How to Abuse a Democracy, Plebiscite Edition

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Image from chadstjames.

A plebiscite means nothing.

It is not legally binding. It has the same importance as the opinion polls on your nominal breakfast news, for that is what it amounts to: a government-sponsored opinion poll.

The result of a plebiscite, no matter how decisive, will not change the law.

What it does accomplish is starting debates around issues that no longer require debate.

By pitching a yes-or-no scenario on a topic – any topic – it artificially legitimizes both sides of the argument.

Here is an example:

Plebiscite question: The Earth is Flat, yay or nay?

Rationally, in the year 2k17, this question should not even be posed. It is not a matter of argument or debate whether the earth is flat; overwhelming evidence exist that it is. Though there is always reason for doubt, we as human beings accept small margins or error as a matter of course – otherwise we’d never go outside, since going outside meant accepting the small chance that a car might run us over.

By affording this question a forum of discussion, we are artificially amplifying the validity of the ‘earth is flat’ argument. That miniscule chance of the earth actually being flat has been elevated to a fifty-fifty – a yes or no, which is not the odds our cumulative scientific evidence would suggest.

This forced balancing of the odds doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but we humans, as do all living creatures, make choices based on the highest chance of success. By forcefully subjecting us to this equal-importance of the two arguments, the very act of posing the question injects uncertainty and confusion into our rational consciousness.

I.e., we start believing that there is a considerable chance that the earth might be flat, despite there is no good reason for thinking so.

Effectively, posing this sort of question to the public is the equivalent of forcibly injecting irrationality into our consciousness, making us believe that somehow both sides are equally valid when it is not so.

Let’s apply this to another question:

Marriage Equality, yay or nay?

As of now, the Australian Constitution definition of “Marriage” includes marriage between persons of the same sex, while the Marriage Act 1961 does not provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same sex couples.

A plebiscite will change neither of these. It is not a referendum; it cannot change the Constitution. It is an expression of public opinion, which supposedly holds considerable weight in changing the law, but now, with the artificial equivalence of the two sides of the argument – instigated by the very asking of this question – will forcibly change opinions.

It is not a question that needs to be asked.

The ruling of the High Court on the definition of “marriage” means that the debate has already moved past the ‘Is this acceptable’ stage. Right now we should be on the ‘How to change the law to fit the Constitution’ debate, not another ‘Is this acceptable’ opinion poll, artificially posed onto the public in order to re-argue an established result. The earth is already round. No amount of debate will make it flat again.

Unless, due to this very plebiscite, public opinion changes.

Remember, debating a yes-or-no question makes both sides appear equally valid. People who don’t care one way or the other will be presented with what appears to be a mired debate, with good reasons to lean either way, when the debate itself should no longer exist.

So really, the very act of asking for a plebiscite on Marriage Equality – when plebiscites have no legal import, when the public opinion firmly established, when the High Court decision has already moved us past the whole argument – is effectively an attempt to change the established opinion.

So we all need to be careful.

Plebiscites are not the open forums they pretend to be. Frank expressions of our opinions will not be enough – answering the question is not at all the point of this exercise.

So don’t sit back after sending in your vote. Don’t be content with just expressing your own opinion, when those who still think the earth is flat are pushing as hard as they could to change peoples’ minds.

Donnie and the Dragon in his Desk (Part 1)

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This was all of us, once upon a time.

Classrooms used to be simple: tiny square desks, chalk on blackboard, old TV and VCR on a squeaky trolley…

 

Mrs. Dee, the new homeroom teacher, didn’t seem to know how to wipe the blackboard. Every time she raised her arm she did an awkward shrug with her shoulders, as if a giant, invisible hand was patting her on the head.

Donnie was annoyed. All those chalky rainbows strewn across the algebra was making the numbers hard to read. From the back row, Mrs. Dee’s handwriting looked like a school of wriggling tadpoles; no matter how hard he squinted Donnie couldn’t figure out what manner of creature X was supposed to be.

So he raised his hand, and after twenty or so seconds of being ignored, Donnie spoke up: “Excuse me!”

She turned around in a hurry, her face flush. The stub of chalk between her fingers slipped out with a pop and tumbled under the lectern, which made her cheeks even redder.

