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A heretic's guide to voting: fighting progressivism through national elections.

A heretic’s guide to voting:

Fighting progressivism through national elections

“This is the most important election of our lifetimes.” I learned that from the Twitter feed of a twenty-year-old college student with a perfectly angled selfie for her avatar. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps the 2022 midterm election, like every national election before it, is indeed the most important election of “our” lifetimes. Perhaps the country is a speeding car about to launch itself into the terrifying void above a ravine, to be pulled to an inescapable end of twisted metal and tangled body parts splattered on the rock below. Perhaps we’re all stuck in the backseat, shouting, groping, elbowing each other over control of the wheel before it’s too late. Perhaps every rubber revolution is a step closer to certain death; the next battle always the most vital by virtue of the vanishing road ahead.

Mainstream institutions seem to side with the young Twitter avatar on this, albeit with marginally less melodrama. When it comes to voting, social media platforms have gone from being personal assistants to nagging stalkers.

They’ve developed a maniacal obsession with deifying the democratic process and ensuring that the rest of us don’t fall behind on our Hail Marys. Special tabs, feature placements, and intrusive alerts remind us when and how to register, when and where to vote, what our various voting options are, and how crucial to the future of humanity it is that we pick between blue and whatever that unsavory alternate color is called. Retribution is swift against those who joke about voting dates or eligibility, or who dare ask the wrong kind of question related to the security or integrity of blue victories. The message is clear: “most important” or not, this next election is decidedly sacred.

It’s time for some heresy.

What is voting?

Voting in a national election is not like voting amongst friends on whether to get pineapple on your pizza (the correct answer is: never). Nor is it like voting in a boardroom on whether to fire your Trust and Safety Officer (the correct answer is: always). Pizza parties and businesses are voluntary associations: you’re not stuck with either your friend group or your company; you’re free to form new friend groups and new companies. Or even to go home and watch the Grand Prix by yourself, or to quit sitting in boardrooms altogether and follow Max Verstappen around the globe.

But your relationship with government is not at all voluntary. You’re pretty much stuck with your country—or at least a country. If you’re a US citizen, no matter where you and Max Verstappen go, the IRS will be there. I’d say, “just ask John McAfee,” but thanks to his country you’ll have to ask his widow, Janice. You’re not even free to go home and sulk, because—even if you have no mortgage—your home isn’t really yours. It’s the government’s home; you’re just leasing it from them in the form of tax payments and compliance. People who don’t understand contracts like to call this arrangement a “social contract” in the same way that people who don’t understand “justice” like to prepend the word “social” to it and then devolve happily into modern tribal warfare.  For the wild risk takers out there, beware: you’re not even free to form your own country.  Just ask Chad Elwartowski and Nadia Thepdet, who built their home in international waters only to be brutally hunted by the Thai navy while other nations simply grabbed some popcorn and enjoyed the show from the couch. Nothing about your relationship with the government is voluntary. You are—like hostages, conscripted soldiers, and your ancestral Medieval serfs—under duress. If your god taught you a code phrase to utter in the event that you’re being coerced, now’s the time to speak it.

As a serf, you have been granted the opportunity to vote for (or even apply to become a part of) the political aristocracy that will manage you. Of course, voting is not a right: it can’t be, because natural rights exist a priori to government. Governments can either recognize rights or not, but they can’t conjure them out of thin air. Voting is an entitlement granted by a government, one which is unreservedly denied whenever that government deems fit. In modern democracies, we naively tend to believe that universal suffrage will magically mitigate political oppression, and so frown upon denying the vote to ordinary citizens without extreme cause. But the founding fathers of the U.S. were terrified of what horrors unbridled democracy might hatch, and tried in vain to limit the tyrannical power wrought by impressionable—not to say zombie-like—mobs. In the end, voting is merely a battle over the gun in the room, or to reuse an earlier metaphor: the steering wheel of the speeding car. And it’s a battle fought under duress: if you don’t grab ahold of it, someone else will, and ze might very well point it at you. Or drive us all over a cliff.

Basic Voting Options

So, we’re living under purple totalitarianism; now what? We unwashed masses have three basic options available:

  1. Comply and vote violet
  2. Sneak some other colors into the voting booth
  3. Take your crayons and go home

Option 1: Comply and vote violet

This is what, at most, roughly 2/3 of Americans do. It’s a vote for the Uniparty. Which is to say, it’s a vote for continuing on the course of the past several decades. More of the same, please!

Arguments for voting Uniparty

If you’re a progressive social justice warrior fighting the capitalist-white-male-cis-patriarchy, then voting blue is pretty much the way to go here. True, the blues don’t always move as quickly as Stalin might have—and most of them are more interested in political power, insider trading, and deftly camouflaging their lizard skin than implementing the petty agenda of misanthropic toddlers—but they’ve been getting the job done for generations now. Be patient and pull the donkey lever. Regardless of who wins, the blue agenda consistently beats the competition. Not that it’s that difficult.

