On the Ethics of Voting

On the Ethics of Voting: a Dialogue Between George and Robert
So, this was supposed to be a higher-quality production, but there were scheduling issues and time constrains such that we had to settle on the demo recording as our final recording.  We were planning on having a celebrity guest, but we couldn’t get everything worked out in time.  Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to revisit this script and get a better rendition recorded.

Still, all of the material and substance is here, just not as polished and palatable as I had hoped.  Above is the audio version, and below is the script.  Enjoy.

UPDATE 2015-5: Brian Sovryn had some excellent points to make on the subject of voting, and I thought they were worth adding to this discussion:

George: Oh, hi, Rob… I didn’t expect to see you here on a day like today.

Robert: What’s going on here? Handing out free books at the library or something?

George: >sigh< Rob… it’s election day. And no, I don’t have time for your Socratic bullshit; I just gotta get my ballot in the box and get back to work.

Robert: Socrates was an asshole, that hurt my feelings; but I can see where you’re coming from. I used to really, really get involved in elections… reading all of the amendments and referendums in their entirety, looking at voting histories and financial backers… It was exhausting, but I felt it was rewarding, even though I only ever voted on the winning side once. But It was rewarding, doing my civic duty and upholding the political system that kept us from destroying ourselves.

George: Yeah, but I follow your social media now-a-days. I guess I have time to talk for a little bit… I am just waiting in line for about an hour or so. You do know that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, right?

Robert: It was a very smart and grouchy old man that once said, “If you vote you have no right to complain.” I don’t always agree with him, but he was on top of his game for a good portion of his life. So, now, I have to decide whether this one smart guy was right, or the general consensus of the masses is right. >chuckle< You know…

George: Yes, I know… “republic versus democracy”… Your sense of humor has declined over the years. I also think your philosopher is wrong. I mean, if there’s a guy that is running for president or congress or something that is vehemently in favor of infanticide and you don’t vote against him, you’ve essentially allowed him to pursue an evil course of action with your tax dollars. You could have done something to stop him, but you didn’t. You have no right to complain.

Robert: So, I have to choose a lesser evil?

George: If there is no good candidate, yes… but every so often, Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan runs for office.

Robert: “I sought for great men, but all I found were apes of their ideal…”

George: What was that?

Robert: Nothing, just something a philosopher said… if we are going to get into the “lesser evil” debate again, I would suggest we should lay some ground rules. we’ve gotta be operating in the same paradigm, with the same premises, or we’ll just keep talking past each other.

George: Yeah, I remember your philosophy club; ground rules are fine. What do you propose?

The Anarchist Position

Robert: Well given how the environment we are in is quite adversarial towards my position and we are limited in time, may I suggest we start by assuming the anarchist position today?

George: You’ll have to define it for me, because when you say “anarchist” I still only see white utopians complaining on social media and black kids throwing Molotov cocktails at gas stations .

Robert: We’ll go with the easy definition, then. We’ll just say that anarchy is “the rejection of any institution predicated on coercion, theft, or murder”.

George: I’m not sure what that has to do with voting, but I’m sure you’ll tell me all about it. Are you going to tell me that voting is murder?

Robert: Well, I think that we can just confine ourselves to voting like we are here. I wouldn’t say that all voting is evil… If we had a group of friends trying to decide where we should go for lunch, for example, we could vote on where we are going as a group. Anyone who doesn’t want to go to the selected restaurant doesn’t have to go or pay for anything.

George: Isn’t that exactly what’s going on right now?

Robert: Well, ignoring representatives for a moment, let’s take a look at your ballot. Let’s see, here I see a handful of amendments, propositions, and issues that are not opt-in like our example. You see, “raise taxes”, “forced labeling”, “more taxes”, “banning pets” “raise taxes”… Regardless of whether or not I vote, or how I vote if I were to do so, I will still be forced to abide by these rules. In effect, my friends are telling me “You HAVE to go to Chuck ‘e Cheese’s, and you WILL pay a percentage of the bill,” which is coercion and theft. An anarchist wouldn’t allow for that.

George: So, you should vote against those things, disallow them from happening, Mr. Anarchist. I think you have a difficult uphill struggle to make a compelling argument from what you just said to reach “I don’t vote”.

Robert: Oh, it’s even harder than you think. I’m not saying “I don’t vote,” but rather, “Everyone ought not to vote as participation in any system that is predicated on coercion, theft, or murder.”

