10.25.2006

Why I won't be voting

Author's Note: This essay is a statement of my personal opinion and is not meant to represent York Staters as a whole. For information about our positions, please check out our Mission Statement. -J

I've always been annoyed at 'get out and vote' ads, such as P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign last presidential election, as they seemed simplistic, over-paternalistic and patronizing. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of governmental participation and democracy, but I have serious problems with voting in modern America in general, and in the coming election specifically.

The root of the problem, you see, is that I find once-a-year voting to be incredibly disempowering. The rhetoric claims that the government gains its legitimacy and we gain our influence by, one day a year, checking a box. It is inevitable that in an overwhelmingly two party system, individual voices and true concerns are not articulated and the vote becomes a simple bellow.

Moreover, by making that five minutes in a voting booth the ultimate essence of political action delegitimizes the rest of the political process. Politics, as I see it, is the debate and conflict that occurs in any society over the future direction of that society--politics is inevitable. However, it cannot be boiled down to simply which party is in control or the nature of the candidates running for office because not all power is concentrated in the hands of those individuals. In particular, I believe that there are three key nexuses of power that direct politics in our modern state: the governmental sphere, the economic sphere and the social sphere. The governmental sphere is made up of the apparatus of the government, elected officials, bureaucrats, military officers, etc. Power in the economic sphere is diffused along every exchange of goods and services; in practice, however, the power (represented by money) in this part of our system is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The final part of the system is the social sphere, which is the most amorphous, but is involved in the interactions we have with others and exchange of opinions and ideas. Power is centralized in this sphere through the use of mass media and the manipulation of symbols by powerful individuals. Of course, there is tremendous overlap in all of these spheres and a particular individual may hold power in all or none of the three spheres.

So when we concentrate our attentions on a single interaction with the governmental sphere once a year (or once every four years for many), we ignore the potency that is held in our economic and social interactions. We delegitimize and marginalize the potency we have in our own minds and pockets. Vote or Die? A slogan like that is an insult to mine and your intelligence and strength as social actors.

Now, you might be saying "that's all well and good, but of course you can still vote once a year and then fight for change in other ways the other 364 days of the year." This is true and I have voted in every election, even school budgets, since turning 18. But it was never done as a duty and it was always done because I believed in one of the options as superior than the others. My vote lends the legitimacy of my voice to a particular candidate, if I do not believe in that particular candidate but am simply voting against the other person, I am giving false legitimacy, false reality to the other candidate.

I look across the slate of candidates available to me and I am, in general, disgusted. Yes, I am opposed to issues like the Iraq War and a Mexican Wall that many of the Republicans agree with--I'm certainly opposed to their rabid support of unregulated Capitalism. At the same time, I look to the Democrats and I see a body that seeks to expand a paternalistic, inefficient and disempowering centralized state. I want Universal Health Care, but I don't want National Health Care. I don't want callous bureacrats in Washington having any more control over my life than they do today.

Furthermore, I look to the issue that is most key to myself--the restoration of true healthy community in the places where I live--and I see the candidates falling flat. Where is the plan for Upstate? Where is the recognition of the dignity of our lives? The candidates who claim to "fight for Upstate" are really only bragging about their ability to steal federal or state monies from the Pork Barrel, hence from communities elsewhere. I'm not interested in supporting my community, so much as I am in supporting communities in general. I am disgusted by the competition that our cities are forced into, scrambling over the scraps left over from deregulation and consolidation. A candidate who boasts his ability to plunder the national store for my benefit obviously has none of the moral prerogatives that I have. Would Jim Walsh's thievery be such a good thing if I lived in Appalachia? Or rural Idaho?

So I'm not going to vote this election and I'm not at all troubled about it. I know that I will have my social and economic voice for social change every day of the year and it will be undiminished by my actions on that November day. I also know that I cannot with good conscience give the legitimacy of my vote to any of the thieves presented to us as candidates. I look forward to your comments.

-Posted by Jesse

13 comments:

NYCO said...

Although I plan to vote this year, I can see your point of view because I've been there when it comes to disgust in particular years. The truth is that we don't control who we get to vote on.

The candidates who claim to "fight for Upstate" are really only bragging about their ability to steal federal or state monies from the Pork Barrel, hence from communities elsewhere. I'm not interested in supporting my community, so much as I am in supporting communities in general.

But aren't some communities competing with each other? I mean, Westchester is a community, and it doesn't particularly care what happens to, say, Callicoon, where power lines are concerned. Can we really all be one big happy world?

