Just a Number

pegboard-02Dear Political Analyst:

I am a 44-year-old white agnostic female. Most of my political views are in line with the Democratic platform. I won’t tell you which ones aren’t. If I did, you might advise the campaigns to alter their message in the hope of capturing my vote, and those of other 44-year-old white agnostic females who agree with me. You’ve got it down to a science, and I don’t want to be in your lab.

I want my political leaders to tell me not what they think I want to hear, but what they really think. I admire political courage. I’ve heard many people do.

My brother is a 45-year-old white Christian male. His views are mostly in line with the Republican platform. We differ in many ways. He’s a retired cop in a small New Mexico town; I’m a journalist in a big city. Still, we’re very close. We see each other as much as possible. He visited me around Halloween 2008, and again this summer—both times when elections were in the air. Politics came up. We disagreed. We talked and listened. Each of us tried to understand the other’s stance. We still disagreed on most things, but it was OK.

I understand that this doesn’t matter to you. To you, I am a member of a subset to be processed by an algorithm and reported on CBS News. The algorithm predicts how I will vote on certain issues. I’d bet the algorithm is wrong.

This afternoon, I heard a report on Latino Mormons. How will they vote in the presidential election? They must feel conflicted by their desire to support a Mormon candidate combined with their desire not to see undocumented brethren self-deport.

How will you write this algorithm?

Math solves all problems. I assume you’ll figure out how to quantify opposing desires. An equation could weight my brother’s solidarity with the 47 percent (as a former public servant) and his affinity for the 53 percent (as a fiscal conservative), and calculate which one will override the other. You’ll invent a subcategory for him and project which way it will vote. It will be reported on CBS News.

What if my brother is watching that report? Will he remain as thoughtful as he is in our discussions? Or will he begin to believe the talking heads telling him who he is and how he will vote?

If your electoral science turns my open-minded sibling into a button-pushing zombie, I will be really mad.

Before it’s too late, please stop using your brilliant equations to categorize and subcategorize the subtleties of our humanity. If you don’t, I’m afraid your strings of zeros and ones will mutate into a media virus causing innocent consumers to absorb and embody your predictions before they even know what’s hit them.

Sure, unpredictable people are annoying, sometimes stupid. But the gaps in our logic make space for conversation, self-interrogation, sometimes even growth.

Don’t take this away from us.



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