The Laboratorium (3d ser.)

A blog by James Grimmelmann

Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire afin
d'être violent et original dans vos oeuvres.

The Kill and Eat You Party

I go back to this tweet a lot:

This election is like if your friends pick dinner and 3 vote pizza and 2 vote “kill and eat you”. Even if pizza wins, there’s a big problem.
— Andrew Shvarts (@Shvartacus)
August 9, 2016

Three months later, “kill and eat you” won the 2016 election. Three years on, “kill and eat you” is an established feature of the United States political system. To continue the metaphor:

  • One person wants plain cheese pizza.
  • One person wants vegan fig and mushroom pizza.
  • One person wants to kill and eat you because the talking lizards living under his bed told him that you have delicious space aliens hiding under your skin.
  • One person wants to kill and eat you because anything else would be better than pizza again.
  • One person hasn’t been paying attention, isn’t really hungry, and doesn’t really believe in killing people or talking lizards, but says you have to admit that the talking-lizards guy makes some valid points about the aliens.

Living together in this house is impossible, and yet it goes on. You can’t make the talking-lizards guy move out; he has too many friends. (Even if he did, could you ever really trust your other friend who went along with him?) You can’t move out; you have nowhere else to go. The fact of the matter is, dinner – and your life – depend on the person who knows and cares the least about either.

The model is simple, but it explains much that is maddening about contemporary political life. One substantial segment of the electorate has suffered the political equivalent of a psychotic break; another has not, but cynically accepts that playing along is the best way to achieve its preferred policy goals. Together, they make up the modern Republican Party, and they have discovered that yelling insane things at the top of their lungs is a viable political strategy.

It also highlights the structural factors that make intra-Democratic debates over policy and strategy so deeply frustrating. “Say no to killing and eating people” is a point of undisputed agreement. It is a necessary minimum for coexistence in society. As against a party whose de facto platform includes killing and eating people, it ought to be politically sufficient, and yet it plainly is not.

It matters deeply what kind of pizza we get when the shouting ends and things go back to normal, but there is no assurance that they ever will. Maybe the perfect set of pizza toppings will capture the imagination of the muddled middle – or then again maybe actual pizza toppings are no match for the false promise of fried space alien. Offer to compromise on burgers, or is that just giving up any hope of ever making a majority for pizza rather than being killed and eaten? Start shouting too, or keep trying to be the reasonable one? Maybe there’s a right choice, or maybe there isn’t and all roads lead to ruin.

In conclusion, impeach Donald Trump.