To Those Who Vote, and Those Who Don't

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"Democracy is two wolves and a sheep, debating what to have for lunch."

-- Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, James Bovard, and others  

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Strike The Root has an official position on voting: don't do it. For those who have never encountered such a position before, STR offers a long page of links to essays on non-voting, including some written specifically for this website. An 1877 essay by Lysander Spooner is also featured; Spooner's more famous No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority is worth mentioning as well.  

As a way to expand your mind (remember when "liberal" actually meant being open-minded, at least in part?), and in particular to help you consider the evils of using coercion against others to get what you want ("they oughta pass a law"), I commend these essays on non-voting to your attention. The most important argument boils down to this: Voting, and indeed the entire political system, is simply a way to legitimize theft and coercion, mostly by the ruling class.  

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Another argument against voting is that your vote is a waste of time: the odds that your vote will determine the outcome of the next presidential election, for example, are far lower than the odds that you will win the Powerball Lottery and retire rich. People actually do win lotteries, but even city elections decided by a single vote are almost unheard of.  

Your specific vote will not do much good, then, and neither will it do much harm. It won't do much of anything.  

Voting is a secondary problem, in other words. The system of coercive government itself is the real problem.  

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Democracy is the modern version of "the divine right of kings": a scam designed to keep the elite in power, and rich, by getting the rubes to believe in the legitimacy of their own enslavement. Voting is the sleight-of-hand that provides an illusion of fairness for an inherently unfair system based on force and fraud.  

The voting illusion hides an important truth: that using coercion against others is evil regardless of how many people may have voted for it.  

Every lynch mob has a majority over its victim; Aryan Nazis outnumbered the Jews in Hitler's Germany ; whites in America outnumbered blacks when slavery was legal. "Majority rule" is a prescription for horror unless every person has the same clear and basic rights as every other--yet the natural tendency is for individual rights to be eroded as special interests push for ever-more encroachment on others.  

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America 's founders created a republic instead of a pure democracy in order to ensure that most areas of life would be untouchable by the electorate, by the politicians, and by special interests. That was the idea, at least: create specific, limited, clearly-defined areas where government could operate, with everything else forbidden to government. The people themselves insisted on adding a Bill of Rights to strengthen this protection.  

Even with the government structured as a limited republic and with the Bill of Rights added, things eventually got out of hand--to a horrifying extent.  

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Voting hides (at least, for those who do not look closely) a stunning fact: that nearly everything a government does--even a democratic government--is done without any vote by citizens. Most government actions and policies are initiated by political and bureaucratic decree. For example, the FDA has spent decades working against your interests and mine by "protecting" us against our will (or at least against mine) from perfectly safe products* while approving competing products that are, in many cases, far less safe.  

Did you get to vote on whether the herb stevia could be used to sweeten your diet soda? No, of course not; the FDA banned stevia by decree. Stevia is a natural sweetener with a 400-year safety record, approved and widely used in South America , Japan , and elsewhere. Decades after the 1991 ban, the FDA still forbids stevia as a sweetener in drinks and other products, while allowing high-profit chemical sweeteners like aspartame (which breaks down in the body to, among other things, poisonous methanol and formaldehyde) and sucralose, an organochloride with its own problems as a food additive. You and I may not like the FDA's action here, but it does make a few big corporations happy. With competition from a natural product forcibly banned (except, in recent years, as a "supplement"), oceans of money flow to corporate coffers for patented non-natural sweeteners.  

The basic principle here is that government power gets co-opted by special interests (usually corporations), even when the power in question is supposedly being used to protect citizens from the corporations.  

Think the stevia/aspartame saga is unusual? Not at all. The FDA has recently busied itself threatening cherry growers who dare quote from government-funded studies about the health benefits of cherries (this simple act of honest free speech, says the FDA, somehow turns the cherries into "unapproved drugs"). An example from another agency: the USDA actually prevents cattle ranchers from testing their own cattle for Mad Cow Disease (see also here and, for a story dated May 29 2007 , here).  

Even funding scientific research with government money causes harm, as Dr. Donald Miller describes in his recent The Trouble With Government Grants. Government funding of research sounds great, but it eventually causes serious, systemic, and long-term problems. As always, government power corrupts and destroys.  

Back to the FDA: Between approving drugs that should never have been marketed (Tambocor, Vioxx, Avandia, etc.), working to prevent consumer knowledge of the benefits of healthy foods and supplements (as with cherries), banning or reducing availability of safe and effective alternatives to expensive and often dangerous pharmaceuticals (stevia as a sweetener, tryptophan as a sleeping aid, for examples), and by other methods, the FDA causes great harm to Americans. William Falloon at the Life Extension Foundation has called the FDA "the number one cause of death in the United States," and he backs that up compellingly.  

