Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In Defense of Non-Voting

So, since it’s Election Day now, I thought I might as well address a few of the platitudes about voting we always seem to be told. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve filled out (and now mailed out) an absentee ballot, so I’m not making excuses for myself here—rather, I’m just countering some of the propaganda that I hear floated around and that I think is truly damaging.

First is everyone’s favorite, “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” Now, George Carlin addressed that point (in a video I already linked to in my post about Russell Brand), and he did so more amusingly than I probably can, but I’d like to actually address it seriously. What sort of screwed up logic is this? And I don’t mean that as a joke—seriously, how can anyone believe something so bizarre and absurd? You know, North Korea has elections—you just don’t have a real choice in terms of who you’re voting for. No one would dream of telling North Koreans that if they don’t participate in those show elections, they have no right to complain. Now, obviously, we live a country much freer and much happier than North Korea (thankfully), but let’s be honest—our elections don’t offer that much of a choice, either. It’s pretty much a proven fact at this point that a lot of government policy is not going to be changed very substantially regardless of who wins the next elections.

So, of course, if you don’t vote, you still have a right to complain. You could complain, for instance, about how we have a system in which things really pretty much stay the same, regardless of whether you vote or not. Among the many reasons you could have for not voting is that the candidates are both too inimical to your values for you to offer either your support; shouldn’t you have a right to complain if our “democracy” produces candidates that offensive to your values? The old “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain” cliché is essentially taking for granted that if you do vote, there really is some chance that you’ll get the result that makes you happy—but that’s not the system we live under.

Another piece of brilliance that reliably crops up is that there are so many people out there who would give anything to be able to choose their government’s leaders, and so it’s disrespectful to them to throw away your opportunity to do so. Again, this is assuming that there is a real choice, and, in a lot of ways, there isn’t. We Americans are living under a government that is largely not accountable to us—we are part of the world that is unable to actually choose its own leaders, because no matter who we elect, the same group of corporate plutocrats will be there to influence their every decision.

Then there’s the whole thing about how voting is our “civic duty.” Duty to whom, exactly? The government? A government as unrepresentative as ours has no right to demand anything of its citizenry. To our fellow citizens? That’s just silly—they all have the right to vote; if one more person decides they want to stay out of the political process, that should be good news to everyone who decides to participate—it’s just one less vote in the whole system, and that makes all the ones that do get cast have that much more influence on the result. Is it our duty to ourselves to vote? Perhaps that argument would be convincing if the only reason not to vote was really out of laziness, but there are a lot of other reasons, and if you really can’t bring yourself to support anyone who’s running, you’re hardly doing yourself any favors to sacrifice your principles and vote anyway.

All of these arguments are predicated on the idea that we live under a system that really does give us an opportunity to choose our government and make a real difference, but in a lot of ways, that’s just not true. The voters have some influence, obviously, but a lot of the big decisions are out of their hands. The reason people abstain from voting is not necessarily because they’re just too lazy to inform themselves and do so; a lot of the time, it may just feel like an exercise in futility. And in many ways, it is.

So, you might ask, after saying all of this, why is it that I myself voted? Well, it does have some influence, minor though it is, particularly on a more local level (and many of the offices and issues I voted on were, in fact, rather local). I’m not encouraging non-voting, because, particularly when we have a political party that’s gone as absolutely off-the-rails insane as the Republicans have at this point, it does make some difference who wins. But I’m always going to be a voter who sympathizes with those who don’t vote as an act of protest, because I agree with them that there’s a hell of a lot that will stay the same no matter who gets elected. Perhaps the one thing to keep in mind as a bizarre sort of consolation is that, regardless who wins this election, we’re still pretty screwed as a country.

No comments:

Post a Comment