[FoRK] The Fork in the Road: A Political Morality Play in One Act
jbone at place.org
jbone at place.org
Fri Feb 27 09:59:18 PST 2004
The Fork in the Road: A Political Morality Play in One Act (Op-Ed)
Thu Feb 26th, 2004 at 08:17:03 PM EST
The Keaton family was a peculiar family, they made every decision
democratically. Their democratic tradition was a new one as far as
family decision making in the world was concerned, but they were
confident in their little democracy and stood by it as the fount of
their shared happiness. Every choice they made was voted on, and the
majority decided. And that was how the Keaton family navigated the
choices that families make in this world. For better or worse, they had
faith in their peculiar system.
Act 1, Scene 1:
It was a beautiful summer weekend, so the Keaton family decided to take
a road trip. After a couple of hours driving, they came to a fork in
the road. To the right was a well-worn multi-lane highway, but it was
dangerous with speeders and prone to traffic jams. To the left was a
rural road, beautifully scenic, but very slow and winding. Naturally, a
vote was called on which route to choose.
The middle daughter, Mallory, quickly drew a consensus amongst the
children, her older brother Alex and her younger sister Jennifer, that
the rural road was the way to go. Meanwhile, the parents Elyse and
Steven were arguing about the wisdom of taking the highway. Steven was
dead set on taking the highway, but Elyse thought the rural road had
merits, but was uncertain and was listening thoughtfully to Steven's
arguments. Mallory was confident that the children were going to win
the vote, for with or without their mother on their side, the worst the
vote could be was 3 to 2.
"Clearly, the highway will waste more gasoline but we should save time
even though the route is longer. Yes, we may get stuck in traffic, but
this is a low risk. Elyse, listen to your husband about this, I know
what is right. In other families, the father makes all of the important
decisions, and although I abide by this little democratic experiment of
ours, I know in my heart that decision making should begin and end with
me, the natural head of the household. It's the only way to make sure
our family is secure. There may be boulders and carjackers on the rural
road! It could be very dangerous." Elyse:
"Honey, I do trust your judgment, even though at times I have my
doubts. This is one of those times. The scenic road I think is the best
choice, but I just don't know. The sliver of my doubt is that you say
the highway is the right way to go. I try to remain faithful to your
decisions, and in this faith I think I will find happiness, even though
I just don't know, I just don't know.
In my heart I like the rural road. But I vote to take the highway, at
the very last, because I had not given any thought to the potential of
boulders and carjackers on the rural road. That threat to our security
clears the doubt in my mind. I can now side with you on the matter, and
vote to take the highway."
"Poppycock! Boulders? Carjackers? We are far more likely to face a
time-killing traffic jam or a dangerous speeder on the highway than
boulders or carjackers on any road in the state. Dad, why do you bandy
about these fanciful threats? What dubious purpose does your bullying
of mom serve?
As usual dad, you think you know everything. But you also forgot that
by saving on gas money the whole family can have a big pancake
breakfast tomorrow morning. You also forgot that the whole point of a
summer roadtrip is to enjoy the sights, right? The highway has
billboards. The rural road has spectacular views.
This is why the democratic experiment of ours is so important. One man
can not know everything that is right all of the time. Sometimes dad,
you are just plain wrong. Only the consensus of everyone in the family
can ensure that we always make the smartest choice on what our familiy
should do. So I vote on the rural road, and I am confident that my
siblings will ensure that the right decision is made."
But Mallory was wrong on that. What her siblings were about to say and
do would dumbfound her and shake her faith in her family's little
"Hold on there a minute. I am not going to vote on this one. Even
though I agree with Mallory, I am angry! I am pissed off. I want to get
my way and I don't want to discuss it with anyone. And if I don't get
my way, then I won't vote. I will abstain. Why? To teach you all a
lesson. Because we were supposed to see more beautiful views on this
trip. We were supposed to have pancakes this morning and tomorrow
morning. I didn't get pancakes this morning. And frankly? The views
If this is what family trips are like, to heck with them, I abstain. I
don't even want to be here in this stupid car. I don't care about this
whole trip. It doesn't have any point. What's the use? What I want is
to go home, and I am not getting what I want, so I am not going to
vote. And by not voting, I am going to send a message to dad. Because I
know he still runs the family, even with this democracy thing, he
always gets his way anyway. Even when he doesn't get his way, it's just
a nefarious game he is playing to get what he really wants in the end.
There's no point fighting him, this whole system sucks. We should throw
I am powerless to change anything this family does, and I don't even
care what this family does. Yes, you can say I am having a childish
temper tantrum, you can say that I'm just the baby of the family. But I
don't care, I'm not voting. Dad will understand what my asocial
behavior means. You know he will, right?