There are plenty of honest, sincere, and competent people working at the FDA (and one can say the same about people teaching at public schools or in any other government organization), but the system of coercion itself ensures negative results, regardless. The best way to ruin the honest efforts of sincere, well-qualified people is to hire them into a coercive government agency. The coercion attracts and enables corruption, despite efforts to the contrary by many employees.  

Furthermore, government power encourages and enables the worst corporate conduct generally. Imagine any war-profiteering corporation (or war itself!) without government contracts. Imagine Monsanto trying to ban the natural competition to NutraSweet (aspartame) without an FDA. Imagine Halliburton without those concentration camp contracts (oops, they're only "detention camps." I feel so much better now). Without forcible government, all of these corporations would either be doing something customers were willing to voluntarily pay for, or they would be out of business.  

Whenever government decides "do something"--including when it decides to protect us from special interests--the situation is reliably made worse. This is true whether citizens have voted for the new action or not. To say it yet again: It is not so much voting that is the problem but rather coercive government itself; voting is merely one of the more theatrical elements in perpetuating government coercion.  

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That you can vote for a politician who might or might not decide to install a different FDA bureaucrat (or who might be one of hundreds in Congress who might consider voting on a different bureaucrat), who in turn might or might not be more likely to return some of your freedom to you, is beside the point.  

Worse, when you vote for a politician based on what he or she promises (as opposed to voting on what they have actually and consistently done in the past), you are almost certain to be disappointed (i.e., you have been lied to). In campaigning for the 2000 election, Bush promised a humble foreign policy, with no "nation building" and no attempt to police the world. He made no mention of his plans, already underway before the 2000 election, to invade Iraq. And that's in addition to allegations of election fraud, which may have already been arranged for 2008.  

Millions voted for Democrats in the 2006 election, believing that Democrats would stop the war/occupation in Iraq and begin dismantling the Patriot Act and other recently-enacted police-state legislation. Predictably, those voters have been disappointed, because the Democrats (now a majority in Congress) have done nothing to stop America 's war machine, to prevent torture, or to return freedom to this nation. With last month's passage of a $100 billion funding bill to continue the war, a great many Democrat voters are now waking up to just how useless their vote really was. Worse than useless, really, because the two major parties are, realistically, just two cosmetically-different wings of a single corrupt, big-power, pro-war party. By supporting the Democrats, people have supported the very tyranny they hoped to end.  

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There is one clearly-defined situation in which voting is morally defensible and potentially useful in the real world (despite the negatives discussed above and below). That situation occurs whenever one is offered a chance to vote for a release from tyranny, or to release others from tyranny, or to prevent a new or expanded tyranny. By voting for either a specific freedom-enhancing action or for a candidate with a long record of pro-freedom action, you are turning the tables on the system; using the vote to possibly reduce tyranny rather than increase it. Even a partial release from tyranny (a lower tax rate, for example) or prevention of a slight increase in tyranny is positive and worthwhile.  

Here is an obvious and extreme example: You are a slave. There is unrest among the slaves, and to calm things down, your masters, confident that most slaves have been propagandized into fearing freedom, decide to hold a vote.  

Please vote for one of the following, or abstain:  

  • - Keep me enslaved.

  • - Release me from bondage.

Clearly, by voting "release me from bondage," you are simply standing up for your rights as a human being. Every person has the right to live free, and saying so (even in a voting booth) is perfectly moral and natural.  

Yes, it is bizarre and offensive that you would have to submit such a request to your masters in the form of a vote, and that answering "yes, release me" would have no effect unless a majority of other slaves voted the same way. Yes, your single vote is unlikely to affect the outcome. Yes, the odds for success are probably poor. Yes, the vote could be rigged. Yes, all sorts of things. But none of that makes affirming your desire for freedom (even from within a voting booth) immoral or aggressive in any way. If your vote specifically seeks to reduce tyranny or to prevent added tyranny, you have a right to that action.  

If the example above is too far-fetched for you, imagine a slightly different scenario: You are voter in the old American South and your state has a proposition on the ballot to repeal slavery. What do you think: would voting to free the slaves be a bad thing?  

The point is simple:  

  • - Most voting involves increasing, re-arranging, or simply affirming theft and other tyranny

  • - Occasionally, however, one gets to vote to reduce or end tyranny 

Even in the second instance, it is worth considering the "voting legitimizes tyranny" argument. As I pointed out earlier, voting is the sleight-of-hand that makes the State appear legitimate. This is a serious factor in keeping people under the thumb of the power elite, and it is a factor worth pondering every time we think of heading for the polls.  

