The U.S. election is coming and I’m not voting. I’ve voted once in a national election and now regret it. Voting in the U.S. is the consumate act of political self-degradation. It is submission to corporate power, big money, political machines and celebrity culture all in one. To vote in the national election is to say that I don’t have a problem with cynical propaganda, political hypocrisy and relentless media manipulation. A ballot cast is a vote in favor of the degradation of thought and language. It is a vote of approval for our Orwellian public discourse, a vote for more of the same next time. Exercise your freedom from the relentless degradation and homogenization of the corporo-statist big money-media machine: Don’t vote!
Yeah, I know, “corporo-statist big money-media machine”: it sounds a bit conspiratorial. But I don’t see a conspiracy at all. What I see is that elections have become a magnet for everybody that wants to manipulate, control, spew ideology, feed their ego, serve their own interests, deceive and bully. I have never seen so much dishonor and suspect motivations concentrated in one place.
The most amazing thing about the corporo-statist big money-media machine is that it has convinced us that voting is the ultimate exercise of our civil rights, our greatest expression of freedom. We believe that our moment of purest subjection is actually our moment of liberty. It must be true, because Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg, L.L. Cool Jay and Diddy have all told us so. The more sleazy advertising a campaign generates, the more free choice we must have.
National elections have made us intellectually moronic and emotionally barren. I know so many people that spend half of their lives bitter and enraged —literally sleepless, stressed and irritable–about things over which they have no control. They spend hours each day fuming at the TV and ranting to each other about the latest electoral development that they’ll forget after two days. We spew all of our impotent, stressed-out anger at election campaigns, which then feed on it, digest it, and feed right back to us in forms calculated to make us even more stressed and angry.
I try to escape by not watching the news and refusing to talk politics. But then I’ll say something–about some topic like evolution, or religion or the word “security”, or economics, or old people–and somebody will start getting angry at me because what I said sounds vaguely like the political rhetoric of a party they disagree with. Or they’ll say, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s totally right,’ because it sounds vaguely like the slogan of the party they agree with–which wasn’t my intention at all. If, by chance, I do manage to convey the nuance of my idea, nobody wants to hear it. It’s just irrelevant. Middle ground is ont desired. We only want only to hear, speak and even think only in terms of the dichotomies, slogans, choices and terms set by political campaigns. (For more nuanced thoughts along this line, read Tocqueville)
My refusal to vote has nothing to do with apathy or the fact that my vote won’t really matter. It has to do with the fact that any vote I make, for whatever party, is a statement that I am OK with the foul, reeking, cynical bullshit that gets passed on to us as the heart of our democratic process. It requires that I have spent hours degrading myself by listening to and thinking about the poisonous idiocy spewed by campaigns and pundits—idiocy designed to control and manipulate my opinions, to misguide and misdirect me, to obscure more than reveal. I much prefer to maintain emotional equanimity and personal independence.
Some people insist that I must vote for a candidate that I don’t like, just because the other candidate is so much worse. They say it is a basic civic duty. Some even insist that it is the only way to save the country from disaster and tyranny. If I respond that they are being excessive–that one person’s disaster is another’s redemption, and that we’ve already gone through dozens of national elections without a disaster, that the biggest problem is the electoral process itself–some will even start calling me names like ‘apathetic,’ ‘irresponsible,’ ‘head-in-the-clouds,’ ‘ignorant,’ ‘self-absorbed,’ and ‘arrogant.’ It is social coercion.
Is this idea that I have to vote, regardless of the worth of the process and candidates, really any better than a People’s Congress in someplace like China where everyone just votes yes for the proposed slate of candidates? The fact that the corporo-statist big money-media machine is divided into two factions doesn’t make any difference. Voting for either major candidate is a vote for the machine. If I want to enjoy and promote the virtues of living in a free country, I can think of no better way than not voting.
This has nothing to do about being undecided. If forced by gunpoint to vote for one of the two main candidates in the U.S. election, I would have no problem choosing. But I know that such a choice would not be based on any informed understanding of what is better for the country or better for me. I am enough of an historian to know that I barely understand the complexities of most policies, and that even policies that I think I do understand have consequences that extend far beyond their intentions. And the historical policies that I appreciate in the long run were not always associated with the candidates or parties I liked (an vice versa). And I certainly can’t learn anything substantial about the actual content of policies by listening to obscuritanist and diversionary campaign rhetoric. I know that the main motivation behind my vote would be that I viscerally dislike candidates who have the arrogant smirks and body language of jocks and stock traders. But the arrogant smirks and body language of nerds and intellectuals don’t bother me so much—I’m used to them (and probably have some of those tics myself). It’s a pretty lame reason for choosing a candidate. But most people become attached to candidates for similarly visceral and unconscious reasons. Indeed, the whole election machine is geared to cultivate and appeal to such reasons.
Voting for a minor party—the Greens, the Libertarians, the Socialists, the Objectivists, the Marijuana Reform Party—may seem like an better alternative, an active protest that ‘I’ve seen the major candidates but I do not choose them.’ But voting for a minor party still acknowledges that the election is the only game in town. And other people won’t see this as a principled statement, but only a confirmation that not voting for one of the main candidates is just a hopeless and pathetic waste of time and that people who do so are just nutball losers. Better to maintain my dignity and independence, and not take part at all.