Voting is bad, M'kay?

Second round of the French presidential electi...
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It seems a lot of discussions have been going on lately, both in the Anarchosphere and in reddit, on the subject of voting in state elections. Surprisingly a lot of anarchists have come out in favour of voting with various arguments on the issue. Since I keep getting caught in these discussions, I’ll try to explain my own reasoning on why I refuse to participate in elections, why this is not bad and counter some of the arguments for voting commonly thrown around by anarchists.

Why I refuse to vote

I used to vote black/white and I used to vote for third/small parties. Then I wisened up. I realized that no matter who one votes for, they end up voting for the system as a whole as well. Our choice between the few bad options we’re presented within a rigged game only serve to reinforce the lie that the government is simply following “the will of the people”.

To give a more extreme example to make the point: If some random people suddenly asked your society to vote on whether you’d prefer to become chattel slaves, work in a sweatshop, or become sex slave, it’s obvious that some choice might be better than the others for you. Some of those would be the “lesser evil”. However, as a whole, all those options are worse than many other alternatives which involves neither of these three. If you society nevertheless voted on one of these three and the majority decided that they’d prefer to become sweatshop workers, you have just granted legitimacy to those random people to decide the options by which you’d have to live. The healthy option would have been to wonder why these crazy people are asking you to vote on crazy options and ignore them while you continue with your lives.

Now imagine that those random people forcefully conquered your society anyway and made you all chattel slaves. After a while, when the people in your society have increased their power and outright military control is not enough, the conquerors get “enlightened”, declare a democracy and ask you to choose from one of the three options above. Only a fool would not notice that this is a desperate ploy to defuse the situation before a revolt. Only a fool would not notice that the choices given are not as good as what preceded the military conquest.

The difference between this theoretical example and the situation we are now is only that we’ve already been forced into one of the worst choices by historical precedence (i.e. the state violence that preceded and support capitalism) and instead of outright discarding all the bad choices and laughing at the crazy people who ask us to make them, we instead vote on the slightly better choice that will naturally retain the power of those random people. The difference is that we do not see the alternatives as clearly as would those theoretical people who started out free.The difference is that the conquerors left a few generations pass so that we now consider our situation normal and voting an improvement.

In short, voting serves to masquerade the violent acts which preceded it and make the bad choices we’re presented seem as better than they truly are. The reason we should not vote is because we need to expose the farce that is representative democracy and point out that we’re not bound by the options set by conquerors. The more people that do this, the shakier the propaganda the state has to legitimize itself. Once the percentage of people voting drops below 25%1, then the government starts looking a lot less like “the will of the people” and much more than the usurpers of power and the gendarme of the ruling elite that they truly are. Once less than 25% percent of people vote, I can easily argue that a government that is ignored by 3/4ths of the population has no legitimacy to govern over me and agitate that any use of force by the police or the army is an act of aggression by an external party.

But I cannot argue this as easily when the majority of people around me continue to vote and continue to think that the government, while not exactly representing themselves, represents the collective will. And this is why it’s especially counter-productive for anarchists to vote. We’re the ones who should be setting the example for fuck’s sake. If even we can’t refrain from participating in the farce, how do we expect that non-anarchists would even consider that there’s anything horribly wrong about it? How does one then answer the question “If you think elections don’t work, then why do you participate?” by a non-anarchist? Do you tell them that they work a little instead? But if they “work a little” for an anarchist, certainly they would work a lot for a non-anarchist. If for someone who is aiming for a stateless society, elections can be useful at times, then for someone who still believes in the state, proper participation in electioneering campaigns and putting one’s efforts in that area, would be a worthwhile prospect.

Is Non-Voting Bad?

Not if one considers that “democratic” governments don’t work for us. Not voting for the bad choices that I’m presented with will not change anything about my situation. Oh we hear talk about the greater and lesser evil and rampart fear-mongering from both sides of the puppet show, but the truth of the matter is that no matter how evil the other side is to us, they end up acting very similar in actual practise. There’s very very little substantial differences between parties in power at the moment, no matter their rhetoric.

And yet it seems people still listen to their rhetoric and believe it. They still believe that labour governments will be better than “Right-wing” ones, or that conservative governments will be more responsible than liberal ones. But in the end, they end up doing practically the same and often even worse. “Labour” governments usually assault workers with harsher measures than their predecessors. Conservative governments end up spending more. Liberal democracies end up restricting more. Communist parties end up increasing the rates of exploitation. And yet, some anarchists still believe that voting for Labour over Tory or Barack over McCain is somehow going to make things be less bad.

