November 01, 2004

Don't Vote!

Posted by shonk at 09:13 PM in Politics | TrackBack

This summer, when I had more time on my hands than sense, I thought about making up some anti-campaign posters to put up around town. Needless to say, at this point I’m much too busy (and lazy) to actually follow through, but I still think it’s a good idea.

So what is an “anti-campaign poster”? Well, basically the idea would be to come up with something that would simultaneously ridicule the candidates and their militant supporters, the inane “get out the vote” campaigns, and the very process itself.

One of my favorite ideas was:

Which white, millionaire Yale alumnus and Skull & Bones member do you want deciding economic policy?

This point hasn’t, in my opinion, been emphasized enough. The feeling I get from most Kerry supporters I know is that they’re voting for Kerry, not because of who he is or what he stands for, but because he’s not Bush. Well, that’s all well and good, in theory at least, but how different are they, really? They both went to Yale, they’re both middle-aged, they’re both white, they’re both millionaires, they’re both members of the super-elite Skull & Bones, neither did much to actually earn his money, one went AWOL from the National Guard while the other organized protests with Hanoi Jane (Fonda) and they’re both all about increasing spending. Okay, admittedly, one looks like a chimp while the other looks like a horse, but that’s not really much to go on.

My other favorite idea was:

The only candidate to win a clear majority in this election will be ‘None of the Above’

Let’s not kid ourselves, nobody’s getting a “mandate” from the electorate, because the majority of the electorate either doesn’t care who wins or doesn’t like either one of the candidates (or thinks the entire process is morally bankrupt, but I’m guessing us radicals don’t comprise a significant percentage). And let’s be honest, there are good reasons for being part of that “silent majority”. For one thing, there’s Drew Carey’s take: “”Quit pretending that it matters, would you? Can you vote for all the nefarious cabals that really run the world? No. So fuck it.”

Also, as Steven Landsburg points out: “Even if you voted in the most hotly disputed state [Florida] in the mostly hotly disputed election [2000] in American history, your vote did not change the outcome.” The consensus seems to be that Bush won Florida by 530-odd votes; if any one person had acted differently, either by voting or not voting, Bush still would have won by 530-odd votes. Landsburg goes on to evaluate the likelihood that a single Florida voter could sway the election this time around:

If Kerry (or Bush) has just a slight edge, so that each of your fellow voters has a 51 percent likelihood of voting for him, then your chance of casting the tiebreaker is about one in 10 to the 1,046th power—approximately the same chance you have of winning the Powerball jackpot 128 times in a row.

Needless to say, as JTK has pointed out several times in the past (for example, commenting on Brian Doss’s post), you would do more to enhance your candidate’s chances of winning by buying a PowerBall ticket and mailing it to him than by voting for him. With that in mind, I rather like Virginia Warren’s idea regarding letting people pay for votes:

The benefits of a vote market would be quickly realized if the ban were lifted. For one thing, it would muzzle the tedious affirmations of mysticist, lever-wanking airheads who flounce about proclaiming “Every vote counts!” It wouldn’t take long for them to finally be shown the exact worth of an individual vote on the open market.

Given Landsburg’s numbers, let’s just say there aren’t currency denominations small enough to adequately express the market value of a single vote in a presidential election (and, needless to say, Michael Moore is overpaying).

Anyway, after tossing the numbers around, demonstrating that even if the preferences are split 50/50, your chance of casting the deciding vote is smaller than your chance of being murdered by your mother, Landsburg feels compelled to almost apologize for his advocacy of non-voting:

The traditional reply begins with the phrase “But if everyone thought like that … .” To which the correct rejoinder is: So what? Everyone doesn’t think like that. They continue to vote by the millions and tens of millions.

True enough, but I think Joe Sobran’s take is more compelling:

Nonvoters are often described as lazy, apathetic, lacking in civic spirit. Voting is touted among us as a moral imperative. If you don’t vote, we are told, you have no right to complain. Voting, in fact, is the way we are encouraged to complain!

It’s hard to know where to start refuting such imbecility. The act of making an X in a box, or its high-tech equivalent, is close to worthless as a means of either self-expression or imparting information. When masses of votes can be won by wearing silly hats and repeating silly slogans, it’s pretty hard to maintain the belief that election results reflect an aggregate wisdom in the electorate. I marvel that faith in democracy has survived the advent of C-SPAN.