Every election cycle, those opposed to the long march of leftism convince themselves that red is the only practical obstacle available. In terms of real resistance, unauthorized, aggressive colors like Libertarian yellow(ish) might actually provide more than a speed bump and a wink, but Libertarians are a disorganized band of quirky and funny little political trolls who never seem to win. It’s really not very polite to vote for Libertarians because one gets the eerie sense that maybe they’re serious about defunding the bloated, intrusive administrative institutions of Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and prince Obama (hallowed be thy name). And they just might have a few discourteous adjectives for the likes of certain Republican politicians as well. No, they won’t do. To vote for Libertarians is to throw away your sacred vote. And that’s important: your vote is sacred. You can’t go throwing away sacred treasures now, can you? The church is purple. Purple always triumphs, so the reasoning goes, and if you vote red then at least you’ve got a 50% chance of winning.

Arguments against voting Uniparty

Winning what? To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, if you win 50% of the time, you’ll lose every time. Republicans are so bad at fighting progressivism that for as long as I’ve been alive everyone refers to budget increases as “cuts” whenever the increases aren’t big enough to satisfy Democrats. To rely on the party that fawns over the CIA, gave us the Patriot Act, and wants to hang Edward Snowden for tattling on the NSA is, frankly, suicidal. And when it comes to opposing massive Democrat power grabs like Obamacare, Republicans are at best impotent and at worst accomplices.

Sure, they’ll go on Fox News to whine a bit, tossing out platitudinous objections while sheepishly conceding every underlying premise, all the while sidestepping any conversation about actually reducing the scope of government by jettisoning sacred cows and intrusive policies that strangled the health care system in the first place. They’ll promptly lose, of course, because ignorant spinelessness isn’t all that compelling, and then they’ll spend the next several years either performatively tinkering with the new system to “improve efficiency,” or soapboxing for some equally disgusting behemoth of an alternative with a translucent red veneer. There’s really nothing else to be done at this point, they’ll tell us. Gotta be practical. Oh, well. Hey, there’s an election coming up. Make sure you don’t throw your vote away!

Option 2: Sneak some other colors into the voting booth

Almost no one votes for third parties. And since the violet party controls ballot rules, districting, and every single government institution from the city council to the CIA, it’s no wonder third parties consistently lose.

Arguments for voting third-party

Voting for third parties like the Libertarians can change political discourse as a whole. More support means more pressure on Cathedral institutions to include Libertarians in debates, interview them in hushed tones on NPR, and cackle and gesticulate over them on The View. Which means: more people exposed to a wider variety of political arguments of the non-violet variety. Even if you don’t always agree with all their policies, what they bring to the table in terms of context-shift and dissonance with Uniparty narrative is crucial. Voting Libertarian is sacrificing the fleeting dopamine hit of an anticipated (and ultimately pyrrhic) red victory for the more subtle and perhaps even imperceptible shift in attitudes over a lifetime. It’s opening the Overton window. It’s playing the long game. It’s the birthing of political children.

One curious but common psychological phenomenon that surfaces whenever Republican voters contemplate abandoning the pews of the Uniparty church is a raging case of double standards. All sorts of personal misalignment with Republican candidates is regularly permitted: he’s good on taxes, but bad on foreign policy; she’s good on foreign policy, but bad on abortion; he’s good on abortion, but bad on free speech. “But that’s all okay,” the lifelong Republican concludes, “no one is perfect; I’m voting for the lesser evil, so I’ll hold my trunk and kiss the other elephant.” But when it comes to Libertarian candidates, the opposite is often true: any perceived discord is catastrophic for support, and since Libertarians tend to be more straightforward, unrefined, and armed with less vaguely crowd-pleasing rhetoric, discord is easy to spot. “I agree with him on everything, except he’s against the War on Drugs; I agree with her on everything, except she wants to stop sending money to Ukraine; I agree with him on everything, except he’s stupid to think we don’t need an income tax!” And that’s it; the potential voter has discovered a loose thread and he’ll use it to unravel the whole notion of straying from the herd. Pachyderms over porcupines, till death do us part. Such a voter is progressive by default.

Arguments against voting third-party

At the risk of stating the obvious, your candidate won’t win. There’s never been a Libertarian US Senator in the history of the US Senate, for example (unless you replace the capital “L” with a lowercase one and are willing to rewind a couple hundred years). There’s a non-zero but infinitesimal chance at the state level, but don’t count on it. The arguments against voting for a third party are basically the same as the arguments for voting Uniparty. If Ron Burgundy were to summarize again, he might say that 0% of the time, you win every time. If your goal is to gulp free champagne at an election night victory bash, then Libertarians aren’t the people you want to party with. Which, by the way, is a somewhat paradoxical exception to the normal rules for partying.

