Voting Is Not Irrational

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

I just got done reading another article whacking the practice of voting. This one declares that voting is a fool's game. One begins to wonder if this is a productive tack. How many voters are convinced by such arguments? Aren’t we just “preaching to the choir”? Are we hacking at the branches of evil, or striking the root?

I have made such arguments myself. Now I wonder how much they help.

Given a particular worldview, voting is not all that irrational that I can see (with one possible exception--the argument of probability). If one already accepts that some people should be ruled by others, then the process by which rulers are chosen becomes crucial. This is why voters are not moved by our arguments. They have accepted as a given, the legitimacy of the state. If the state is legitimate, if it is right and good that some should be ruled by others, then of course people should vote!

The probabilistic argument--that one’s vote is highly unlikely to decide an election--is one that actually is independent of worldview; people should be moved by it in any case (and probably, many already are). Yet even this is defeated by the facts now and then. The current state House leader in the Wyoming Liberty Index just won his primary election (same as winning the general in that district) by three votes. This sort of thing happens often enough to blunt the probabilistic argument. Anyway, every election will be decided by votes, so I have always been a bit suspicious about this particular argument against voting (the existence of vote fraud does not change this picture much).

A much more productive course might be to directly attack the legitimacy of the state. Once that comes into question in a person’s mind, it seems unlikely there will be much voting from him any longer. (Of course one has to proceed carefully; just screaming “Smash the State!” is not likely to be very persuasive.)

And that should be our aim anyway. We want people questioning the state. It doesn’t help if we somehow talk them into not voting when they still believe the state is legitimate.

Now, someone who attacks the practice of voting might say that reducing the percentage of voters itself delegitimizes the state. There might be something to that, but it is hardly a strong effect. Perhaps this might bear some discussion.

Actually, as I’ve maintained before, it is not even our mission to make people stop believing in the state, so anti-voting articles are even further removed from being a helpful action. We only want them to stop oppressing us (the non-believers in the state religion), or to stop supporting those who would oppress us--a fairly small modification of their worldview. If so, then maybe we should lay off the anti-voting tirades.

Bottom line: voting is just a side effect of an evil worldview. Arguing against it is like treating a disease by addressing only the symptoms, rather than by addressing the cause.

Your rating: None Average: 8 (1 vote)
Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


DP_Thinker's picture

I see your point, and the main conclusion is that we need to educate others on the illegitimacy of the state. I agree. Unfortunately we do have politicians come across that seem to side with our interests, such as Ron Paul. Should one vote for Ron Paul? We agree with everything he says.. But alas, he is still an appointed ruler. It can be good to point out why we shouldn’t vote even for him. I do however believe that Government rests on consent. If we withdraw consent, it becomes illegitimate.
Remember, our product is freedom and we have to market that product. Maybe some respond better to the marketing of it by delegitimizing voting rather than the government, to start.. Maybe once you educate them on some things they can agree with other ideas.. Maybe not.
I don’t believe you made the case that voting is rational. Just because people have a false premise (people can be ruled) doesn’t make their false conclusion (choosing the ruler) correct. And the main problem with voting is it’s immoral, as is the state. This should be the basis of most non-voting articles.

Suverans2's picture

Very good, Paul Bonneau. Wouldn't it be a cross-purpose for individuals with a collectivist mentality to "stop supporting those who would oppress us"? Isn't sacrifice of individual rights at the very core of, "for the greater good"?

Paul's picture

Yes and no. Given that people generally hold contradictory opinions in their heads all the time, it would be at cross purposes for individuals to stop supporting those who oppress us for SOME of those opinions, and aligned with OTHER of those opinions - simultaneously, within the same person. The question is, which opinions prevail? We can't get all of those people to leave us alone, but we can get many (I would argue, most) to leave us alone. Certainly, more than we can talk into being anarchists. We should work as efficiently as we can toward are true aim, being free. We should pick the low-hanging fruit. The low-hanging fruit is talking people into leaving us alone.

KenK's picture

Good article Paul.

