Don’t vote (without thinking)

by Harry on February 25, 2008

I’m responding tonight to a talk by Wendy McElroy entitled Don’t Vote—Its Immoral, and it Wastes Your Time. I haven’t yet read the talk, so like everyone else I am trying to work out my response with a bit of guesswork (I’m going by what she says here, and using some license to work out my own thoughts). I’ll post my own comments later, but for the moment, I’m dismayed to see the reaction the publicity for her talk has provoked. Here is my colleague Lester Hunt’s account (he has borne the brunt of it) and here is the article from the local paper, followed by a remarkably anti-intellectual set of comments. There’s nothing like this sort of reaction to disarm a respondent—I find myself wanting to defend her in my comments. But it’s ok, I won’t.

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1

Donald A. Coffin 02.25.08 at 8:43 pm

I’ve always believed that “None of the Above” should be a candidate in every election, and, if NOTA got a plurality, we’d have to hold a new election in which none of the previously listed candidates could be on the ballot. Just to provide people with an option, a way to cast a meaningful protest vote.

2

seth edenbaum 02.25.08 at 9:04 pm

Lester Hunt:
“I have never seen anyone display a twinge of guilt over the consequences of a vote in which they participated, whether the consequences were war, inflation, recession, or the flight of employers from their jurisdiction.”

Is there some irony intended in that statement?

3

abb1 02.25.08 at 9:33 pm

She has a point. Suppose the government is owned by big business. Your vote can’t change it; all it does is giving legitimacy where none is due. Don’t vote.

4

rootlesscosmo 02.25.08 at 9:33 pm

Here’s

http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2008/02/in-honor-of-black-history-month.html

what’s wrong with McElroy’s command. Used to be, “Don’t Vote” was backed up with nightriders and shotguns; more recently it’s backed up with Voter ID laws and scare campaigns directed at the poor. McElroy’s just continuing that long, dirty tradition.

5

Righteous Bubba 02.25.08 at 9:43 pm

Is there some irony intended in that statement?

Hands up everybody who voted for Nixon!

6

CJColucci 02.25.08 at 9:46 pm

OK, some people have good reasons for not voting. Fine. Then don’t vote. If people don’t want to come to the ball park, after all, you can’t stop them. But what is the problem to which a rousing speech or paper endorsing not voting is a solution?

7

lemuel pitkin 02.25.08 at 9:58 pm

Hunt’s comments are pretty nutty:

people generally find it hard to see anything ethically problematic, ever, in their voting behavior. I have never seen anyone display a twinge of guilt over the consequences of a vote in which they participated, whether the consequences were war, inflation, recession, or the flight of employers from their jurisdiction. But when you think of it, isn’t voting the one opportunity most of us have to do something really evil? How many chances does the average person ever have to participate, for instance, in the deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of human beings? Only our participation in the state gives us such horrible opportunities. Yet such things, when they happen, are always someone else’s fault. The very act of voting seems to be morally numbing. Somehow, we disconnect our thoughts about things we do to others personally from the things we do to then through the mediation of the state. The distorting effects of this moral anesthesia on the development of the human conscience must be vast and devastating.

If you have never seen anyone display a twinge of guilt over a vote, then you just haven’t talked to very many people about voting. People regret their votes all the time.

But the final sentences are even crazier. From a wild, unsupported generalization — no one “sees anything ethically problematic, ever, in their voting behavior” — he jumps to a “vast and devastating” distortion of the human conscience. But if the problem is that people don’t feel morally responsible for the actions of their states, surely not voting makes that worse, not better. Are people somehow supposed to feel more responsible for the state if they don’t take part in elections? Or is the idea that people who don’t vote (but presumably do pay taxes, obey the law, etc.) really aren’t responsible for the actions of their government, while people who do vote are?

Utter incoherence.

8

David in NY 02.25.08 at 10:15 pm

My wife regretter her vote about 30 seconds after she made it in the New York primary. Whoever said people don’t needs to get out a little more.

9

abb1 02.25.08 at 10:27 pm

Or is the idea that people who don’t vote (but presumably do pay taxes, obey the law, etc.) really aren’t responsible for the actions of their government, while people who do vote are?

Imagine that everyone refused to vote and thus denied legitimacy to the government. Boycott, voters’ strike. That makes those who do vote scabs. There’s a certain logic to it.

10

ben saunders 02.25.08 at 10:58 pm

Given that a lot of people apparently just check the first box on the paper, I’ve always favoured a ‘none of the below’ option.

11

DivGuy 02.25.08 at 11:18 pm

Hunt’s response is just an exercise in nutpicking. Hey, look, I can insert “[sic]” into poorly worded, carefully selected emails. I am teh smrt!

And it’s pretty easy to locate the anger. The denial of franchise is still a powerful tool used against minority communities in this country, and just saying “don’t vote” sets off all sorts of racist alarm bells.

I tend to doubt that McElroy or Hunt intended to invoke such a history, but the nature of language and culture is that they can’t help but.

12

yehiel 02.25.08 at 11:26 pm

Her reasoning should convince you to vote.

Given that humans (or chimps or wolves) would acquire relative political power over one another anyway, it would make sense to consider the alternatives to the ‘orderly’ acquisition of power, which is still less violent and harmful in the US than in some other countries.

Voting is ‘encouraging them’ indeed – it encourages men and women who would be kings or queens to become so with deceit rather than violence. I know which one I prefer.

