"Don't forget to do your civic duty: vote Tuesday, November 4th."
No. No. Voting is not your civic duty. To the degree that you have a civic duty, it is to work to improve the situation of the collective (neighborhood, city, state, nation, world - the organized collection of people around you). Voting is not only tangential to that goal, but it could be argued that it is actually counter-productive.
The political system is corrupt - or, even if not exactly corrupt, at least unable to progress the well being of our collective (again, that can be taken at any political level you wish, but for this discussion we will be looking at national politics). Everyone, no matter what her/his political persuasion, always votes for change . . . even incumbents claim to have the "experience" to be able to affect "real change" within the political system. Political change, however, is a pipe dream. The political system functions above all else to ensure its own existence, and to do that, it must maintain status quo. One would think that serving the interests of the populace would be in the best interests of the political system, but that is demonstrably not the case a significant part of the time.
There are always tensions in a democracy: the rights of the few and the wishes of the many, the individual versus the state, the ever shifting horizon of colliding personal freedoms (my freedom to blow Motorhead as loud as I want, anytime I want, versus your freedom to live in peace and quiet). The best way to maintain the precarious balance of the system is to always have citizens who aspire to change believe that change is possible, while eternally postponing the change. Think of the alliance between neo cons and religious conservatives: what would happen if a conservative administration actually managed to get abortion outlawed? Where would that leave the alliance? No doubt many religious conservatives would still stick with the Republican party out of loyalty, but the most issue oriented leaders of the movement would be on to the next issue. What if, after the conservative view of "sanctity of life" is enacted, the religious leaders moved on to the environment, or fighting poverty? Obviously, the connections between the religious conservatives and the neo cons would be strained to the breaking point . . . and, lest you think that's a far-fetched scenario, note that the Republicans will lose some of the fundamentalist Christian vote for exactly those reasons even in this election.
The political system must provide the illusion of choice to keep the citizen invested. To do that, it promises to "change" the things which the populace asks to change, to the point when "CHANGE" itself becomes more important than any actual issues. Once the abstract idea has replaced the specific issue, then the citizen becomes invested in the system that embodies the abstract idea, which is in turn perpetually driven precisely by that which it will not achieve. Our choices, to the degree that we have them, are usually between McDonald's and Burger King.
It is no coincidence that true men of conscience and the desire to do good, such as Jimmy Carter, are often "failures" as president. I believe it is Carter's unwillingness to fully capitulate to the political system that led to his defeat in '80. I also believe that it is no coincidence that Jimmy Carter has done much more for our nation, and for the world as a whole, after he left office. The system is built to resist change.
All true change must happen outside the normalizing influence of the political system. We may oppose the fundamentalist Christian stand on abortion, but talk with a younger fundamentalist, and you may find that you agree on the environment. So, why not join forces to change environmental law? Form coalitions. Protest in the streets. Organize awareness campaigns. Take the fight to the courts. INVOLVE IN DIRECT ACTION. LEAVE THE POLITICAL SYSTEM BEHIND. Ultimately, most of us have many beliefs in common, once we get past our own selfish interests, and the culture warriors who exploit our fears and biases.
It is here where voting becomes counterproductive. If the choice is between McDonald's and Burger King, then a vote for either one is a vote that perpetuates the defective system. In Zimbabwe, when it became clear that Robert Mugabe had no intention of letting Morgan Tsvangirai win the election, citizens abandoned the government (to the degree that they could, anyway). A citizen of conscience would not vote if he/she believed that vote to perpetuate a destructive system.
In Defense of Voting
- Sometimes, there really is a lesser of two evils. In 2000, I did not vote for Al Gore because I did not see a difference between a centrist Democrat and a centrist Republican. After all, Bill Clinton moved to the right at the speed of light as soon as it became clear that is how he could hold on to office. Clinton loosened business regulations, cut back on the government's social safety net, and bombed the hell out of a European country. By the time he was done, he was somewhere to the right of Nixon. I had no reason to believe that Gore would be any different, and given the number of Nixon people in Bush's orbit, it seemed like Nixon versus Clinton. Of course, hindsight being 20/20 . . .
- There is, on rare occasion, the opportunity to vote for someone who clearly is better for the country, no matter how much that candidate is still (necessarily) invested in the current defective political system. It is foolhardy to expect ANYONE invested in this system (to the degree that they would actually run for office - and that includes people like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph "Don Quixote" Nader) to be able to change the system, but it is possible that people can be elected who would not stand in the way of a change from outside. It's difficult to know who these people are, because they don't align cleanly with any political philosophy: I would, for instance, vote for Dick Lugar before Hillary Clinton, for even though I agree with Clinton on more of the "issues", Lugar has proven to be a politician who looks for answers that don't necessarily come from within the political sphere (of course, it helps that Lugar is so popular in Indiana that he has run virtually unopposed for the majority of his political career). That is not necessarily a dig at Clinton (I like her much more than I like her husband); it just seems that Clinton is stuck in the American bi-partisan political rut in a way that Lugar is not.
- Of course, always vote in local elections, if nothing else. Gotta keep those creationists off the school board and in their churches where they belong.
Well, that's it. I had planned to flesh this out and really do it right (maybe drag Badiou into it), but I shot from the hip instead. I'm tired of politics, I'm tired of writing about politics, and I'm really tired of this election. I'm dashing this off so I can stop writing stuff that annoys even me. It's about time I kicked back, took a shot of Old Fitz 90 proof, brewed myself a mug of hot tea, and played some guitar. If you have to have more, here's that notorious commie wackjob Howard Zinn touching on the same issues (thanks to Dan Willems for posting this video where I could see it):
There you have it. Now that's over. I've taken my shot, I've got my tea, I've got my resonator, I think I'll start it out with a little Son House, "Pearline"
Yeah, that's the stuff. Next post will be about Motorhead. Or not.