Ballot Box Folklore: Reflections on a Recent Political Election
Alvin Lowi, Jr.
by Alvin Lowi, Jr.
It is commonly
believed that the ballot box contains a bona fide decision of the
people regarding the future course of human events. That is the
folklore. What is the truth? Is it really possible for "the
people" (whoever they are) to make such a decision? If not,
what is all the fuss about?
In truth, the
ballot box is merely a receptacle for ritual responses to hypothetical
propositions. I say hypothetical because the propositions or their
objectives are either beyond the reach and authority of the individual
humans casting the ballots or are outright deceptions. For many
participants, the practice of voting politically is somewhat analogous
to tossing coins down a wishing well or casting bottles containing
fanciful messages to whomever into the ocean.
While the intent
of the Machiavellian proposition writers may be only thinly disguised,
the tokens placed in the ballot box are absolutely opaque as to
the issuer and his intent. Nevertheless, people have somehow come
to believe the ballot box contents represent a firm decision of
the people in the neighborhood when not even a majority of those
in the neighborhood have participated. How does it happen that a
few can bind all regarding the government of the neighborhood? Who
shall control a monopoly of political power over a human population
in which only a small minority cast inert tokens of assent? The
question exposes a hoax. The ballot box symbolizes an absurdity.
box is merely the physical instrument of an imaginary entity popularly
known as the democratic majority the people. The so-called majority
plays a tune on the instrument that is supposed be the voice of
"the people." This story belongs in the library of fairy
tales. It is to the politically ambitious what the crystal ball
is to the circus fortune-teller.
ballots fail to include all valid alternatives including "none
of the above," the so-called decision is invalid. Such a decision
is a false alternative, a logical fallacy of the "excluded
decision of the people in the ballot box is also invalid because
it is a fraud. It is a fraud because it would delegate powers not
possessed by the participants in the ritual. Who among the electors
is endowed with the authority to commandeer the lives and properties
of his neighbors?
take place to the mantra of "one man, one vote." This
ode to equality overlooks the failure of political elections to
achieve even a one-to-one correspondence between ballots cast and
counted and people affected. The participants pro and con may not
even represent a majority of those affected, let alone a unanimity,
which, according to legend, has the legitimate authority to determine
who shall rule and under what policies.
it happens, sorting the ballots according to assent to a proposition
determines not a majority but only a plurality of those who turned
out and gestured in the affirmative. And that plurality might be
just a minuscule fraction of the population to be affected. Such
an outcome is a far cry from a perfect tally of the invisible intentions
of the people presumed to be expressing their wishes unambiguously
regarding governance. It is not even or necessarily an expression
of the majority in the ordinary sense of the term, namely 50% of
the population plus one. But it is definitely a clique bent on conquest.
So speak the vaunted polls in a so-called political democracy.
Rare is the
person who questions that a poll speaks for the majority. Rarer
yet is the person who doubts a majority can speak, through a poll
or anything else.
for the sake of argument that a poll is evidence that majority had
spoken. Can such a pronouncement qualify for rectitude?
are conditioned to accept "majority rule" without a second
thought. In doing so, they assume the majority is always right.
Accordingly, they are resigned to see whatever polling results prevail
even if they may have chosen otherwise. This habit of thought persists
notwithstanding the observation made by Jonathan Swift over three-hundred
years ago that "some people have no better idea of determining right
and wrong than by counting noses."
those people are right in the perverse sense that "might makes right."
There is no question that the "majority" can muster superior
physical might in the population to suppress minority dissent. Thereby,
the presumptive leaders of the "majority" obtain the superficial
appearance of being in the right.
the majority is usually wrong. It can be right only by accident
because its predilections always represent the lowest common denominator
of opinion. How else does a majority of diverse individuals come
to a uniform consensus?