13

shub-negrorath 02.26.08 at 12:12 am

Imagine that everyone refused to vote and thus denied legitimacy to the government. Boycott, voters’ strike. That makes those who do vote scabs. There’s a certain logic to it.

That’s basically what happens now (i.e. low voter turnout), minus the revolutionary rhetoric. The problem is even more pronounced at the local level, as has been well documented. Yet somehow, legitimacy persists—this is because legitimacy is vested in the system itself rather than in a quantitative measure of the electorate’s participation in it. In other words, the value of nominal “democracy” as the least-bad political alternative has proven remarkably (and detrimentally, as some might argue) robust to the type of protest you suggest.

14

Depressed 02.26.08 at 12:51 am

When you don’t vote, you send a message. The message is “ignore me.” They get the message.

15

Matthew Kuzma 02.26.08 at 1:21 am

I’m all for advancing controversial arguments, but you shouldn’t be dismayed to see a controversial argument incite controversy. It may be a little immature to tear down posters advertising the forum, but I’d be tempted to do the same with anything involving Ann Coulter. There’s a point where a devil’s advocate argument is so disengenuous and insulting that you need to walk away to preserve your sanity.

When it comes to this particular argument, I’m interested to hear what she has to say, but I don’t have much hope for it having any intellectual merit at all. She speaker may even honestly believe that checking out of the political process is somehow going to accomplish something, she may even have anecdotes about disenfrachised electorates suddenly being catered to despite their apathy, but I very much doubt it will add up to a convincing argument of any kind. And I’m not at all surprised or distressing that some Americans hold voting as a sacred good that is above criticism.

16

mcd 02.26.08 at 2:01 am

Non-voting is not a boycott. Unlike an economic boycott, non-voting doesn’t deprive a target of anything the target (and who is the target anyway?) needs.

There used to be a tradition of protest votes. If you don’t like the candidates, vote Socialist Labor Party. The Powers That Be would notice votes for them a lot more than the same number of non-votes.

17

Joshua Holmes 02.26.08 at 2:07 am

Voting is a waste of time if your goal is to change the outcome of the election. That’s nutty. But people vote for a lot of different reasons, and apparently don’t feel their time is wasted.

18

vivian 02.26.08 at 2:30 am

Tell us how it went, Harry. On the bright side, she’s quite lucky – it’s hard to imagine a takedown that’s as respectful and Gricean* as one coming from you. Cornel West maybe? That kind of personal interaction may make up (for her) somewhat for the reactions that trouble you. Help make it more about learning than defensiveness. Not that I imagine there will be much, but one never knows, etc.
*No, John Emerson’s site will not suffice for this purpose, even though it’s brilliant.

19

richard 02.26.08 at 2:38 am

I’m sorry. There may be terrible history here, but “don’t vote for any of these candidates if none of them represents you” is not a racist, sexist or anti-minority statement. On a practical level, voting unpredictably seems to give you the best bang for your ballot, if anyone can see your vote to count it: Sandra Day O’Connor demonstrated that to me. If nobody can see or count your ballot in a meaningful way then it’s just not the right method for political action: not voting is not screaming in the politician’s ear. To do that you have to go scream in the politician’s ear – direct protest, organised action, clear communication of what you want.

This, I think, is the real evil, and the real message, of elections: they’re rituals for limiting the involvement of the populace in politics, invitations to participate in the most minimal way possible, with a single mark, once every several years. It’s almost inconceivable that thinking beings could mistake that for political action or involvement, and yet here we are.

20

rootlesscosmo 02.26.08 at 2:45 am

It’s almost inconceivable that thinking beings could mistake that for political action or involvement, and yet here we are.

And so much for Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses and Medgar Evers and Nelson Mandela (the ANC slogan was “One Person, One Vote.”) “There may be terrible history?” The casual agnosticism is breathtaking. The historical fact, however, is that those who instruct the people to throw away their hard-won democratic rights are those who fear for their privileges if those rights are exercised.

21

leinad 02.26.08 at 2:46 am

I voted below the line for this most recent Australian election.

That involved working out where my Senate vote was going to go and in which order out of 78 candidates. It was tough figuring out wether to preference the Wifebeater party ahead of the LaRouchies or the Hansonites but I did it. For Edmund Barton.

22

Paul Ding 02.26.08 at 2:47 am

Wouldn’t it save a lot of time, effort, and money if we simply asked Diebold whose electors they were going to let win in Ohio?

As Diebold goes, so goes the nation….

23

seth edenbaum 02.26.08 at 2:52 am

There are two different arguments: one against activism within the electoral process and the other against engagement in any formal system where your personal interests will be diluted. The first is worth hearing, the second is worth condemning in public in no uncertain terms. The obligations of republican forms of government require indoctrination.

Libertarians should be required to pay no taxes, should pay cash, at a premium, for everything that they may decide they need from government, and be stripped of the right to vote. They should be charged just for stepping out on the fucking sidewalk, maybe even for the right to use the language, and if any two are found to be collaborating with each other, be thrown in jail for hypocrisy.
Shun them.

24

Anarch 02.26.08 at 2:59 am

I saw posters for this talk while giving a midterm last week and all that struck me was how desperate this woman was for controversy. Quite pathetic, really.

25

John Quiggin 02.26.08 at 3:35 am

#20 Me too. Those last 10 spots are always hard to rank, but it’s more fun than just ticking one box.

26

geo 02.26.08 at 3:47 am

Libertarians should be required to pay no taxes, should pay cash, at a premium, for everything that they may decide they need from government, and be stripped of the right to vote. They should be charged just for stepping out on the fucking sidewalk, maybe even for the right to use the language, and if any two are found to be collaborating with each other, be thrown in jail for hypocrisy.

