Who Are The True Idealists And Defeatists?
Micha's and my plans to not vote tomorrow generated a lot of discussion. Matt McIntosh of Verisimilitude calls my post "idealistic" and references John Lennon's song Imagine. He furthers compares my stance to that of a pacifist. Yet, I am neither an idealist nor a pacifist. I am a pragmatist, and pragmatism is precisely what leads me to my radical viewpoints. If I thought that my single vote would result in some measure of tangible benefit that outweighed the strong subjective dissatisfaction I would experience by casting it, I would carry it out. This is not Afghanistan where voting would be an act of defiance against tyranny. Nor is this a war in which laying down arms unilaterally would mean death. Voting in the United States is merely an act of expression with no instrumental power, regardless of what the government schools say about 'making a difference' or 'civic duty'. Those who believe that voting has instrumental value are the idealists, not me. They are the ones 'imagining' another reality that doesn't exist.
Diana of The Write Wing asks in the comments below, "Let me ask you, who will hear your silence on Tuesday, Jonathan?" From what I can gather, Diana resides in Michigan. Michigan has approximately 7 million registered voters and during the last presidential election, approximately 4 million of them voted. Based on current polling data, here is a hypothetical approximation of what the vote tally will be based on Diana's potential votes:
If Diana votes for Kerry:
|| Kerry || 2,051,248 | 50% ||
|| Bush || 1,927,314 | 47% ||
|| Nader || 409,248 | 1% |
|| Others || 734,842 | 2% |
If Diana votes for Bush:
| Kerry || 2,051,247 | 50% |
| Bush || 1,927,315 | 47% |
| Nader || 409,248 | 1% |
| Others || 734,842 | 2% |
If Diana votes for Nader:
| Kerry || 2,051,247 | 50% |
| Bush || 1,927,314 | 47% |
| Nader || 409,249 | 1% |
| Others || 734,842 | 2% |
Whose voice will be heard Tuesday? Surely not Diana's by her vote.
A couple thousand Catallarchy readers will hear my silence, and it will be louder than any vote I could cast.
Frequent commenter Scott writes, "so you plan to do what, just post on the internet the rest of your life? i understand the urge to rage against the machine here, but i find your attitude much too defeatist. what, if anything, do you actually plan to accomplish?" My attitude is not defeatist. I'm one of the most optimistic libertarians you'll ever meet. Again, I am choosing to actively refrain from voting. It is not out of desperation nor resignation. The only thing voting accomplishes at the individual level is a small measure of self-expression than can set an example for others. It has no instrumental value. I want to express the view that politics is a never-ending fixed-sum game that would be better left not played at all. By voting for the Libertarian Party, I would be expressing the idea that politics is okay but that the wrong people are in power. That is not what I want to express. I want to express the idea that structures of government should allow differing conceptions of the good to coexist peacefully regardless of the people holding office. Further, I want to express the consequence of that idea-- that civil society should be the center of social interaction, not politics.
The only way to view not voting as defeatist is to believe that voting has instrumental value and that change can only happen from within the system. I disagree with both ideas. Democracy does not breed liberty. At best it stalls tyranny better than its predecessors. The liberty we have today did not come about directly because people voted for it. It came about because people believe that a free society is in their best interests, and because technology keeps a check on state power. Most Americans realize that banning speech that they are not in favor of would likely mean that their own speech could be similarly banned in the future - "I may not agree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it." They realize that allowing the government to torture people means that they themselves could be on the receiving end of that torture someday. The reason atrocities, mass graves, pogroms, etc do not happen in America is because of the culture of liberty that exists. Spreading ideas is much more instrumentally valuable at the margin than casting a vote. So yes, I do plan to post on the internet for the forseeable future. It will acccomplish much more than pulling a lever every four years for the rest of my life.
The most defeatist libertarians I know are the ones who believe that the only way for a more libertarian society to come about is for the Libertarian Party to win elections. They see no other way towards freedom. They get depressed every four years when the Party fails to make any gains. Yet, there are many other ways of taking steps toward a free society than voting, though voting may bring a false sense of self-satisfaction. Homeschoolers have been gaining the right to educate their the way they see fit by simply refusing to allow the professional child abductors to have their way. Phil Zimmerman single-handedly created more freedom for the average individual than the entire Libertarian Party did during the 1990's. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been defending our freedoms online since its inception. The Mises Institute and Cato Institute generate scholarship, fund conferences, and advocate liberty better than any politicians do. Send them a check. Write a computer program that incorporates asymmetric cryptography in a user friendly way into popular applications. Become a journalist that challenges the status quo. Work for change from within academia. Produce a television series that inspires self-reliance and personal responsibility. Start a blog. But most importantly, live your life and demonstrate to others that though the state may infringe on your autonomy, it cannot define your happiness nor your relationships with people that matter to you.
The future of liberty lies not with politics, but with technology and ideas.
Update: More thoughts on ways to create freedom: What Can One Person Do?
Also: Breaking Free Of The Vicious Circle