Who is the
majority that he can have an opinion? Opinions like decisions are
formed in a human brain or not at all. Since a majority is only
a mindless collective mass of humanity, majority decisions are figments
of the human imagination. They are only the illusions of the participants
in a poll, who are like the participants in a masquerade.
sentiments and illusions, the people’s concern for the integrity
of the ballot box is understandable inasmuch as its contents will
determine who shall rule over them. The ballot box contents sanction
the people (a fictitious entity) to rule the people (the actual
population), who are not only the ones who cast votes but also the
ones who didn't. This clever sophistry resigns most people to submit
to whatever the outcome of the poll as long as such outcomes are
believed faithful to the ritual. Never mind the "majority"
is spurious and the decision illusory. Blind faith rules. The outcome
is considered fair as long as the sacrifice is uniform, universal
for a decision of the people is a proposition that must be formulated
by some person with a brain, that is subsequently ratified by a
ritual vote count. Curiously, the outcome of this process can be
radically altered by one anonymous vote more or less. Whatever raises
doubt that the tally is at odds with an actual nose-count casts
doubt on the outcome. Such doubt disturbs the faith. It shakes the
belief in the legitimacy of the outcome and any succession to rule
so ordained. The slightest hint that the vote count was corrupted,
miscounted, miscarried or forged can quickly turn the mood
of the subjects from doubt to outrage and on to outright rebellion.
The reaction to even an abstract notion that the "decision of the majority"
was thwarted by some evil conspiracy can produce panic in the streets.
Thus a population
of volitional human beings becomes a herd of political animals.
Such a hysterical reaction might be expected from an invasion of
alien plunderers. Alien invaders may be real or imagined, but plunder
is a fait accompli when the rulers take over their peers.
Plunder is the result of the election in any case however conducted,
and the plunderers will not be aliens. They will be domestic opportunists.
Ballot box contents settle the issue as to who shall be anointed
to do the deed with legal immunity.
at this stage of human history, such plunder is tolerated provided
the illusion of majority sanction prevails. Still, it is surprising
that a majority of humans in a population would sanction an establishment
wherein a few of them receive services without rendering any. This
immutable outcome is a far cry from the popular notion of fairness
– uniform and universal sacrifice for a good cause.
As if ordinary
theft or contamination of ballot box contents is not bad enough,
the new electronic voting machines threaten to defeat ordinary prudence
and protection of the count. This advancement in the technology
of manipulation is a boon to the masterminds of election fraud.
Add cyber crime to all the other usurpations with which a political
idealist must contend.
the worst that could happen? If you voted, perhaps you would have
been in the majority. Now, due to fraud, you are not. So the democratically
elected dictator is not of your choice. You chose a different dictator.
On the other hand, perhaps you merely deceived yourself in
the matter and have been denying reality ever since. If you
did not vote, you were at least resigned to your political fate
and the looting of your estate regardless of the outcome however
affected by whatever ballot scam. Perhaps you did not bother
to vote because you realize political democracy is a scam in and
of itself, and by abstaining, you weakened the electoral
deception foisted upon you and your fellows.
To the extent
the people go along with this gag, they have lost enough of
their individuality and autonomy to behave as a collective
– a herd of political animals rather than a population of responsible
human beings acting on their own recognizance. Collective action
versus human action – that is the contest of the ages between legerdemain
fetishes are symptomatic of a collectivistic habit of thinking.
Consider the phrase "the majority decides what everybody must abide."
Notice the presence of "group-speak," a linguistic tool
that relies on the nonsense that a population of individuals can
behave like a decision-making entity. Actually, a collective has
no brain in which to visualize alternative courses of action and
make choices among them, nor a voice with which to articulate such
a choice. Such functions are provided by leaders and spokesmen,
who are usurpers and opportunists.
from the fantasy of collective deciding that such so-called decisions
are somehow owned by all the individuals as a whole without regard
for responsibility for consequences in any coherent sense of the
term. The vote creates the illusion of a collective entity (a fictitious
organism) that is exempt from responsibility. Therein lies its popular
appeal. However, appeal is only wishful. It can not create a collective
brain, any more than Frank Baum’s "Wizard of Oz" could
give "Scarecrow" a brain.
Whereas a group
of people qua group has no brain with which to form a conclusion,
the individuals comprising the collective do themselves have brains,
and they could use them to make decisions, but only for themselves.
To attribute collective decisions to the group presumes the
individuals taken altogether as a whole are the property of
themselves as a whole, and that somehow all of them together as
a collective entity are able to conjure up a mental faculty attributable
to the whole. This is a conundrum of the following type:
States (whoever that is) decided to send some of 'its' people
to Iraq to remove its counterpart state from power. The United
States ordained that the expenses of this campaign are to be paid
by certain of 'its' people for the good of all of 'its'
people, especially the elected spokesmen for 'the people' as a
This type of
language is pervasive, and the habit of thought that underlies it
goes unexamined at great cost. An apt analogy is the proverbial
"knee-jerk reaction" inasmuch as a knee jerk is an automatic
biological response to a physical stimulus, not a conscious act
of a volitional human being.
