2016 Election: Why there are times to boycott the vote

Voting: On the Transformation of a Procedure into an Ideology

Democracy, as embedded in the process of voting, is in its essence merely a means to an end. Democracy doesn’t guarantee good government, as the quality of the government would logically depend among other things on the people who get elected. But nevertheless, those who abstain from voting in the United States are subject not just to ridicule but also to accusations that we are responsible for everything from the death of manufacturing to the death of communities, as indicated in this summary from the National Association of Manufacturers:

As Election Day rolls around, ask yourself: Are you worried about job security? Then vote. Do you care about increasing jobs in America? Then vote. Do you or does someone in your family have a job that is part of the manufacturing sector? Then vote. Do you care about your community? Then vote! Voting may seem like a time-consuming hassle, but it is your civic duty.

Voting promoters are not content to stop with adult voters alone. Instead, the Public Broadcasting Corporation is invested heavily in brainwashing young children about voting through their recent Why Vote? Lesson Plan, in which PBS tells teachers that students should be given good grades if their works shows the following:

· Students should have completed all assignments and actively participated in all discussions.
· Students should have completed two satisfactory bookmarks encouraging adults to vote.
· Students’ bookmarks should be the evidence that indicates understanding of voting behaviors.
· Students should be able to list reasons why good citizens vote and how that affects all people.

We would do well to remember that this view of direct voting is relatively new, even in the United States. Federalists such as James Madison argued that direct election needed to be limited to its local context, and until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, even US Senators were not chosen by direct election; moreover, technically speaking, Presidents of the United States are not directly elected to this day. The reasons for this are well articulated by James Madison, who believed that republican forms of government checked the excesses of democracy, in The Federalist Papers Number 10:

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

Madison’s words echo Plato’s withering critique of democracy in The Republic, in which he compared voters in a democracy to sailors on a ship trying to steer for the captain:

Imagine then a ship or a fleet in which there is a captain who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but who is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and whose knowledge of navigation is not much better. The sailors are quarreling with one another about the steering—every one is of the opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation.

From these quotations it should be clear that Madison did not fetishize the vote as the end of good government; to the contrary, many influential and foundational texts in political philosophy viewed the popular vote with a critical eye? Why, then, is PBS teaching second graders to think that their non-voting Uncle Al is somehow an evil, evil man? The reason is because we have confused function with substance and ends with means; we have assumed that we can associate a process (voting/democracy) with the desired ends we wish to see coming out of that process (civil societies; the rule of law; civil liberties and civil rights). But in fact these ends which we would all agree are desirable do not necessarily come about through voting. There is of course the oft-cited fact that the Nazi party rose to power in Germany through a fair electoral process.

This is not to say that voting is always bad; rather, it is to say that voting is bad when it is conflated with all civil rights, when it is used as a tool to enforce complacency, and when it legitimates a process which subverts the liberties protected in a republic rather than encouraging them. In the current system of voting in the United States, gerrymandering ensures that our representatives, in effect, vote for us in congress rather than having us vote for them, since the majority party essentially sets their own constituencies. Moreover, we are rendered unable to gain information about local and national issues due to a national media that is controlled by huge like-minded corporations. And the two-party system ensures that none of this will change. The United States’s State Department criticizes China for being a one-party state and uses that criticism to validate the claim that China’s government is authoritarian. Yet would that not make a two-party state nearly as authoritarian as a one-party state, especially when there is such little difference in fundamental ways between the two parties? Doesn’t this logic indicate that the more parties that are allowed political participation, the more you have a state with substantive civil rights and liberties?

These are the reasons why we need to share our dissent with the US corporatocracy, with gerrymandering, and with the two-party system by Boycotting the Vote.

– Rudolf the Rocker


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