Option 3: Take your crayons and go home

Plenty of people don’t vote and, other than JavaScript-enabled scolds from social media companies, no one seems to bother them about it. Unless they do it intentionally. Then it’s a sin; a shirking of one’s responsibility; an abdication of one’s right to be dissatisfied with castle policy. Vote, or shut up and take it. The democratic process is freedom, and also mandatory.

Arguments for not voting

Other than depressed resignation and apathy, there are at least two common arguments for voting abstinence proffered by the “liberty community,” broadly defined. The first is that voting is immoral because by participating in the process of fighting over the gun in the room, you’re using force against other people. In other words, even if your candidate wins, she will inevitably pick up the gun of government and point it at other people on your behalf. This makes you an accomplice to the initiation of the use of force. You may not be the thug, but you’re the one who handed her the gun and told her to go around threatening people and stealing their stuff. Shame on you. I suppose this argument would fall apart if an actual anarchist were to run for office, since he’d simply oppose anything and everything that the government tried to do. But how often does that happen? And perhaps a counterargument to that would be that if he’s still drawing a salary, or even if he refuses compensation, his mere presence in D.C. has a cost associated with it that is paid by blood money (i.e. taxes, central banking shenanigans, etc.). But our fantastical civic-minded anarchist would also be “legitimizing the system,” which is considered by some to be a crime against voluntaryist philosophy.

The purple church, it is argued, needs to be razed to the ground. Not just the red and blue stained glass, but the entire building. An administrative dictatorship of the masses is the unavoidable product of our political system: a suffocating tax farm run by elites from the World Economic Forum isn’t a fluke, it’s a structural inevitability. As depressing at that may sound, there is a great deal of truth to this conclusion. It comports with the observation that, in the long run, shared philosophic premises and cultural values gradually steer society in a particular direction, and political rules written on a piece of paper can never provide adequate guardrails against the lumbering inertia of the populace. There are some undercurrents here that add nuance; political feedback loops that break the simple linear model, but it’s a presentable first-order approximation of the world. The only way to instigate real change, then, is through a transformation of the culture that includes mass disenchantment with the current system. Instead of breaking the spell, voting just reinforces it.

Arguments against not voting

The idea that voting is the initiation of the use of force is wrong. Remember: you’re a serf; a hostage; a non-consenting participant in a giant government coliseum. You can’t go home, or leave, or opt-out. There’s initiation of force alright, but you’re not the one guilty of it. Maybe voting is a form of using force, but if you’re voting in an attempt to strip government thugs of power and not to grant them more power for use against others on your behalf, then any violence inherent in your vote is purely retaliatory. Taking hostages is immoral, but struggling to relieve the hostage taker of his gun isn’t, even if it means other people might unintentionally get hurt in the process. Collateral damage is debited from the predator’s moral bank account, not the victim’s. It’s not anyone’s place to micromanage how other people defend themselves, provided that what they’re doing is truly defensive in nature.

It may be true that the most effective way to fight progressivism in the long run is to undermine the credibility of the system rather than legitimize it. But voting only really legitimizes the system if you vote purple. And although voting for more liberty-minded third parties rarely leads to political success, it does help change political discourse, which can weaken the power of the purple church over time. That’s partly what dismantling the system looks like. On the off chance that a “libertarian” third-party victory actually materializes, it carries an added bonus of erecting larger barriers to the oozing expansion of Washington’s progressive Swamp Thing. Unless you’re an accelerationist, that’s a win-win.

Conclusion

Our culture is so enamored with the vague notion of “democracy” that discouraging people from voting is sacrilege. As election day approaches, we’re increasingly bombarded with “get out the vote” campaigns, prodding reminders to make our voices heard, and speeches about the importance of making voting easy and accessible. Except that there’s no evidence to suggest that convenient, whimsical, drive-by ballot casting by otherwise disengaged citizens leads to more liberty. I suspect the reverse is true. I’d like to see what this country would look like if we all had to re-register to vote for each election separately, six months beforehand, on a Tuesday between 10 and 11am. And we had to show up to the polls in person, and people with conflicts of interest (government employees, recipients of corporate and personal welfare, etc.) were barred from voting altogether. I’m not sure what would happen, but seeing as how our founding fathers would have been sharpening their bayonets years ago, I’m also not sure what the risk is at this point. A faster descent into the progressive surveillance state?

No matter which of the three options you chose this election year, I hope this guide helped you think about your relationship to voting (and D.C.) more generally. I don’t know if we’re all stuck in a car with that Twitter avatar racing to the edge of the void, or not. If we are, then almost certainly she and I disagree about which way to yank the steering wheel. Perhaps we’re destined to yank each other’s hair instead; clawing, grasping, cursing each other until it’s too late. Or perhaps the void has captured us already. Perhaps our frenzy is impotent. Perhaps this is the least important election of “our” lifetimes. Perhaps the political trajectory of the United States was set generations ago by unexamined ideas, values, and convictions now widely considered culturally axiomatic. Perhaps it’s our last chance not to steer, but to jump out of the car.

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