Believing that each person has an equal vote in a democracy is like believing that banks will check each mortgage to make sure it's not a subprime risk. In fact banksters have been bundling mortgages — tossing subprimes in with primes and selling them as an aggregate — for long enough that we had been starting to believe there weren't any subprimes anymore but merely ascension, something like what Evangelicals call The Rapture. Well, there's been a lot of downward rapture lately. My brother is losing his house right now to the repo man, though he has an email in his inbox from two years ago — from me — telling him not to buy his crap house in Nashville, that the market would drop. Now the house will return to its original owners, the raccoons, who may have mixed feelings about his departure, because Clive, a gentle soul, had allowed them to remain in the attic and would play his mandolin for them.
The electoral landscape has as many rotten boroughs as the mortgage or "real" estate one. If your vote is for one of the two approved parties (sometimes three in non-U.S. parliamentary democracies), it's bundled and counted, and if not, it's tallied in a cluster of votes which are given only nominal status. Usually this is performed as some kind of musical chairs routine, where your vote bundle gets something called a "seat" if your team has played the game correctly. If you want to dissent, your vote bundle is not given a seat, but your group can tell each other with grave faces that you've "done" something to "change" things. Let's be clear about this. Most votes for change are bundled and thrown away. From this fact you might guess that voting is merely useless, but that isn't the case. Your vote for alternative candidates is useless but not your vote for the system. Your vote is useless for change but powerful for stasis — it ratifies the system and sends a strong message that you think it's okay to have a dynamic where any vote for change is tossed out. Don't kid yourself. Your deed in the voting booth isn't merely useless, it's pernicious.
How has voting, the mechanism for ceding authority to surrogates, come to seem like the means of actually reclaiming that authority? Voting is highly esoteric, even if you don't include certain anomalies in Western parliamentary procedure that stand out for their freak value, like the American electoral "college." But voting presents and re-presents itself as simple. Even those who have the most to lose from impenetrable and arcane electoralist procedural shufflings will routinely tell you that each person has a vote (I've even heard 17-year-olds tell me this!), though "each" and "person" and "has" and "vote" are highly contested categories with a level of complexity that does not lend itself to the glib integer of the "cast." Everyone used to "know" that a person was a man and not a woman and not a black man. Now we "know" that each person gets a vote. In such a system, could "I" "have" "a" "negative vote"? If you think the word "a" isn't contested, you may have forgotten Ohio and Florida. How have we come to this appalling state, where the vehicle that has made the greatest inroads on the self living authentically in the world, a vehicle which has thrust its tendrils into our most private parts, pierced our flesh, and dragged us off to Washington like so many interchangeable Mr. Smiths, can continue to appear not only as our savior but as our very self? Even lovers of big trees clamor to have a part in the general calamity, to comfort themselves with a color in the electoralist spectrum that is everywhere stolen from them in nature itself. Here in Toronto the number of seats the greens (who according to their signs were "voting for the future") garnered in the recent election was zero, which is a nice symbol because you can make a zero with your fingers and use it to view trees, which tend to look bigger this way. I write here as an environmentalist, by the way. I mention this because you might not be able to see my tears from where you're sitting.
This democratic dissatisfaction with the self, the urge to enlist it in some tawdry ventriloquist act, to keep it at a distance, is as old as philosophy, and could make you want to drink hemlock. As for me, I'm named after the second king of the Jews, a guy who liked to spy on women while they were bathing, murder their husbands, kill Palestinians for sport, and keep a sexy virgin in bed even after he was impotent. "Now this is a man after my own heart," said the Semitic storm god who installed him, and I have to say I've always liked David, because he was a big man who could weep, repent, and also write excellent prose. Of course, he wasn't as big as the first king, who'd been installed on the basis of his height and movie-star good looks, despite major provisos and warnings in triplicate from the storm god that this whole idea of a leadership structure wasn't going to do anyone any good. Well, it all came to a bad end, of course.
Why are we so sure we need leaders at all? Much of what passes for an answer to this is a highly complex set of insecurities but which appears to be as simple as citing pavlovian cue words and phrases like "Hitler" or "intruder in wife's bedroom." Here is our condition, then, to mistake the complex for the simple and the simple for the complex. The pre-utopian condition comes "after" modernism and post-modernism with their pretensions of naming our historical moment, but pre-utopia only appears to be something separate from our heart, here, now. It is the utopian condition with a cloud. I speak here as a five-year street person who knows a thing or two about intruders. Still I say, even when I am in the street: here. Not there. On the street, I learned to wake in strange places. The point is less about where you wake up, than that you do.
It's funny that in the system of elsewhere, of capital and statist abstractions, utopia is spoken of as distant in space and time. But really it is no where, in the same way that one's heart is not a where, unless it is everywhere. Eat, drink, sleep, be here now.
When people ask me what I have against democracy, I assume they mean other than its long history of bloody foreign adventures or other than the fact that its best forms are always complicit with totalitarian regimes, or other than the fact that it arises in slave states like 18th-century America or ancient Greece, or other than that it pretends to authenticate the self by sending it as a degraded proxy elsewhere to cede authority to people who are usually dumber than oneself and always less scrupulous, or that its rituals of affirmation and allegiance are too embarrassing to watch on TV even with the sound turned off, or that it's too embarrassing to contemplate the image of one's otherwise intelligent friends watching things called "debates" as if their irony somehow buffers them from the idiocy. So maybe they mean, other than the obvious. Do the Made in China stickers all over their apartments count as something other than the obvious? Do we need Hannah Arendt to tell us that democracy is merely a stage on the way to totalitarianism? Here's what you get in a democracy: until December 31st of this year, the label "Made in Canada" can legally be affixed to apple juice grown in China by Chinese people using Chinese apples and reduced to concentrate in China, on the basis of its having water and a container added to it at the Canadian end [Clark Hoskin, Edible Toronto, Fall, 2008]. You can learn everything you need to know about democracy's self-deceptions from that word "Made." Statist self-deception is constitutive, not incidental.
We're nickled and dimed in this way, lied to and cheated upon in fractions too numerous to tabulate, and it is no consolation that we in turn murder in decimal bits, suck Iraqi baby blood in subtle calculations reckoned to the right of the decimal point when we fill up our automobiles, and then slap ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that at least we're not like people with "regimes."
From the midst of this welter of micro-deceptions, the state exacts your tribute as a gesture of excess, and your submission comes not as a response to a request for the small change of your self, not merely for bits of you as the micro-fractured political subject you feel yourself to be. Rather the state wants all of you, and calls you to duty beneath the shining upright of the integer, the neat compression of the self into a single upright one (1), yourself squished sideways into the vertical submission of supportive citizen, like a soldier at attention, a sideways and non-committal smile, a single digit indistinguishable from the next, and your superiors can then mobilize you — now as an it — at will.
A sign on my neighbor's lawn urges us to vote, to "Stand Up For Canada." The sign keeps tipping over. Someone writes to tell me that the way to fix democracy is a new invention, The Fourth Party. As if the name doesn't hint at its likelihood of success. Voting for something called The Fourth Party is like hoping for a long line at the bank. Don't get me started.
I haven't had the heart to call Clive. In my mind's eye, he's sitting in the empty house, playing one last round for the animals. Then he gathers himself to leave. If I squint, I might see what comes next.
~ Dufferin Grove watershed, Toronto
November 3, 2008