George: Wait wait wait… I see where this is going. We’ve had these discussions about anarchy before, and we don’t have time to do that… last time, we talked for six hours and still had ground to cover when I went home. So for rule number two: let us, to the best of our ability, confine the discussion solely to voting (arguing from the anarchist’s position) without getting sidetracked on other pedantic issues about anarchy.

Robert: Fair enough, as long as you let me include this discussion in a book I’m writing on this very subject. Or, at least, use this discussion for inspiration. You may actually help me figure out, once and for all, what my stance is on voting and have sufficient justification for both myself and my critics.

George: That’s fine. So, what’s your big hangup?

Justifications for and condemnations against voting

Robert: Well, I would say my big hangup is established in the anarchist position itself: I disbelieve in the authority of the government, so why would I vote? Rather than just diving right in, though, I think it may work better if you tell me why you’re voting rightnow. You’ve already agreed with me that a government such as ours is broken in past discussions, let’s start there.

George: Well, that’s precisely why I’m voting. Unlike you, I’m not committed to the idea that social order is inherently evil, only that this particular government is not doing it’s best at upholding social order and freedom. I’m committed to changing what we’ve got into something better. It’s this commitment to change that brings me here: the action of voting is the most effective and easiest way to enact that change.

Robert: So what are you here voting for? To eliminate taxes, defund the enforcement of unjust laws, and end government-funded murder? I didn’t see those options on the ballot; let me see it again.

George: That’s not fair, and you know it. It took a long time to get into this mess, and it will take a long time to get out of it. Yes, all I can do this election is choose who is best suited to the political positions available and vote against levying new taxes. In the future, the politicians we elect may put taxation reducing and freedom promoting bills on the congressional floor or on the ballot for popular vote.

Robert: It may not be fair, but it is true. Even if you are assuming government is somehow justified, voting was either the direct cause for this mess or was insufficient to prevent or even mitigate the creation of this mess. To take it from our current specific instance to the categorical realm: I argue that voting in government, when “done right”, is the means by which the majority can take advantage of the minority through coercion, theft, and murder and, when “done improperly”, is the means by which the ruling class can appease the masses desire for freedom while disallowing the ability to truly influence governance… notice the absence of any good option on your ballot, representative or otherwise.

George: You’re mistaken. Voting is the method by which a society of free people agrees on how their particular society ought to be run. We got into this mess because there are too many uneducated, disengaged people voting themselves benefits.

Robert: So, because in the past we have had a majority of fools in society, all of them voting to steal people’s property and force them to make bad decisions, we are in this mess? I’m not sure I believe that, but even if it were true I have to ask how you aren’t condoning that theft and coercion by continuing to participate in the system which institutionalizes such behaviors.

George: There may have been more people voting for bad representatives and presidents before, but now that people have seen that the old way of doing things it isn’t working, we will soon have a majority ready to enact real change.

Robert: That didn’t answer my question: “If your political system explicitly allows a mass of individuals to vote in such a manner to steal your property and coerce you to make bad decisions, how do you not support those very actions when you vote?”

George: Oh, that’s easy, I simply vote against those choices.

Robert: You may be able to vote against this amendment here that says “Should we raise taxes?”, but what about your representatives? You don’t get to vote against people, only for them. Even if you could, they can still do whatever they want once they are in office.

George: If you don’t vote for someone you’re voting against them. And besides, when someone is elected, they are kept in check by the checks and balances of the system as well as the threat of not getting re-elected.

Robert: Wow. ‘If you don’t vote for someone, you’re voting against them.” I rest my case.

George: I suppose I wasn’t clear enough: if you vote for someone’s opponent, you are voting against them.

Robert: It sounds to me like a vote for something is a vote for something, and a vote against something is a vote against it… and paying attention to words and what they actually mean is important if we want to be honest to ourselves. So, say I “vote against” some evil politician or another and vote for some less-evil guy instead; regardless of who wins, then, am I not condoning the actions of the victor simply by participation in such a system and my agreement to abide by the rules of the game?

George: Not if I vote against the guy, or elect someone into the other branches of the government to check their poor decisions.

Robert: I level the same accusation against the “checks and balances” as I do voting in general: either the checks and balances are insufficient or have expressly allowed us to vote our way into this mess.

George: Again, it’s the surplus of stupid people that have caused this… that’s the risk of a free society. Besides, if you don’t like the options, you can always run for office.

