"It [government] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." ~ Alexis de Tocqueville
A Dollar in Peril
Exclusive to STR
One of the nice things about not voting is that one can enjoy a little sport at the expense of those who do. Let me share with you an example or three.
A few days before November 4th, I visited a nearby town, and first called at the government postal monopoly for some stamps so that I could write to an innocent friend incarcerated in a government prison. Standing in line, I said pleasantly to my neighbor, "I hope you won't be voting, on Tuesday?" His face was, I tell you, a study in non-comprehension.
"Why yes," he replied, "won't you?"
"No, because I don't want to lay upon you any obligation."
I wouldn't want to write anything immodest, but I think it fair to say that my voice was serious, the words deliberate, and my appearance conventional; that is, I showed no signs of having recently escaped from some kind of lunatic asylum. Yet this gentleman had to reconcile those visual and auditory inputs with the fact that I had just said something that was, to date and to him, totally incomprehensible and sacrilegious. He was cognitive dissonance itself, in human form.
The line moved on (that post office serves quite fast, compared to some), so I had no chance to explain; but I can imagine him struggling with my words for quite a while. What has casting a vote to do with laying an obligation on someone, he will ask himself. And one day, I hope, he will tumble to it: that casting a vote has little to do with anything else but laying obligations on people; and when he does, the realization will bring him a true epiphany.
My next call was to the barber shop, for I was becoming borderline shaggy at the time. Now, that barber shop is the New Hampshire equivalent of an Athenian forum. In fact, scholars of ancient culture may be able to confirm or deny that when some of civilization's earliest and greatest thinkers debated great questions of philosophy, they were sitting and getting their hair clipped in the public square; but that's how I dare say it may have been. Certainly, my barber is this town's most tactful resident, for every customer has something to say, and to disagree with him would be to endanger trade. He knows better than most that the customer is always right, even when he is wrong, so he is a diplomatic moderator par excellence.
There were a couple of fellow-clippees in the saloon, and whaddayaknow, the conversation turned upon the coming high and holy day, and I allowed as how I planned not to vote, because voting is "one of the most immoral things that anyone can do."
There were plenty of knives and other sharp objects around, and the resulting atmosphere hung ready to be parted by any one of them. I had just blasphemed the central, most revered tenet in America 's national religion.
When voices were recovered, they vented in a babble. One gentleman declared he had served in the military and said in a profoundly shocked voice, "You're serious, aren't you?" Which I happily confirmed with matching emphasis. Another wanted to know how one could be secure without government. They were quick, I must allow; in those few seconds of awful silence they had realized that I was about to destroy one of the most treasured premises of their lives. Had the former endured combat, seen his buddies shredded, for an ideal that was utterly hollow? This guy in the barber's chair seems to say so, and yet he appears articulate and sane. I tell you, the material in our Non-Voting Archive is pretty powerful stuff.
To resolve the babble I eventually asked another gentleman, already shorn and on his way out, please to identify any one aspect of his life which he would like someone else to govern. I had explained already that voting was immoral because it is an act that tries to govern other people, and since that is pretty hard to deny, nobody did. He was quite silent, for quite a while. When he did speak, he presented another perfect example of cognitive dissonance: "But what about X?" he asked in desperation ("X" could have been any of hundreds of things government does, like operating roads--I don't recall which he picked) so I had politely to remind him that that was not an answer to my question. He tried twice more, with Y and Z, so we went around the loop. I encouraged him by saying I had never met anyone else either, who had said that he wanted someone else to govern any part of his own life, but he still would not admit the obvious--because, of course, to do so would have removed all the ground from under his statist feet, and he was smart enough to realize that. All he would do was to shake his head and depart.
My other example of Election Day sport began much earlier, back in the summer; I'm not sure, but I think it was prior to the day when McCain plucked Sarah from obscurity and banked his candidacy on her charms. I placed a $1 bet with an anarchist friend that McCain would win this election. He wisely inserted a clause to void the wager if McCain's Republican colleagues should start another war prior to November 4th, and we both understood that by the term "$1", we did not mean 371 grains of pure silver but just a piece of paper bearing the words "this note is legal tender" and denominated that way.
I am writing this on November 2nd, and fear that my fortune is in peril to that degree.
Bookies tell us that betting is a "sport," which is why I can record our transaction in such a way, even though we all know that backstage, they operate all manner of clever programs to make sure that they always win on average, as a well-run business should. With two days to go, their polls indicate a landslide for the oratorical Anointed One, and so it may be; in which case, my $1 will depart on its Westward journey. The big advantage to the non-voting gambler is that we can take a dispassionate view of the whole charade, and not allow personal religious preference to cloud our objective judgment of what is likely to happen. So it's not for a moment as though I hope McCain will win--I really don't care; TweedleMac is just as statist as ObamaDum, it's a coin-flip and I wish a pox on the pair of them. But a few months back, I did reckon that the older man would defy the pundits and win by a nose.
My main reason was that as I saw it, Middle America was not going to elect a black guy to the top job. Racism has been heavily suppressed in the past half-century, but under the surface it is certainly still around, and November 4th is a secret ballot; nobody will know how anyone actually voted, even if they say so. This is the so-called Bradley Effect under which a person polled will give the reply he thinks the pollster wants to hear, instead of the one that's actually true. It's understandable; who would want to emerge happily from the confessional (no, strike that, voting) booth feeling cleansed and happy with a duty well performed, and then have to tell a (say) black questioner that he had just voted for the white guy because he despises niggers? It ain't going to happen--hence the Bradley effect, which is worth several percentage points to McCain this time around. By the time you read this, we shall know whether it sufficed for him. If it did, he will preside over the future of all 300 million of us because some voters were racist bigots as well as control freaks. Such is democracy.
What great sport this farce would be--if it were not so terribly, tragically, fatally sad.