Why the kid gloves?

27

seth edenbaum 02.26.08 at 4:06 am

The studded ones are in the wash

28

lemuel pitkin 02.26.08 at 5:40 am

There are two different arguments: one against activism within the electoral process and the other against engagement in any formal system where your personal interests will be diluted. The first is worth hearing, the second is worth condemning in public in no uncertain terms.

Hey, this Edenbaum character might be onto something after all.

29

dr ngo 02.26.08 at 5:53 am

I’ve always believed that “None of the Above” should be a candidate in every election, and, if NOTA got a plurality, we’d have to hold a new election in which none of the previously listed candidates could be on the ballot. Just to provide people with an option, a way to cast a meaningful protest vote.

Not exactly the same, but I’ve actually taken part in an election in which there was only one candidate, and he lost. The vote was for the head of a (small) academic department, and the only person willing to put himself forward was not thought suitable by most of the rest of us for this position. The rules we had adopted in advance required an election, and that meant, essentially, a choice between Professor X and None Of The Above. NOTA won.

30

Sortition 02.26.08 at 6:14 am

Not voting expresses the appropriate rejection of the electoral mythology. The problem with it is that it does not offer an alternative to the electoral system. There is, however, a fully viable, democratic alternative.

Boycott, voters’ strike.

That’s a great idea. Picketing polling stations could be a very effective way of disseminating the anti-elections line of thought.

31

Dan Simon 02.26.08 at 6:15 am

I’ve always believed that “None of the Above” should be a candidate in every election,

It is, in every jurisdiction in which spoiled ballots are counted.

and, if NOTA got a plurality, we’d have to hold a new election in which none of the previously listed candidates could be on the ballot. Just to provide people with an option, a way to cast a meaningful protest vote.

A spoiled ballot is a way to cast a meaningful protest vote. (I’ve even done it once.) The only reason it’s not routinely recognized as such is that the number of spoiled ballots is so small. (Similarly, the number of votes for many fringe parties is so small that those votes are routinely considered essentially meaningless.)

Imagine, on the other hand, though, that some large fraction–say, twenty percent–of ballots in some election were spoiled. The candidate with the most votes would still win, but everyone would get the message that many voters are dissatisfied with the available options, and you can bet that a lot of aspiring politicians would work very hard to understand and represent those voters in subsequent elections.

32

abb1 02.26.08 at 8:00 am

“None of the above” is not a protest, you’re still playing their game.

In the Soviet Union they had elections. Ballots were printed with the name of the candidate put forward by the Indestructible Block Of Communists and Independents; you could cross that name. More like a referendum, but fair enough.

But they really, really wanted you to vote. In the afternoon they would go knock on your door and ask you to vote. If you were sick, they would bring the ballot box to your apartment. And in the end they would, of course, always win with 98% turnout.

Cross the name? Write “fuck you” on the ballot? Sure, but it doesn’t matter – you played the game, you upheld the institution.

33

Katherine 02.26.08 at 10:00 am

It may be ridiculous sentimentality, but I cannot not vote when women in my country marched and went to jail and starved and died to win the right to vote. I will not disrespect their sacrifices.

34

abb1 02.26.08 at 11:03 am

I’m not advocating it, I’m just saying there is an angle there.

35

reason 02.26.08 at 11:40 am

Sorry, I just cannot agree. What she should suggest is that other people join her in a new party. Responsible people not voting, just ensures that the least responsible win. It WILL be seen as apathy not protest. Her position is just arrogant, “if they don’t do either what I want, or what they say they will do, I’ll take my ball and go home”. Good for her, but what exactly does it acchieve. Democracy is at least a system that allows change, does she have a better alternative ready?

36

reason 02.26.08 at 11:47 am

Why isn’t she forming the POP (“pissed off party”)? No need for advertising, word of mouth will do it (hint – tell a school child).

37

abb1 02.26.08 at 11:55 am

To organize a new party you have to be H. Ross Perot; IOW: you have to be a billionaire. That’s the whole point. To me, at least.

38

Great Zamfir 02.26.08 at 12:04 pm

If over-rationalizing economists, and people persuaded by them, stop voting, the result can only be for the greater good, isn’t it?

39

dsquared 02.26.08 at 1:52 pm

I think that link more or less sums up my view of the whole thing – I very rarely vote in elections these days and the suffragettes, war veterans et al don’t seem to mind too terribly. I tell you who do get terribly worked up about me intentionally not voting, though – MPs and political activists. Which is good, because they’re exactly the people that I *want* to be annoyed.

40

RobDP 02.26.08 at 2:20 pm

Katherine: I appreciate your sentiment but this argument always worries me a little. At what point do you do something if people died for it? People have died for plenty of pretty awful things, so presumably you only do things that you agree with, that people have also died for. Which is to say, you basically do it because you agree with it — right? Or wrong?

41

novakant 02.26.08 at 3:00 pm

FWIW I vaguely remember Gore Vidal making an argument for not voting in his essay collection “The Second American Revolution”. The reasoning was that US democracy was a big scam and he pointed to some law prescribing that if the voter turnout falls below percentage x a constitutional referendum or something alike is to be held in order to rectify the situation. Maybe someone can fill us in on that.

Generally, I find absolutely nothing wrong with not voting if none of the candidates represent you on certain key issues. Let’s say HRC gets the nomination and can’t find it in her heart to unequivocally condemn the use of torture in any shape or form – why should an opponent of torture vote for her?