As for voting, I suppose one could make an argument that the very act of voting helps keep us "civilized" and less inclined to rash and unstable actions. I think that's how it's being promoted to us when our high school teachers and civics professors tell us we should vote every year, not listening to the honest dismay over the non-choice choices. (And "Run for office yourself!" is usually the pat answer you get.)

If I had a chance to talk to Walsh I think I would say "Thanks for the pork, but now is not the time." Truly it's not the pork in and of itself (for pork is not illegal) that is worrisome to me, but the addiction to it.

Jesse said...

NYCO-
I'm aware pork is not illegal, it is after all the politicians who decide what's illegal or not. Of course, I know that you know this but its worth saying publically, legality of an action has only a rough correlation to the morality of an action. The Chinese government 'legally' enslaves the majority of its population, but I would argue that they have little ethical ground to stand on.

I agree with you though that not everyone recognizes the idea of our communities needing to interact on a basis of equality and respect. So, when powerful communities Downstate threaten our communities up here, I believe in using all of our political tools--governmental, social and economic--to oppose them. However, the plundering of CNY by Westchester and company doesn't ethically validate our joining in the banditry.

joe said...

"I've always been annoyed at 'get out and vote' ads, such as P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign last presidential election, as they seemed simplistic, over-paternalistic and patronizing."

They are 'patronizing', as you said, they are advertisements and packaged like any other product or service. Which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with voting or not voting.

Voting is a simple 'bellow' if it's seen as a singular act in isolation, if it's viewed as its packaged portrayal in the media. As it has been packaged and made an economic unit of exchange.

That's the deal 'though, isolate the constituents and undermine the power of Demos. The same way culture is packaged and disempowering to the Demos in modern economics.

Voting is a mob act, and when you buy into the individualization of it- you've bought the fiction advertised. You've only been disillusioned by the powerlessness of a fiction you've bought into, when you write an essay on the meaninglessness of voting because of your individual powerlessness on a single day or group of days.

Voting on that day is perhaps the only way to undermine the fiction of voting- as a solitary act in isolation.
If it's backed up by what a good congressman or senator can't convey; when communities are heard in the overlapping sphere of politics and economics each day as entities, which are unrepresentable on congressional floors.

The political/economic is one sphere, and it's the entity which destroyed your community, and its not going to restore your community to its 'true healthy' nature.

You, as an entity aren't going to restore your community either; regardless of who's voting or running. 'Legitimacy' isn't in the vote of an individual, nor is it in a member of a community.

AlZ said...

Don't be an asshole. Vote or I will stop reading your blog.

Jesse said...

I read through these last two comments and I have to laugh at the comparison between the two. AIZ- All I have to say is that I would rather stand by what I believe and be a little less popular than worry about whether someone who is so intolerant to thoughtful debate likes me.

As for Joe's comments, you bring up some excellent points. I find the 'vote or die'-type campaigns to be oversimplistic, patronizing and paternalistic because they claim to know more about what's good for me and what I should be doing ethically. That's the paternalistic side. The patronizing part comes from the fact that they generally speaking dumb down the process of politics from the complex social-governmental-economic web and pretty much claim that getting us (I'm referring to young people) out to vote is about as much as they can hope for. Finally, the simplistic side is tied to the idea that if we vote, all of a sudden we become important, which places the blame for social ills and oppression upon the oppressed. Blaming the victim.

You're right, though, that voting is portrayed in the terms of an economic transaction--it is framed in our dominant language of capitalism. The hyperindividualist culture of America wants to emphasize that "I" have an individual say in voting, which is ridiculous; as you point out, voting is a mob act. Community decisions are an aggregate of the voice of the community, which will never be as articulate as the voice of a single individual, but could be far more articulate than it is today when we have two preselected candidates. You say that my vote does not give legitimacy, and you're right, but the aggregate of my vote and the millions of others who also don't vote saps the legitimacy of the government. The problem is that we do not express the reasons we do not vote, which is what I'm doing here and now.

You're also right that the collusion between governmental and economic spheres destroyed my hometown of Johnson City (and so many others). But I think you're wrong to believe that by utilizing those spheres (and the social one) we cannot rebuild JC. There simply is no other way that it could happen. George F. Johnson, our City Founder, is not going to rise from the grave and lovingly pat our heads and give us a crust a bread again.

You're also right to point out that the governmental sphere and the economic sphere are linked. I tried to make a point of saying that, but it got lost within the essay I suppose. Of course they're linked, through powerful individuals who have both governmental and economic power and alliances between individuals. But that doesn't change the fact that in the USA today there is a distinct difference in the expression of power through the economic and governmental spheres of life. They're flavors of power here at Baskin Robbins.

joe said...