Yet, because your specific vote has almost no effect at all, this is a very weak argument for not voting against tyranny. The election will happen with you or without you; the pseudo-legitimizing effect of voting will not disappear because you refused to vote.  

At the same time, there is a strong, natural, and healthy desire to express opposition to tyranny. That isn't the same as saying your vote will be the deciding factor; of course it won't. But your opposition to the current war won't likely be a deciding factor, either. Individuals who opposed the war in Vietnam were in the same situation; where government tyranny is concerned, individual actions almost never make even a ripple at the larger level.  

As a group, however, things change dramatically. When enough individuals act in defense of freedom, the effect becomes profound. Together, many individuals are powerful. When enough people stand up for what is right, tyranny falls, as Marcos fell in the Philippines, as the Czech Communist dictatorship fell during the Velvet Revolution, and as British rule over India fell to non-violent resistance by millions of ordinary citizens.  

Each individual in those three situations faced the same reality that we do today, both in and out of the voting booth: one person is nothing, but many people acting together are powerful, indeed.  

This is a natural, built-in part of life. The differences between the individual and the group underpin the human need for both freedom and love: We are all separate individuals and yet we are all brothers and sisters. We are each unique, yet we are all one.  

The power of individuals acting as a group can be seen very dramatically in the natural world. If you have the time, consider watching this amazing short video (8 minutes 23 seconds) of lions taking a young water buffalo, only to have the herd eventually surround the lions and rescue the victim, who actually walks away. One water buffalo – even an adult – is lion food. Many water buffalo acting together become something else entirely.  

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I am a complete abolitionist regarding forcible government, yet I sometimes vote, and the dynamic outlined above shows why.  

For now, forcible government exists whether I like it or not. My personal answer to the conundrum of voting is to limit voting to those exceptional times when a clear and dramatic chance for reduction in tyranny (or prevention of new tyranny) is on the ballot. The odds don't have to be good; my vote will not make much difference at all; and I realize that to some extent the act of voting legitimizes (or rather, is seen as legitimizing) the tyranny I am seeking to reduce. But the chance to support a dramatic and unambiguous reduction in tyranny is sometimes, to me at least, stronger than the arguments against voting – especially because it is sometimes effective, as with California 's Proposition 13 (1978) which reduced property taxes an average of 57% and capped them at 1% of assessed value. Prop 13 also requires "a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates," as the WikiPedia article linked above puts it.  

Is that the same as "freedom from tyranny?" Of course not, although it was certainly a reduction in tyranny, at least for awhile. California has managed to increase tax revenues and intrusive government meddling generally by other means since the passage of Prop 13. Like rust, tyranny never sleeps. But many thousands of families have been spared the trauma of being taxed out of their homes in California , and that, combined with even a temporary reversal in the growth of overall taxation in our most populous state, is surely a good thing.  

Anarchists did not bring this about; voters did.  

Here is a similar example you have perhaps faced yourself: Your county or town is considering a large increase in property taxes. This would cause hardship for many residents and would almost surely cause some to lose their homes. Even aside from that, it would involve using coercion (threats of force, backed by police with guns). The official position is that if politicians can get enough people to vote for the higher tax, then those politicians have the "right" to impose the higher tax on everyone – including those who voted against it, those who did not vote, and those who cannot afford to pay.  

This is simply gangsterism in disguise, and not only would voting for the higher tax be aggression against one's neighbors: not voting against the tax increase could be seen as, if not aggression, then at least as callous disregard for the potential victims of the tax increase. An argument can be made that the compassionate action would be to lend one's vote to the side of non-aggression by voting against the tax increase.  

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It is worth repeating that anarchists and other anti-voters have yet to succeed at freeing us from the State and creating a free society. Hundreds of years have passed since Etienne de la Boetie published his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude in 1548 (to pick an especially famous tract), yet tyrants still rule the Earth.  

Anarchists and other voluntaryists will never succeed until far more people understand the importance of love and freedom. Coercion is an affront to both love and freedom, and only when enough people understand that will we make real progress. This makes it not only moral and sensible, but critically important to support educational campaigns that teach the benefits of eliminating much or all of the coercion we now suffer from.  

How to do that, for people who currently think the State could solve all our problems if only it would do more?  

Libertarian political campaigns (no matter the actual party), especially in those rare cases where they get substantial press coverage, are the by far the largest and most effective such educational campaigns – nothing else, including columns at STR or LRC or anywhere else, has the breadth and impact of even a short interview on a national television channel with a candidate who clearly speaks the truth.  

