Voting Part II: Vote Like No One’s Watching
For the impatient: I’m endorsing Gary Johnson.
Recap: As discussed in Part I, flipping one individual vote will not decide the presidential election.
For voters in virtually every state, we know this with 100% certainty. We know it with all-but-100% certainty in the so-called swing states. There the chances are merely Heisenbergian: Quantum physics claims that the sun might shine literally out of your asshole one day. But there’s a decimal point and an awful lot of zeroes before we get there.
So why vote? It’s for personal happiness — the happiness of symbolically affiliating with others.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an eminently human thing. But do let’s consider what you’re affiliating yourself with, and why.
Affiliate with the Crowd? First, I think it’s important to place no value whatsoever on symbolically affiliating with a large group simply because it’s large. Voting itself isn’t irrational, but that is.
Your vote is a secret, so no personal advantage comes of it. And there is no reason to believe that either “winner” or “runner-up” has any privileged moral status. They’re no more likely to reach the Truth, or even to match your personal preferences.
The apparent psychic rewards of backing a winner are a deadly thing for our political system. Summed across the whole population, the fear of “wasting” a vote — by failing to stick with the crowd — is the single most important reason why the Big Two get away with so much.
Make them work harder. Be fickle. If you’re not, they’ll never work to earn your vote. (Do they now? No. They don’t.)
Recall that the election is in the hands of the collective no matter what you do. You can vote for the good guy. Or the bad guy. Or Lizard People. Your vote is already a waste, at least for purposes of determining the outcome. The collective will do what it’s going to do; the only question — for mere individuals anyway — is how we symbolically affiliate.
Rogues’ Gallery: Conor Friedersdorf has explained why he can’t vote for Obama. His reasons are mine:
[S]ome actions are so ruinous to human rights, so destructive of the Constitution, and so contrary to basic morals that they are disqualifying…
- Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue.
- Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.
- Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security.
I have no desire to symbolically affiliate with this.
Then there’s Mitt Romney. In the future, the Republican Party must either become more libertarian or collapse. Romney seems to prefer the latter. Sure, he’s made some token overtures to libertarians, but it’s not that it isn’t enough. What he’s giving us is all wrong.
Libertarians believe that nearly all of the poor could do better for themselves in a freer economy. That’s a hard sell for many, and I know it. But whatever else it entails, a freer economy means ending privileges for the already rich. And one doesn’t begin the war on privilege by attacking the poor.
That’s lousy, but it’s not even close to the worst thing about Romney. That would be his approach to civil liberties, which is apparently to run to the authoritarian right no matter what the other guy says. One gets the sense that if Romney were forced to run against himself, he and his opponent wouldn’t reach an equilibrium — they’d argue themselves further and further to the right, zooming past fascism and ultimately into some sort of unseemly onstage mutual strip search. And then they’d start waterboarding.
All of this of course is in pursuit of an unending state of war. War has become the new normal. We libertarians understand commerce and war to be antithetical, and we proudly choose commerce. Neoconservatives see the same choices, but they — and Romney, apparently — prefer war. (“Why?” “Because war builds good character.” “Does that work in drone wars, too?” “Tests are underway.”)
In Romney’s moral universe, both peace and civil liberties apparently exist for the sole purpose of being knocked down in the course of an election. They are a means to the end of showing how tough you are. I find that completely revolting.
Rarely has a protest vote seemed more in order. And, given a world in which you’re either protesting or complying — and where nothing else you do really matters — a protest vote is arguably the only vote that matters.
Happily, this cycle offers a very credible protest choice. Gary Johnson is a former two-term governor of New Mexico who is generally considered to have been a success. He’s remembered fondly in his home state, where he cut taxes, balanced the budget, and vetoed almost half the legislation that arrived at his desk. He supports same-sex marriage, abortion rights, legalizing marijuana, bringing the troops home from Afghanistan, and closing Guantanamo.
He shows every indication that, if the unthinkable happened and he were elected, he would be a competent administrator of a sensibly shrinking government. That’s also exactly what we need right now.
He won’t win, but you should be proud to symbolically affiliate with him anyway. Please do.