doesn’t give a fuck about them, of having their rights taken away, of not getting jobs because they’re not the right religion, of not having their marriage respected or even allowed, of not even being able to take a leak. Being in danger makes you pragmatic. When you’re actually worried about consequences, it makes you pragmatic. You don’t want perfection when its unattainable, you want what will be the best option.
Meanwhile, most of the “Bernie Bros”–the ones who won’t vote, or who will even vote Trump, or who talk about voting “their conscience” and voting third party, are white people, hell, they’re mostly white dudes. I hotlinked the whole thing, but here’s a pretty fuckin’ relevant part:
“That refusal to accept the necessity of compromise in a winner-take-all two-party system (and an electorate in which conservatives still outnumber liberals) is characteristic of a certain idealistic style of left-wing politics. Its conception of voting as an act of performative virtue has largely confined itself to white left-wing politics, because it is at odds with the political tradition of a community that has always viewed political compromise as a practical necessity. The expectation that a politician should agree with you on everything is the ultimate expression of privilege.”
The ones who have a history of latching onto big world changing ideas and letting the small incremental improvements get ignored. They can afford to ignore what Trump will do to minorities. Or pretend it’s not a “real” thing to be scared about. He won’t “really” build that wall, or “really” ever say that internment camps aren’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s comforting to tell yourself that when, the big problem if it’s true is that you’ll feel bad, not that you’ll be affected. They aren’t Muslim, that’s for damn sure. Their conscience, apparently, can let them allow a monster in, because that monster doesn’t really threaten their safety. Their Triage can skip that step.
It’s the same type of person who’s against public accommodation laws, because they don’t have the very real worry that they will find it impossible to get service. Segregation was barely 50 years ago. This is not ancient history, and the problems still aren’t even fixed.
Voting third party in an election like this is a privilege in the real sense of the word. Not the bullshit over-used version of privilege that the right wing’s always complaining about, the one that doesn’t come up as much as they complain about it, but the real version of the word, the reason it has utility: to point out that it’s a goddamn privilege to be able to ignore the consequences of your actions because it’s not you who’ll have to deal with them. It’s other people. What kind of principle is that?
I, for one, do care about how my actions affect others, as much as I care for lofty ideals. I don’t vote to signal to others what a good person I am. I vote to get the best actions done, the best and most plausible ones. I factor in everything I know in hopes of making the best decision. If someone changes my mind, I change my vote. If a premise is flawed, I’ll recalculate. If a better thing become more plausible, I go with the better thing. But I will not–I refuse to–ignore things I know because it’s uncomfortable, to say I’m voting for a “principle” or a “conscience” that ignores the consequences of my actions.
And I can’t understand a conscience that would let you. So: Yeah.
I don’t like knowing that I might have to choose between saving one life, and saving others. I don’t like that I have to triage during a disaster.
And it sucks that we have to avoid a disaster by voting for someone we don’t like. But you suck it up. You don’t pretend that you’re holding to a “principle” when you’re making a bad situation worse. It might suck that we’re choosing between Nixon and Hitler. But we are choosing between Nixon and Hitler. I’m choosing Nixon, and if you’re part of the reason we wind up with Hitler, yes, I’m going to think you’re an asshole.
Hillary 2016. Because just because the option sucks, doesn’t mean it’s not the best option available.