Robert: Free society… ha. So, anyone can just show up and say “I want to be president” and have even a remote chance of winning? I think not; show me one candidate in the last century that wasn’t carefully selected by the republicans or democrats and got even ten percent of the votes… or even got a spot in the debates before election… but that’s beside the point. If I did win, I would be paid money which was stolen from people with the express intent of giving it to me. And, what’s more, how are you free if your behavior and rights are dictated by the will of the majority?

George: I’m free because we’ve voted to prevent my actions and rights from being dictated by the will of any random aggressor. Besides, freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you want, but I’ve already explained this to you.

Robert: You have attempted to, yes, but I’m going to inquire as to how you expect those laws to be enforced.

George: The threat and reality of imprisonment or death seems to work well enough.

Robert: So, if you’re a minority, men with guns will make you do what they want? Well, that explains the environment in the inner cities and prisons… but you can’t simply legislate morality and force people to be good.

George: The law IS morality. Voting is the method by which a society ensures just laws.

Robert: Say what, now?

George: Without laws (and their enforcement) against behaviors such as murder, coercion, and theft, those behaviors will run rampant. Voting is the method by which society agrees on what is immoral. The term for it is “illegal”.

Robert: With all due respect, that is just patently absurd. If the law derives it’s authority from the opinion of the majority, it’s no different than justice being the will of the strongest or a direct attack on ideological pluralism. If the majority or their representative decides to round up all the Jews, gays, Blacks, Catholics, Japanese, or whatever minority you choose, and put them in labor camps or gas chambers, that’s what is considered just and moral… If the law, however, derives it’s authority from some objective matter or truth, then voting is clearly one of the worst ways to determine what a just law is. We would rather go to a theocracy or Plato’s Republic.

George: Well, we have representatives, as opposed to a direct democracy, which we elect based on how closely their opinions match ours.

Robert: That still leaves the problems that theocracy or Republic are supposed to account for. I see one of two possibilities. One, there is no objective morality from which the law is derived: your opinion is merely that and you are delegating the actual task on oppressing an ideological minority to your representative. Or the other option is that there is an objective moral good from which laws derive their justification and that the democratic process of voting is actually contrary to allowing that to happen; elected representatives who are elected by ignorant masses are merely representatives of that ignorance.

George: You didn’t let me finish. The purpose of the representatives are to be exemplar instances of the population they represent. They are given the task of discussing the issues at hand in order to vote on their peoples’ behalf. In this way, our model reflects the ideas in your Plato’s Republic: politicians are philosopher kings.

Robert: Exemplar of what, exactly? Clearly, you don’t believe this… you wouldn’t simultaneously claim “our voting system is just, the only reason we have this mess is because too many people are ignorant people” and also hold the belief that “our system of voting is an acceptable method of electing philosopher kings that can determine the truth of things”. They fundamentally contradict themselves, and I know you’re smarter than that.

George: Well, if you put it that way, they do. I’ll get back to you on that one. Besides, it sounds to me like you’re arguing things you don’t believe either: “your options are humanistic subjectivism or theocracy.'” Hardly sounds like an anarchist argument.

Robert: Close. I was pointing out the flaw in your reasoning. Your excuse for voting doesn’t hold water; it merely justifies non-representative governments, which like anarchy is opposed to voting. Here, let’s take a different approach which may represent our actual positions a bit more closely.

George: Good, we’ve already wasted twenty-odd minutes already. So, now it’s your turn: what’s your big hang up with democracy?

Robert: Ok, sounds fair. Earlier, you mentioned that law protects you from a random aggressor coercing, raping, or murdering you. I imagine you believe that this random aggressor has no right to do so, hence your law preventing it?

George: It’s my turn to examine you, so you have to answer the question for yourself.

Robert: Fair enough. I claim that I, like every other human being, have no right to coerce someone else to do something, steal from them, or murder them. These are the three aspects of the golden rule, or the three violations of the right to liberty. The important part right now is the simple truth that I have no right to violate your liberty by way of coercion, theft, or murder. So, even if I believe you should or should not behave in a particular manner, I have no right to force you to act accordingly. If I lack the authority to do so, how can I delegate this authority to a representative, law enforcement officer, judge, et cetera? Additionally, if I lack the capacity to discern what each individual ought to do, how could I possibly determine who is best suited to do so?

