To Vote or Not to Vote

In many countries there are elections looming and consequently articles and activities tend to be centred around the polishing up of candidates, who in turn try to blacken each other, while simultaneously trying to get the interest of all those people who have not yet shown much interest in voting – to encourage them.

And the social media are a popular way of doing so: There is currently a message going around Facebook that reads: “Not voting is not rebellion, it is surrender”.

I don’t know who coined that slogan, but they seem to imply that people who do not vote do so because they want to rebel against authority. That in turn makes me think that this message is probably intended for the young people who are generally believed to be rebellious and who in today’s climate are less politically active than those during the last decades of the twentieth century.

And who can blame them?

But I don’t want to discuss the hopeless future or details about specific political actions or countries; I want to talk about the sentiment behind this message.

By using terminology associated with wars, like “rebellion” and “surrender”, the message implies that voting equals fighting for democracy and if you do not do so, you are giving up your right to having a say – your voice – in the decision making.

The message appeals to moral duty – that you owe it to your country to participate – and exactly because of this choice of words, this message strongly resembles that with which governments ‘convince’ young people to join the military: they paint the picture of an enemy to which surrender means losing your freedom and equality and this message is usually accompanied by the idea that the alternative is tyranny, where people have no such rights.

But let us consider those ideas for a moment.

Rebellion is protest against authority, but in a true democracy the people are the authority and thus should have no cause to rebel.

And rights, like the right to life, freedom and equality are human rights – each human being acquires them by virtue of being born. So where do politicians get the idea that they can claim them as theirs to hand out as they see fit? Why should we be grateful to them? And where are those rights when a government resorts to conscription during a war or when they make voting compulsory?

The belief that a vote equals a voice is instilled in young children from the moment they set foot in school, so that, by the time they are at the age where they can vote, most have internalized that as a truism that is not open to consideration.

You have probably heard the question of whether a tree that falls in a forest when there is nobody there to hear it makes noise. Similarly, we can ask: If somebody shouts in the middle of a forest or a desert and there is absolutely nobody there to hear it, is it still a voice? Is there any use of expressing your freedom of opinion, if nobody can hear it?

And we can turn the question around and ask: If I shout in the middle of a cacophony of other noises, so that what I say gets drowned in the onslaught, is that having a voice? Is that having a say in the running of a country – which is what democracies claim: that of rule by the people for the people.

If I have an opinion and I express it, but nobody can hear my voice, am I really contributing to the rule of the people, or just to the general noise levels? Is a voice actually a voice in a deaf world?

Now, there are two manners in which democratic countries promote the idea that voting equals having a say. If you vote in a referendum you are allowed to say yes or no to one idea. The context, details and alternatives of that idea are not considered; you say yes or no, after which they count the votes and then decide whether or not to pay attention to this majority input: thus yes a vote, but not a voice.

If you vote for a politician, you vote for celebrity. They make all kinds of promises that are intended to win your vote – they openly admit that. After the elections, the votes are counted so the greatest celebrities get a seat in the government, which is composed of representatives of different political parties, so that all issues are reconsidered, regardless of any promises made, because the assembly as a whole has different priorities and will decide on new laws without consulting the people and there is no mechanism in place that allows the people to call the politicians on their promises or to remove them if they fail. Again yes vote, no voice.

To equate a vote with having a voice is buying into a deception.

To have a voice in an honest democracy, would mean being able to express your view, to be able to explain it and get a considered answer on it – to be treated as an equal instead of a number and take part in the discussion process. A voice without somebody to hear it is not having a say and such a vote is equal to putting a pebble in a jar.

Voting for candidates is equivalent to voting in a Miss World contest – they also get to say what they would do to make the world a better place in order to make the best impression.

And who, in reality, is this enemy we cannot “surrender” to by not voting?

Is it a foreign nation ready to invade? Is it a tyrant with grandiose ideas? Is this enemy we invite by not voting an enemy from outside?

Or is it coming from those who won the last popularity contest? Is it those who held a referendum about some important issues and then ignored the results? Is it those who sell the nation’s natural resources to multi-nationals that use dangerous methods of extracting them? Is it those who will gladly stick the nation’s money into buying military supplies instead of providing for the poor? Is it those who forcibly remove children from homes if the parental methods are not in line with the latest fashion? Is it those in power, who employ the police to force people to stop protesting against such measures?

In short, against whom are we defending our right to a voice, to equality and freedom if we vote in elections?

The enemy implied are the politicians – the same celebrities who need our vote to get more popular. Those who benefit by keeping a political system that relies on elections.

Politicians, of course, are ridiculed plenty. Douglas Adams called them lizards and asked why we keep voting for lizards. The answer is that we have the choice between lizards and lizards.

In the meanwhile, these lizards happily share in the ridicule, because the jokes only add to their celebrity and in the end they get to sell out the land, take away the children and send the police after those people who protest that. And if you call them on that, they turn around and say, “you had a voice, so shut up already”. In the end, when things start falling apart because of the consequences of their choices, they get to retire and write their memoirs, because they are celebrities. In the end only their voice was heard.

Now, as explained in other posts, I am not saying that politicians are by definition corrupt or liars or power mad – It isn’t that simple. Most politicians start with the best of intentions and that is exactly the problem, because it is very difficult to convince a person who is totally immersed in his faith that the system may not work. But we need more than intentions to save the Earth from pollution and the people from another war.

To start with, we should stop calling politicians “leaders” – they are not. A few years in university and a popularity contest don’t make a person capable of insightful decision making, of understanding the long-term consequences and of selflessness – the natural traits of leaders – on the contrary, a system that relies on popularity invites exactly those who look at the short-term future, who make decisions based on how popular an idea already is and withdraw from public life when things don’t work out.

Note that I am not and never will be in favour of tyrannies, where power hungry self-important people threaten and abuse their population. But to believe that it is the only alternative to a democracy is to believe in a fairy tale. Obviously, there is no system where every person will be completely free, but honest leaders admit this and don’t deceive their people.

So, is not voting surrender to the enemy? No, not if the enemy are those people who help your country to economic and natural disaster. Not if the enemy are those people who will take away your kids if they don’t like your parenting style. Not if they are the people who will not take any definitive actions to save the Earth, because it may make them unpopular. Not if they are the politicians that get their power through elections.

Voting is surrendering to the dictatorship of the mob. Not voting is a principled stance against a deceptive system and a call for honour: if we want to have a voice and freedom and if we really want to save the Earth, we need a change of political system. We need leaders who are in it for the long-run and who own their decisions instead of buying them. A captain doesn’t jump ship – a true leader does not retire.

If the majority of people would refuse to vote and make a stance to demonstrate that, would demand answers to their concerns and their voices to be acknowledged, and would demand the immediate dismissal of any politician who doesn’t come through on the promises made during the elections, then we could start talking about having a voice; until that time, the slogan is a deception.

Not voting, en masse, is the only way to change the system from party politics to true democracy and more equality and freedom. As long as we keep voting, we keep putting celebrities where leadership is required and no decisions will be made, because their only concern is for the amount of votes in the next election.

I must mention that the stakes in Scotland are different at the moment, since the people are actually voting in a referendum for freedom from an outside ruler and their referendum question is a closed question that can be answered by yes or no.