The state ultimately endures because it has lots of guns and the will to use them, and the anti-statists do not, period. Voting and such activity that the usual suspects on this board turn their noses up at won't bring the state down it is true, but it might loosen the garote they have around our necks long enough for us to live long enough to escape its grasp.

Paul's picture

"The state ultimately endures because it has lots of guns and the will to use them, and the anti-statists do not, period."

Why not then? What possible reason can anarchists give for not being armed? Only slaves remain disarmed.

Anyway, this is more collectivist speak or slave speak. It (the state) does not exist at all, other than a meme in all our heads. The state is not a sentient entity. The state does not have guns; people have guns, and a lot of them. Those people believe in the state meme to varying extents, and whatever that extent is, seems to be eroding. I wouldn't throw in the towel quite yet.

Rather than voting, or writing arguments to persuade people not to vote, go out and buy a gun and some ammo. Go shooting with somebody. That is definitely not submitting to the meme of the state, I would say.

Suverans2's picture

"All governments must have citizens in order to exist." ~ tzo

The United States Government, for example, has about 300 million individuals caught in the Monkey Trap, that is why "the state", i.e. the status quo, ultimately endures.

    Monkey Trap - A cage containing a banana with a hole large enough for a monkey's hand to fit in, but not large enough for a monkey's fist (clutching a banana) to come out. Used to "catch" monkeys that lack the intellect to let go of the banana and run away. ~ Wiktionary

However, it's not "intellect" that's lacking, it's willingness; it's not fear of guns, it is fear of loss; the vast majority of individuals are unwilling to let go of the banana (benefits/privileges).

Persona non grata's picture

I side with Samuel Langhorn Clemens:

"If voting made any difference they woudn't let us do it" 

Jim Davies's picture

Hello there Paul. Mirabile dictu, there is ground here on which we agree! Yes, it's far more important to deligitimize the State in peoples' eyes, than just to persuade them not to vote. Good point. On the premise that the State is legit, voting would be rational. Yes, "We want people questioning the state" instead.
Might that aim not be advanced, though, by inviting an examination of the act of voting? - it's not hard to show that it amounts to a request for the voter's neighbors to be killed if they steadfastly refuse to pay for some benefit for the voter. When seen like that, for what it is, it plainly appears as an immoral act; since it's also the very basis on which the democratic state rests, does that not also help people "question the state"?
So I suggest that to raise the question of the morality of voting is one way to deligitimize the state. Voting is not just a symptom, it is part of the cause of the disease; in a democratic society, it's the prime cause.
One point on which you and I continue to disagree is "it is not even our mission to make people stop believing in the state." (And by "make" I presume you did not mean literally to force, rather to persuade.) Au contraire, it is indeed our mission (or rather, our vital self-interest) to persuade people to stop believing in the state.
Why? - because of the nature of the state. It is, in its essence, an agressive and intrusive and domineering entity. There is no such thing as a peaceful state. The very meaning of "govern" is to over-rule the absolute right, of all individuals in a domain a government claims, each to govern himself. The error I see in your penultimate paragraph is that there ever can be such a thing as a state that will "stop oppressing non-believers." There can not; any more than a carnivore can subsist on grass.
Incidentally: am I just being picky (no, perish the thought!) or might there be a contradiction between
"And that should be our aim anyway. We want people questioning the state"
"it is not... our mission to make people stop believing in the state..."?

Paul's picture

"Why? - because of the nature of the state. It is, in its essence, an agressive and intrusive and domineering entity. There is no such thing as a peaceful state. "

This is collectivist-speak, or slave-speak as Tso would call it.

I do not argue with you that it is desireable to persuade others to give up state worship. I continue to do it myself. Our difference is that you believe it is crucial, and that "statists" (to use another slave-speak term) are like the people in the movie "The Matrix". It's a great movie, but it is still a Hollywood production, and not reality. Statism is not something you turn on and off like a switch, converting enemies to friends. There are degrees of statism, more or less of it in everyone, including us. We just need a minor accomodation from those you call statists. It is not crucial to convert everyone away from statism (a good thing because that would be impossible).