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How many people read columns at Strike The Root each day? It isn't possible to say (so far as I know; Alexa and other rating services are hardly precise), but while STR is a very well-known and popular site, with visitors from many countries around the world, I'd guess the audience is small compared to the audience for national television.  

How many of those STR visitors are already pro-freedom believers or activists?  

"All but a handful" would be my guess. 55% of those participating in an STR poll said they were current or past members of the Libertarian Party or were considering joining the LP. Of the 45% remaining, I would be surprised if most weren't self-described anarchists, voluntaryists, or other libertarians who simply avoid political parties. The total number of votes: 334, a not-atypical number for STR poll responses.  

In contrast, how many people saw Ron Paul make Rudy Giuliani and the other GOP candidates look like the war-mongering, pro-torture, would-be tyrants that they are, in the two recent debates? (Here are links for clips of Paul's responses at the MSNBC and Fox News debates). How many heard him say that most of the current government is unconstitutional (i.e., illegal)? How many heard Paul talk about abolishing most cabinet-level agencies (including the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, and the Department of Homeland Security, for starters), along with the IRS? How many people saw a sitting U.S. congressman explain why the U.S. government's own foreign policy is causing America to be targeted by terrorists?  

The answer is: "Millions." And millions more saw post-debate analysis and discussion on the major networks.  

Not to mention Paul's 24.5 minute televised speech to the House [all links in this paragraph are to video clips] on Dissent in a Time of War (". . . the effort to overthrow State oppression qualifies as true patriotism"), his interview on CNN 5/20/07, his March 2007 appearance on Bill Maher's show (where Paul explained why we would all be safer without the CIA ), and numerous other appearances. Paul is also getting discussion time on shows like “The View” where four panelists, including a very respectful Rosie O'Donnell, gave the candidate and his views several minutes of mostly-positive air time in his absence. (Rosie left “The View” shortly after this event, reportedly at her own request).  

How many of Rosie's typical viewers would you suppose are anarchists or libertarians? How many of those viewers are regular visitors to STR or LRC? "Not very many," would be my guess on both counts. There is every reason to believe that nearly all of those who saw Paul on television recently, and not only discussion of him on “The View,” are exactly the mainstream, DemoPublican, brainwashed, pro-government adults we need to be reaching.  

We cannot deprogram people from a lifetime of pro-government propaganda unless we find a way to at least talk to them. Ron Paul is doing exactly that, and he is talking to millions of people. His next scheduled major appearance is the New Hampshire Republican Primary Debate, Tuesday, June 5th. See your local listings for time.  

It doesn't end with television, either. Clips of those debates, speeches, and interviews are being viewed by millions more people on the Internet, thanks to YouTube, Google Video, and other sites.  

Because Paul is running as a Republican (instead of as a Libertarian, as he did in 1988), he is getting enough coverage to have a real effect. The power elite is going crazy trying to figure out how to block or neutralize this coverage, because every time Paul opens his mouth on television, the business-as-usual candidates and incumbents suddenly look even worse than they did previously.  

Ron Paul's candidacy is the most powerful force deligitimizing government power in America today. This is something to celebrate, not – as some anarchists are doing – complain about.  

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None of this means Ron Paul is going to win the presidency or even get the GOP nomination. On the other hand, Gambling911.com recently dropped the odds for Paul from 200 to 1 to 15 to 1, calling Ron Paul (in a story featured on their home page) "a serious contender whose grass roots campaign is growing dramatically."  

Still, I would consider it a miracle if Paul found himself in the White House after the election. I'll need CPR if he even gets the GOP nomination.  

And even a Ron Paul presidency would leave us a very long way from being a free society. But wouldn't it be great to see movement in the right direction for a change?  

We have to start somewhere. Getting millions of Americans excited about their heritage of freedom, and giving them a practical and growing focus for that excitement, is an excellent place to start. Far better to see people learning about libertarianism (even if it's the small-government, non-abolitionist variety) than to see them sinking deeper into the coercive-socialist, mainstream DemoPublican paradigm where the only solution to any problem is more government.  

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Conclusion  

The reason for discussing this topic now is twofold:  

First, to encourage Democrat and Republican readers (and other regular voters) to consider the nature of voting and of forcible government itself. In particular, I would like them to consider that:  

  • - There is a huge difference between voting to increase government force versus voting to reduce or block the use of force against one's fellow human beings. If you must vote, please vote for less aggression and tyranny rather than for more. This includes voting for less taxation, and never for more taxation. 