Voting doesn't legitimize power. A handful of the eligible could vote in each community and the same rhetoric of democratic representative-republic would be used to justify the position of the oppressors. In federal elections, the ones people show up for,(as we know but should be restated) most, half or nearly half of the eligible don't vote.

I suppose the point of my previous statement was lost. I can't imagine anyway besides voting that communities can undermine the political/economic dominance of federal/capitalist liberal democracy. There will be no mass insurrection or anything of the sort. The dominant model can't be lived outside of within the United States for any significant amount of time. So the only space for a community or communities has to be made from within the dominant structure.

I'm not voting either though, but for different reasons.

Mike Sylvia said...

Why am I wasting my time and money to run for Congress? I'd like to see people come out that otherwise see voting as a waste of time. Remember W. declaring his mandate with a split election(how many people staying home are there in a 'mandate'). No hard sell here, but I never knew how hard it is to just get on the ballot. From here onward I'll understand the work involved when I see a 'third party' on the ballot. For those who run for office, it is not a one day thing. While I will not win, I will and have had an opportunity to exchange ideas with many people. That is success.

Jesse, there is an excellent article that may help with the
vision of a caring libertarian outlook. It is taken from a talk
presented by John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods Markets.
http://libertyunbound.com/archive/2006_06/mackey-winning.html

Natalie said...

To sing the refrain of P.Diddy as represented by South Park:

"Vote or die, motha fuckas; motha fuckas, vote or die!" (guns blazing)

I will be voting (and not just for fear of bodily harm at the hands of P.Diddy)

ALZ said...

I apologize, Jesse, for my comment. I had trouble posting to your site last night (kept on getting a server 500 error???) and unfortunately my briefest but most shallow comment made it through. It sounds much more harsh in the light of day than I had meant it to sound - again I apologize.

As far as your decision not to vote, its yours to make. I sympathize with your discouragement with the political system however I don't see this post as an argument against voting as much as a personal statement of your frustration with the "system". Its difficult to argue with the fact that our communities, esp. in Upstate NY, are really screwed up. But is this an indictment of participatory democracy or is democracy itself being undermined by other factors such as the "economic sphere" (which I believe it is)?

Natalie said...

This post got some ink from Phil over at Still Racing in the Street

Will be voting in Hudson next week said...

There's plenty to be cynical about with our political system but understand that your decision not to vote has ramifications. Nonparticipation in the electoral process (for whatever reason) is the cause of low voter turnout. Low voter turnout aids Republicans, which is why they do whatever they can to suppress the vote.

Do you like the current Republican Party control of all branches of government (tantamount to one-party rule)? Then by all means, stay home, don't vote, and hand the election right off to them. But don't complain afterwards - you will have given up that right.

Also, especially in such an incredibly crucial election year with so much at stake, voting for a third-party candidate or writing "none of the above" also effectively aids Republicans (witness the way the Nader vote only aided Bush, not Gore).

Do you want to make the Republicans "proud"? Then by all means - vote for the third party or write in none of the above.

There are real differences between the philosophies of the Republican and Democratic parties. (I think your dismissive characterization of the Democrats is too sweeping.) For an excellent articulation of what progressive Democrats generally stand for, read "Don't Think of an Elephant," by George Lakoff.

FRQSTR=19295597|19295597|19295597|19295597|19295597 said...

There's plenty to be cynical about with our political system but understand that your decision not to vote has ramifications. Nonparticipation in the electoral process (for whatever reason) is the cause of low voter turnout. Low voter turnout aids Republicans, which is why they do whatever they can to suppress the vote.

Do you like the current Republican Party control of all branches of government (tantamount to one-party rule)? Then by all means, stay home, don't vote, and hand the election right off to them. But don't complain afterwards - you will have given up that right.

Also, especially in such an incredibly crucial election year with so much at stake, voting for a third-party candidate or writing "none of the above" also effectively aids Republicans (witness the way the Nader vote only aided Bush, not Gore).

Do you want to make the Republicans "proud"? Then by all means - vote for the third party or write in none of the above.

There are real differences between the philosophies of the Republican and Democratic parties. (I think your dismissive characterization of the Democrats is too sweeping.) For an excellent articulation of what progressive Democrats generally stand for, read "Don't Think of an Elephant," by George Lakoff.

Jesse said...

Everyone, in an attempt to consolidate discussion, I will be moving my comments from here on out over to Natalie's post While I will be Voting