We do want people questioning the state. It's simultaneously also true that it's not our mission to get them that way, nor is it *necessary* for our self-interest. No contradiction at all. In fact it is against our self-interest to believe it is necessary.

Suverans2's picture

Unpersons, non-members, i.e. non-citizens don't have this dilemma[1] to deal with; one must consent to being a U.S. citizen in order to even register to vote. That's right if you haven't consented to be "under the dominion" of the government, and therefore not "subject to its laws", you can't vote.


[1] dilemma - state of uncertainty or perplexity especially as requiring a choice between equally unfavorable options
[2] One of those member-only benefits/privileges got it..."the right to vote".

Suverans2's picture

First, hat tip to the two anonymous "Likes" this comment received.

Since NonEntity, for whatever reason, didn't answer this question, about a year and a half ago, I put it out here for everyone.

Are you a U.S. citizen? Check Yes__ or No __

Would you say that one has voluntarily, albeit perhaps ignorantly, consented to the so-called "social contract", i.e. has "submitted himself to the dominion of the government", if he checked the "Yes" box and then signed, under penalty of perjury, his legal name thereto, so he could receive a member-only "entitlement", i.e. "the right to receive something [a benefit] or to do something [a privilege]"?

This is asked, not for condemnation, but for realization[1]. One must first clearly recognize the cause of a problem before one can even begin to see the solution to it.

[1] realization ▸ noun: coming to understand something clearly and distinctly

albergine's picture

There's an angle , if the regular voter, sunk deep in the pit of reliance, who knows nothing but to follow, and who readily gives their loyalty to those they consider the better feeder, if they, begin to show cracks in their faith, and become confused as with a sickness, and know not which way to turn for help, as all ways offer an identical poison, then will they not automatically think to question their participance if all can offer only a taste less bitter - but bitter all the same, then they think, i cannot win, as even if i win, wont i taste and feel as sick as those who lose, am i no different ?
Perhaps they wont question the lie, why should they, after all, they only know spoon fed, and have long forgotten how to feed themselves, as years have passed, as heavier the layers have squeezed their self to sleep, as the walls grew slowly taller the light grew dimmer and their freedom was an old dream place for children and fairytales, so they became as fake and twisted as the system they support, so it needs that system of many parts to collapse before they, as individuals, can also collapse, and then, is only rational to let them help (even unwittingly) - by not voting.

alexeth's picture

Voting is certainly rational for those who do sanction the process and want to express the choice of the vote. Not voting is likewise rational for anyone wanting to withold sanction or who rationally connclude there is no real choice to express (one candidate, identical candidates, candidates with insufficient differentiation).
Voting may have legitimacy in trying to steer the current machine back, though it seems unlikely. If the thugs are using a vote to justify stealing from my neighbor, I will vote against that even while trying to get rid of the thugs.

The worst thing about a vote, and I think Jim nails this, is it's that smallest expression of force against another through the lever of the state. It's the individual expression of the belief that I can take from another. Democracy is evil, and so how can its instrument not be? Taking money from others through the state is wrong, but I do want to get some of my stolen goods back. Trying to take from others is wrong, but I'll use even the vote to try and keep my stuff from being stolen.

I suppose there are gradations. Freedom means throwing the whole thing out. But, until we're there, I want my gun to be legal before Joe's pot to be legal. I want to keep more of my money on the way to keeping all of my money.

DP_Thinker's picture

What isn’t rational is staying in a system in which your goods are constantly confiscated, when you could be elsewhere and keep 100% of your goods. So I don’t believe that by voting for the one who might allow you to keep more of your property makes any sense. In fact that vote would most likely be a vote for 3rd party candidates or libertarians. But if you were only interested in keeping more of your property, then you would have to vote for one of the two major candidates because you know only one of them will be the “winner”. So we are back to choosing between the lesser evil, which is completely irrational.

Paul's picture

I don't want to come too hard down on my argument here; again, I've made anti-voting arguments myself. We just should take into account our audience, what we know of them. Are our arguments going to be effective? We should always be asking that as we argue. I would suggest at the very least that calling voting immoral or for fools only, is not going to be very productive (other than for making us feel superior, I suppose).