LXXXVIII – A Rational Choice For November 2nd

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I
can recall no time during my years on this planet when a presidential
election has had less significance than this one. I know
this statement flies in the face of the hyperbolic rhetoric engaged
in, by Republocratic party drum-beaters, as they induce you to part
company with your innate intelligence by joining the chuckleheads
in a mad dash to the voting booths. The little stickers that read
"I voted" — worn so proudly by those wishing to confirm
their allegiance to the system that is destroying their lives —
reminds me of the "kick me" signs teenagers used to tape
onto the backs of their fellow students.

This
year marks my fortieth anniversary of not voting. Most of my colleagues
attribute my non-participation to "apathy" or "protest,"
neither of which explains my refusal to dance the lemming two-step.
I don't vote for the same reason I don't rob banks or molest children:
it is not the way I choose to live my life. I am not "apathetic"
about not victimizing others: to the contrary, I insist upon
such a trait. My entire sense of being is incompatible with coercing
others. I can no more hide my ambitions over your life or property
within the secret confines of a voting booth than I could confront
my neighbor with a gun and demand his money. Voting is nothing more
than a periodic public affirmation in the faith of systematic violence
as a social system.

The
state lives on the fears it has generated, for fear mobilizes collective
thinking and action. This is the meaning of Randolph Bourne's oft-quoted
observation that "war is the health of the state." But
fear has a way of feeding back upon itself in ways not always related
to specific concerns. Warfare, inflation, increased taxation, immigration
policies, corporate-state self-serving machinations, health-care
costs, terrorism, crime rates, the failure of government schools,
police-state practices, and other forms of social conflict, are
just some of the outward manifestations of politically-induced fear.
But such fears metastasize into undercurrents of unfocused anxiety
that arise as desperation.

It
is this sense of formless apprehension that underlies much of this
year's election. I suspect that many people have become implicitly
aware — even as they refuse to openly admit it to themselves — that
the society in which they live doesn't work well anymore. They are
not yet prepared to consider that the social structures they have
been conditioned to think of as timeless and immutable are collapsing;
and that new systems of social organization — grounded in peace
and liberty — must be found. Faith in the dying regime must be reaffirmed,
and voting becomes the most visible, collective expression of political
piety.

Even
many critics of the state, men and women who deem themselves "libertarians,"
have a difficult time transcending the mindset that social change
arises through collective political action. Perhaps a few lessons
in physics will disabuse such people of the belief that state power
can be reduced — or even eliminated — by the pouring of more
human energy into the political system!

Such
is the frustration that attends the terminal condition of political
systems. Few are any longer convinced that the state can produce
golden ages or great societies or workers' paradises, but they dare
not renounce their faith in an open fashion, and so content themselves
with participation in the voting ritual. But look at what this year's
presidential campaign has become: not the uniting of people
around a grand new social vision, but opposition to the other party's
candidate! Democrats continue to mouth the phrase "anybody
but Bush," while the Republicans focus upon the shortcomings
of John Kerry instead of the alleged virtues of George Bush.

There
is a sadistic quality to the political establishment's selection
of these wretched candidates as their front-men in this election.
The established order cares not which man prevails, as its policies
will be advanced with either. There is "bipartisan support"
— a phrase reflective of the one-party system in America — by Bush
and Kerry for continuation of the war in Iraq (and, perhaps, its
extension to other nations); for the Patriot Act, with its police-state
implications; and for further enlarging the size and powers of the
federal government. While the Iraq war is foremost in the minds
of most Americans, these two men have carefully skirted that issue,
preferring to focus on the Vietnam War, and their respective
roles therein.

While
the political establishment will be satisfied with either Bush or
Kerry in office, it will be even more pleased with a large voter
turnout that would create the impression of a reinvigorated support
for statism. But the establishment wants the expression of choices
confined to its two entries in this race: third party candidates
(or what should more accurately be referred to as second party
offerings) are to be discouraged — by the media, televised debates,
and ballot access — because the establishment does not control these
parties. The concerted effort to keep alternative political parties
out of the process confirms the observation that, if voting could
change the system it wouldn't be legal.

I
suspect that, come next Tuesday, the voting booths will be filled
with men and women who are so thoroughly conditioned in externally-directed,
politically-structured thinking and behavior that they can conceive
of no other way in which their lives and the rest of society could
be organized. To such people, the phrase "anybody but Bush"
could as easily be expressed as "any authority over my life
but myself."

A
politically-dominated society squeezes the humanity and spirit out
of most of its members. Perhaps the saddest manifestation of this
is to be found in the continued willingness of men and women to
revere the forms and participate in the rituals that have demoralized
their lives. The political process produces men and women who sleep,
but do not dream; people whose visions of the future are little
more than recycled memories.

Still,
there is some hope that might emerge from next Tuesday's national
circus. Whether Bush or Kerry wins will be completely irrelevant
to the quality of your life for the next four years, so you might
consider abandoning any illusions to the contrary. The only significant
message that could emerge from this election is if vast numbers
of eligible voters refuse to participate in the spectacle. To paraphrase
Charlotte Keyes, suppose they gave an election, and no one came?
If American soldiers in Iraq can muster the courage to refuse to
go on suicide missions, can the rest of us find the boldness to
refuse to participate in the quadrennial rites that place these
young people in such dangers? What if we began to understand the
voting process as an integral part of a suicide mission undertaken
on behalf of a system that is destroying our lives? Would not the
sight of empty voting booths signify a real change in America,
informing the political establishment that it no longer commands
either our respect or our fears?

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