Sobran goes on to give a moral argument for not voting, which I think is compelling but won’t reproduce here. Rather, I think Robert Anton Wilson’s response to the question “Who are you going to vote for?” does quite nicely:

I’m voting for myself because I don’t believe anybody else can represent me as well as I can represent myself.

Think about that for a second, and ponder just what casting a vote for someone else says about you.

With all that in mind, why do people still vote? Surely if there’s anything we learned from the 2000 election, it’s not that “every vote counts”. Rather (and either JTK stole this from me, or I stole it from him; I can’t remember which) the lesson we learned from 2000 was: if the election’s close enough so that every vote counts, the only votes that are going to matter are the 9 on the Supreme Court.

Okay, but that’s just illustrating the point, not answering the question. So why do people vote? The answer, I think, can be found buried within Hunter S. Thompson’s otherwise incoherent pastiche of his own writing from 3 decades ago:

The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them. Election Day — especially a presidential election — is always a wild and terrifying time for politics junkies, and I am one of those, too. We look forward to major election days like sex addicts look forward to orgies. We are slaves to it.

That’s right: people vote because it’s fun, because it’s a thrill, because they get a rush from forcing others to submit to the will of their chosen despot. What that says about human psychology is probably best not considered too deeply, but I figure it’s as good an answer as any.

Comments

I like the campaign poster idea, but in my opinion your actions (i.e. doing nothing, or rather doing more important things) are more in the philosophical spirit of non-voting, which is disengage oneself from politics in general, not just from our current political system.

Posted by: Curt at November 2, 2004 09:26 AM

Which white, millionaire Yale alumnus and Skull & Bones member do you want deciding economic policy?

Or more to the point, since, let's face it, opposition the war is probably the main sentiment fueling these get-out-the-vote campaigns: "Which candidate do you want to represent the anti-war cause, the one who agitated in favor of the war or the one who voted for it?"

Posted by: Curt at November 2, 2004 02:55 PM

i can't believe this entry! well, actually, i can... ;) seriously though, if you don't think people should vote, do you have an alternitave mode of political participation in mind?
kerry does look like a horse. more so than bush looks like a monkey.

Posted by: petya at November 2, 2004 05:43 PM

I voted.

Posted by: Aaron at November 2, 2004 06:34 PM

I like the campaign poster idea, but in my opinion your actions (i.e. doing nothing, or rather doing more important things) are more in the philosophical spirit of non-voting, which is disengage oneself from politics in general, not just from our current political system.

I agree.

Posted by: shonk at November 2, 2004 08:04 PM

seriously though, if you don't think people should vote, do you have an alternitave mode of political participation in mind?

An "alternative mode of political participation"? No. I want to get rid of politics.

For an interesting perspective on this, check out "Voting for Beer." Also, though I don't agree entirely with it, this Infoshop article contains a definite kernel of truth.

Posted by: shonk at November 2, 2004 08:08 PM

Also, check out "Democracy: the best form of government...for government."

Posted by: shonk at November 2, 2004 08:41 PM

I want to get rid of politics.

If that's your wish, you're in for a lifetime of disappointment, since there will be politics as long as some people want to control other people's lives. But that does not necessarily preclude the possibility of personal enfranchisement from a degrading existence as a political being without hopelessly trying to bring down the whole super-structure. In fact, the revolutionary impulse is probably one of the worst manifestations of the political temperament. Maybe that's one reason that I have always admired the intellectual life of Russia, for example; there the poets have always (or at least since Pushkin) been the true heroes and leaders of the country, not because, pace Shelley, they are the unseen legislators, but rather quite the opposite, because they have been seen (rightly or wrongly) as virtually the only ones free of the taint of politics.

Posted by: Curt at November 3, 2004 03:42 PM

If that's your wish, you're in for a lifetime of disappointment, since there will be politics as long as some people want to control other people's lives.

Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of the term "politics". That having been said, what I meant by that comment is that I want to minimize political interaction; the fewer of our relationships and interactions that are mediated by politics or political alliances, the better.

Posted by: shonk at November 3, 2004 05:04 PM

Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of the term "politics".

True, but to me the institution of politics, or at least American politics per se (Electoral College, Constitution, "Crossfire") is irrelevant. The issue for me is power, and why some people actually seem to like the fact that others have huge amounts of it at their expense.

