"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Building Bridges Between Anarchists and Non-Voters
Exclusive to STR
Some will say that this year's election season has been the most bitterly divisive in recent memory. The Iraq War continues to be divisive along partisan lines. "Illegal aliens," same sex marriage, and Presidential power grabs in the name of "fighting terror" are topics sure to provoke food fights at the Thanksgiving table. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans snipe at each other like hunters on the prowl, obsessing over any verbal gaffe and sniffing out scandal wherever it may hide.
So many ordinary citizens are getting caught up in the frenzy that it's a wonder they all don't choke on their own bile. They are the ones who will argue at the dinner table or the wedding reception, hoist signs, preen, parade and, uh, "Rock the Vote!" Yet plenty other folks couldn't care less, or they have other concerns that don't involve pigs in suits masquerading as "their" representatives. They are the ones who will not, uh, "Rock the Vote!"
According to figures from the US Census, the percentage of people who vote has gone down over the past few generations. Out of approximately 216 million eligible voters in 2004, 66% voted in that year's election, down from 74% in 1968's election. Even more interesting is this: in 2004, there were 73 million people who were eligible to vote but opted not to. We can safely assume that this number will be similar this year.
Question: Why does politics inflame so many people and turn off so many others? That's what we should ask on Election Day, rather than who will win the Congressional Popularity Contest? How could 73 million people, one quarter of the population of this country, deliberately choose not to vote?
Let's start by defining politics. At its most fundamental level, the state is a monopoly on "legitimate" violence. It has to be, or else it wouldn't function. Politics is basically the system by which that violence is channeled to get what certain people want. When we speak of "running the country" or "good government" or "strong leadership," we are speaking of politicians, interest groups, lobbyists, and certain voting blocs exercising coercion over other people's lives on some level under the cloak of "social contract."
Or it means having "representatives" do it for you, hence, the act of voting. We will see two different types of voters on Election Day:
First we'll see "activist" voters. They are the ones who will get excited over the prospect of "progressive change" or "protecting traditional America " or "homeland security." I don't just refer to the "Christian Right" or to "progressives," as even mainstream voters share activist tendencies. They don't really trust people to run their own lives; hell, they hardly trust themselves! They'll tell you that people "need to be governed" (most people don't). So through their vote, they authorize a like-minded politician to ban stem-cell research or same-sex marriage; to start welfare wars in the Middle East; to force young people to pay for Baby Boomers' retirement (i.e. Socialist Security); to build walls along the border to keep the brown people out; to maintain their favorite government programs, to set up all sorts of counterproductive economic regulations; and to torture Arabs in the name of "security."
They all have on thing in common: they all have a desire to expand State power to achieve their agendas.
On the other hand we have people who vote in self-defense; the ones who are dismayed by this arrogant display of state expansion and who vote for policies and politicians who they think will fight back against it. They comprise civil libertarians, anti-war groups, anti-tax groups, strict constitutionalists, and voters who are wary of "activist judges" and unitary executives and such. Despite their sometimes-libertarian leanings, there are plenty who really want some of the same things as activist voters, just not so much, and certainly not if their own rights are trampled over in the process. Hence you sometimes see Democrats and Republicans and the Libertarian Party masquerading as bona fide defenders of liberty.
A real self-defense voter is distinguished generally by a desire to curb expansion of state power -- to a point anyway. They still play by the rules set by the powers above.
And then we have those 73 million non-voters. The U.S. Census figures I listed earlier don't reveal many answers about them. They don't take into account the people who wanted to vote but couldn't, were just too lazy, or who felt they had no real choice. They don't distinguish between the people who are apathetic out of ignorance, and those who truly want nothing to do with the political system and its hubris.
But even so, we can see that millions of people are not enthusiastic about the political process!
They are often admonished by voters that if they don't vote, they have no right to complain; they supposedly had a choice over their governance and threw it away. Yet the very same people tell them that they are throwing away their votes if they exercise their choice in favor of, say, a third party candidate. Democrats and Republicans are seasoned experts at this. They champion choice unless you don't want to vote for either (or any) of them, in which case your choice is not valid and they mock you. Their arrogance is, of course, an extension of their favorite politicians' arrogance. It clearly shows how they view the State as a vehicle for getting their way regardless of other people's rights or preferences.
It's also a likely reason why so many people get turned off to politics in the first place. Upon encountering this kind of hubris, smart people realize that there is no real choice and voting amounts to little more than a neutered protest. The people who really run this country are not swayed by elections and certainly not by your individual vote.
You often hear people say that there is no difference between the Democrat and Republican parties; this is often the first step toward a richer understanding of things! You don't have to be fluent with Bastiat, von Mises, Rothbard, Mencken, Goldman, or even Jello Biafra to be a good anarchist. You just have to grasp a very simple idea: No one has the right to be another person's master, and no one has the right to be another person's slave.
The difference between non-anarchists and anarchists is the difference between choosing over who runs other people's lives, and choosing that nobody has the right to run anybody's life. But if you went out of your way to read this essay, you probably knew that already. Problem is, most people don't. Here we have a great opportunity to reach out to them. These non-voters may indeed be open to these ideas; they might "get it" more than your average statist. The problem is how to articulate anarchist ideas, our talking points, as it were.
With that in mind, here are a few to start with when talking to your non-voter friends over dinner:
1. Politics is a zero-sum game. In politics, one party wins and the other loses. In the free market, with voluntary exchanges, everybody is left better off than they were before.
2. Your individual vote doesn't count. You have to win a majority of votes to get some policy passed or someone elected; this majority amounts to little more than lynch-mob rule.
3. Only those who do not want to take responsibility for their own lives desire "strong leadership" and "government."
4. Logically speaking, no one can be your "representative" unless you explicitly make them so, through your vote or otherwise. And what if you end up losing faith in them? Hillary Clinton may be my state's Senator but she certainly doesn't represent me.
5. The free market is not some evil apparatus to make the poor serfs of the rich. Don't confuse "free market" with the corporate-fascist (read: socialist) system we face today.
6. Hold politicians and governments to the same moral standard as everyone else. If killing someone is a bad thing, then war is mass murder; if stealing people's stuff is bad, then taxation is theft and extortion, and so on. Nothing hard about that!
7. This one's for your Christian friends; pledge allegiance to God, not to the State, and certainly don't pray to a flag; that would be idolatry.
8. Politics obscures social issues that properly should be tackled by society, not bureaucrats. Bureaucracies are designed to maintain the status quo. Only individual people and civil society actually have the capacity to care about achieving social justice.
9. Politicians promise utopia with their programs and policies. We offer only freedom, and leave it up to you to do good for yourself and others within that framework. With that responsibility comes a bigger stake in working toward a better future.
10. Politics is based on force and coercion. Civilized people do not force themselves on others like cavemen. They use their words to appeal to others' minds and convince others of their position. You don't win a debate by giving the other person a bloody nose; that's how you win a match at WrestleMania.
11. And the most important principle: No one has the right to be another person's master, and no one has the right to be another person's slave.
Feel free to add or embellish upon these points as you see fit. I would also suggest the late Harry Browne's list of seven points because they're useful for breaking the ice.
Many people will get wrapped up in flames over this election, while others will remain cool as a cucumber. While it might be hasty to say that non-voters are anarchists in disguise, we can at least hope that non-voters may understand, at least on some level, that politics is pigshit. In the end, the burning question we pose is whether you feel other people should be allowed to run your life, or whether you should be allowed to run others, though politics, for whatever purpose or end desired. And the anarchist's answer is a resounding NO!
Let's use this time to offer that gift to the uninitiated.