And let’s face it, the whole torture thing didn’t start under Bush – the CIA has been torturing and facilitating torture under every president since its inception, so there are actually good reasons for never having voted. The lesser evil argument is a bit of a cop out really, because one does lend credibility to such things by voting.

42

dsquared 02.26.08 at 3:55 pm

I think that there is actually a big inconsistency here. There are two big arguments for not voting:

1. It will make no difference.

RESPONSE: but it’s not about making a difference! it’s your civic duty! this is how you show solidarity with the suffragettes etc!

2. It involves identifying myself with something repulsive.

RESPONSE: please, this isn’t about your petty vanity, we need to keep the Republicans out!

As far as I can see, the non-voter’s arguments aren’t contradictory, but the voter’s arguments are, because he can’t get around the fact that the Voter’s Paradox is in fact a paradox, so he needs your vote to be both an expression of your continued support of the system and not one.

43

Dan Simon 02.26.08 at 4:26 pm

“None of the above” is not a protest, you’re still playing their game.

Yes, well, we know democracy’s not your game, Abb1. And let’s face it–the less people like you vote, the better.

I tell you who do get terribly worked up about me intentionally not voting, though – MPs and political activists. Which is good, because they’re exactly the people that I want to be annoyed.

Oh, come on–they’re only one small portion of the very, very large set of people you want to be annoyed.

he needs your vote to be both an expression of your continued support of the system and not one.

If by “the system”, you mean, “the current crop of candidates”, then a spoiled ballot is always an option. On the other hand, if by “the system”, you mean, “the democratic process”, I wonder just what you’d replace it with.

44

abb1 02.26.08 at 4:33 pm

…an expression of your continued support of the system and not one.

It’s about the degree of your support of the system, that’s all. If you are thoroughly disgusted with the system, you probably won’t vote. If you admire the system you probably will. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you are not sure.

45

Katherine 02.26.08 at 4:40 pm

“People have died for plenty of pretty awful things, so presumably you only do things that you agree with, that people have also died for…”

I understand your point, really I do, but I think there is a slight case of apples and pears. The suffragettes protested, suffered and, in some cases, died to give me something , something that the powerful did not want people like me to have. It seems somewhat churlish to refuse that gift.

And no, I don’t suppose the suffragettes would give a rat’s arse if you don’t vote DD – don’t be facile.

46

Sortition 02.26.08 at 5:02 pm

I think it was Emma Goldman who told the suffragists: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

47

rootlesscosmo 02.26.08 at 5:21 pm

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

As of course “they” did, for women (until 1920), for Black people in the South–if not by statute, then by murder and terror–and, in several states in the early years of the Republic, for non-property-holding white men. The rich and powerful always try to limit the franchise, or discourage its exercise; is that because they’re rebelling against “the system,” or because they want to stay rich and powerful and keep everyone else poor and helpless? What some commenters here dismiss as “the suffragettes” has been a long, hard struggle (a general strike in Belgium, the Chartist movement in 19th century Britain, the voting rights movement in the US South), and the women’s suffrage movement here and around the world, for a basic human right. We can choose to be in solidarity with that struggle, or with the nightriders and lynchers who resisted it; as between the two, I know which I prefer.

48

Sortition 02.26.08 at 5:40 pm

We can choose to be in solidarity with that struggle, or with the nightriders and lynchers who resisted it; as between the two, I know which I prefer.

Clearly, those of us who, like Emma Goldman, realize that voting is more about legitimizing the existing power structure than about distributing political power, choose to side with nightriders and lynchers.

49

novakant 02.26.08 at 5:45 pm

The rich and powerful always try to limit the franchise, or discourage its exercise

It’s been a while since that was a major problem. It seems to me the rich and powerful have adapted just fine to universal suffrage.

50

Righteous Bubba 02.26.08 at 5:52 pm

It’s been a while since that was a major problem.

Depends on what you mean by “major” and “a while”.

51

Richard 02.26.08 at 5:57 pm

“Those who refuse to vote are not expressing silence. They are screaming in the politician’s ear: “You do not represent me. This is not a process in which my voice matters. I do not believe you.”

Why yes, it’s such a powerful message that it’s entirely indistinguishable from someone who really doesn’t care. That’s why it’s a stupid argument: because it doesn’t make the point you think it makes and it does nothing to change the system. Even with a turnout of 5%, someone would claim victory and go on to lead the country. You need an actual revolution to make the point she wants to make.

52

dsquared 02.26.08 at 6:17 pm

We can choose to be in solidarity with that struggle, or with the nightriders and lynchers who resisted it

hahahahaha, this is absolutely ridiculous. In general arguments based on “being in solidarity with” trade at a discount to cash.

53

novakant 02.26.08 at 6:17 pm

You have a point there. Viewed from Europe, though, these stories of voter suppression in the US seem totally outlandish. (I can’t say that it never happens here, but I’ve never heard of such a thing.)

54

lemuel pitkin 02.26.08 at 6:44 pm

1. It will make no difference.

RESPONSE: but it’s not about making a difference! it’s your civic duty! this is how you show solidarity with the suffragettes etc!

No, that’s not it.

Your individual vote will make no difference. But that’s precisely why people don’t vote as individuals — they vote as union members, blacks, Christians, death penalty opponents, homeowners, parents, socialists, etc. Responsible citizen is one such identity but only one and only a major one in low-salience elections where there’s no other motivation to turn out.

