The Church of Teleology

I’ve been thinking about an encounter I had at the gym on Thursday. In the sauna a young man in his mid-20s or so politely asked me as well as the middle-aged man next to me what we did for a living. He said he was thinking about different careers. The guy next to me answered, and in my turn I asked the young man what studies he was doing. When he said sales, that he was good at convincing people of things I asked if he would humor me by convincing me of something. He said sure, and I asked that he convince me the United States is a representative democracy where one person’s vote carries the same weight as another’s. He was enthusiastic about the challenge, and promptly came back with saying we all had the right to vote, this is something people in some other countries don’t have. I asked what proof he could offer that this right meant anything. I pointed out I had the right to be a Mormon, to practice Transcendental Meditation, or spend the day at home masturbating, but my right to do these things didn’t suggest they had any intrinsic value. We agreed that Donald Trump had lost the popular vote yet still become president. We recognized that Clinton had won California’s vote. I mentioned Sheldon Wolin and the extent to which money controls American politics, and the young man immediately agreed that yes, money is what controls votes. He concluded his argument by saying it was important to do something politically, it wasn’t so important what that was, but it was important to be active, and to keep doing something. He said change may be small, but it is incremental. My 15 minutes in the sauna was soon up, and we pleasantly said goodbye.

The conversation came back to me several times in the past couple days, and I realized that part of what seems significant to me is the extent to which Americans concur with the guy’s reasoning. Last year when I asked my friend Paul for his perspective on how to live in truth in the face of a society of lies he answered with some surprise, “Well, I vote.” Even in the face of an evidently broken political system somehow people are convinced that their only responsibility is to continue with some token activity, as if justice is ordained to triumph, the good guys always win in the end, we just need to keep hanging in there, things will turn out. There is, however, no evidence for this. Why is it such a dominant conviction?

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