Every four years, I revisit my thinking about voting. I do it because I’ll revisit any old thinking given a chance and a reason, and because one of the consequences of this particular old thinking is that many people, on hearing it, feel more distant from me.
A theme of my life has been to find steps I can take to feel less apart from other people. Every election has generally been a big backward step. Every four years, I hope I can adapt myself to holding less alienating thoughts, or at least find less alienating ways to express them.
Right now, I’m feeling hopeful.
I believe, and you may agree, that…
It was meaningful and emotionally resonant when we managed to elect a black man as President. It will be meaningful and emotionally resonant when we manage to elect a woman. Maybe today.
I’m open to the possibility that, in some contexts…
- Voting is morally or ethically superior to not voting
- Voting can more effectively bring about desirable outcomes than not voting
- Voting is significant compared to other actions we can take
I have not yet found myself in contexts where these claims seemed likely to be true.
I agree that…
Voting is buying into democracy.
In previous elections, I’ve often been told “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” (about what the elected officials wind up doing). I’ve sometimes replied “If you do vote, you can’t complain” (about what the system of power inevitably winds up doing). But I never found it satisfying to say that. Everyone can always complain whenever they like, of course, and my goal had been to increase mutual understanding, not score a cheap rhetorical point.
In this election, I don’t recall anyone telling me this one. I’d be happier about it if I didn’t think it was because I’ve been talking openly with many fewer people than in previous elections. (I’m writing these words in a small attempt to do better about that.)
In previous elections, I’ve often been told that the debates are an important way to become informed about the issues and the candidates, and it’s irresponsible not to watch. In this election, I haven’t heard anyone say this. I’m somewhat happy about it because it means, for once, that my not watching the debates hasn’t added distance between me and other people. I’d be happier about it if we weren’t so polarized that those who watched the debates saw only confirming evidence of their choice.
I don’t agree that…
not voting is self-disenfranchisement
I’m not disenfranchised simply because I don’t want to be part of this specific franchise. I continue to exercise my agency and influence in ways I find congruent.
It matters who we elect
It also costs us. Some of the costs we never know, and many we can only guess. By the time we know more, it’s too late.
We all suspect we know which choice of presidential candidate would reduce more harm. One of them sounds, to my ears, far more evidently dangerous. That doesn’t fill me with certainty. It fills me with doubt about the other candidate, who is far more practiced at appearing sensible and humane and also at working the system of power.
I know which one sounds worse. But I don’t know which one is worse. We can’t know. There is no means through which that knowledge can be available to us.
Do I want to participate in a giant system of power — one with with long, slow, obfuscatory feedback cycles — that requires us to put one of these people in office? I don’t. As an Agilist, I don’t see this as a system that can ever work well, or that can ever trend toward better.
There’s no way this election doesn’t have consequences. That doesn’t mean I see any option for influencing them to my liking.
It also matters, far more, what else we do
John Lewis risked his life for something he held dear:
I’ve marched, protested, been beaten and arrested — all for the right to vote. Friends of mine gave their lives. Honor their sacrifice. Vote.
Selma flattened me. I don’t know that I could have done what he did. I do know that the value he places on voting does not obligate me to do the same. When I see how he and others had to fight for some small additional fraction of equal treatment backed by the power of law, it does not occur to me that to solve this problem we must arrange for this power to be shared by more people. It occurs to me that this power is the proximate cause of the problem. We can’t prevent cruelty, but we are not obligated to put leaders in a system of power that magnifies the effects of any cruel behavior. And if the only option we can offer those to whom this system of power has been especially cruel is for them to participate in it more fully, then there is much more kindness waiting to be released from our hearts.
We invented this system. We can invent another one.
Neither voting nor not voting is sufficient
That’s how I see it. If voting is part of what you need to do, I’ll try to understand. I hope you’ll try to understand why not voting is part of what I need to do. And I’m quite sure that together, with our combined privilege and savvy and smarts and love, we can have a far more meaningful influence than the one we’ll have today.
Let’s keep using all our advantages to move the world, inch by inch, toward the world we want.