Posted by: Curt at November 4, 2004 07:27 AM

Of interest on this and similar websites is an anti-voting attitude promoted as a matter of disgust with politics, recognition that a vote is mathematically insignificant, or as a matter principle for those who pine for a stateless or non-corporate world.
As a long time voter I must admit that my vote has never been the margin in an election. In fact I think I should vote opposite from my opinion, since my vote often seems like the kiss of death. I would like a less powerful state too but it isn't happening. You protect yourself by joining the political fray. That's why I belong to the NRA, etc.
I also vote as an expression of principle. People irrationally do or don't do a lot of things based on principle. Suppose I am an environmentalist. I might ride a bicycle instead of driving a Hummer. Do you really think I'm doing anything to prevent global warming? What about a vegan? Will one chicken or cow avoid slaughter, and live happily ever after if a thousand vegans eat nothing but soy meal products? Their might be an infinitesimal drop in price or perhaps a sale at the grocery store. Voting allows people to express their principles whether they are rational or irrational. In aggregate these votes are incredibly powerful.

Posted by: Dave at November 4, 2004 08:37 AM

I don't know who you're responding to, but just so as to get this straight, my brother is of the voting-is-morally-bankrupt and I-don't-vote-as-a-matter-of-principle opinion, whereas I don't really think it does any more harm than good or vice versa; I didn't vote in this election, but that's mainly because a)I'm overseas and b)I thought both of the candidates were horrible (even on the VERY relative scale that that implies).

My dad is fond of saying "Democracy is a terrible form of government...except compared to all the others." I don't necessarily disagree with that, but whereas he seems to regard it as a rousing defense of democracy, to me it seems more like a description of trying to pick a good place to live in Mississippi: when there aren't any good alternatives, maybe you should stop torturing yourself about making just the right choice.

Posted by: Curt at November 4, 2004 05:01 PM

What's wrong with Mississippi?

Posted by: Andy Stedman at November 4, 2004 05:48 PM

Hi Curt. I am responding to the original post as well as the general debate, somewhat unfamiliar to me, about voting or not voting. I used to think you didn't vote if you were satisfied about the way things were. I never was. So I voted as a matter of principle in hopes of influencing things. It was silly of me to think that way but it beats the alternatives. To be brief:
1.)I agree with your dad.
2.) If you brother's nonvoting is based upon principles, he is na´ve. What would he do if he suddenly became absolute dictator? Immediately resign, I suppose. Do you really believe that the power vacuum would go unfilled? He would be forced to reestablish his dominion to prevent intolerable injustices and eventually commit some of his own. No political power? Quit dreaming. The imperfect system we have is much better than the truly horrible alternatives because there is a diffusion of power. Many individuals have spheres of power and freedom, but within limits.
3.) I have never found an organization, party or candidate with which I agree totally. Have you? Does that justify a hermitlike withdrawal from political affairs?

4.) Don't put down Mississippi or I shall have to challenge you to a duel.

Posted by: Dave at November 4, 2004 08:20 PM

I have never found an organization, party or candidate with which I agree totally. Have you?

I tend to agree with myself most of the time.

Posted by: mock at November 4, 2004 08:40 PM

I also vote as an expression of principle.

I don't vote as an expression of principle. So why are your principles better than mine?

Voting allows people to express their principles whether they are rational or irrational.

Voting is an incredibly inefficient way of expressing your principles, if that's why you do it. The post you're responding to took me about as much time to write as voting would have (actually, probably less, given the vagaries of applying for an absentee ballot, familiarizing myself with the issues and candidates and then actually filling the damn thing out and mailing it back) and I'm quite certain that, although the readership around here isn't very big, the post has much more clearly communicated my principles and affected more people than my vote would have (CNN says Bush got 59,422,689 votes, and Kerry 55,902,001; would anyone have noticed if those numbers had been 59,422,690 or 55,902,002 instead?).

What would he do if he suddenly became absolute dictator? Immediately resign, I suppose.

Correct. I don't think anybody should be an absolute dictator, so it would certainly be hypocritical of me to accept the job.

What would you do if you suddenly became slave overseer? By your argument, I'm guessing you'd keep the job, rationalizing that you'd do a better job of it than the next guy.

Do you really believe that the power vacuum would go unfilled?

Alas, no. But if you give a steaming plate of meat to an ethical vegan, he'll refuse to eat it even though he knows somebody else probably will.