George: Enough with all this conceptual “morals” bullshit. Voting is merely an attempt at maximizing the pleasure of the largest number of people. So long as most of the citizens are able to defend their quality of life from the enemies at the gates, that goal is met. Besides, some people tend to be incapable of responsibly managing their affairs, we need laws and voting and such to protect consumers from making bad choices and evil people from hurting others and themselves.

Robert: What you just described is the oft-referred to adage that, “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”. If you are not ok with that image, I rest my case… If you are ok with it, well… I’m sorry.

George: You’re sorry? What for? Don’t take this pious attitude with me, this really is what I believe.

Robert: You misunderstand me. I’m sorry for what comes next. You’ve hit the crux of the issue: Leviathan.

George: The big fish in the Bible?

Robert: America may have inherited its character and constitution from John Locke (eternal optimist that he was), but it inherited its worldview from his predecessor, Thomas Hobbes (the pessimistic monarchist). Your position is precisely that which Hobbes outlines in his appropriately titled Leviathan. He claims that without law, absolute and relentless law, we exist in a world of “every man against every man in a life that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He then claims that by putting on the airs of civility and monarchy, we can escape that reality. Those that came after him thought that constitutions, elections, pluralism, welfare, and the like would do a better job than monarchy. At the end of the day, though we continue to exist in a world of every man for himself, only one guy or group of guys maintains a monopoly on force, infringing on the freedoms of everybody and convince them that it is for their own good. Why else would one vote, except to impose their will on others by means of participating in an institution built with the express purpose of making people behave in a particular way, steal the fruits of their labor, and kill those that resist the first two functions?

George: Dude, you’ve gotta calm down… we’re gonna get kicked out… people are looking at us. Besides, I still say you should vote to opt-out, move to Somalia, or run for office yourself if you don’t like it.

Robert: Even voting to be free from oppression is suspect behavior! You were right in one regard; there really are people who are so ignorant and incapable of managing their own affairs that they volunteer for servitude. I have no right to force someone to leave an abusive relationship, I cannot point a gun at someone’s head and tell them to quit doing drugs or else, and I cannot prevent someone from making deals with the devil. In this way, even if there were a referendum to disband the government in it’s entirety, the first and only true vote for freedom, I could not with clean conscience go to the ballot box.

George: Then, you aren’t committed to change. All this grandstanding is for naught, if you won’t vote even to mitigate what you see as the greatest of evil.

Conclusion and Challenge

Robert: The ends do not justify the means. Even if it is so tempting to compromise my morals for the sake of progress, “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” If, due to the widespread obsoletion of the government, masses of non-compliant free individuals, and possibly even the threat of war, by people doing what it takes to be free, the government simply starves into nonexistence, my conscience would be clean.

George: Splitting hairs. You refuse to vote because you don’t want to do what it takes to be free, and you refuse to put your money where your mouth is and just move to Somalia. You need to calm down, too… I think those cops in the back of the room are talking about us.

Robert: Let them talk. Let me talk. They may just prove my point. Voting, as it exists in this building, is an institution predicated on coercion, theft, and murder. It is tantamount, at a minimum, to condoning these evils. We, as the governed, are all authoritarians, rapists, and murderers by our willful participation in this governance. We may not be in a position to be held accountable for these sins, these actions of slaves against fellow slaves. But, now that my eyes are open, and all you present here who have heard my case, the burden rests on your conscience.

George: You’re over-thinking it. All this abstract and convoluted lines of thought are just an excuse to wash your hands of your responsibility to commit a mere hour of your year to your own freedom which you ignore. Your arguments are not compelling, I think you’re just too lazy to commit a mere hour of your time, even if you think it is a waste of time. It’s almost my turn to go exercise that freedom. Last chance.

Robert: It may not be a perfect argument, especially given how it fits into a much broader discussion. It’s amusing to me that people think I believe participating in politics is a waste of time (calling congressmen, voting, etc.). If it were merely a waste of time, I would continue to do it out of the vain hope that something would come of it. I pray almost constantly. Take that to mean what you will. I don’t think it’s just a waste of time to participate in government, but that those that participate in government are, purposely or not, marching lock-step with the master of misanthropy himself, and I for love of my immortal soul will have no part in it. Be forewarned: if you walk in that box without first discovering a compelling counter argument, you are signing away not only your rights to the king of the Leviathan, but also your soul to a very particular prince with his own personal kingdom… and I doubt they hold elections there.

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