Friday, May 8, 2009

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

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Practice of Non-Voting

We have received several inquiries to our efforts of late, but among them one question emerges as such that cannot go unheeded. In preparing our response we find the task neatly admits a discussion of the oft proposed and long sought-for end point of our boycott already destined upon while also encompassing this initial query; a perfect opportunity and time for both. For in our present state we remain ignorant of the purpose, utility, or good reason of boycotting the two-party system (or truly any political system) even with fresh reminder of bloated corruption and decay.

One may fairly say that even if it stands as a poor system, riddled with both known and projected wickedness or ineptitude, it is not thereby proven as inferior, and thus worthy of revision, as compared to any other practicing formula. Coupled with this, a sober reader will perceive that any novel proposal contains within it inherent dangers in no way possible to foresee. The probability that we may find ourselves in a worse condition than before is in nowise phantasmagoric. Thus to the degree it is unrealized our reader is intoxicated by a powerful tonic of inaction. In this case reform from within appears far superior to even a meek revolution in form such as we propose. And so the nature of this question is such that we may never fully remove the ire of it, as like the heavy stone which sits upon our chest crushing the life out of us, immovable yet strangling all action; paradoxically this is totally resolvable only after the boycott has been assayed in practice.

Yet we have gained some familiarity with the alternative. We may only add to this that the two-party system represents a fundamental logical fallacy posed to the voter as a false dilemma. Only two options are represented as practicable, which in no way reflects properly all the true variables in question. In effect all remainders are treated as if totally reducible to zero. In the nature of vote counting we see an illustrative example of this: the individual’s intent counts for nothing – the only relevant data is that which may be equated to a number. When the two are taken together we see special conditions arise such that we may say the system itself fosters contradictions in our society.

Recognizing the false pretenses of our system is a task almost child-like in comparison to the decision of what action one should take in response to this determination. Even if one is cognizant of the self-effacement (compromise until any point of value is purged) one is bound to accept to work in the system and is able to cast off the politics of their birth, they will undoubtedly be doomed to wander aimlessly through humanity without ever finding their way in the distant points of the compass. Turning anarchist, watching the world pass bohemian, experimenting as communitarian, or indulging in a-political consumer-Epicureanism are the common end-points; yet one thing holds true with all: they seek to shirk responsibilities and escape inwards rather than confront the true problem of society (abandonment of society is the worst delusion). The unique condition of doubt is a force to be reckoned with once unleashed such that it may be the unexpected Frankenstein whom all too easily turns on its creator (or vice versa).

Ours is the apt response in the face of either cooption by the system, or escapism found in the luxury of personal fantasy – a rejection of the system without rejection of the world.

This view is in contradiction to the general conception of “civic gratification” parlayed in academic circles as the rational basis for what is otherwise deemed as the irrational act of voting (i.e. no direct benefit to the voter). The theory seeks a justification of the system by conjuring an explanation for why those who submit do so: the warm pleasure of “civic gratification.” Whence does this fluidic pleasure arise? It no doubt has more to do with the social status of voting in general and the perceived social acceptance resultant thereof than it does with a particular espousal of political views. Yet such justification cannot seamlessly mask the miasma and so a contradiction is inevitable. People confuse their frustration with the system as frustration with an individual party or candidate, even a single policy – they ascribe no systemic basis to their alienation. In order to address the perpetual estrangement we must obliterate the false sense of gratification and civic participation engendered in the system in order for us to reconcile ourselves to others. To counteract this we only need to introduce the self-evident truth of their cyclical separation.

Yet these academic ejaculations must be located in the broader context of a disillusioned and disaffected populace. Every electoral season, editorials in the local newspaper complain of voter apathy and cynicism. Even in the historic 2008 election, much-touted for its reach to previously spurned populations (anecdotal evidence surfacing as "human interest" pieces in the media of an elderly person voting for the first time in their life), 44 percent of eligible voters did not turn out. In off-year elections a majority of the electorate (referred in this theory as “free-riders”) already abstains from voting. Thus we see that a minority of the population who submit to voting hold the remainder of the people hostage to an inequitable system. It is elementary to note that any theory that eschews over half the voting age population is massively reductive and over-generalized such that its use as an explanatory model becomes negligible. Rather than any attempt to value or understand the “free-rider,” within the hypothesis they are written off all too easily. Thus we propose a more rational basis for the phenomena of voting, rather than some nebulous concept of civic gratification that applies to only a fraction of the population, we see empirical grounding for stark alienation as the proper justification for why people vote.

We see there is much left unknown in academic circles about the nature of voting.

At the root of this objection to a boycott of the two-party system we note the main protest is not precisely regarding the efficacy of the proposed plan (greater strategies have been executed in history), nor is it necessarily true that our opponents accept the current system (although lingering familiarity remains), but that there is a refusal to adapt alternatives to the current system. Our opponents thus do not truly reject the two-party system. There yet remains doubt as to the systemic nature of the abuse; or they delude themselves into thinking they can overcome from within – a fatal mistake.

As we arrive at the method, we discover the functions of the boycott are actually very simple to explain. This may come as no surprise as it has happened innumerable times in the past and recurs regularly in daily events all over the world. The only novelty in this regard is the application to our political context – otherwise it is thoroughly unoriginal.

In a discussion of how a boycott is to operate we may touch on a few particulars. Initially we may note that more political activism is required in abstaining and removing oneself from this system than accepting the default, reputed “participatory democracy.” This is only another proof of the true nature of our political system as designed to defuse and stabilize all political uncertainty in its diverse members. It acts to suppress individuated enunciation and compels conformity to preordained party line. Alternatively when we opt out of this system only then do we begin to participate in politics; specifically each issue is not thought out a priori (by the party) but must be contemplated and disposed of by the individual. Thus to the degree that our representative-democracy depends on participation this increases the status of democracy in the USA where parties may form freely among interested groups and people are not automatic in their political affiliation or thought.

In the same way that Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. saw non-violence as exactly not a passive response, the act of non-voting is a form of political fasting that is in no way a passive act. One fine example of function and success may be seen in the way that American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi has only days past won a hearing for appeal with the Revolutionary Court via a hunger strike. The essential operation performed is the same we advocate: an individual’s non-compliance by civil disobedience. We see enacted here the method of combating a large bureaucratic structure such as a government or corporation. It is a framework within which an individual may freely question or criticize these entities (its creation by our hands is a prerequisite for the freedom to challenge such institutions).

Finally we may say of the mode of its implementation that this boycott will spread across America exactly as a stormy cloud rolls over the land. In its locomotion, through osmosis and diffusion of matter, down to the atom and the outer rings of the electron, the appropriate elements will gather, catalyst will be reached and change will occur. The current conditions have prepared the way for such transmogrification in the frustration people feel toward the world built around them. And so our movement will be the cold front that blows over the hot tropic of seething discontent in America that prevails today.

Others that have lost hope will wait and see (the first will be their example). Detractors and zealots of the system may never see. But what is signally important is that everyone has held hope if only once in their lives for a change (we see recent success in Obama’s rhetoric); they all remember this if their mind is called to it, such that it has already happened in their minds once before and is not so hard to imagine it happening again.

The world is old, exhausted under the weight of its debasement, and so is used up. This does not mean we cannot be in our own selves pure, even as all the rest around us is bent on our being dragged down with them. We seek to settle a rupture between ourselves and the political measures under which we live. We leave as unanswered in this endeavor one last question of preeminence: Can people be brought together to this end? This will be taken up next time in greater detail, but briefly we may say that people will find common ground only in an apolitical party.

We seek to sway a body to move. We see a finger twitch in this inquiry. We will wait to see what else moves.