No political power? Quit dreaming. The imperfect system we have is much better than the truly horrible alternatives because there is a diffusion of power.

That's true. So why not diffuse power even further?

Posted by: shonk at November 5, 2004 12:24 AM

What's wrong with Mississippi?

I'll let Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James and Bukka White respond to that.

Posted by: Curt at November 5, 2004 04:45 AM

I tend to agree with myself most of the time.-mock
-----
Become a write in candidate, vote for yourself.


So why are your principles better than mine?-
Shonk
----
You oppose voting because it is futile. You have given good reasons for your opinion. If you thought that voting were effective in promoting good, you would vote. I don't see any principle involved here. Also the vote of an individual is not important. Voting is a social thing. A mass movement of voters is needed to get change. Voting acts as a surrogate for getting things changed by violence. No roadside bombs needed. Just get people to vote

But if you give a steaming plate of meat to an ethical vegan, he'll refuse to eat it even though he knows somebody else probably will.
---
That depends on how hungry he is and could be affected by a new situation like a potato famine.
Similarly, the situation today may warrant some controversy about voting vs. nonvoting among your milieu but others may disagree. A White Mississippi sheriff trying to explain your reasoning to Blacks who insisted on voting would make little headway.

Voting is an incredibly inefficient way of expressing your principles, if that's why you do it. I'm quite certain that, although the readership around here isn't very big, the post has much more clearly communicated my principles and affected more people than my vote would have.
----
Good point. I guess I should tear up my voter's registration card. But if Adolph Hitler ever runs for president I'm going to re-register and vote and so will you.

So why not diffuse power even further?
--
You've got my vote on that.

Posted by: Dave at November 5, 2004 09:30 PM

Dave, are you really convinced that groups of people with radically divergent cultural beliefs can't geographically separate themselves such that value systems don't clash to the extent of the status quo? Or, to put it another way, do you see any problem whatsoever with tens of millions of people mandating fundamental social policies discordant with tens and possibly hundreds of millions of others?

Belief that the will of the majority is somehow expressly benevolent seems to me utterly fatuous, its ubiquity notwithstanding.

Posted by: mock at November 7, 2004 07:24 PM

" groups of people with radically divergent cultural beliefs can't geographically separate themselves? "-Mock

This is difficult since they aren't making any more land.

" Or, to put it another way, do you see any problem whatsoever with tens of millions of people mandating fundamental social policies discordant with tens and possibly hundreds of million?"-Mock

Fortunately we don't have a democracy, like the Eurosocialist countries, where minority rights can disappear with a simple majority vote. Mechanisms were specifically put in place by the Founders to inhibit formation of a "mobocracy." Really the only solution is live and let live and benign neglect of "problems." That's not going to happen as long as people give so much credence to loud mouth activists.

Posted by: Dave at November 10, 2004 08:46 AM

Whether enacted by electorate or their chosen representatives, the fact remains that legislation at all levels is intrinsically exclusive. My point was that smaller, discrete communities might be able to minimize polarization when it comes to social issues. And if you think this can't happen without some magical land-generating apparatus, you may be right, but I tend to think most people are too absorbed in nationalist rhetoric to even give a passing thought to these kinds of hypotheticals.

Posted by: mock at November 10, 2004 11:03 AM

It appears to me small groups can be as tyrannical, petty and arbitrary as any nation.

About the best you can do now is join a subculture but you still run into societally mandated strictures, presumably agreed on democratically. Politics is unavoidable. Suppose I like to shoot at aluminum cans with an assault weapon. I can do so only because of the political power of the NRA. In many countries you would go to jail for owning a gun. I still can't shoot down town. I might have to move to Palestine or Iraq for that.
Or you could become a biker. But if you run over someone you still go to jail.
Or join a nudist colony. You still have to wear cloths when you go to town.
If you like cannibalism you may have some trouble exercising your freedom.

Posted by: Dave at November 12, 2004 07:54 AM
I rather like Virginia Warren's idea regarding letting people pay for votes...

And I rather wish that I had written that, or that I was even a NT! contributor, but that was Lynette Warren.

Posted by: Virginia Warren at November 12, 2004 03:41 PM

And I rather wish that I had written that, or that I was even a NT! contributor, but that was Lynette Warren.

Damn and blast! That's what I get for skimping on the proof-reading.

Posted by: shonk at November 12, 2004 05:11 PM