And Mallory has enough votes to make sure we choose the rural road
anyways, it's at least a tie with Alex's vote, so the final decision
will go to the law, to an impartial judge. In a tie, the final decision
will go to that cop over there in the patrol car, dad will probably ask
him in the event of a tie what we should do. So the final decision will
go to what the cop says is the best way to go, but even then I don't
care what he says too, because he probably agrees with dad anyways
since he's a middle aged male too, I can see that cop from where I sit
right here. The law indeed, he's biased too. So see? That's another
reason not to vote, right? That cop probably has a family just like
ours, they are all in on it together, the 'heads of the household.' So
I don't stand a chance to get my way, so I don't care.
The rural road is obviously better than the stupid highway, but I don't
care enough to have my voice heard on the matter. So good night my
stupid family, I'm taking a nap, you don't need me on this decision. I
don't make a difference anyways, wake me up when we get home."
Before Mallory could digest the astonishing import of what her little
sister said, her older brother chimed in.
"Well, actually, about that vote, I just read this great book, see?
It's full of weird and zany ideas. I know some of you will find some of
the ideas dubious, and they sound a little wacky to me too, but this
guy who wrote the book has really great charisma. I like him a lot.
This guy has this great vision that we really shouldn't use cars, we
should walk everywhere. And I'm kinda nonplussed on this whole car trip
thing anyways. We should all get out and hike.
Yes, that's right, take a hike! On that nice path right over there, you
can see it from here. Cars pollute, and the best way for true happiness
this weekend, to get the most scenic views, is to get out of the car,
and hike. Plus, this great book I'm reading shows me how cars are
dangerous, I mean, one little ding on the back of our car and boom- we
could all blow up. The company that made this car doesn't care about
us, it just cares about making money, and the bean counters figured out
that the lawsuits from a few of us blowing up is cheaper than adding a
protective shield to the gas tanks on all of our cars.
See? That is some of the vision of this great man who wrote this book.
Do you not see his wisdom? I know, you might be wondering what all of
these off-topic observations has to do with my vote on what is
essentially a practical matter, but don't you see the bigger picture?
Yes, I know that what is important is decisions about the here and now,
but I got my eyes on the future nonetheless. I know this man who wrote
this book does too. This great man is an advocate for us, the average
family, an advocate for those who consume cars from evil companies, a
consumer advocate. Yes, I know it is late in the day, and yes, I know
it is 100 miles back to our house, but walking is just so much better
than driving in a car.
Yes, I agree Mallory has the wiser choice than dad were we to stay in
the car, but I like my third option even better- a hike. I know,
shucks, it's a fanciful idea, it may never work, but what the heck, we
can afford to risk it all on a hike, right? Right here, right now, damn
the impracticality of it all. I have a vision, this guy who wrote this
book about hiking has a vision, and that's what is important, I think.
Even though I know my vote will mean that Mallory's wiser choice will
lose, It's just one vote, right? There will be other votes in the
future. So I think that I have enough leeway on this vote to take my
fanciful third choice, I really do have the slack to do that, I think.
Lose the car, take a hike, that's what I say, that's what I vote."
Mallory was in shock. She couldn't believe it. Then dad let out a laugh.
"Well, will you look at that. I was certain at the beginning of this
trip I was going to lose this vote 4 to 1. But first, I successfully
bullied and scared your mother into voting for me. Boulders and
And then Jennifer dropped out with all of her pointless childish
negativity. She said I would understand what she was trying to say by
not voting. Understand? How can you understand someone who does not
speak? Your vote is your voice, you chose not to use it, so no,
Jennifer, I don't understand you at all.
And Alex has his head stuck in a cloud of naive idealism. I can laugh
at his utopian dreaming, and at the same time smile on his wasted vote
and what it means in the real world. Politics and democracy, if nothing
else, is about reality and pragmatic decision making first and
foremost. And if Alex just doesn't get that, and is dead set on wasting
his vote on a whimsical hope and a capricious dream- even when he
agrees I am wrong... well then, who am I to complain?
So the final vote? It is 2 to 1 to 1. We take the gas-guzzling traffic
jam-filled speeder's highway after all. Thank you Jennifer, thank you
Alex, for ensuring my victory in this matter."
Steven cleared his throat, smiled in a self-assured dogmatic way, and
said to no one, or perhaps everyone, in particular:
"I was always worried that our democratic experiment was a dangerous
threat to the traditional male hegemony over the family. But as long as
I have a wife who is filled with doubt and fear, a youngest child who
rejects the whole process out of a lack of faith, and idealistic
dreamers who pin their hopes on naive schemes that will never win in
any world, then I have a system here that is just as good as a
For where democracy fails, it does not fail with me, the old guard bent
on autocratic ways. Oh no my dear family, where democracy fails, it
fails with those who need the democracy the most, it's children.
Thank you dear family, for giving me with your failings of conscience
the false imprimatur of consensus on what is essentially now a
Thank you for following your doubts and your fears when you vote.
Thank you for not voting.
And thank you for wasting your vote on impossible choices.
You let me win."
The End (?)
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