I hate to get all Edenbaum-y here, but the conflict between a purely individual sense of self and the rationality of collective action is an argument against the former, not the latter.

55

lemuel pitkin 02.26.08 at 6:49 pm

By the way, i wonder how many participants in this debate have actually knocked on doors or phonebanked to convince people to vote?

I have, on at least a dozen elections, and know people who’ve done a lot more. And let me just say, if you imagine “it’s your civic duty! this is how you show solidarity with the suffragettes” is what one says in such a setting, your ideas about why people vote may not be on the soundest footing.

56

Righteous Bubba 02.26.08 at 6:54 pm

And let me just say, if you imagine “it’s your civic duty! this is how you show solidarity with the suffragettes” is what one says in such a setting, your ideas about why people vote may not be on the soundest footing.

What was your regular pitch?

57

abb1 02.26.08 at 7:02 pm

If by “the system”, you mean, “the current crop of candidates”, then a spoiled ballot is always an option.

What are you – 5 years old?
Btw, candidates don’t matter, that’s a common mistake. Political parties, institutions, organizations, movements – yes. Candidates – no.

58

Righteous Bubba 02.26.08 at 7:13 pm

Btw, candidates don’t matter, that’s a common mistake.

Republicans have learned that this is false.

59

dsquared 02.26.08 at 7:47 pm

I hate to get all Edenbaum-y here, but the conflict between a purely individual sense of self and the rationality of collective action is an argument against the former, not the latter.

but surely this is just walking straight onto the other horn of the dilemma – in as much as voting makes me part of a “collective”, then it makes me part of a collective which tortures people and starts wars, and therefore include me out.

60

seth edenbaum 02.26.08 at 8:14 pm

“include me out.”
But of course you’re more involved than most people who vote. As a frequently published commentator you expend a lot of energy trying to convince others of the importance of certain ideas and actions. You’re a social creature, but you do it your way. I hear you Frankie. You’re a stockbroker individualist anarcho-syndicalist pisswater drinking sonofabitch. I have no problem with any of that apart from the choice of beer. I like being a loner too, but I don’t think of it as an ideal or model, it’s just what I am.
I’m not one of the herd, I just yell at them a lot!
There’s no escaping the problem other than moving to Alaska or Siberia.

61

Katherine 02.26.08 at 8:40 pm

hahahahaha, this is absolutely ridiculous.

DD has spoken! Like a true member of a once-disenfranchised group. Oh no, hang on a sec…

62

abb1 02.26.08 at 9:06 pm

It’s good that disenfranchised groups get voting rights, that’s progress. But that’s not the end, other ways to oppress emerge; same shit, different methods. The fight goes on.

63

dsquared 02.26.08 at 9:28 pm

Like a true member of a once-disenfranchised group

as a piece of political philosophy and analysis, this is right up there with “eat your greens because there are children starving in India”.

64

dsquared 02.26.08 at 9:32 pm

There’s no escaping the problem other than moving to Alaska or Siberia.

Even if you move to Alaska or Siberia, those are still part of the USA and the Russian Federation. Escaping modern society is actually impossible, but that’s all the reason to take advantage of low-cost means to reminding the political class that you don’t sign up to a vision of democracy that includes me conferring legitimacy on every damn-fool thing they do via a four-yearly ritual process of Hotelling spatial competition.

I went on the anti-war demonstration five years ago. It achieved not a thing. If the government won’t play along with my charade, why the heck should I play along with theirs (answers which depend on honouring the memory of anyone who has been dead for more than fifty years will not be taken seriously, kthxbye)

65

Righteous Bubba 02.26.08 at 9:51 pm

If the government won’t play along with my charade, why the heck should I play along with theirs

Because their charade is not one. An actual person will be elected and will do things.

Enthusiasm is not required.

66

Katherine 02.26.08 at 10:05 pm

DD, I usually have high respect for your opinions, but on this thread you just seem to be throwing around statements without deigning to bother to explain them. So, why then do you think “arguments based on “being in solidarity with” trade at a discount to cash”, and why is it so terribly gauche to suggest that perhaps the members of a group historically denied the vote might feel differently about its exercise than a member of group not denied it?

67

seth e. 02.26.08 at 10:22 pm

“I went on the anti-war demonstration five years ago. It achieved not a thing.”
Oh c’mon dear, the only difference is that you weren’t on the podium, like you are every time you write at Comment is Free.
It’s the eccentricities that make you more readable than anyone else here but sometimes… Oy.
I’ll just shut up now. We’re all better off with you being inconsistent. I’m not willing to risk it all in the name of truth.

ciao

68

dsquared 02.26.08 at 10:23 pm

So, why then do you think “arguments based on “being in solidarity with” trade at a discount to cash”,

because it’s empty words. You’re not actually marching with the suffragettes, Chartists or Black Panthers by voting, you’re just, ex post facto, claiming to be on the same side as them. I find this a little patronising, and when used as a tool of social pressure to claim that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is “in solidarity with” the Ku Klux Klan, more than a little bit disgusting.

why is it so terribly gauche to suggest that perhaps the members of a group historically denied the vote might feel differently about its exercise than a member of group not denied it?

They can feel how they want, but it’s a piss-poor reason to tell anyone else what to do. There are children starving in India, but it is about twenty-eight years since I realised the non sequitur between that unfortunate economic fact of the world, and any reason why I should eat a plate of spinach.

