Recently by Butler Shaffer: Of Children and Fetuses
It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that.
~ G.H. Hardy
Two brother boll weevils were born and raised in a cotton field in Georgia. One of them went out into the world, earned a PhD in history, wrote numerous books — two of which won Pulitzer Prizes — and, ultimately, a Nobel Prize in literature. He was seen on many television talk shows and even had a program of his own. He was a highly-respected and quite famous person, and traveled the world giving speeches. His brother, on the other hand, remained in the same cotton field in which he was born, and for the rest of his life was considered the lesser of the two weevils.
It is worth remembering this tale as we find ourselves in that quadrennial exercise of collective boob-hustling known as a “presidential election.” With Ron Paul removed from the contest by the political establishment owners, intelligent minds know that the presidential race collapses into the default mode governing all such make-believe “choices.” The electorate will again be bamboozled into making a selection between Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, being fed the League of Women Voters' unfocused line “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, just vote.” A variation of this theme is found in the equally vacuous admonition to choose between “the lesser of two evils.” That the 2008 campaign was conducted on the theme “anybody but Bush,” while the 2012 race urges “anybody but Obama,” should inform us of the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the game being played at the expense of all of humanity.
Public opinion polls operate from this same stance: to choose between options either of which serves establishment interests: "do you favor an increase in income taxes, or a federal sales tax?" The idea of refining the question itself (e.g., "should all forms of taxation be eliminated?") is never allowed to surface, as witness Ron Paul's treatment at the GOP "debates." What if you were asked to select the greatest person in history, and were given the names Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, and Julius Caesar from which to make your choice? Boobus might discard Julius Caesar on the basis that all he accomplished was the invention of the salad that bears his name, leaving the choice between Attila and Genghis Khan to be decided on the basis of "the lesser of two evils."
Or, what if you lived in the Ukraine in the 1930s, and were told that you had to choose between Hitler and Stalin to rule you, each of whom desired to exterminate all Ukrainians? If — as many Ukrainians did — you favored Hitler over Stalin because of some mistaken belief that he might be a less immediate threat to your life, might a moment's reflection suggest to you a better question to be asked?
Or, imagine your son discussing with you his thinking about a career to pursue. Suppose he was trying to decide between becoming a pimp for street-walkers, or a dealer in illegal drugs: what questions might you ask him to consider, and what advice might you give him?
Or, reduce the inquiry to the most personal health considerations. Would you rather have emphysema or lung cancer as "the lesser of two evils?" I asked this question of my physician, and her response was that lung cancer would be the better choice because you had an outside chance of being able to overcome it.
The outcome of every problem we encounter in life can be greatly improved by refining the quality of the questions we ask ourselves. As I tell my students, don't let the opposition frame the legal issues for you: examine what they have to say, but then refine the inquiry to make certain that your interests are best served by the form of the question. Should you apply this strategy to the forthcoming election, you may discover that getting to choose between Obama and Romney will have no more life-sustaining meaning for you and your family than being "free to choose" between the guillotine and a hanging for the means of your execution. You may decide to follow the advice of George Carlin and just stay home on election day pursuing other expressions of self-interest!
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.