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.


  1. Voting is the initiation and advocation of violence (using physical force or threat of/assault) on other people, which is supported and funded with even more violence, taxes (theft/extortion), in which anyone who disagrees with your legislated opinions are arrested (kidnapped) and sent to jail (rape cage/dehumanized). And at any moment, if you were to try to resist or try to escape, you would be met with even more violence, or simply shot (murdered).

    To masquerade voting as "defensive" is the same thing as telling people that spanking your child is not violence, that you're just "disciplining" your kid.

    The violence of voting, the participation in statism, will never set us free. Exceptions lead to more exceptions. Violence begets more violence.

    Please let go. Let go of voting, let go of violence, let go of statism. Turn away from the state and turn to your community instead; unite them with shared community values for non-violence, equality, and freedom.

    True anarchists do not support political parties or their politicians.

    True anarchists do no participate in the political voting games.

    True anarchists do not advocate for violence, i.e., murder, theft, assault, and rape.

    Anarchism is not a political position; no more than atheism is a religious belief. Any 'self proclaimed' anarchist that advocates violence to solve problems is nothing but a statist in denial.

    True News 5: The Truth About Voting

    True News 6: The Truth About Voting Part 2

    True News 7: The Truth About Voting Part 3 - Yay Obama!

    The Immorality of Democratic Voting

    Spreading Freedom at VCU

    Freedomain Radio: Practical Politics

  2. And this, my few but faithful readers, is exactly the kind of behavior I lamented in my above commentary. So let me derail this fervent if not delusional tirade, piece by piece.

    "Voting is the initiation and advocation of violence..."

    No, and possibly. Voting is most certainly not the initiation of violence. The initiation of violence occurs at the hands of those who execute unjust laws. I can "advocate" for the initiation of violence all day - it may be wrong, but it's certainly not an injustice itself...particularly by (radical) libertarian standards.

    Even worse, given the context of the political reality we face, I don't even think that voting necessarily rises to the level of advocacy. This is the point that I was bringing up with my scenario of the "killing-vote" above. It's quite true that a voter in such a circumstance might vote for killing two people because he "advocates" such a killing. But we don't know that without gleaming the motive of the voter. What the voter might actually be advocating is to affect change in the direction of the least amount of killing possible, realistically, in such a scenario.

    The same holds true with the additional scenario of slaves getting a vote on the potential emancipation of one among them. It's true that maybe, somehow, any given slave's participation in such a vote could be in the context of his support for the system of slavery. But it's not immediately apparent why that should be true, and why his participation must drift into "advocating" any more than simply the most just outcome he could possibly put into motion, given the context of the political reality which he's been dealt with.

    In either case, what is certainly clear is that such a voter is not the holder of the gun nor the slave-owner. And while we can hypothesize about broad motives and acute advocations, what we can't do is equivocate on moral culpability.

  3. "To masquerade voting as "defensive" is the same thing as telling people that spanking your child is not violence, that you're just "disciplining" your kid."

    No, it's not. I've never claimed that what the state does isn't aggression, or that we can wave off such an unjust state of affairs by giving them fuzzier feel-good names. Make no mistake. Whether the gunman is killing two people or three - BOTH are unjust. But, if given the (shitty) choice between those two options, pushing the political machinery in the direction of two does not make you as morally culpable as the gunman. It does not mean that you advocate killing.

    "The violence of voting, the participation in statism, will never set us free."

    I never said it would. In fact I'm fairly deeply rooted in the idea that it won't. But that doesn't mean that short-term change cannnot be affected in the direction of liberty; or that it couldn't be used as a countervailing force to stem the tide of statism until we get our act together. Again, they aren't mutually exclusive ideas.

    "Please let go. Let go of voting, let go of violence, let go of statism."

    It's pretty amazing what people think they can infer from a simple disagreement. Because I think that voting isn't the initiation of violence, apparently I've embraced both voting and statism. Wonderful. Nevermind my Rothbardian/anarchistic political views, my non-existent voting record, and my continued plans to abstain from voting in the future.....this guy has me pegged!

    "True anarchists do not support political parties or their politicians."

    I don't. Thanks.

    "True anarchists do no participate in the political voting games."

    And people who believe in freedom would never vote for their master to free a slave. Right?

    "True anarchists do not advocate for violence, i.e., murder, theft, assault, and rape."

    Yeah, like the way those pushing for freedom would never advocate for slavery by voting that their master free a slave. I think I'm catching onto this.

    "Anarchism is not a political position; no more than atheism is a religious belief. Any 'self proclaimed' anarchist that advocates violence to solve problems is nothing but a statist in denial."

    I guess it's a good thing I don't advocate violence then?

    "True News 5: The Truth About Voting


    And then there was the onslaught of links - because I guess he thinks I don't peruse the LvMI website or that I'm not familiar with Molyneux...

    Look. I don't claim to be a genius, or to have the answers to end all answers regarding every aspect of political philosophy. There's plenty of room for debate among libertarians, and I'm generally not the type to cast stones at people in our own camp. But as far as hubris rising far above rhetorical pay-grade, this guy really takes the cake.

    We all have our own style of debate. But you're not going to get very far by completely ignoring all the points your opponents make, and then flooding them with information or opinions you believe they aren't privy to because of your penchant for unmitigated presumption. That's exactly what I heard in his interview. And it's also exactly what I'm reading here. I'd like to think all of us, regardless of our political prescriptions, are a little better than that.

  4. I hope one day you will let go of the idea that violence will set us free, Ryan.

    Good luck with your endeavors. It won't be long before there's a Freedom Movement in your community, too.

  5. That "one day" happened several years ago, Kal.

    Do you find it at least modestly embarrassing that you habitually fail to answer any of the objections of your critics? Or do you honestly think that someone is going to read our exchange above and actually be swayed by your refusal to actually engage in argument?

    I'm not asking to be a smart-ass. I'm genuinely curious as to If you think that's a sensible strategy.