It is a consequence
of the collectivity mystique that those so-called decisions rendered
by government bureaus at the behest of interest groups are somehow
"better" than decisions made by individuals. However,
bureaus and groups are brainless, and brainless decision-making
is a myth.
decision-making is mere political ritual, but it may very well lead
to a spasm of ugly and painful consequences. When confronted by
such "decisions" and their consequences, the renowned
aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman quipped: "a camel is a racehorse
designed by a committee." Thus, decisions made by a committee
(a collective) are an illusion best. The worst is always yet to
Only the decisions
of individual human beings can qualify as decisions in reality because
only they have the requisite brainpower. Real decisions applicable
to bona fide human action (as opposed to mob phenomena) can be made
only by someone with a functioning brain that is integral with a
functioning human individual. Mob phenomena are something else.
attributed to a mob inevitably lead to the imposition of force upon
all alike. The majority becomes a mob when, in the absence of reason,
it must rely on its only claim to rightness – physical might. Thereafter,
each member in lock step neglects his own volitional faculties to
its ultimate regret. Consequently, all rise and fall together as
the case may be.
Is this herd
behavior conceivably "better" than individual decision-making
that, seemingly chaotic, takes place at will in a market economy
where the consequences of myriad decisions are of limited province,
localized consequence and definite liability?
The fate of
collective decision-making is typified in the outcome of attempted
political regulation of the economy. Economists object to government
regulation on the grounds that the economy is too complex for anyone
to know sufficiently for that purpose, and therefore it is too complex
to direct or manipulate from a platform outside the arena of action
in a beneficial manner. Economist Daniel Klein illustrates the predicament
cannot know the local undulations of opportunity, just as intellectuals
cannot chart and predict the specific patterns of skating in a
roller rink. The skaters carry on, nonetheless, profitably and
without difficulty. The regulator who would direct and control
their activities is like the perambulator who presumes to accompany
Like the patterns
made spontaneously in the rink by the skater that are too complex
for anyone to mimic on foot, economic movements due to purposeful
human action are too complex for an external observer to control.
The more complex is the system, the more the mischief in the outsiders’
attempts to control.
Imagine a multitude
of skaters on an unbounded rink. Such complexity does not confound
the individual skater. He need not interpret the whole before making
his moves. He is pursuing opportunities particular to his own time
and place with knowledge appropriate to his own circumstances and
competence. He moves defensively and opportunistically with ease.
the central planner and would-be regulator of a market is faced
with the whole complexity at once. Although he may be tempted to
try, he cannot stop the world in order to get a grip. He bargains
to manipulate the whole mishmash at once. His job is hopeless. He
has no access to appropriate knowledge.
Whereas the bizarre
spectacle of a perambulator imitating a skater might be entertaining,
the analogous consequences of government’s attempts at directing
anonymous human lives in the economy are not amusing. History provides
countless ugly, even tragic examples. Indeed, it provides no exceptions.
of collective omniscience is perverse because its only claim to
"better" is by virtue of collective omnipotence, i.e.
superior brute force. But notice that brute force is irrelevant
to human progress except insofar as dynamite is an appropriate tool
for clearing boulders from a highway. Since politics is brute force,
it has no more relevance to human society than dynamite. Apropos
of this is attribute is Murphy’s analogy: "To a hammer, everything
looks like a nail."
government is irrelevant to life in its natural habitat, it should
not be surprising that collectivistic attitudes cause misery in
the real world.
the ballot box contains a bona fide expression of the will of the
people is a myth as fantastic as any attributed to the ancients
in a more innocent age. It is a myth comparable to the genie in
the bottle offering the liberator three fantastic wishes. But this
myth is a key feature of an outrageous hoax perpetrated on a deluded
people by clever opportunists ambitious for power over them.
Lowi [send him mail] has
been a professional engineer in private practice in Rancho Palos
Verdes, California, for the past 40 years.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com