  • - Voting is a way to disempower you (except in those rare cases where you are allowed to vote for a return of some of your freedom). Where before you could make your own decisions in a given area, after the vote you must abide by what the majority decides. (Many eligible voters do not vote in a typical election, so it isn't even an actual majority telling you what to do). Imagine if we had a national breakfast menu (one that would be enforced by the police, at gunpoint) decided by vote. Suppose you hate oatmeal, and oatmeal won . . .  If that sounds silly or impossible, remember that prohibition of alcohol (1920 – 1933) was imposed by a national vote [correction 1/8/2010 -- this was a vote by politicians, not a direct vote by the people -- although the measure was popular enough that it likely would have passed such a vote]. Any choice the government makes (whether by voting, by a faceless bureaucrat, by "The Decider," or however else) is a choice you don't get to make for yourself.

  • - Finally (and somewhat canceling the previous points), your vote, by itself, does almost nothing at all; your vote is one out of millions.

When voting for candidates in particular, one must realize that nearly all candidates are gung-ho on the use of force and assume that you are too, as long as government is (or says it will be) using the force for something you want. An obvious question is: Do you really want to participate in initiating force against your fellow human beings? There are better ways to get things done than by coercion.  

If we want a more peaceful and loving world, we need to stop using force and violence (and threats of force and violence) as the backbone of society.  

There are other reasons to actively avoid voting in most situations, and I hope you will consider those as well. If you insist on regular voting, please at least apply the basic principle of nonaggression. That means never voting for more government and whenever possible voting for less. It means never voting for the lesser of two evils; any candidate without a long record of consistent support for freedom is a candidate to avoid – which means worthy candidates appear, in the major parties, very rarely. Support non-government methods and groups for charity, product safety and regulation, and other necessities.  

Second, I want to encourage market-anarchists to consider whether there aren't times when voting specifically to end or to drastically reduce tyranny might be moral and useful. That is a slippery slope, I realize, but as an argument against something, the "slippery slope" idea is inane. Eating too much can lead to obesity and all sorts of problems, and a single bite puts us on that slippery slope. So what? Obesity is an argument in favor of choosing foods wisely and limiting the amount we consume, not an argument against eating per se.  

I believe we are near a tipping point which will bring great evil into our lives (see Destruction by Paradigm, about the coming economic Armageddon [as Stephen Roach, chief economist at investment bank Morgan Stanley, puts it] and An Open Letter to the Red Cross, about those Halliburton-built detention camps and other chilling signs of what Our Leaders may be planning). It is this dark and fast-approaching sea change, combined with the good fortune of having both a solid candidate in Ron Paul and a public finally fed up enough to really listen to a message of sanity, which makes this moment in time unique. One characteristic of tipping points, after all, is that they can go either way.  

Limited and carefully-chosen political action, including voting and, more importantly, support for educational campaigns like that embodied in Ron Paul's candidacy, may not help – in fact, I expect that it will not help. I expect it to fail, dramatically. But I could be wrong, and anything peaceful that has even the slightest chance of moving things in the right direction is worth considering.    

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The Paradise Perspective will return June 25.  

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* Stevia is only one example of a product whose use is banned or restricted by the FDA despite a good safety profile and wide use around the world without evidence of problems. Stevia appears far safer than any of the artificial sweeteners, but only a fool thinks that anything – even water – is completely without dangers. On the other hand, concerns about this herb seem suspiciously overblown to me, especially given that – very much unlike aspartame – there seem to be no reported problems with it at all. Still, I encourage you to do your own research on potential dangers of stevia (here's one place to start). There is far more evidence for the dangers of aspartame; see the long lists of studies and articles here and here, for example, or read Dr. Joseph Mercola's Governments Continue Suppression and Coverup on Aspartame. (The opening sentence begins: "In 1991, the National Institutes of Health listed 167 symptoms and reasons to avoid the use of aspartame . . ."). For anyone who believes government is truly in the business of protecting us, the story of aspartame is a good tool for starting the deprogramming process.

As further deprogramming, consider watching Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, which has the only 100% rating I've seen at the Rotten Tomatoes site. (I don't visit the site often, so I have probably missed other films with such a rating, but still: the movie comes highly recommended). I promise you will be even more livid about our policies in Iraq after seeing this film, or after seeing even a short clip. Heck: you'll be stunned. Republicans actually banned excerpts from being shown in Congress, and it is not hard to see why: The whole phony, fantasy-land edifice of "Government" as a noble and necessary institution crumbles when you see how things really work.

 

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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 107

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.