Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Triple Point

noun: the condition of temperature and pressure under which the gaseous, liquid, and solid phases of a substance can exist in equilibrium.
I remember from my physics courses that triple points were exceptionally interesting; a small change in any condition could cause a substance at a triple point to collapse into one of the states. The triple point is a precarious condition which rarely occurs naturally.

But it seems as if we've reached the political analogy of a triple point in this last week prior to the elections. The polls, taken all together, seem to have this race at a precarious balance where the slightest nudge could collapse the system into one of three possibilities: a Kerry win, a Bush win or a tie/contested result. All three of these outcomes have definite and distinct consequences.

Most interesting - and perhaps most dangerous - is that the national mood (if such a thing can really be said to exist at all) seems to be at somewhat of a triple point as well. A clear outcome would provide a needed relief from the ennui of the recent closely divided nature of politics. A tight finish has the potential to provoke either quiet acceptance or a spasm of... something... I'm not sure what. A tie or a contested result would likely result in some real outbursts of anger and frustration - not the staged, so-called "white collar" riots of 2000.

The interesting thing about this particular, public, triple point is that, unlike the clear results of a change in a physics experiment, there is no good way of predicting what would happen as an outcome of any particular result. The clear, non-contested outcome is the most predictable, but the results of the other two are, to borrow a phrase, "up in the air."

This triple point, with the country poised at a most precarious point, has caused a lot of anxiety. I know that for the past couple of weeks, I've become more anxious. From moment to moment my thoughts on the election range from despair to elation. One news piece will fill me with hope for a change, another seems to make it certain that we are doomed to another four years of war, deficit and bigotry. But so it is with these seeming magic points in physics and history. There are too many variables to predict which way the system will collapse. And so we have to fall back on our own small efforts to make a difference, hoping that the small push we provide will be the one to move the system in the way we want.

Your small push to the system is your voice and your vote. Use them both.

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