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dsquared 02.26.08 at 10:25 pm

Because their charade is not one. An actual person will be elected and will do things.

but now you’ve pinballed back onto the first horn of the dilemma. My personal vote has a negligible chance of having any effect on which person gets elected, and even less on what things they do (as anyone who voted George Bush in 2000 in the expectation of getting the advertised “we don’t do nation building” foreign policy will tell you).

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Righteous Bubba 02.26.08 at 10:48 pm

but now you’ve pinballed back onto the first horn of the dilemma. My personal vote has a negligible chance of having any effect on which person gets elected

That’s not part of a dilemma, it’s a truism, and so what? Commenting on blogs also has little effect – less than voting in nearly all cases I think – yet many seem to do it with passion.

It’s a very small chore and at the least you get to stick it – with whatever small proportion of stickability you possess – to someone you dislike. Maybe the addition of a ritual element would make it more attractive: pee in this pot for this candidate or what have you.

Anyway it should be obvious that in Florida a few thousand less lazy bastards could have made things more tolerable for the rest of the world.

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Felwith 02.26.08 at 10:54 pm

I have some ideas knocking about on this topic, but I don’t know if I actually believe any of them. So I’ll toss them out and see what people have to say.

1) If the purpose of the franchise is to provide an oversight role to the populace, then not exercising that power would not provide an escape from any moral responsibilty that comes with it. At least, that is not an argument I would accept from someone with any other kind of oversight responsibilities.

2) One of the arguments I’ve seen regarding the importance of international diplomacy is that refusing to deal with people who do reprehensible things does nothing to stop reprehensible things from being done. Perhaps this insight may have value when applied to dealings with political parties.

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Righteous Bubba 02.26.08 at 11:15 pm

In reference to this from Lester Hunt’s link:

I have never seen anyone display a twinge of guilt over the consequences of a vote in which they participated, whether the consequences were war, inflation, recession, or the flight of employers from their jurisdiction.

I commented with this URL:

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22i+regret+voting+for%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=%3A%3A

It hasn’t yet shown up.

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seth e. 02.26.08 at 11:46 pm

back for one more
“My personal vote has a negligible chance of having any effect on which person gets elected,”

That will always be the case, even in a world populated by creatures more responsible than those we have here (politicians being representative in more ways than one). Opting out of participation in electoral politics in this society at this point in time is hard to distinguish from doing so out of disgust that your personal desires will end up diluted by those of others. THAT’S the problem. But claiming solidarity with dead brothers is a little like the arguing for community and “spiritual value” and warm fuzziness (or fuzzy warmth) and against cold atomizing reason. Those are the arguments for community of those who want to defend it but don’t really understand it themselves.
Voting and public address are all parts of a deliberative politics. Voting is a public acknowledgment and affirmation of the reality of the community in which you live, which is in fact the community that made you. Your vote only counts as part of a larger group of those who agree with you on the issues you’re voting on as individuals. But voting takes place at the end of a long debate, which you involve yourself in DD more than most. The question is whether non-voting is a non-social activity or a social activity against the powers that be, but the powers that be in a republic are still the people (cynics about this are mostly cynics regarding those other than themselves). The people aren’t very smart, but it’s a tough call when and how to show your disrespect; and it’s tough to know when your disrespect is no different than their apathy. Maybe you are the people.
Non-voting sets a precedent, and that’s a kind of inertia that should worry us, even if the act itself is for what we consider noble reasons.

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 3:32 am

It’s a very small chore and at the least you get to stick it – with whatever small proportion of stickability you possess – to someone you dislike.

What you get is the opportunity to plainly say that you love your master. You should not be surprised if after doing so you find your ear bored through.

Anyway it should be obvious that in Florida a few thousand less lazy bastards could have made things more tolerable for the rest of the world.

Sure, Gore would probably have been a better master than Bush in the same way that King Richard was a better master than King John. Pledging allegiance to Richard, however, legitimizes the monarchy.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 3:45 am

What you get is the opportunity to plainly say that you love your master.

So you told my master what my vote was?

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 4:03 am

So you told my master what my vote was?

It doesn’t matter who you voted for, it is the act of voting that counts as a pledge of allegiance.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 4:08 am

It doesn’t matter who you voted for, it is the act of voting that counts as a pledge of allegiance.

A pledge of allegiance to…

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 4:10 am

… to the electoral system and thus to whoever candidate gets elected.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 5:09 am

… to the electoral system and thus

No thus, and there’s no pledge to the electrical system either. If I make a house I’m not pledging to it with a hammer, I’m using a hammer as a tool.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 5:09 am

Ha. Electoral.

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 5:19 am

One more point, regarding Katherine, dsquared and voting rights. Katherine said:

why is it so terribly gauche to suggest that perhaps the members of a group historically denied the vote might feel differently about its exercise than a member of group not denied it?

Being a Briton, dsquared could make a claim to be a member of a disenfranchised group which would be only a little more historical than Katherine’s claim. According to Wikipedia, as late as 1867, 60% of adult males in England and Wales were still without the vote.

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 5:27 am

No thus

Isn’t it clear that the legitimacy (and thus much of the power) of elected rulers relies on the fact that a significant proportion of the citizens indicated that they are their preferred rulers (among available options)?

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 5:31 am

Isn’t it clear that the legitimacy (and thus much of the power) of elected rulers relies on the fact that a significant proportion of the citizens indicated that they are their preferred rulers (among available options)?

It certainly isn’t clear that they can claim all votes for everybody else as endorsements of their selection.

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 6:18 am

I think that you voting for your candidate and then claiming that someone else who got more votes is illegitimate would be considered hypocritical by most people.

