Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Odd Fellow Societies

There is a perception, taken for granted, among mainstream "voting" America that people who don't vote are people who don't care. About the country's present and future, about liberty and high ideals, about their neighbors, about society in general - they just don't care one whit about matters of consequence. I can grant that this is likely true of most non-voters (and I would doubly assert that this is true of most voters as well). But for myself, I can say that it's because I do care that I don't vote.

For "voters" to think that I am the strange one, that I'm doing something unconscionable, or at the very least thoughtless, says to me only that they are relying on their prejudices. To me, they are the ones who are guilty of not thinking.

Why don't I vote? It's not because each individual vote "doesn't matter," as is commonly bandied about even by unsentimental voters. That's too easy an answer, and it embodies the very lack of care that non-voters are accused of. My vote may not matter, but neither does the "work" I do at my job, and yet I don't cease to go to the office.

It's not because I'm against the government, whether this government or any other that would leave me reasonably unmolested. Though I am against having any direct contact with a government, I am not against its right to exist. I believe in the social contract, that having accepted a place in this society, I ought to recognize some of the rules of the place.

I don't vote because I don't believe that it makes me a better human being or a better citizen. And in fact, it would make me worse in both respects, because it would mean that I'm bowing down to forces that I don't believe in.

I reflect on the words of Thoreau, once jailed for his refusal to support an American government that permitted slavery, and now a universally sanctified American hero:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like chequers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.
- Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government (aka Civil Disobedience)

(It baffles me that a thinker as anarchic and individualistic as Thoreau has come to be embraced by a culture that has withered to such a level of conformity and fearfulness as ours. But perhaps the times were just as bad in Thoreau's day, and such a society is apt to misunderstand what Thoreau meant and to adopt him as one of their own.)

What the quote doesn't say explicitly is that you don't vote for anyone or even any party. All your vote says is that no matter what the outcome of the election, you will accept it. Your vote is your buy-in voucher, saying that you support the system, no matter which figurehead stands atop it. You vote only for perpetuating the system, whether it be good or bad. I hear of Americans moving to Canada if their presidential choice is not elected - yes, I hear of it as a joke, not as a matter of serious deliberation.

In a representative democracy, what is a man to do when he alone represents himself? How can I in good conscience vote for someone who doesn't represent me? In the spirit of American self-reliance, I choose to stand outside of this fray, this mess hall of gluttons eating with their hands, who do not see that you cannot fix the system by working within the system. Maybe if enough people stood alongside me for the right reasons, and not because they don't care, then the country would see that there is another way to carry on without tipping over. They will see that we are not the strange ones. It is the mainstreamers, who work so hard to get us to buy in to their world-view, who categorically trumpet the virtues of democracy and capitalism, as if all human progress ended there, it is they who are the strange ones.

Why don't I vote? If I did, if like a good boy, I registered and went to the polls, would the guys in cheap baseball caps wielding clipboards leave me alone? Yes, they would. Because that's how little they care.

Wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run “amok” against society; but I preferred that society should run “amok” against me, it being the desperate party.
- Thoreau, Walden


Henry said...

Maybe I'll vote next year.

Czardoz said...

For president, right? Not of the USA, but of the New SA, right? Black House?