Friday, August 10, 2012
Voting: Two Strategies Divided
I'm a pretty regular listener to a radio-show called "Free Talk Live". I don't have any personal affinity for the hosts (in fact, at least one of them drives me crazy on a pretty constant basis). But I share similarly radical political views and so the discussions are usually pretty interesting to me. One of the hosts has a secondary show/podcast where he gives one-on-one interviews to all kinds of different people. I made the unfortunate mistake of listening to one such interview with someone by the name of Kal Molinet.
I'm not going to get worked into a tizzy over his atrocious style of argumentation (which seems to simply be to steamroll his opponent and not let them get a word in). What I do want to address, however, was his primary point; that voting, in itself, is an immoral act.
My view on voting is a little complicated. But suffice it to say I think that calling it "immoral" is a bit misguided. Let's consider some of the reasons why we would or would not vote.
There are plenty of reasons to assume that no libertarian paradise will spring forth from the fingertips of the electorate. So no delusions on that front. However, it is quite clearly possible to affect marginal (even if temporary) change through the voting process. History is replete with democratic shifts towards freedom in different instances. Now, it might not outweigh the net shift in the other direction (over time), but that doesn't seem to be a reason to let voting fall into dis-utility. In fact, you could ask how much worse things might be if all advocates of freedom had simply stopped voting.
Now, it's certainly true that we're not likely to find anything too close to a libertarian anarchist politician. And to any extent that such a politician is not "pure" on that scale, I could see how you might complain that voting gives sanction to injustice. And Molinet alludes to similar points when he talks about people "playing their game". Of course, the convenient fact this overlooks is that you're already locked into that game at this point. And this is where the morality of all of it comes in.
Now...if I simply told you to go kill an innocent person, and you did it, who is morally culpable? There's certainly arguments to the contrary, but I think most libertarians would say the person taking the action is primarily the guilty party. Of course, we are talking about two parties and a single action. Political mechanisms are a bit more complicated.
Let's look at a different analogy. Let's say there's a person with a gun. There are nine other people nearby. Being in possession of the gun, he's calling the shots for now. But there's a twist. It turns out that this situation is somewhat democratic. He's going to do whatever the majority of those nine people tell him to do. A vote comes up. They are going to shoot some (innocent) people in the group. Four of them want to shoot two people. Four of them want to shoot three people. You are the undecided vote.
So how would Molinet's criticisms apply here? He would apparently say it's immoral for you to give the vote to shoot two people instead of three. After all, your vote would be sanctioning such a killing, right? And if a slave-owner let the slaves vote to release one among them, it would also be sanction of slavery, and thus immoral, right? And if there was a referendum to repeal a massive amount of power regarding the federal government, then voting for such a thing would also be sanction, and thus immoral, right? You can see the problem with this line of reasoning. He's basically making the argument that you can't morally take control of the Deathstar...because the Deathstar is used for evil. So even if you have the chance to hurl it into a star, you must refrain from taking control...lest you "sanction" its use.
This is why his ethical claim is a little bizarre.
This is not to say, however, that there aren't any good liberty-fueled arguments for abstaining from voting though. There is a substantial line of political argument that holds consent as the cohesive culprit behind the state. From this point of view, strategically, voting is not important. What becomes important is spreading ideas, challenging standard lines of political discourse, and building alternate institutions. If those ventures become successful enough, the idea is that the state will simply wither away because it will not have the necessary consent to function.
The primary differences between the two strategies (at least to me) is simply that one is more short-term and temporary, and the other is more long-term. And while there may be qualms about the dedication of man-power and resources between the two ventures, they certainly aren't mutually exclusive. One can embrace one or both strategies. And they can certainly do it without doing anything immoral, or even giving explicit sanction. It's certainly something worth talking about. And, I'm sure, it can all be a large point of confusion at the very least. But I'm pretty appalled at the lack of tact and openness from the Molinet camp. I certainly hope his fellow-travelers are a little less stubborn.