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Animal Nation
Paul Staley says it isn't just elephants and donkeys going to the polls on election day.

By Paul Staley

It seems that every four years we find ourselves at the same crossroads, facing a choice that is at once both significant and distressingly familiar: Do we vote for the donkeys or the elephants?

That our choice should be framed in this manner is not so unusual. We are, after all, quite quick to see ourselves surrounded by animals. Anyone whose appetite is different or greater than our own is a pig, and those whose beliefs are different are nothing more than sheep.

But our traditional party symbols may not be the best expression of what we are saying when we vote.  A choice between an animal best known for stubbornness on one hand, and one with a reputation for exceptional memory on the other, overlooks other animal-like traits that we possess.

Perhaps when we cast our ballots we will speak as a nation of dogs, quick to assume the agenda of our masters, fiercely territorial and happy with the scraps that are thrown our way. Or maybe we will vote as a feline nation, our carefully nurtured independence only a masquerade that cloaks an undeniable, if comfortable, captivity. Perhaps we need to move offshore and make a more aquatic choice: Are we to be a nation of sharks, or are we dolphins?

Some narratives about the election would lend support to a more biological reframing of the contest. According to one view, we are choosing between producers and parasites. But upon further inspection, this description doesn't work as well as its advocates might hope. Remember, bacteria break down larger organisms into smaller components, and after all, isn't that is what private equity companies do?

An ancient Chinese philosopher once wondered if he were a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. In a similar vein, are we voting on policies that will affect the lives of the walrus and the polar bear, or will we, in the end, become the walrus who looks around one day and wonders what happened to the world in which he lived? Goo goo g'joob, indeed.

With a Perspective, I'm Paul Staley.

Paul Staley works for housing non-profit. He lives in San Francisco.

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