But even leaving this point aside, let’s at least agree that voters legitimize those whom they vote for. That in itself should be enough to put in serious question the tactic of voting for the lesser evil.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 6:27 am

I think that you voting for your candidate and then claiming that someone else who got more votes is illegitimate would be considered hypocritical by most people.

So what?

But even leaving this point aside, let’s at least agree that voters legitimize those whom they vote for. That in itself should be enough to put in serious question the tactic of voting for the lesser evil.

That’s swell in the abstract, but folks die more when the greater evil gets in. That should put in serious question the act of not voting.

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 7:02 am

So what?

So, your vote legitimizes the winner in the eyes of most people even if you voted against him.

[F]olks die more when the greater evil gets in. That should put in serious question the act of not voting.

I agree. Should we swear allegiance to King Richard or should we denounce kings altogether and risk having King John now in the hope of delegitimizing and thus toppling the monarchy in the long run? Depends on how good is Richard and how bad is John.

87

Quo Vadis 02.27.08 at 7:09 am

Change doesn’t start in the voting booth, that’s just where the accounting takes place.

Witness at the civil right movement; change starts in the minds of the people and translates into political reality. Look at how the right-to-lifers and ‘family values’ groups do it. If you really believe radical change is needed, you should be leading a movement to the polls on election day, or at least participating in one. If you just want to impress your ‘intellectual’ friends, stay home and blog about how ‘the system’ makes your vote meaningless.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 7:10 am

So, your vote legitimizes the winner in the eyes of most people even if you voted against him.

Doesn’t follow.

I agree. Should we swear allegiance to King Richard or should we denounce kings altogether and risk having King John now in the hope of delegitimizing and thus toppling the monarchy in the long run? Depends on how good is Richard and how bad is John.

Swearing off the bong should be the first order of business.

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abb1 02.27.08 at 7:57 am

Bubba (79), if you indeed build a house for yourself, then there is no problem whatsoever.

But what if, in fact, someone else built that house for you, with their own plans and materials and according to their interests. They then give you a toy hammer and say: here, sucker, knock gently on the walls, imagine that this is the house you built for yourself and move in. Be proud of your knocking on the walls with this toy hammer and remember: if you don’t like the house, there’s no one blame but yourself and your fellow citizens.

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Katherine 02.27.08 at 8:29 am

“They can feel how they want, but it’s a piss-poor reason to tell anyone else what to do.”

Well now, DD, I don’t believe I was telling anyone else what they should do. I was just explaining why I do what I do.

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Katherine 02.27.08 at 8:37 am

“According to Wikipedia, as late as 1867, 60% of adult males in England and Wales were still without the vote.”

Yes, Sortition, I am aware of that. But the reason for that disenfranchisement was property, not gender. As soon as a man reached a certain level of wealth/property ownership, he could vote. There was no argument that men, per se, were incapable and/or unsuitable to wield the franchise. I would submit that the two things are substantively different.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 3:29 pm

They then give you a toy hammer

If a few thousand people with toy hammers could have stopped Bush then those are some valuable toy hammers.

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abb1 02.27.08 at 3:58 pm

92 – sure. If this is how you feel you definitely should vote and I’m sure you do. In fact I usually do too, so there you go.

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Tom Doyle 02.27.08 at 4:01 pm

As I understand Wendy McElroy’s position, she regards the state/government as unjust, coercive, and illegitimate, in itself, whatever its actions might be. By voting one becomes an accomplice in this wrongdoing. Also, elections fabricate a mask of legitimate authority, not only for the winners, but for the state/government itself, thus enhancing its power over the population. For McElroy, she and those who hold such views should not participate in election, based on moral as well as strategic considerations.

From McElroy’s extensive writing on the subject, her political philosophy would appear to be derived from and/or influenced by, inter alia, anarchism, libertarianism, “individualist feminism,” the writings of H. D. Thoreau, L. Tolstoy, F. A. Hayek and M. Rothbard.

McElroy explains and defends her position on voting in “Why I Would Not Vote” on “WendyMcElroy.com” (originally published as “Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler,” Liberty Magazine, (May 1996) ).

Since I consider electoral politics to be the milk-toast equivalent of terrorism, my opening statement as a panel member was a condemnation of voting. My arguments were aimed at L[ibertarian] P[arty] members who consider themselves…anarchists, yet who jump to their feet in ebullient applause upon hearing that a fellow libertarian wants to be a politician.

[A] question was posed to me: “If you could have cast the deciding vote against Hitler, would you have done so?” I replied, “No, but I would have no moral objection to putting a bullet through his skull.”…I consider such a bullet to be an act of self-defense in a manner that a ballot could never be. [A] bullet can be narrowly aimed at a deserving target; a ballot attacks innocent third parties who must endure the consequences of the politician I have assisted into a position of unjust power over their lives. Whoever puts a man into a position of unjust power — that is, a position of political power — must share responsibility for every right he violates thereafter.