“Donnie, what is it now?” she says, yanking a fresh chalk out of her breast pocket with the expertise of a chain smoker.

“I-I couldn’t see.”

“What?”

“I couldn’t see what you wrote Mrs. Dee.”

Propping her hands on her sizable hips, Mrs. Dee smiled like one of those used car salesmen Donnie often saw on TV, ones that often stood underneath big, flashing CLEARANCE signs and yelled out catchphrases like GET ONE TODAY or CALL US NOW, as if the louder they yelled the more people were going to buy their cars.

“If that’s the case,” she said, “better get yourself some glasses Donnie.”

And even though that wasn’t very funny, the whole class laughed. Christie, the girl sitting by the window whom everyone in the class – Donnie included – had a crush on, was snickering into her hand. Jamie, sitting in front of Donnie, actually turned around and slapped his desk, knocking up all the pencils and sending books tumbling from the compartment under his desk.

Confused, Donnie slowly put his hand down and bent over to pick them up. Just so happened that he had a class for every subject today, and his desk was crammed full. Not that it has ever been not full; pretty sure the colouring book from two years ago was still –

“Is that a colouring book Donnie?”

Jamie again.

Sure enough, sprawled on top of his dog-eared copy of Elementary English was a thin pad full of glossy pages. On the cover it featured a gang of pirates posing on the helm of a toy-like wooden ship, brandishing their hooks and rum bottles. For some reason, the pirates were all wearing turquoise overcoats and bright orange hats.

Donnie picked it up quickly, shuffling it under Algebra for Dummies so people would quit staring. There was no reason to be embarrassed – everybody had the same book in junior art class – yet he couldn’t help but let his face turn red.

“Hey Christie!” Jamie yelled across the room. “Donnie still has his colouring book!”

She gave him a scathing look. “Why should I care?”

Donnie didn’t know which was worse: that she now knew about the orange-hatted pirates, or that she was completely disinterested. Meanwhile, Mrs. Dee watched this all happen from the front of the class and said nothing; Jamie was on the soccer team, and they had just won the state championship two weeks ago. Donnie hasn’t won a thing since coming second place in spelling bee last year, and people don’t usually count second place as winning anyway.

Keeping his mouth shut, Donnie shoved the colouring book back into his desk with a little more force than he’d liked.

“Ow!”

What was that? Donnie looked around, and saw only face grinning at him or faces annoyed that mathematics was being interrupted. Who could’ve made that sound?

Ah, it must’ve been in his head. It was hot today, and there was only one fan in the front of the classroom, catering for the first two rows.

As he bent over to pick up more books, Donnie just so happened to look into the compartment of his desk, and he saw a little dragon peeking out from behind the colouring book.

Donnie stared at it, and forgot all about what he was doing.

“Hi there,” the dragon said, sounding like a squeaky toy, “nice to meet you.”

“H-hello,” Donnie said, not knowing the polite way to speak to a dragon.

“I’m Calcifer the Calamitous, what’s your name?”

“I’m Donnie. What’s a calamitous?”

The little dragon fluttered proudly its leathery wings. “It means I am good at breaking things.”

“How come you are in my desk?” Donnie asked.

“What a strange question,” Calcifer replied. “It is my home, this cosy desk. Until you took out all the books, that is. Now it’s not so cosy.” As if to show its annoyance, Calcifer opened its jaws and blew out a small ball of fire; it landed on the spine of the colouring book, charring the edges a little bit.

“Whoa!” Donnie exclaimed, almost falling out of his chair. This drew the attention of Mrs. Dee, who only just managed to get everyone’s attention again.

“Donnie!” She yelled. “Would you kindly stop disturbing the class with your antics?”

Everyone looked around for the second time, but this time no one was laughing. Christie actually covered her mouth in fright. As grumpy as she often was, it was very fare for Mrs. Dee to shout; she must be having a tough day indeed.

“Sorry Mrs. Dee,” said Donnie, “but there is a dragon in my desk.”

(To Be Continued)

How To Not Kill Yourself

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One of the reasons you might wanna kill yourself.

