The Jury

I don’t recall exactly the first time I heard the phrase “the jury is no longer out” in the figurative sense but I’m pretty sure it was in Ms. Kurtz’s AP Lang class junior year of high school.

I think of three questions to ask about books–particularly when reading ‘literature’: Did you enjoy it? Do you appreciate what it has to say or how it says it? Can you understand its broader importance?

You can enjoy a book, or not, solely based on your own tastes and understanding. You can appreciate a well-crafted book, even if it’s not really your cup of tea. And you can acknowledge a book’s importance in a cultural and historical sense even if you didn’t enjoy it and don’t think it’s all that well done.

But the point is this: you can’t really say that a work of a major literary canon isn’t good just because you didn’t like it. The jury is no longer out. People have spent decades, even centuries, by and large in agreement that certain books have got it, whatever that may be. Some may fall in and out of favor with English teaching or academic regard but I doubt the consensus will ever say, “Charles Dickens and all his works are unmitigated trash.” Even if people no longer support it, they’ve got to admit that his writing had a huge literary and cultural impact for a long time.

And so I have been making an effort to train myself to present my opinions as they are, that is, as opinions only, without particular weight in any area, lacking any personal authority. I try not to say “it is bad” about a book or movie or whatever that I don’t like and instead say “I don’t love it” because it may well have weight beyond my enjoyment of it and I don’t need to yuck your yum all the time. By the same token, I’m also wishing that some people could be more able to acknowledge things as well-done or important even if they personally didn’t enjoy it.

The thing is, this mindset is transferring to other areas as well.

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz around the US about postal voting. People are having arguments about it. As though it’s a new thing. And it is not. The jury is no longer out on voting by mail. We’ve been there, done that, it’s fine. Haven’t received a million complaints, haven’t had our elections thrown out. There is literally no defense for people trying to limit voting by mail.

I truly do not understand it. Multiple states have held entirely mail-in ballots for years. Not a word was spoken against it. No one has claimed that all of Washington’s elections for the past several cycles have been illegitimate, massively tampered with, or somehow undemocratic. I didn’t vote in person until I lived in Michigan and I honestly thought the whole experience was a waste of time.

And let’s be clear, it’s not some liberal plot, either. You can find basic information here. The five states that currently do postal voting for everything all the time are Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah. Let’s hear your argument about how the Utah State Legislature is part of the deep state conspiracy about… literally anything. It’s Utah. Further, there are three states that permit counties to decide to conduct all elections by mail (this is how Washington arrived at its current mode) and they are California, Nebraska, and North Dakota. The list of places that sometimes allow postal votes for some things in some places is actually pretty long.

I’m reasonably confident that I’m preaching to the choir here. I imagine that most of my readers don’t mind postal voting, and may even have been doing it for years. I just needed to have this little moment here because I see on Facebook plenty of people–who I would generally consider left-leaning–doubting the security of voting by mail. As if we don’t have any data about it. As if it’s an unknown quantity, an untested method. It drives me nuts.

We don’t need to eliminate in-person voting, though I think it’s a huge expense without many advantages. But the possible shortcomings of postal voting could be addressed on a local level within a context where postal voting is default and then circumstances for individuals or communities could be addressed by special dispensation. Unlike now, where postal ballots are special dispensation and the standard is waiting in line on a non-national holiday and all that.

Bah. There’s a lot to it. To make us feel better, here is a calming nature cat.

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