Tim Caine: "Governor Pence doesn't think the world is going too well, and he's going to blame it on everyone."

Mike Pence: "Do you?!"

That exchange from the October 4th vice presidential debate is a nice viewport into the entire 2016 political climate. Pence's question certainly represents the outlook of America's conservative right, who after eight years of Obama feel they are living through an era of eroding Christian values and stifling political correctness. This is unsurprising, as the bedrock of a conservative worldview is to resist change.

What's more striking is how many American liberals would agree with Pence (albeit for different reasons). Among Americans ages 18-29, better than one-in-four plan to vote for a third party candidate. That number is around one-in-six for 30-49 year olds. [1] Even more, the narrative in liberal circles is so uncertain about the status quo that some report planning to vote for Trump to "burn it all down" and "start again".

The message is clear — when deranged super-villains and incompetent third parties start to look appetizing, the normal fare must have spoiled.

But is that justified? Has progress truly stagnated as far as many liberals planning to reluctantly vote for Clinton, or to emphatically vote Trump or third party, would have us believe? Hillary Clinton the president promises four more years of the status quo, so if Hillary Clinton the president is so repugnant, we should expect to find ample rot in the status quo.

Do we?

Has Progress Stagnated?

Zoomed out far enough to see the entire course of human history, the human condition is rather obviously getting better. The lives of earlier humans were worse than the lives of 2016 humans by almost every measure. (Likely, every measure.) One need only imagine living in a pre-antibiotics world to feel confident of that claim.

However, that's of little consolation if we've recently slid into a local valley from which there is no obvious path out. One can easily cite a host of negative metrics, including high unemployment, rising national debt, staggering wealth inequality, unconscionable incarceration rates, and prohibitively expensive college tuition rates that support this "slide into a local valley" theory. Top that off with a visceral feeling of mutual police-civilian distrust and a rift between conservatives and liberals that's never felt wider, and things just feel bad.

In such times, is voting for the likes of Hillary Clinton conscionable?

Local Experiences Are Not Necessarily Wider Norms

All of the above represents work yet to be done, but I hesitate to assume a local experience is the wider norm. Social media has exposed various police-civilian encounters, increasing the aforementioned civilian distrust of police. Other civilians react to that distrust by blaming the original civilians in said encounters. For this discussion, it doesn't necessarily matter which side is right because both think they are, and that's widening the rift.

The local experience is: "In the last few years I've begun hearing scary stories of violent police-civilian encounters. I never used to hear those stories."

Instead of being a cause for panic, our heightened awareness of many Americans' felt experience with police will, in time, lead to conversation and social progress that corrects the errors in our current society. Maybe the burden of change will fall equally on civilians and police, or maybe one side will be proven more at fault — it doesn't matter here. Change and improvement are newly possible in that domain because of the sudden bump in exposure. Living through the beginning of this process, our local experience is suddenly more turbulent, but that's not necessarily the wider norm. What we're feeling is a bump in the road of general progress.

The Feedback Loop

I don't want to parse out each issue linked above like I did with civilian-police distrust because that would take forever to read and would still not exhaustively cover each bullet point keeping voters awake at night. Instead, I want to propose three general axioms that should guide our thinking.

  1. Problems are inevitable.
  2. Problems are soluble.
  3. Solutions create new problems.

The above suggests a feedback loop that more or less describes, from 50,000 feet, the human condition. Humans have problems and come up with solutions. These solutions put to bed the class of problems that spurred their creation, but inevitably open up our experience to new problems. Usually, the new problems are less severe than their predecessors. (Sometimes not, as with say, the existential threat made possible by nuclear weapons, but the exception proves the rule.)

If the above feedback loop is correct, it represents a sine wave when mapped over time, where of course X is time and Y is the quality of the human condition. Only, if problems are replaced with lesser problems, the sine wave is mercifully slanting up.

Right now, we are living in the wake of solutions to a previous set of problems. Humanity just shrunk the entire world to, essentially, fit inside our pockets. We needn't enumerate all the problems this solved. However, as we should expect, it opened up a new host of problems. Instead of interpreting our local experience of new problems as cause for panic, we should remember that, 1) problems are inevitable, and 2) problems are soluble.

Herein lies the critical distinction. Our political and societal climates in 2016 offer a set of unique problems, many never before faced by humanity (of which the above list is but a tiny fraction). To live through societal cycles is to see the rise of problems, their eventual defeat at the hands of new solutions, and then in turn the sprouting of new, unforeseen problems. Viewing any particular round of problems as a unique threat is to both discount the progress that gave rise to them, and to create a fear of progress in general. Both of these mistakes can paralyze a society and must be avoided. Instead, we must slog onward toward our next round of solutions, all the while steeling ourselves for the problems they will unearth.

On Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is accused of being a bloodthirsty war-hawk and uniquely corrupt. Setting aside the wild, 9/11 Truther-grade conspiracy theories, critics' local experiences of a uniquely corrupt Hillary Clinton are often assumed to be wider reality.

However, a serious glance at previous American presidents (I recommend Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States") suggests that, at worst, she's only filling the standing presidential mold. I see her as, while more war-hawkish than I would personally like, not unprecedentedly so. The same goes for her level of corruption.

The Internet affords 2016 greater visibility into her inner workings than we've had for previous presidents. This has created a local experience of "Our politicians are, somehow, getting even worse!", But that's certainly untrue.

To reiterate: the local experience is that we're all hearing more stories about Hillary Clinton's corruption than we recall about previous presidents. The assumed wider reality is that she is truly worse than most previous presidents and represents the ongoing degeneration of American politics. However, I would argue that the actual reality is only that a recent solution (the Internet and social media) to previous problems (the world is big and communication was hard) has unearthed new, unforeseen problems (the political machine's inner-workings are rather ugly).

Instead of interpreting this local experience as that the sky is falling, I see it as an opportunity to hold politicians to unprecedented levels of honesty and transparency. I see this as a solution to a longstanding, long-hidden problem, and not some new problem.

A Case for the Status Quo

This feedback loop I have outlined is the true status quo. This is the onward march of humanity, upheld by all human leaders since the start of the scientific revolution (of course, with interruptions!). This is the pattern that has overseen the beginning of our conquering of racism and sexism, the reduction (in both frequency and severity) of international conflicts, the growth of scientific knowledge that produced antibiotics and other miracle drugs, and every other improvement that makes 2016 a better time to live than 1716.

Hillary Clinton will obviously uphold this pattern.

Donald Trump is an interruption with no visible upper-bound on his ability to disrupt human progress.

Come November 8th, I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton, and not just because she's not-Donald-Trump, but because I expect her to steward over four years of status quo improvement to the human condition.


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