Short version: This week the UK voted to give the Tories a 39 seat majority. I met some homeless people in Oxford.
While Hong Kong fights for democracy, it is less appreciated in the UK where only 67% of the eligible population turned up. Perhaps this is due to a high frequency of elections, or apathy at continuing delays of Brexit. As a foreigner, I would blame the oddity of tactical voting combined with the sad reality that many voters in the UK will be effectively “wasting” their vote when they select the candidate they feel most represents them. These problems are due to the simplistic first past the post voting system. CGP Grey has a series of youtube videos that explain different voting systems, and particularly this video following the 2015 election highlights the problems in the British system.
In short, consider this split of votes:
White chocolate party – 14%
Milk chocolate party – 29%
Dark chocolate party – 26%
No chocolate party – 31%
Most people want some chocolate, but because those groups are fairly evenly split between Milk and Dark, with a small group of white chocolate supporters, the 31% minority of anti-chocolate voters has the largest vote share and wins. This voting system is sometimes called “Winner takes all”, which is accurate.
In Australia preferential voting is used, also known as instant-runoff voting, but on reading around this topic, the most effective voting system seems to be the Schulze method, which is a type of Condorcet voting used by several geeky groups such as Linux distribution groups and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Ultimately, the problem I have been thinking on and made little progress with is that these “rules of the game” are relatively insignificant compared with the more general problem of communication, education, and achieving consensus about how we ought live our lives and structure our societies. Big problems, like climate change, public health, and violence, require broad participation more than the selection of specific policy makers. Whilst I would support electoral reform, it is more important to understand why people make individual decisions against their own interests.
This week I was part of a volunteer group that got together to discuss what we could do to help solve local homelessness. The discussions we had with people who live on the the streets and paths of Oxford mirrored those from the related episode of “You can’t ask that“, with the main difference being most of the homeless community in Oxford were not as interested in talking. Those similarities included a diversity of reasons for being on the street, but a sadly common experience with violence.
It was humbling to be reminded how fortunate I am to have my physical and mental health, my friends, and my ability to work. I do not think it is healthy to compare struggles with those of others, but I do think it is right to appreciate the small things that can so easily be taken for granted. Clean socks, being able and willing to clean my teeth regularly, and a stove to cook on, would not usually be exciting in a world of technological marvels, but they are wonderful to have and painful to go without.
Illusion of the Year
The illusion of the year was awarded to the Dual Axis illusion. The multiple interpretations highlight how our vision is fundamentally two dimensional, and the construction of a third spatial dimension from this information can be ambiguous. Ultimately I feel this is the problem with the uptake of virtual reality headsets, that the apparent increase in dimensional space is minor since we really only perceive in two dimensions anyway. Another observation here is that if we were truly aware of 3D, untangling knots would be as simple as solving two dimensional mazes, but we are easily confused by string passing over and under itself.