[W]hat is the nature of the state? Here, I accept a Nozickian definition that the state is an institution that claims a monopoly of force over a geographical area. It is a form of institutionalized power, and the first step in dissecting its essence is to analyze the defining terms ‘power’ and ‘institution’. … [T]here [a]re … two sorts of power: Social power refers to the amount of freedom individuals actually exercise over their lives: that is, the extent to which they can freely make such choices as where and how to live. State power refers the actual amount of control the government exercises over individuals; that is, the extent to which [government] determines such choices as where and how people live. There is an inverse and antagonistic relationship between social and state power. [O]ne form…expands only at the expense of the other.
[...]
[T]he power of a state rests on social conditions such as whether people will obey its laws and how many resources it can command to enforce obedience. A key social condition is how legitimate the state is seen to be. For without the veil of legitimate authority, the people will not obey: the state will not long command the resources … it needs to live.
[...]
[F]reedom does not depend so much on repealing laws as on weakening the authority of the state. It does not depend…on persuading enough people to vote ‘properly’ so that libertarians can occupy seats of political power and roll back legislation. [T]his [only] strengthens the institutional framework that produced unjust laws in the first place: it strengthens the structure of state power by accepting its authority as a tool of change.
[...]
As long as everyone respects its rules — e.g. they vote, go through state channels, obey the law — it functions as a mechanism of social control….[G]ood men who act through bad institutions will produce bad results [despite their good intentions]. Good men acting through the state will strengthen its legitimacy and institutional framework, … [and thus] weaken the social conditions that allow social power to surge.
[...]
[T]he essential problem is not Hitler, but the institutional framework that allows a Hitler to grasp a monopoly on power. Without the state to back him up and an election to give him legitimized power, Hitler would have been — at most — the leader of some ragged thugs who mugged people in back alleys. Voting for or against Hitler would only strengthen the institutional framework that produced him — a framework that would produce another of his ilk in two seconds.

Killing Hitler does less damage. But it — like voting — is an admission of utter defeat. Resorting to brute force means that all avenues of social power have been destroyed and I have been reduced to adopting the tactics of the state. Under tyranny, such violence might be justified as long as I could avoid harming innocent third parties[,]… [but] voting could not be justified. No one has the right to place one human being in a position of political power over another. A consistent libertarian can never authorize one human being to tax and control peaceful activities. And the state is no more than the institutionalized embodiment of this authorization.

You cannot help freedom or social power by bowing your head to Leviathan.

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Felwith 02.27.08 at 4:21 pm

Isn’t it clear that the legitimacy (and thus much of the power) of elected rulers relies on the fact that a significant proportion of the citizens indicated that they are their preferred rulers (among available options)?

That’s not clear at all. I would say that the legitimacy of elected rulers relies on the fact that the citizens believe that the outcome of a vote is a valid method of selecting a leader, rather than the absolute percentage of voters supporting the winning candidate. Local elections are the perfect example of this. Turnout in our county rarely breaks the 20% mark. If any significant percentage of the people who didn’t vote thought that the elections were illegitimate on that basis, the county would be ungovernable. And yet, they don’t, possibly because it’s more difficult to make the case that voting for a county commisioner makes you complicit in foreign wars.

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Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 4:50 pm

Since I consider electoral politics to be the milk-toast equivalent of terrorism

A prescient use of Republican talking points.

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Jon H 02.27.08 at 6:15 pm

Reminds me of vaccine denialists and pasteurization-eschewing raw milk rebels. Unacquainted with the risks before vaccines or pasteurization, they fetishize freedom from these things.

Withholding your vote is an act of social emasculation, and that’s all. If you want to change the system, support primary challenges by candidates you can support, and vote for them.

Not voting is just *lazy*.

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Jon H 02.27.08 at 6:19 pm

Judging by the text above, apparently she’s a barely-rational ideologue like the late Andrea Dworkin.

The ‘system’ would produce another Hitler in 2 seconds?

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Jon H 02.27.08 at 6:32 pm

sortition wrote: “Should we swear allegiance to King Richard or should we denounce kings altogether and risk having King John now in the hope of delegitimizing and thus toppling the monarchy in the long run? Depends on how good is Richard and how bad is John.”

What are you, one of the Montana Freemen? Have any liens out on judges?

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Sortition 02.27.08 at 8:27 pm

Felwith:

I would say that the legitimacy of elected rulers relies on the fact that the citizens believe that the outcome of a vote is a valid method of selecting a leader, rather than the absolute percentage of voters supporting the winning candidate.

Ok – I concede your point: in the current atmosphere, when people don’t show up to vote (as in local elections), it is usually taken as an indication of disinterest rather than as delegitimization. Thanks for illuminating me.

That said, my original point stands: Voting legitimizes the electoral system. In view of the point above, however, I amend my position: not voting is not enough – to undermine the legitimacy of the electoral system non-voters have to take some action indicating that they reject the system rather than simply don’t care about the outcome.

Maybe collecting signatures next to polling stations for an anti-electoral petition could do the trick.

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abb1 02.27.08 at 9:02 pm

At least, the very least, in the US they should demand a system with proportional representation. The “winner takes all” model, especially in combination with gerrymandering – that’s just too much of a farce. Really. C’mon people, you know it, you’ve gotta.

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Jeff 02.28.08 at 2:34 am

Judging by the text above, apparently she’s a barely-rational ideologue like the late Andrea Dworkin.

Jon H: why not use actual arguments yourself, instead of slurs. I doubt you have read Andrea Dworkin, btw, or you wouldn’t have written that.

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R 02.29.08 at 12:20 am

Richard (51) writes:
Why yes, it’s such a powerful message that it’s entirely indistinguishable from someone who really doesn’t care. That’s why it’s a stupid argument: because it doesn’t make the point you think it makes and it does nothing to change the system.

This seems key. Wouldn’t it be much more effective to write in the name of someone you would support than to send the very ambiguous message of saying nothing?

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Praisegod Barebones 02.29.08 at 11:44 am

Was NOTA a better HoD than the candidate he beat, though? (Quite possibly, but it would be nice to know)

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