But this is based on faith and nothing else. The basic argument after the fact is always something like: Well, so-and-so is worse than I expected but certainly he’s not as bad as the other guy would have been. But this is based on nothing more than personal delusions. Both would have been just as bad as they serve primarily the same interests. Anarchists then engage in the same self-delusion that the rest of the “moderate left” is, by simply bloating the failing of those they consider the greater evil and trivializing the ones from the lesser evil. For example, all Clinton, Bush and Obama initiated wars of aggression and intensified already existing ones, covertly committed atrocities, sold their economies, destroyed labour orgs etc etc. The idea that Gore would not have done what Bush did is silly when we see what Clinton did. The idea that Bush would have been worse than Obama is silly when we see what Obama is doing (i.e. look past his promises and to his actual acts).

So how exactly is non-voting making things worse? Only a personal delusion of what-might-have-been gives the conviction that it did. But for someone like me, who stays away from the voting process altogether, they’re all as bad as each other and I don’t expect that any of them would have done anything less than the other if the ruling elite commanded it of them.

By far, the most common argument of this sort of course is that if we don’t vote, we allow the Fascists to gain power. However I’ll counter this point in another post as I’m already getting a bit long-winded. Until then, just remember: Voting is bad, m’kay?

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  1. The number chosen here is just an example. In practical terms, a higher or lower percent might be required to make a compelling case but we won’t know how much is needed unless we stop voting to drop this down in the first place []

10 thoughts on “Voting is bad, M'kay?

  1. Excellent post. If I have the time and resources, do you mind if I reproduce this, or parts of it distributing around the time of… oh… say the Australian Federal Election?

  2. I've been contemplating non-participation and I couldn't have expressed it better.

    Would you think it'd be a frightening, bloody mess if and when non-participation reached a critical mass delegitimizing the state?

    1. Frightening? To the ruling elite certainly. Bloody? I don't see why. (Unless it's the British “Bloody” as in “Bloody Hell”

  3. [Speaking for a Greek voting perspective]

    You said: ” If some random people suddenly asked your society to vote on whether you’d prefer to become chattel slaves, work in a sweatshop, or become sex slave, it’s obvious that some choice might be better than the others for you”.

    I know you said it’s an extreme example, but still, I think it’s a bad analogy.

    When voting, the options are not set by the government. People are free to create their own political parties. If no existing political party suits you, you can always create your own. Technically, you have no one to blame but yourself.

    And I do believe that smaller political parties are created all the time, but people don’t pay attention to them. They are busy voting for the big ones. Right now, everybody swears them (speaking for a Greek perspective again), because they would look stupid if they didn’t, but when the election time comes, they would rush to vote for them. Mainly because they have something to gain by voting them.

    I haven’t voted for the past three elections in Greece. I always thought I didn’t vote because I am lazy, but I just realised that I wouldn’t be, if there were political parties that represented ME.

    1. When voting, the options are not set by the government. People are free to create their own political parties. If no existing political party suits you, you can always create your own. Technically, you have no one to blame but yourself.

      You really fail to take into account the larger social dynamics of the situation. While, yes, theoretically anyone can put their name up for vote, practically this is as useful as not voting. Getting into office requires an extraordinary level of economic support, something which the average person just cannot achieve. This is why you see usually only rich professions (lawyers, doctors etc) and estabilished family names into politics, rather than average joes. And on top of that, you need significant economic support from the plutocracy for your campaign which is not going to happen, unless they know you're going to take care of their interests.

      Don't let the theoretical implications fool you, freedom of candidacy is allowed only because the powers that be already know it's a rigged game and there are other safeholds in case someone radical, against all expectations, manages to get into office.

  4. Excellent post. It would be even stronger if you mentioned how mathematically we are doomed to a two party binary if we stick to first past the post voting. No matter what, if the US continues to vote this way (and with an electoral college??) any and all alternative parties will only strengthen a spoiler effect and reinforce the two party system. Creating your own party actually works against one’s own interests. Alternative voting however, is an interesting concept. But awesome post and I found it at a great time!

  5. I feel if your a christian and reading this and agree you must be very ignorant. The fact of america is this. We must vote on a large scale as this to have any democracy. And the things voted on are not as bad as this article makes them out to seem. if in doubt you must vote between something as bad as “sex trafficking” or “work camps” then thats the time not to vote. It is not the time if you slightly disagree with what one persons plan is to make americans life better.

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