2024i16, Tuesday: Decisions, decisions.

2024i16, Tuesday: Decisions, decisions.
Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

(A warning: this has quasi-explicit politics in it. Feel free to ignore, and wait for me to come back to things at least tangentially associated with law, or nerdery, or the usual subjects. I'm therefore posting it without emailing it. I'm not convinced those who signed up to receive emails signed up for this.)

Life is busy. It's exhausting. Even when (as I am) you're in the privileged position of not constantly shouldering the huge cognitive burden of simply wondering how, financially and emotionally, you're going to get yourself and those you love through the next 24 hours without everything breaking down - and I'm convinced by those who point to this as far greater an issue of justice and equality and so much more than comfortable people often suppose - you can and do still hit the wall.

And a wise person once pointed out to me the critical importance, sometimes, of deciding to do nothing.

That is, consciously saying to yourself: right. I'm downing tools. I'm going to read a book that won't improve me, it'll just amuse me. Even one I've read five times before and that I love. Or watch crap TV. Or re-watch a so-bad-it's-good movie. Or play a dumb game. Or even just stare at the wall and let my mind go limp.

Having the luxury of being able to do this is wonderful, they said - and you shouldn't (paradoxically) waste it.

That was important, to be sure. But the next bit they said was still more important.

They pointed out the vital distinction between choosing to do nothing, and not choosing to do anything.

The former is a decision. It's concrete, and positive. It's what you have concluded is the right thing to do. Something that's good for you. Something that'll help.

The latter is an abdication, a gap. Something that doesn't actually achieve anything - because at least from my perspective it ruins the whole point of doing nothing in the first place. Which is to allow yourself the space to recover, to breathe, to slow down.

For me at least, just not getting round to doing anything isn't relaxing: it's retrospectively nerve-wracking, given how much else is usually lurking on the to-do list. But choosing to do nothing? Making that decision? That rocks.

Because, as I see it, not deciding is also, almost always, a decision. And all decisions carry opportunity costs: that being all the avenues that the decision (whether to act or not to act) closes off. There are times, of course, where a lack of information means deciding not to act - or not to act yet - is absolutely the right call. But at least it's a decision. And it should be made with as good a line of sight on the opportunity costs as you can muster. And of course in absolute clarity that you might well be wrong.

I hadn't intended to write this today. I had something on private prosecutions ready to go. That'll have to wait till tomorrow. [UPDATE: it's actually up now. Decided not to wait.]

But the current state of politics on both sides of the Atlantic, with upcoming and (to my mind) critical elections in both UK and US, changed my mind.

Put simply: I've run into lots of people, whatever party they support, who mutter - when considering politicians - that "they're all the same". And still more, on the left at least, who have (and this I'll concede) reasons which to them feel genuine and urgent why they shouldn't vote for the people they might otherwise vote for.

As far as the first group are concerned, I wonder how much of this muttering is really to do with a view that all politicians really are venal, selfish losers; and how much of it is a kind of subconscious recognition that the bunch you usually vote for are getting beyond the pale, but that acknowledging that would be a psychological step too far. Easier surely simply to lump them all together and check out.

No. That's like not deciding to do anything. It's backing out of the obligation that I believe we have, as voters in a democracy, to make a concrete choice. And to do so after at least a modicum of honest thought.

You'll probably end up voting for them anyway. So own the decision. You owe that to yourself, surely. If you truly conclude, on the evidence, that your lot will do a better job than the other mob, then vote for them. If not, don't. But don't just dodge the question with a mumbled (and I think usually inaccurate and unfair) get-out clause.

Conversely, there are those who might say: well, I can't vote for [party X] now, can I? They've done [thing that I find offensive]. I'm going to stay home, or protest vote.

If we voted by proportional representation, I'd sympathise more with this. But we don't. In a first-past-the-post single-member-constituency system, individual votes do count. Protest votes carry weight - only not, sadly, terribly greatly for the party you decide to vote for if it's a wee one. So a protest vote where the party in power is one you really, really want to lose is - in reality - a vote for them. Same, somewhat, for staying home.

You may say I'm contradicting myself. Didn't I argue for people to decide? Even if that decision was to do nothing? Or, in this case, to stay home?

Well... yes, I did. But the point of deciding to do nothing is to think of the consequences of choosing that, as opposed to not choosing at all. Of understanding the true opportunity cost of your decision. Because in that case, the opportunity cost isn't to lose something productive; it's to lose the benefit of your choice.

Similarly: when deciding how to vote, think of what happens next. What the opportunity cost really is. In the real world. If you're OK with voting for someone, then don't try to pretend you're only doing it because "they're all the same". They're not. Own your choice. Similarly, if you want the incumbent out, or to keep someone else out, then work out whether that's a priority for you or not. If it's not, then be honest about the possible consequences of your protest vote (not just to yourself but to those most likely to be directly affected by it), since no decision is cost free, and own it. If it is, then act and vote accordingly.

Either way, it's your call. Your decision. Decisions, as some bright spark on a TV show once said, are made by those who turn up. Turn up, and be honest about why. You might feel better looking in the mirror the following morning if you do.