Strictly speaking, the easiest solution to your problems – be it stuck in the infinite 9-to-5 loop of tedious spreadsheets, or making endless lattes for ungrateful suits from sunrise to sundown, or sitting at home all alone in your mid-thirties, drinking boxed wine and wondering why none of these 5-star comedies on Netflix are making you laugh – is to jump in front of a speeding train. Boom. End of the line, end of all your problems.

It would be an inconvenience though.

People are going to be late to work; the train driver will be traumatized and resign three months later despite exhaustive counselling, because the image of a desiccated torso with its guts hanging out on the fog lights isn’t going to go away, ever; and not to mention the agony of that one family member that really cares about you, even though you call them about once a month and had refused to pay for the tow truck when their car’s radiator blew out.

Not cool to be an inconvenience to others when they’ve got their own stuff going on.

Much easier to go about it quietly: chug down that mouth-wash with DO NOT DRINK printed on the back in tiny orange letters, or lock yourself in your shitty Toyota made in the Cretaceous and pipe in the exhaust fumes. Gulp it down, breathe it in. Easy, isn’t it? No. Not at all. It takes several minutes to swallow the green stuff, and several hours before the carbon monoxide even ticks above point-one-percent (those crime thrillers can’t be lying!). Too much thinking during those long minutes. Too many second thoughts. With the train all you have to do is close your eyes and jump.

Lo and behold, the Toyota isn’t starting because you don’t have enough money to fill the tank this week, so you call up the suicide prevention hotline to pass the time – just to see what the gig is about, maybe pay a compliment or two, thank them for what they do, etcetera – and twenty seconds into the call you realize that the lovely lady on the other end of the line is just as stressed as you are, because this is her seventh call today, and she’s already past her emotional limit, but she has to keep answering if she wants to keep the job.

So you hang up, have a sad little laugh, and cynically reminisce that empathy is but a commodity in the modern world, bought and sold by those who think giving money or paying attention is the same thing. It’s not that no one cares, it’s that everyone feels the same as you: hiding in the bathroom at a work function, wanting to jump off the nearest bridge after a failed interview, putting up the three thousandth bottle of Gatorade in the BEVERAGES aisle, slamming head against wall after yelling at the kids, too afraid to go to the doctor for the second checkup, when the results would come out on those neat machine-collated sheets…

This stuff is the same for everyone. Some deal with it better than others, but the consequence is the same: no one wants to give a shit when their own plates are full. Their different-sized, different-coloured, different-volume plates.

If this is the case, might as well just kill yourself. No one cares.

But you do.

You care.

Because you have a wish:

You wish that the guy in the ten-thousand-dollar suit who ordered a latte, instead of yelling at you because he actually wanted soy milk, he would laugh about it instead; you wish that when the boss told you that he had to let you go – because you put the numbers in the wrong column and messed up two months’ worth of calculations – he could’ve let you cry a bit in his office and given you a hastily-typed letter of recommendation instead of holding the door open; you wish that when you casually brought out your new copy of 101 Ways To Commit Suicide to show a friend, that the friend, instead of laughing at it then putting it aside in order to keep talking about the bad day he’s had, he would flip it open and laugh aloud at the bit about the Toyota, telling you that you shouldn’t try that, nobody would want to die looking that stupid.

It’s subtle, this wish: it is not a demand for millions of dollars; it doesn’t ask for a change to your daily routine; it doesn’t even need you to be nice. But it is the difference between “another shitty day, better kill myself” and “another shitty day, better get this over with.”

So what now?

The train’s still coming. Still going to jump? Probably. But wouldn’t it be better if a middle-aged woman in a black corporate suit, with her hair done up perfectly in accordance to company guidelines but had forgotten to clean out the wine stain on the collar of her shirt before coming into the office, happened to be passing by and pulled you back? Wouldn’t it be good if she, instead of asking the always-safe, always-pointless “are you alright”, says “That’s my train home. Please let me get drunk tonight without feeling like shit”?

Turn the scenario around. You’re the woman. What will you do when you see someone, hands in pockets, bag over shoulder, casually walk into the oncoming train?

You might think: “I wish I’m doing something to help.”

No. Don’t just wish. Go.

This is the reason why you are still alive: to make your wish come true.